Sunday, July 18, 2010

Southwest Trip-Part 4-North Rim

We arrived at the North Rim late in the day, so we had just enough time to hike the short trail out to Bright Angel Point and then catch the sunset from the outdoor patio at the lodge.
Our first impression of the North Rim was that it was crowded, because we had a tough time finding a parking place, but it was nothing like the crowds and the shuttle bus system of the South Rim. They had also decided to repave the area right in front of the lodge the days we were there, so we just couldn't seem to escape construction, even at the Grand Canyon.
The views from the North Rim were even more spectacular..perhaps the lighting was more interesting. Max was bored watching another sunset, so we again occupied ourselves with finding shapes in the rock shadows. Max found an alligator. I found Whistler's mother. Though I couldn't seem to really capture those shapes in a photo, so don't bother looking for them in these views.

We were most excited to try a half-day mule trip into the Canyon. I attempted to book the trip when we first arrived, and yet we still found ourselves on standby for the afternoon ride the next day. As it happened, it worked out in our favor. Perhaps it is due to a bit of good luck acquired through rubbing Brighty's nose in the Grand Canyon Lodge. (There is a bronze statue of Brighty, with a very shiny, well rubbed nose.)
We were shuttled to the North Kaibab trailhead, and assigned to our mules. "Slim", "Big Mac" and "Gus". They divided us into groups of about eight per mule wrangler, and we headed down. It is a steep trail, and much more tiring to go down than up. I will never understand why people do this ride wearing shorts. None of us were particularly bothered by the mules' tendency to hug the edge of the trail. We trusted them to carry us safely down. At the stopping point, there is a water fountain, a restroom, and hitching posts for the mules, so everyone gets off to stretch their legs.
The red dust is everywhere. And by the time the ride is over, it is embedded into your boots, jeans and socks. We inhaled quite a bit of it, too.

The view between Slim's ears.
Michael looking relaxed in the saddle.
Try shooting straight when you're twisted around in the saddle, on a moving mule.

The next morning, we decided to explore a couple more points on the North Rim, which involved a 20 mile drive out to the end of the Walhalla plateau. From here we viewed Angel's window. Then we took our last look at the canyon before heading north to our next stop, Bryce Canyon.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Southwest Trip - Part 3

Next we were on our way to Page, AZ, where the next morning, we were scheduled for a half-day smooth water float trip on the Colorado River. But to get there we would drive through some spectacular scenery. Driving through the Navajo Indian reservation, we had many opportunities to shop at the roadside stands for jewelry and pottery, and my husband's favorite--Buffalo jerky.
We saw the western edge of the painted desert, and a lot of desolate, barren country of red sandstone.
Driving through Antelope Pass was a treat, and we would have liked to explore Antelope Canyon while in Page, but time did not allow for a lengthy side trip. Page was an interesting little town, built because of the Glen Canyon Dam, and it was a place where all of the churches of different denominations were on the same street, all one after the other. We treated ourselves to a real dinner that night, at the Dam Bar and Grill and we were ready early the next morning for our raft trip. We met at the Colorado River Discovery headquarters at 7am to board a bus down to the river. To get to the bottom of the canyon, the bus goes through a 2 mile long dark tunnel which emerges right at the base of the dam. We had to don hard hats, because apparently people up above on the bridge like to toss pebbles over the edge, perhaps aiming for the river, but more often hitting the parking area where the rafts are docked.

The raft trip itself was a nice relaxing trip on the river. Our guide pointed out various things of interest, and talked about the geology of the canyon. At the halfway point, they docked the rafts, and we were able to get out for a short hike up to the petroglyphs. You could wade in the river here, but the water was numbingly cold.

The raft trip ended at Lee's Ferry, the starting point for the longer raft trips into the Grand Canyon. We watched them loading up several of the large boats with supplies. I have heard that the trips are spectacular, and it would be a fun adventure to try sometime in the future.

After taking the bus back to Page, we drove on towards the Grand Canyon North Rim. On the way, we stopped to admire Marble Canyon and the views of the Vermillion Cliffs, as we headed toward the Kaibab plateau.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Southwest Trip-Part 2

Day 2 (continued)
Grand Canyon, South Rim

We opted to stay at the Bright Angel Lodge in the park for one night, which gave us the opportunity to view a sunset from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. As all the guidebooks warned..the South Rim was very crowded, and parking was a challenge. You can't park anywhere near the Bright Angel Lodge--you can pull up and unload, but then you have to park somewhere distant and either walk back or take a shuttle bus. If you're traveling light, it wouldn't be a big deal, but for a family of three, with three bags, a cooler, backpack, camera, and groceries, it was a bit of a pain. Perhaps we could have been organized enough to leave one or two bags in the car, but we're not that organized.

We spent the late afternoon exploring the area around the Bright Angel Lodge and cabins, including Lookout Studio and the Kolb Studio, where there was an exhibit of Grand Canyon artwork from the park's collection. The work was inspiring, and I wish I could have spent some time painting while there, but in reality, traveling with family doesn't allow any time for such pursuits.

The shuttle bus system in the park does work fairly well. The road out to the viewpoints on the western end, Hermit's Rest, is closed to most vehicles and you have to take the shuttle. You could walk the rim trail all the way out there, but it is miles long. After snacking out of the cooler for dinner, we hopped a shuttle out to Hopi Point, a popular spot to watch the sunset. Since watching the sunset is about as exciting to a ten-year-old boy as watching paint dry, we entertained ourselves with finding shapes in the shadows on the rocks. Much more fun than clouds...they stay put a little longer, yet they gradually change shape as the sun sets. This first shot is looking east from Hopi Point.

The view to the west as the sun dropped into the horizon was a beautiful shade of blue, with a tiny metallic sliver of Colorado River showing.

Max and I were up early, and we headed out to see the early morning sun on the canyon.
We watched a California condor sitting on the rocks, stretching its wings, waiting for the warmth of the sun. I felt very lucky to see one of these birds as there are only about 73 of them in all of Arizona. Many of them are in the Grand Canyon, so it is one area that you are likely to see one.

This is looking west toward the Lookout Studio. Designed by Mary Colter, it is perfectly designed to blend into the landscape.

As Max and I walked toward the Bright Angel trailhead, we passed the mule corral, where they begin the famous mule trips to the bottom of the canyon. There were several pack mules in the corral, and we watched the wrangler lead them out, and a crew loaded them up--with DIRT! These mules were part of a trail work crew--carrying evenly balanced loads of dirt to replace an eroded section of trail. We watched the pack train descend a little ways, then two men unhitched the bottom of the bags, dumping the soil, and the mules were turned right around and returned to the top. It looked to be a lot of work to haul a small load of dirt, but it was done so efficently with these mules.

Now imagine making a u-turn with this string of mules on this trail! They did it.

We spent the morning checking out the rest of the viewpoints at the western end of the park, on the shuttle bus route to Hermit's Rest. Then we picked up the car and drove out the eastern end, stopping at a few more viewpoints along the way. The last stop is Desert View, where there is a watchtower, also designed by Mary Coulter, and although it was under renovation at the time, we could still go inside, and I managed to get a shot of the outside without the construction cranes in view.

Leaving Grand Canyon National Park, we drove east onto the Navajo Reservation, a barren, but beautiful landscape of red rock. This was our glimpse at the western edge of the Painted Desert. We also had a good view of the smoke from a wildfire burning out of control in the mountains just east of Flagstaff. We discovered later, that the day after we left Grand Canyon, they closed route 89 south of the park, and were re-routing traffic through G.C. National Park because of the smoke. We were lucky we didn't run into a lot of traffic.
I'll continue with our next adventure in the next post.