(By Heidi Gregory and Lucas Rokosz)
On our first day in Williams, Arizona we stopped into the local jeep tour shop on Main Street along Route 66. Nearly all of the tours seemed overpriced for the services offered. Since both of us are from Michigan, we asked if there was a place nearby that we could swim. The guy pointed to a poster on the wall that said Diamond Creek Road, with a picture of the Colorado River flowing through the bottom of the Grand Canyon. “That’s the only place I’d recommend swimming around here, all the other places are muddied up from the cattle. The road is very rough and requires a jeep or 4×4,” the guy in Ranger Rick gear informed us. The price on the poster said $250.00 per person, with lunch included. We both smiled and thanked him for the information, but clearly would not pay $250 to swim, or $500 to whitewater raft for one day. With Lake Michigan’s natural beauty for free right at our doorsteps on a daily basis, we weren’t about to let the dusty desert heat burn holes in our pockets.
That night we did some research on Diamond Creek Road and the possibility of traversing it in a little red rental rollerskate, a 4-cylinder Nissan Versa. We found that Diamond Creek Road is the only driveable path into the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The road is on the Hualapai Indian Reservation and therefore out of federal and state jurisdiction.
It is sixteen miles, unpaved, and drops nearly 4000 feet in elevation to the bowels of the Grand Canyon. We read two blogs by fellow 2-wheel drive rental car abusers who had made the journey down Diamond Creek Road. One guy made it about 3/5 of the way down before deciding to turn back. He explained how creeks and streams were flowing over the road forcing him to lose control. Another woman made it to the bottom, but emphasized the rough ride and obstacles. We found that the guy that didn’t make it to the bottom attempted his journey in April. We assumed this was the reason that there was more water flowing on the road. After weighing the pros and cons, we decided we would make our attempt in two days. We hadn’t seen the Grand Canyon from the top yet, so the bottom tour would surely be the following day. We wanted to make sure the car was operational, as seeing the Grand Canyon was our main purpose for coming to Williams, AZ.
On the morning of June 29, 2011, we left our Williams hotel at about 9am. We figured if we did get hung up in a stream, if we crashed the car, if we ran out of water, if we drove over a cliff, or if we just plain needed some sort of assistance, at least we would be out ahead of the jeep tours coming down the same road. Out in the middle of nowhere, there would be zero cell phone signals and nothing but a fuzzy crackle for a radio station playing some twangy Southwestern country tunes. We headed out on 40 West to Highway 66, then on into Peach Springs. Upon arrival we stopped at the Hualapai Lodge where we each paid $26.75 for permits to “site see” on the Hualapai Indian reservation. We were also asked to sign a waiver stating that the tribe would not be held responsible for any incidents or problems that may affect us, and that if we break any tribal laws that we would agree to surrender our personal property if asked. We signed the waiver and the Hualapia woman working the counter gave us directions to Diamond Creek Road. She mentioned something about a red and black triangle across the road, but we never saw one.
We followed a road next to a red and black pickup truck instead. Kicking up a tail of hot dust, we rolled past some local Native homes, a few horses,
and a collection of rusted out automobile shells (common sights all around Arizona). The first quarter mile of the road was paved; then it morphed into smoothly-groomed gravel. The road began its steady descent; so steady that it wasn’t necessary to press the accelerator. We coasted down and around the winding corners, frequently riding the brake pedal. The first vehicle we saw was a tribal conservation officer in a pick-up truck. As he headed towards us he began flashing his headlights. We pulled over and rolled down the window. We both greeted him, and before he could ask, we passed him our “site seeing permit.” He reviewed it and asked if there were only two of us in the vehicle, scanning the back seats with his well-trained eyes. He wore a beige cowboy hat, and did not make eye contact or small talk. Recording the permit number, the down-to-business ranger passed the paper back, and told us to have a nice day.
The further we descended, the more signs of vegetation and different plant life appeared. We pulled over every few miles to take pictures,
noticing bees swarming around flowers and even a few lizards crossing the road or sunbathing on rocks. At one point, a small patch of fluffy grass appeared nestled between a stream and a sheer stone wall. Lucas said, “Look! Bed Bath & Beyond!” Grinning like a little boy, he pulled over, jumped out of the car, sloshed through the tiny stream, and flopped himself down in the grass. “Look out for snakes!” warned Heidi. It was too late. Lucas was sprawled out on his back, enjoying the soft tickle of the grass on his dusty skin. We were nearly five miles from the bottom when Diamond Butte became visible. At this point we knew we were getting close. We were shocked that the condition of the road was so smooth and problem free.
The first sign of human services was a dilapidated rest area. It included a pavilion with two broken picnic tables, and an outhouse with no door. To our surprise it did have toilet paper. Perhaps our “site seeing permits” contributed to the restocking of such supplies. There’s nothing quite like squatting over a stench-free porter potty toilet while gazing at rocky mountaintops in the distance. As we continued on with only two miles to go, the first stream trickled over the road.
The water was probably only six inches deep, but the banks were high enough to bottom out the car. We splashed through that stream and about three others. Due to the constant water flowing in certain areas, large rocks protruded up, forcing us to steer around and sometimes over them. A few times the impact of the rocks with the bottom of the car made us wonder if any damage was done to the poor little rental.
After crossing one last stream, we arrived at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and onto the banks of the mighty Colorado River. At first site, it was obvious that the river’s current was extremely fast and powerful. Luckily there was a calm little side pool that didn’t have as much of a current.
We were able to swim, even though the temperature was only 47 degrees. The air temp was around 100 degrees Farenheit, so we went ahead and did it anyway. Numbed ankles and knocking knees didn’t stop us from the opportunity to wash away some dusty particles and seek relief from the blazing sun. We savored a small picnic at the bottom and paid tribute to our late grandmother by eating her favorite Club crackers with Old English cheese spread.
After snapping a few photos, celebrating our success at reaching our destination without a hitch, and taking in the beauty of the Grand Canyon from the bottom, we packed up the Versa and began our Journey back up Diamond Creek Road. We crossed the first creek and heard a
large hawk shriek as it lifted off from some nearby shrubbery. “That’s Grandma Ellie. She’s upset because we didn’t save her any cheese spread,” commented Heidi.
The drive back up the canyon seemed to go faster, as we were more confident with the conditions and familiarity of the road. Upon reaching the mouth of the road at Peach Springs, we inspected the rental from top to bottom for damage.
All in all we saved several hundred dollars by driving ourselves. This place would have been disappointing for 250 dollars a head. The excitement and elements of the unknown that came along with driving ourselves was priceless. Truly a trip we will never forget.
Diamond Creek Road in a little car. Diamond Creek Road dangerous. Bottom of the Grand Canyon through the indian reservation. Grand Canyon Road. What road goes to the bottom of the grand canyon? Can I drive to the Bottom of the Grand Canyon?