I slowly rumble on past the automotive graveyard that is Radiator Springs, continuing on down the lonely dirt road. Even if Covid wasn’t present, I feel that this place would be empty. An abandoned rodeo stadium on my left, a corny, broken down police car on my right. I see signs akin to an amusement park leading me to my destination, the Grand Canyon Caverns Inn & RV park. I step out into the hot sun, wondering what in the hell have I gotten myself into. There isn’t a soul in sight.
A couple of years ago a colleague of mine tells me about an underground cavern you spend the night in. He thinks that it is right up my alley. I placate him, but don’t put any serious thought into it. Before the pandemic, I was planning out my summer over the Christmas holidays, and decide to spend the 4th of July around the Grand Canyon, and for kicks I book my nightly accommodations in the Grand Caverns underground suite.
As I look around at the entrance to this place, I’m immediately regretting this decision. All I see are worn down if not down right broken fixtures and dilapidated furniture. Creepy music is playing from God knows where. I slip on my face covering and enter the restaurant. A family is having dinner in the corner, and I can hear a cook frying up burgers in the back kitchen. I wait to see if anyone will acknowledge my presence.
While waiting, I read and re-read the sign above. I have a bad habit of not doing much research about a place beforehand, which usually works out in my favor. I wouldn’t consider myself a claustrophobic person, but the realization of being 220 feet below the surface in a cave has me freaking out on the inside.
Eventually someone appears from the back kitchen. The nice enough woman asks how she can be of help, and I let her know I’m checking into the Cavern.
She yells back to the kitchen “Our Cave person is here!”. A gent appears and lets me know that the person to help me get settled in left due to them not being able to get a hold of me earlier that day, but he calls him quickly and lets me know he’ll be here in about twenty minutes. I settle into a chair and wait, making sure I’m socially distant from the family eating and the cooks in the kitchen. My bad feeling just won’t go away.
Twenty minutes comes and goes. The two people in the kitchen turn out to be lovers. They come over to me, hand in hand, and let me know that they would help me if they could, but they don’t know how to operate the elevator that takes one down into the Caverns itself. I let them know it’s not a problem, I’m in no rush. I wander around the place, trying to find the charm that will shake my overwhelming sense of dread. I hear a car race up the dirt road. A young man, probably of Native American descent from the Havasupai tribe that is around here flies into the restaurant and apologizes for being late, letting me know they tried to call me earlier to confirm an arrival time. I just let it go.
“So you are really staying for two nights?” I want to tell him that I am wondering incredulously to myself if that is a good decision, but realize that everything is already pre-paid and non-refundable.
He gives me a quick tutorial about the Cavern room below, as well as how the elevator operates to get one in and out of the Cavern.
“Are you ready?” I realize that he isn’t going down there with me, but he’ll be staying all night in a room upstairs, and that I can call him on the phone anytime if there is a problem.
I step into the elevator, and slowly close the door manually. I push the button like I was instructed, and the entire elevator shakes violently before starting to descend. I flash to the movie “Angel Heart” where Mickey Rourke is slowly descending to Hell in the elevator, his life decisions flashing before his eyes. Twenty One stories down I go. The elevator shakes again, then settles. I’ve arrived, and slowly pull the door back…..
“Just remember, nothing lives down here.“
I follow the dimly light tunnel, at first going the wrong way which only heightens my anxiety. Turning around, I eventually come to the Grand Cavern, and see that they have constructed an open air room smack dab in the middle of the Cavern. It’s a cool, constant 60 degrees down here. They also have a Grotto where people can choose to dine in the Cavern, as well various set up’s for family tours.
But with the current Covid pandemic the Grotto and tours are closed. I will not have anyone disturbing me down here. I am alone. I turn off the lights for just a moment to feel complete darkness, yet my senses scream with fear, and after only a few seconds I flip the switch back to on. Looks like I’ll be sleeping with the lights on….
I give myself a tour, as nothing is roped off for safety. I was told to please not go exploring on my own, but curiosity is a strong beast. The Cavern is huge, with many large chambers to be found. My self guided tour stops short though when I run into a sloth bear, a prehistoric creature that is over ten feet tall, built to put a little scare into families taking the tour. I scream loudly until I realize it is fake, but that ends my exploring. I go back to the bed in the main cavern.
The silence down here can be overwhelming, but they do have a record player and some old country vinyl. The sounds of John Denver echoes off the cave walls…..Rocky Mountain High….Colorado. There is also a TV and some DVD’s one can watch. I put in something just to hear sounds other than my own breathing.
I sleep better than I can remember having done for years. The lack of distractions and no cell reception or WiFi helps my brain and body relax.
When my time eventually came to leave, I can say with confidence that it was quite the experience to sleep in the Grand Canyon Caverns. Was it worth the money to stay two nights? Probably not, one night would have been enough. The two nights though did give me time to come to appreciate what the owners of this place were trying to create out here on old Route 66…..a place of fun and wonder for families, and a unique experience one would be hard pressed to find anywhere else in the world.