Jannah and I have one of those rare relationships between a man and a woman - we're friends. By that I mean we're "just friends", and over the past year we've become the best of friends. We like each other's company and the lack of the stress of the typical man-woman tensions is one of the things that makes our relationship work for the both of us.
In November I decided to blow off the year with a special trip to one of the most beautiful places on the planet - the Grand Canyon National Park. It's been one of the most stressful years of my life, and I desperately needed to go somewhere far away from work and the cares of the world.
I started to set up the trip, then realized that I didn't want to go alone. It's amusing to me that me, a born loner, is finding it more and more fun to do things with other people.
Jannah is the first person who came to mind as I mentally scanned the faces of my various friends. Who better to spend a few days in the beauty of nature than one of my very best friends?
Before I could chicken out, I called Jannah and asked her if she'd be interested in making the trip. After ensuring that my motives were honorable (separate sleeping arrangements) she quickly agreed and I made all the reservations. As it turned out, visiting the Grand Canyon is one of the places she's wanted to visit for years...
Jannah arrived at my place early in the afternoon on Thursday, December 27th. We talked for a while about our plans for the trip, then met our cab driver out front. I had decided this was to be a "non-driving trip", since I expected (hoped) for snow and cold weather. The Grand Canyon is beautiful in the winter...
Our cab driver was one of the most friendly people I've ever met, and Jannah and I spent the 20 mile trip to the Riverside train station joking with him and just having a grand old time. Terrence, the cab driver, handed us his card as we left so we could call him on our return trip for the ride home.
Jannah and I were both forewarned that the Grand Canyon would be cold, so we had plenty of warm clothes in our luggage. We forgot all about that, however, as we sat there shivering outside at the Riverside train station. For some reason, I had the idea that a train station meant a building, a heated building with bathrooms and such. That may have been true of Union Station in Los Angeles, but Riverside's train station is a concrete slab with some benches, totally exposed to the elements.
Because I thought the train station was a heated building, I timed us to arrive a few hours early. So we sat there, shivering, until the train arrived (late) about three hours later. Sigh. It wasn't all that bad, though, as we spent the time talking and joking and discussing our trip.
We got on the train and were escorted to the sleeper car where we would spend the next eight hours of our lives. During the day, a sleeper car consists of two seats facing each other with a small table (retractable) between them. At night, the room is converted into a bunk bed. It's all about the size of a small closet (not recommend if you have a fear of small places) and the beds are about as comfortable as sleeping on a flat board.
We were both tired, so stayed up long enough to eat in the diner car (a sleeper car comes with first class meals) then went to sleep. Jannah took the top bunk and I took the bottom one. She joked that I had the better bed because I had a window, but what she didn't know is I had lights whizzing by all night long. It was kind of strange, sleeping in a train, as it's always moving, starting, stopping and rocking back and forth, and there is lots and lots of noise.
We woke up at 4am and got ready to depart the train at Williams Junction. We arrived on time, and left the warmth of our little room for the freezing cold of a concrete slab in the middle of precisely nowhere. Someone had kindly placed a thermometer on a pole, and it showed a nippy 4 degrees. Wow, that's cold!
Fortunately, we didn't need to spend much time in that cold air - just long enough to run from the train to the van waiting to drive us down to Williams.
The trip to Williams, Arizona, was short and bumpy, kind of like being on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. I'm just glad it was quick.
We stayed in Williams for a few hours, waiting for our train to leave for the canyon itself. Thirty minutes before we were to board, there was a "Wild West Show", which was a somewhat silly little comedy act. The "bad guys" grabbed me and pulled me out onto the stage to take part in their poker game. They told me I cheated, and I was barely saved by the "lucky" intervention of the local sheriff. It was great fun.
I reserved the dome car, which is placed higher than the other cars and has a 360 degree view of the landscape as the train speeds on it's way. The trip is two and a half hours long, and refreshments were provided. There was also entertainment in the form of a fiddle player/comedian, who quickly spied Jannah and convinced her to "learn the fiddle". That was fun to watch (and I have it on video - YouTube to follow).
Once we arrived at the canyon, we spent a few hours wandering along the rim trail taking pictures and goofing around. It started to get really cold, so we went over to our room, checked in, ate, then settled down for the night. We wanted to get our sleep as we had a busy day planned for Saturday.
We got an early start Saturday morning, getting up before the sun rose in order to see the sunrise. We had signed up for the "Sunrise tour", which consisted of a short bus trip to two different stops. Let me tell you, it was cold. Really cold. We did get lots of great pictures of the canyon with some really cool shadow effects, though.
Once the tour was over, we went back to our room to get ready for something really special. Jannah spent some time getting properly dressed and we wandered down the path to the rim of the canyon. We found a great ledge with a wonderful view of the canyon and began...
a belly dance photo shoot. For the next two hours Jannah posed in various costumes a few feet from the rim of the canyon. We created some gorgeous photos, very unique and interesting. I'll never know how she posed for hours in the cold air in her skimpy little costume, but she did.
My favorite pictures are of Jannah dressed in tribal costume while wearing a Santa Claus coat and hat. Now that was fun and very unique!
The rest of the day was spent on the "Desert View" tour". Our desert view tour bus driver was a dour older lady, and I swear she spoke in a monotone for the next 4 hours of the tour. I don't think she smiled a single time.
There were five stops, all of which offered wonderful opportunities for pictures. On the way back, a young man who works at the trinket shop at desert view hopped on the bus. He was an interesting person, with grand dreams of starting his own business and owning a house for his family. The most interesting thing he did was make a regular climb down a cliff to scoop up coins thrown over the edge by tourists. He claimed during the summer he could find $800 a night in loose change!
One of our stops was a series of Indian ruins. I thought the ruins were interesting, consisting of a serious of walls, all covered in snow. Jannah was more fascinated by the snow, and I soon found myself covered in snowballs! Hah! A snowball fight (being careful not to get too wet and cold).
The next day, Jannah and I did a second belly dance photo shoot in the same location. This lasted about an hour, and we got some gorgeous shots!
This left us most of Sunday to walk around, talk, take pictures and play in the snow. You see, Jannah has not played in the snow before (at least not in recent memory) so she played and played and played. I was a bit tired, so I just sat and watched her romping around having a merry time.
On the return train trip to Williams, I had reserved two seats in first class, since it would be dark and thus the dome car wouldn't be useful. As it turned out, we both liked first class much better than the dome car. There was much more legroom and it seemed to us that the view was better.
Once we reached Williams, we had about four hours to kill. Jannah got very playful, and noticed that the people waiting in the hotel were grim faced and serious. So she did a few little belly dances (not in costume) and did some cartwheels just to pass the time. No one smiled at all.
The rest of the trip was entirely uneventful. We took the shuttle to the Amtrak, got in our little sleeper car beds, slept (sort of) and arrived back in Riverside. Terrence, our cab driver, was waiting for us as promised.
Our incredible adventure was over.
What a wonderful weekend.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos and text is Copyright © Richard G Lowe, Jr.