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.