Alicia Arellano Nava is the Content Creator on the 2022 North American Epic. She sends this report from Yuma, Arizona.
Almost all of the riders and staff on this tour remember the day we arrived in the ‘Land of Canyons and Fire’ – a Mars-like vision appearing before our eyes. Our jaws dropped and our pupils dilated. The mere sight of this rocky, red expanse burned into our eyes, appearing as though in a dream. Starting on flat and arid land, on one of the hottest and exhausting days we have had in the United States, we rode through a desolate landscape, but soon encountered a drastic change of environment: rock towers piercing the blue sky along narrow gorges, and canyons amongst a fire-red desert of plateaus. This scenery gave way to a thirst-quenching view of the green waters of the Colorado River.
This region is home to a variety of diverse National Parks: Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The cyclists repeatedly joked about the ‘terrible’ views around them, especially when passing through Monument Valley in Arizona. This route has been seen by near everyone in old western films and the Looney Tunes cartoon where Wiley Coyote endlessly tries to catch the roadrunner. “Beep, beep.”
It was funny to see everyone gathering on Highway 163 to take their Forrest Gump runner photos, mimicking the moment in the film when he runs through Monument Valley. As we slowly made our way through this land, a rock appeared in the distance. The ‘Mexican Hat Rock’ gives one the image of a mariachi guarding the horizon, perhaps nostalgic about this land that once belonged to Mexico.
This area stands as the gateway to the Navajo Nation, a large Native American reservation that encompasses the four corners of Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado. It is a self-governed land where many of the ancient customs and way of life are preserved. Given the awful impact of the COVID pandemic on the tribe, face masks are required and seen everywhere across the Navajo land, unlike in the rest of the USA. Additionally, the sale of alcohol is prohibited everywhere on the reservation. To be here, amongst the Navajo with their customs and traditions, it is easy to see the similarities to many other indigenous cultures across the American continent: the headdresses, the dependence on corn and their relationship with the natural world.
Navajo National Monument provides the Navajo people with a personal connection to their ancestors that previously inhabited this area. It is difficult to measure where the natural world transforms into a village within the rock itself that once served as home to these ancestral people. Delicate Arch provides the backdrop to all Utah license plates, as does the Grand Canyon to those in Arizona, demonstrating a source of pride and a reference point to the inhabitants of these states. The North American Epic brings the riders right to the edge of the Grand Canyon, where the scent of ponderosa pine overwhelms one as much as the vastness of the canyon itself. One is immediately awestruck by the changing colours and texture of rock when peering over the precipice. Only an aerial photograph could demonstrate the breadth of this place.
Kim Payne, one of the tour cyclists, spoke of her previous visits to the Grand Canyon by way of hiking and helicopter but concluded that the perspective from her handlebars was even better. While we expected to find only desert-like conditions when crossing Arizona, to our surprise, we encountered cooler weather, clouds, and a large forest in the higher elevations near the rustic towns of Sedona and Jerome. These mountain towns represent an oasis from the warmer temperatures and desert. In the middle of Arizona, a few days from the Mexican border, the tour crossed the halfway point of 7,000 kilometres. This milestone represents a mark of what we have done thus far, and the adventure that the road ahead still holds for us. The celebration took place in a friendly trailer park in Yarnell, Arizona with toasts, laughs and some dancing.
Descending from Yarnell the following morning, we captured the first sight of the impressive saguaro cacti that would be waiting for us with open arms as we make our way into Mexico. These cacti, coupled with buzzards, roadrunners, and tiled dry land, as well as 43° Celsius heat, accompanied us on our last days riding across the USA.
North American Epic
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