Before we drive on from Needles, we fill up the tank of gas across the river in Arizona. Believe it or not, but the difference between the town of Needles (5,199 dollar per gallon) and the next town in Arizona – 3 miles away – is immense, 2,699/gallon there! Incredible that it exists and that the 6 gas stations in Needles still function… On our 45 gallon tank you can imagine the saving and it is so far the cheapest gas price we have found in the US.
Route 66 – The Mother Road
As we say goodbye to Needles, we have a day of driving ahead of us which is the sole purpose of the day: Route 66! Across the country the state of the historic route 66 ranges from disappeared to replaced by an Interstate, but the part that goes through Arizona here is dubbed the ‘Authentic Route 66’ with tons of authentic/run down sites to see. The route brings us through Oatman, a one-street town with wild donkeys roaming the street for food and a dozen of curio shops to take a peak in.
Kingman is the next stop on the route, and this town is more developed as both the old route 66 as well as the new interstate and highways cross it like a spider. It is also home to the route 66 museum (to which we have a lifetime pass now so if you ever go, feel free to borrow it from us 😉) which is a great exhibition on the rise and demise of the route plus a section on electric cars! Across the street is an enormous steam engine locomotive parked – the type that went through the Mojave Desert – and some more picture moments with diners and signs.
We roll along the route, through extinct towns curiosities like the … Caverns, after which we reach the final route 66 stop of Seligman. Another lovely strip of old stores and of course a street lined with old timer cars (some turned into the ‘cars’ of Disney). We decide to do right by the route and wrap it up with a milkshake form the ‘Snow Cap’ Diner before driving on and back to the interstate. A large part of this interstate was in worse condition than route 66… go figure ☹.
The day ends at one of the major highlights of the United States: The Grand Canyon! As we get there earlier than expected we decide to make a beeline for the first viewpoint to catch a final glimpse of the sunset. We then drive back to the first town for a dinner at Wendy’s (we will take on 1 fast food chain per month) and then a good nights sleep in the National Forest just outside of the National Park.
The Grand Canyon
Impressive she is, the Grand Canyon… We attacked her in a full day of exploring, and the canyon lends itself again for some good bike riding! First we hit the Visitor Center of course for some info and JR books. Then we park and take the greenway bikepath out towards the ‘Hermit Road’ – the rim road that goes all the way out to the end of the developed part of the park. Sven takes his bike and rides the whole way and back, while the rest of us take the shuttle bus to drive it and hike parts of the rim between shuttle stops. The views alternate inward and outward of the canyon, and we get treated to some floating California condors!
Back at the RV we have lunch and again head out with our bikes. This time we ride the greenway bikepath the other direction, towards the Kaibab trail which is one of a few trails down into the canyon. We explore the first part a bit, to get a feel for the switchbacks right down into the canyon, but stay high up and go for the ride back for a scenic trail instead of the bikepath. It turns out to be a pretty bumpy off road trail, and with Bo attached to the back and the trail covered in elk-poo (there are dozens of elk in the national park) it is not the favorite of the boys, but the parents thoroughly enjoy the downhill through the woods!
We exit the National Park eastbound as the end of the day starts to set in. On the edge of the park is Desert View which is where you can truly see how the landscape goes from a high altitude desert to a torn up canyon floor. The 20-odd miles after the NP are a Native America reserve that still shows a beautiful canyon created by the ‘little Colorado river’ and a vast expanse of desert-like scenery.
As we drive downhill and make a right onto highway 89, we are treated to another great view: the extinct volcanoes line they sunset sky straight ahead of us. These types of experiences are really some we enjoy the most, the landscape in the States alternates dramatically in a span of 100 miles and the views are truly breathtaking at times. We roll into Wupatki National Monument which we will discover the next day, and park in the black volcano sand for the night.
2 days, 5 National Park sites and badges
With the road towards Phoenix ahead of us, taking the interstate would mean we loose out on some of the most scenic roads, and more importantly on 5 National Monuments dotted along the way. One of them is Sunset Volcano, a volcanic area with some nice walks and explanations about how this area got dotted with volcanoes that are now sound asleep. But the most interesting ones are those created around the pueblo dwellings that have either been partly restored or conserved for the public to see and learn.
After having visited the northern tribes of the US and learning about their more nomadic life, following migrations and the seasons to ensure survival, it was very interesting to see a different side of tribal life in the south, where in the 1100s, the people started to farm more and decide to sometimes build their houses literally in cliffs! They did so to use the overflowing river banks below to grow food in the drier seasons and of course have a great lookout for other food that was hunted. The dwellings were cool and covered – you would need a very strong wind to blow off your solid rock roof! – and simple wooden ladders were put up to climb to the respective houses.
While we explore the different sites, one thing that the boys pick up is that there is no talk of war or fighting over land, which the Rangers find a clever observation. As there were much less people and they were more stuck to one location, they would simply not get in each others way as much (like those up north as they hunt down food) and thus no need to fight. The fighting of course only came when the white men started to enter and claim the land as their own :-). The buildings or the remnants of them are incredible to see, and imagining life in them is somewhat otherworldly.
But as we learn more we also realize that while these buildings are quite impressive and very old, the Colosseum in Rome was already built a staggering 1000 years earlier!! Once again we are reminded how ‘young’ the country really is but more importantly how differently continents and humans developed separated from each other on other continents. The boys are fascinated by this fact, and quite honestly the adults are also again put to shame a bit as we realize how little aware we are of all this astounding diversity around the globe. It is truly what makes traveling such a great way of learning and appreciating all that surrounds us.
While enjoying all these sites, we take route 89(a) through some beautiful scenery. From red rocked canyons to cowboy ranch plains, we descend a whopping 2000 meters over the course of some 150 miles, as we come off the Colorado Plateau and into the lower lands of Arizona. Our stopping point is Phoenix, where we meet up with our kind new friends Jeanette, Chris and lovely Maverick for some good food, conversation and a night sleep. We are incredibly lucky that they have offered to have our RV parked on their property for the time we are out to Panama, so when we head off to the airport the next day we leave with the great feeling that our home away from home is safe and sound.
Off we go! Panama it is…
Now of course we have plans to drive into Central America with our RV, but we also have a thing called an ESTA which only allows us to be in the US for 90 days. The 90 days do not stop when you cross a border into Canada or Mexico overland, OR if you fly out to a Caribbean island, so we decide to go for Panama, a country we have visited before when Luc was just 1,5 years old. The plan is to have a break from traveling and really stay put at the same location for several nights instead of traveling around.
Of course we land in Panama City and as we land in the evening we opted for a hotel there to settle in. Funnily enough when we walk into the hotel in Panama we realize that it is the exact same hotel we stayed in 7 years ago! Big difference vs then is we now have two kids and a rental car, AND this time our little one will not sh*t the bed… true story hahahaha. We have a great breakfast and the boys spend the morning in the rooftop pool to get acquainted with this other world of moist heat. Our plan is to drive to Isla Canas, and split that drive in two parts to get our bearings first.
Aguadulce is our first stop, a ’24h hotel’…. I think you all know what that means, and thus I spent some time on the porch looking at the other rooms, but unfortunately it turned out to be very boring with only working people staying there. We had a great dinner in town, got some groceries for the next day, and get ready for the second part of the drive before we put our feet in the sand of Isla Canas, and surprise the boys with something amazing down there….
Next week: Panama’s two sides – Beach and rainforest