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Flagstaff to grand canyon Road Trip Adventure – Blindly Following the GPS

Guest Blogger - Darrel Mellies

This road trip adventure to the Grand Canyon came about because I followed the GPS without hesitation. Our first GPS was so eerily accurate that we determined there must be a witch inside, so we called her Samantha.

My significant other, Jo, and I were in Tucson, AZ, for a business conference. We allowed extra time for the trip to spend a few days on vacation and take a detour to the Grand Canyon.

We spent the night in Flagstaff, Arizona, and early the next morning headed north on Highway 180. Jo commented that she would love to go to the Hualapai Indian Reservation because she read that there were ruins there. It was just west of where we had reservations in the Grand Canyon. Since it was early afternoon, and it didn’t appear to be much out of the way, I said “absolutely.” Jo put the address she found into Samantha.

Several miles before getting to the Grand Canyon, Samantha instructed us to turn left. Just off the highway, we needed to cross a cattle guard onto a dirt and gravel road. There was a sign at the cattle guard that warned, “Rough road next 43 miles, 4-wheel drive recommended.” Driving a rented Chevrolet Malibu, I looked at Jo and said, “We can always turn around if it starts getting too rough.” She smiled and said, “Let’s go!’

We crossed the cattle guard and began an unforgettable journey. The dirt and gravel road started off in reasonably good shape (since we were in a rental car). Each mile into the trip, the road gradually worsened. When we thought that we should go in one direction at a fork because the road looked better, Samantha would inevitably have us take the worst trail. About 8 or10 miles into the drive, we came upon a ranch house and barn with Samantha taking us between the two. The farm’s owner was outside, so we stopped and asked him if we were heading in the right direction. He said he didn’t know but that several cars had come through over the last few months following their GPS.

We continued following Samantha’s directions. Every mile was getting worse, and we were always directed to take the worst fork in the road. At one point, we came to another cattle guard that was too precarious to cross, but next to it was a wooden gate with two cross beams that looked like an X on it. We sat there for a little while, deciding whether the X meant no access or not and if we should continue. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, so on we went.

The scenery was just a barren landscape with scrub bushes, cacti, and very little grass. The only creatures we saw were a few longhorn cattle. After another 20 or so miles and seeing a never-ending scene of barrenness, I came to another fork. As usual, Samantha directed us to the worst route to the left. This route had ruts at least 6-8 inches deep, and the road was listing at about a 15-degree angle. I straddled the ruts with crossed fingers and eased forward, stating to Jo that “There is no turning back now because I won’t do this again, especially since it will be dark soon”.

Another 10 miles down the trail, Jo and I both were beginning to get anxious, wondering if we were going get to a regular road. No one knew where we were, and we certainly didn’t have cell service, so the apprehension was building. Then in the distance, we saw another ranch and took a sigh of relief.

As we neared the barn, we saw another gate with the X on it, so I asked Jo to get out and open it. She started to get out but saw some longhorns menacingly looking at her and said, “Oh, hell no!!!” Fortunately, at that moment, Samantha said, “turn right,” so I did. This direction had us go right next to the barn and through the paddock where the longhorn cattle stood. Once through that, we thought we were home free. NOT!

A few hundred yards past the ranch, the road (path) just ended both on the GPS screen and in reality. We stopped and looked at each other with confusion on our faces. Happily, we saw some cars traveling on the road about 200 yards away. The only way to get there was through the pasture, so that’s what we did. It was the road that we were looking for, and we headed north toward the Indian ruins.

Several miles further, the road ended at a section of the Grand Canyon with no ruins to be found. We headed south to the interstate (I sure wasn’t returning the way we just came!). It was dark by now, and we were well over 100 miles from where we had Grand Canyon reservations. We started looking for a place to eat and stay the night. We found a place to eat, but we could not secure a place to stay. It was a long dark drive, but we finally made it to our original destination in the Grand Canyon. Tired and worn out, we went straight to bed.

The next morning we got up, and to our amazement and joy, there was a dusting of snow on the ground. It was a beautiful sight to wake-up to. What an end to what was a unique and memorable trip. I wouldn’t trade it for anything however, I don’t want to do it again.

From this adventure, you can tell that when traveling with Jo (and Samantha), there is seldom a dull moment. Jo wants and is willing to go everywhere, which explains her Instagram name - JoGoesEverywhere and Samantha is always ready to direct us there. So that leaves me to do the driving. (Our recent seven-week 7,506-mile trip attests to that. But that’s a tale for another time.)

Over the years, about the only thing missing from our adventures is SLEEP. Thankfully as we’ve aged together, Jo has slowed down some (not in the desire to go everywhere, but in her need to get up before daybreak and go until midnight).

I want to thank Samantha for the journey of a lifetime and a safe trip. I want to thank you, Jo, for the lasting memories. I’ll cherish them forever, and I’m dreaming of many more adventures with you and Samantha guiding the way.

Southern California’s China Ranch, A Date Farm Oasis in the Mojave Desert

by Jo Clark
Photos by Jo Clark and Darrel Mellies

Water and snacks packed in the cooler—Death Valley, here I come! We were making great progress down the Old Spanish Trail Highway, too. Until I spotted a weathered sign that announced, China Ranch Date Farm. “Oooohhh…a date farm!” escaped my lips. Darrel gave me his best incredulous look and quizzed, “You want to go to a DATE FARM??” I gave some thought to palm trees swaying in the breeze after weeks of seeing only desert (okay, I took a breath) and said, “Sure! And their sign said they have a bakery!”

The walls of this canyon were just stunning. It seemed like at every turn my eyes landed on a new photo opportunity. There were even “windows” in the rocks, one of my favorite things!

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