Friday, August 9, 2013


executive summary by darmansjah

The region’s best: from Navajo culture in Monument Valley to the glamour of Palm Springs.

GRAND CANYON | Best for escape

Miles into your trip: 754 From Monument Valley, drive 3½ hours on US-60 and AZ-64

The view from the switchbakcs near the top of the canyon shows the false bottom of the Indian Garden.

Archimedes Natkie is not only the bearer of the best name on his side of the Atlantic, he is also a man who has perfected the art of isolation. For the past two years, 25-years-old Archimedes has lived in a place so submerged, the rain evaporates before it can reach the ground – the bottom of the Grand Canyon.’ Living down here is a bit like being in a monastery,’ he says. ‘There’s so much space and time to think. You can get away from every distraction. I do struggle to remember how to drive when I go back up though!’

It is a delicious paradox that perhaps the best place to get away from the omnipresent stimulation of modern America is at the heart of one of its most popular tourist attractions. Like monument Valley, the Grand Canyon is a totemic American Landscape, a preposterously huge chasm that seems to open up from nowhere. It is a sight that needs to be unwrapped piece by piece. The view from the rim is sensational – chiseled cliffs of red-and orange-streaked rock rising out of the abyss like pyramids-but it’s only after leaving the brink behind and descending one of the canyon trails that the true majesty of this place emerges.

There are two ways of getting down. One is by hitching a ride on the packs of mules bringing supplies to those, like Archimedes, who work at Phantom Ranch, a collection of wooden chalets at the base of the canyon. The other is to hike – a more tiring but ultimately much more satisfying option that’s likely to be less painful on the backside.

Walking down into the canyon is like becoming a character in a ‘plat-former’ video game, working from level to level with different backgrounds for each one. First up is the switchback level, the red earth tracks zigzagging steeply through the cliff-tops. Next, the Indian Garden ,an intensely green oasis of bright flowers and cacti lining a stream – this is the ‘bottom’ of the canyon to those watching from above.

For those trekking, next come the secretive lower sections. First, the rock creases up into long slabs of concertinaed cliff before opening out into a huge granite-grey gorge, which takes any sound and echoes it into a feedback loop: shouts fade and return seconds later in irregular jumps. Keep on walking – knees aching now – and the rocks take on a Cubist quality, the sun highlighting multiple angles at once.

Finally, the roar of the Colrado River comes into earshot an a tempestuous rush of mint-green water races through the nadir of the canyon. An encounter with the river would be a powerful experience at the best of times; that it’s available only to those who have sacrificed their knees for it elevates it to a higher  plane – event when you now that you have to do it all again, in reverse, tomorrow.

The best introduction outré is the Bright Angel Trail (7 hours each way; see: ). Overnight mule rides start at US$470.

The Breakfast burritos at El Tovar Dining Room are superb and its evening menu offers good steaks (mains from US$19;

PHANTOM RANCH, located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, gets booked up months in advance. Its beds are bunks in simple wooden chalets. In the evening, there are two sittings for the ‘hiker’s stew’, wherein you’ll take a seat and eat alongside fellow hikers, family-style (from US$40,

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