Catch-22…that’s what travel blogs are. They’re unfair!

Before you have been anywhere, why start a blog? What will you write about? Have you even experienced anything worth blogging about? If you waited until you traveled a while, what happens to all of those past stories? Will people really want to read about something you did years ago? Will you even remember? I am starting this “Travel Tales” section of my blog in an attempt to recall past travel adventures. My regular WHS posts are impersonal, and while I am okay with that, it is only part of me. I want to teach people about World Heritage Sites and while I love the growth of TravelWorldHeritage so far, I also want to share a more personal side of me. These “Travel Tales” will hopefully share what happened, beyond the monuments.

Travel Tales #1: My First Travel Experience Ever – The Grand Canyon with Abraham

If you look at my list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites I have visited, you will find that I started traveling later than most. Many other bloggers have stories of how their family was huge on travel and how they went on trips all the time. I didn’t. I never went anywhere. Besides a single trip to Mexico, which was mostly to see family, I didn’t even leave my home state of California until I was nineteen!

Me at nineteen, evident by how much hair I have.

It was my sophomore year of college and I wanted to have an adventure. Something in me had suddenly triggered, and I kept pushing my best friend Abraham to go with me. I was not yet the type to do anything by myself, and like most people that age, I had conversations with my friends about pseudo trips we would “take some day.” While I still have such a list of trips to take, I never imagined that I would actually, “do that too.” We were all talk. Even when I had the money, spring break came and went and I was satisfied with visiting the town bowling alley. Yeah, yeah, maybe I was lame.

This was different though. This was something I definitely wanted to do, and now! After giving me the run-around for a few days, he finally caved. We were going to the Grand Canyon! Why the canyon? I don’t know. It was close enough to visit, but far enough that it would definitely be an adventure! Given our extremely limited travel knowledge at the time, we didn’t think much of the destination. We grabbed a map and took off. Yeah, that’s how people traveled before smart phones, and to be honest, within the US, I still like maps.

And we're off!
And we’re off!

We left at around 1am to arrive at the canyon sometime in the afternoon. I figured it would take us about 10 hours, and I really didn’t have an issue with driving in the middle of the night. Around 6 am, we hit Las Vegas. ‘Hit’ is kind of misleading as we could see it 20 minutes before and after arriving. Guess they weren’t exaggerating when they call it a “city of lights!”

After racing past Nevada, we started to see daylight. The Kaibab National Forest lay ahead and it was magnificent. Trees lined the road for miles. The woods were so thick in some places that we weren’t sure what lay even a few meters in front of us. Best of all, everything was as expected, without a person in sight. A few miles in and we noticed it was getting significantly colder, and there was snow on the ground. Being from California, I had never seen snow before. I had to stop the car and play for a while, and of course, take some terrible pictures. We would be in the canyon in about an hour, and there really was no rush.

While I could have looked for a better picture, this is the absolute first time I saw snow. I didn’t even know water could do that!

Then we arrived at the main gate. I slowed down to take a picture of the “Grand Canyon” sign, but was rudely interrupted by another sign at the toll gate. “The toll gate people must be out to lunch… who goes out to lunch at the entrance of one of the greatest natural wonders?!” … It was much worse than expected. It was CLOSED! Not for an hour… not for the day… for the entire season! ….”What is a season?” The Californian in me thought.

The orange sign tells us to keep out during the winter time. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly a world-class photographer.

But of course, it was just a sign, and we didn’t drive through 10 hours of nothingness to turn around now. So, I drove around the blocked road and kept pressing forward. Soon, however, I was starting to regret it. It was December and the roads were very slick. Ice on the roads without chains could mean disaster and there was no one there to help us if anything happened. I wasn’t at all worried about it then. Ignorance was most definitely, bliss.

Soon enough, we bumped into a park ranger doing laundry. Not shooting down an aggressive animal or repelling down the canyon, doing laundry! Such are the realities of life. Shouldn’t he be on vacation too? Will we be in trouble? Oh the questions and hesitation. Well, we were a bit lost so we  risked it and asked for directions. Besides, he already saw us!

I innocently ask, before anything, “Are we allowed to be here?” For which he responds “Didn’t you see the ‘closed’ sign on the front? Don’t you know what that means?” We kind of froze. Of course we knew what it meant, but didn’t expect anyone to call us out on it. We were probably no more than a mile from the deepest canyon in the world, and were about to be turned away. “Someone takes his job a bit too seriously,” I thought.

He quickly interjects, “It means you don’t have to pay the $20 park fee! Just be careful!” Who would have thought that park rangers have a sense of humor? He tells us we are 5 minutes away from the North Rim parking lot. We park and realize we are not the only people here to share this:

Grand Canyon North Rim 1

It is truly magnificent. We look around some more and despite the freezing temperatures, we take more pictures. Why didn’t either of us think to bring a jacket!

Grand Canyon North Rim 2

But, after about an hour, we were kind of over it. My finger couldn’t really push the button any more, so we went back to the car. We looked at each other and acknowledged that we are both a bit disappointed. Despite the backlash of uttering apparent travel blasphemy, you read correctly, I was disappointed in the Grand Canyon.

On the way back, we stopped for our first night in Hurricane, Utah. We get out first ‘culture shock’ as we realized we were the only non-white people here (Caucasians if you prefer). Given we came from a 95% Hispanic community, this was different. It is odd how we could be a minority in the United States our whole lives, and never feel that way. We got the stares and glares, but people were overall pretty friendly. Come to think of it, maybe even the ‘stares’ were all in my head.

The next morning, Abraham’s father called us to tell us that he wanted to treat us to a few nights in Vegas. It was to be my first time there (of way more visits than I would like to admit) so I was super excited. Neither of us were of legal age so drinking and gambling were out of the question, but nonetheless, Vegas left a lasting impression.

Bellagio Fountain

After two more days, we headed home.

It wasn’t until I returned to the Grand Canyon in 2008  that I learned two valuable lessons. First, I should always check the weather before going to a new place. Nothing ruins travel like bad weather. Second, the circumstances (in this case, the weather) can really affect what you think of a place as I enjoyed the canyon much more on my second visit. You can put away your stones now angry nature lovers.

I didn’t really realize this at the time, but this set the tone for years to come. Although I focused on school for 2006 (regardless of what my GPA suggests), I made it a point to go somewhere every year starting in 2007. Despite having been to 13 countries, and living abroad for the last three years, this still remains one of my fondest travel memories. Your first trip, much like your first love, is unforgettable.

What was your first experience traveling?

Julio Moreno
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