Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Kayenta, AZ to Grand Canyon, AZ

We got up in the morning only to find that it was snowing! Now, I wouldn't call this a Great Lakes type snowstorm: a light dusting is all that it was. As soon as the clouds parted and the sun came up, it started to melt. We had our breakfast and headed out, straight for the Grand Canyon, about a 300 km trip. At first I paid close attention to the road, you never know there could be black ice on stretches sheltered from sunlight. None materialized, so I picked up speed. After an uneventful drive, we reached the outer limits of the Grand Canyon National Park. In winter, you can only go to the south rim, as the north rim is closed due to snow.

Since we had some lingering low hanging cloud from the overnight snowflurries, the north rim was hidden beyond cloud.
That didn't last too long though, soon the entire canyon was revealed in its splendour. The crowd at this point, the most easterly viewpoint called Desert View, was minimal, just a few cars. Just the way we like it. There are numerous view points along the rim from there to Grand Canyon Village, about a 40 km drive. At about the second viewpoint we read a sign that said "Grandview Trail". Reading further we learned that this was one of the trails that can take you right down to the river, 1500 m below the rim. (FYI, the south rim is about 2,250 m above sea level, the north rim is another 300 m higher. It's about 20 km across). Anyway, a couple of hikers just happened to reach the top as we stood there. I took their picture and you should be able to discern by the looks on their faces how exhausted they were. Emaciated might be a better term. They had been on their way, climbing steadily, for almost 6 hours, with heavy backpacks.

We moved west and the further we went, the thicker the crowds became. And this in February! It got so bad, that in the main parking lot there wasn't a spot to be had. This sort of put a damper on things, as we're used to being alone just about everywhere we go. Not only that, the crowds are noisy and boorish. We saw a family where Dad positioned the kids precariously on a set of rocks right above the rim (100 m drop immediately behind), while Mom up top shot a picture. So, all in all, it was a bit disappointing and we decided to retire early to our the Quality Inn in Tusayan, about 10 km south of the rim. (You can actually stay in National Park Service lodges right in the park, but I was too late, they were all filled up).

Feeling somewhat depressed after such a tough day (tongue firmly in cheek here), we chose to attend the local IMAX theatre, where, surprise, they showed a movie about the Grand Canyon. Wow, even tough it's over 20 years old, it still looks pretty good. We stuffed our faces at the buffet dinner at our hotel and since we wanted to be up early to avoid the crowds during the rim hike, we retired early.

Cold and clear was the weather when we got up. Again, the 4 litre bottle of water was frozen solid. Every time we want to use it, it's frozen solid. We picked up some much needed groceries at the very expensive food mart across the road and hopped in the car for the very short drive to the rim.

Our luck was turning. Instead of human wildlife of the worst kind, we saw animal wildlife of the best kind. Just before we reached the rim, a couple of deer, calm as ever, wanted to cross the road. Ever the gentleman, I let them go ahead.

We started off on the rim walk, which you can make as long as you want: if you feel you're sick of it, just turn around and walk back. For most people, this point is reached after about 30 seconds. Us, well we thend to hang in a little longer. We barely got under way when we spotted some elk! I banged off a
couple of shots. and we moved on. What would be next? We headed further east, meeting the occasional hiker or hikers, until we reached Grand Canyon Village, where we succumbed to the need for a coffee. We acted snooty, standing by the fire place in one of the most expensive lodges, before reality set in and we went back on our way. At the village, there is another trail that descends, the Bright Angel Trail. Just to say we had been below the rim, we descended a few steps, but came back up. We began our return trip on the rim. Just then, we spotted some condors, so I took a few more shots, one of them of an airborne condor, the other where the birds are resting on a rock. These birds have been marked with giant numbers on their wings, sort of like soccer players, maybe they were in the middle of their game and this was their tea break.

Further east we went, and then, miraculously, I spotted some mountain goats on the trail. They were indeed very subdued, so subdued in fact I think they were on Prozac. I was able to get some nice shots before we let them be.

Some parting shots, literally of the Grand Canyon. You're a big hole. It's been good to know ya.

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