Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Grand Canyon, First Day

We were up early, as usual, showered, gobbled down our "free" Quality Inn breakfast, shopped at Safeway for fruit, sandwiches and ice, waved goodbye to Flagstaff and were on the road to the Grand Canyon by 8am!

We decided last night to enter the Park by the east entrance: The distance was not much greater than using the south entrance and it was reputed to be a more scenic route. As we drove toward the Visitor Center, we stopped at almost every overlook and pullout; but, we were eventually guilty of resorting to drive-bys as the scenes began to look very familiar.

Our first spot on the drive in from the eastern edge of the Park was Desert View. This has the Watchtower, designed by famous Southwest architecht Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, was built in 1932 by the Fred Harvey Company and Santa Fe Railroad. This tower attempts to recreate the "strange prehistoric towers found scattered over large areas of the Southwest." The structure includes a Kiva (Sacred Ceremonial Chamber); a kiva in the home of a modern day Native American serves as lodge room, meeting hall and place of worship. The Watchtower also includes a Snake Altar displaying objects used in the Snake Dance, a prayer for rain. The walls and ceilings are covered with representations of legends important to the peoples of this area.

The Watchtower

Jaw-Dropping View

Guess Who?

Guess What?

Ancient Dwelling Area on the Colorado. We saw this site from farther away while on the North Rim. This was fertile land near water and was populated for many, many years.

We missed one opportunity for picnic tables and redoubled our efforts so as to not miss the next one--the only signage was a small one visible only as you were upon it: consequently we flew on by.

Our Picnic Lunch

We finally arrived at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. First, we had trouble finding a place to park--this had not happened recently; but, we are now at one of the most popular tourist destinations in the US. I saw a car with a man behind the wheel and the brake lights on while his wife was rummaging through the trunk. I missed them until it was too late to back up; but, we caught them on the second round: "Are you leaving?"

The crowd situation was no better in the counter queues on the inside of the Center. Claire noticed that there would be a showing of an informative movie in 5 minutes; so, we hustled inside to get good seats. The most exciting part was running the Colorado rapids in Kayaks and rubber rafts. It was narrated by Peter Coyote; we always enjoy hearing his voice.

Leaving the theater by the entrance, we beat the crowd back into the information lobby and found a Ranger who was free. He was helpful in answering our questions. I must note that it is somewhat challenging to figure out what to do in what order and in what time frame. Claire has spent many hours on this and we were still uncertain, today on how best to spend our time. But, we figured out something that worked for us.

South Rim View


Man on a Rock. We were astonished to see someone out there. We thought this guy had jumped across a minor, but scary, chasm to reach this outlook. But, when he returned to safety, we noticed that he climbed down out of sight and then up again.


We next walked out to Mather Point, one of the most popular of sites within the Park.

The Crowds Begin


Where's Waldo?

Intrepid Explorer

Traveling Companion

Then we drove to Maswik Lodge to park our car and to try to check-in early. We got the parking space and partially checked-in; but, they could not give us a key, as the room was not ready. We recommend this approach: You can get parking early and only have to wait for the key, upon later check-in.

After that, we walked a quarter mile to the Red Line Shuttle Bus stop. (There are 3 lines in the Park: Red, Blue and Orange. Red goes to the western end of the South Rim, Hermit's Rest, with stops at various points along the way. The Blue line travels around the Village and Visitor Center, providing access to the restaurants, hotels, parking lots and campgrounds. The Orange Line provides the only access to Yaki Point and South Kaibab Trailhead; it is the shortest route. The shuttles, of course, supplant cars to a very large extent, reducing the pollution that puts a veil over almost every scene in the Park. The Park Guide lays this out quite clearly--pick one up upon entering and at many shops or lodges.

We got off the Red Line at Hopi Point, walked 2 miles to Mohave Point and climbed on the next shuttle for the end of the line: Hermit's Rest, where we had a delicious and refreshing frozen strawberry juice bar before taking the shuttle back to our original starting point.

View of the Unwashed Masses from Beyond Mather Point. We know know that we are among crowds: South Rim has 5 million visitors annually.


Suicidal Squirrel. I swear he looked like he was ready to jump. Maybe he had not stowed away enough acorns for the coming Winter.

Ancient Tree, Familiar View. I take this to be a bristlecone pine; some of these in the Sierra Nevada in CA are the oldest living things on earth, some as old as 5,000 years!

On the Trail

In the Moment

Daredevil Trekker

We walked back to the Lodge, were assigned our keys, got settled in our room, read for a bit and then walked back to the lodge for dinner. We had the baked chicken plate with side dishes of pilaf (plain rice) and mixed veggies (overcooked dramatically) for Claire and baked potato and pilaf for Chuck. I also had a refreshing glass of cranberry juice. I forgot to mention that I did have a frozen yogurt snack twice, today; Claire indulged only once--she has far more discipline than I.

After dinner, Claire read, helped determine which pictures were blog-worthy and kept me from distorting the sequence of the day's events while providing invaluable editorial guidance. For once, she beat me to bed and to sleep, while I finished notes for the blog.

I am currently reading and enjoying Breakfast With Buddha, a novel about an ordinary American's car trip with a Rinpoche--an honorific used in Tibetan Buddhism. It literally means "precious one," and is used to address or describe Tibetan lamas or respected teachers. The American protagonist is frightfully typical, I think, in his reluctance to accept another's spiritual advice. I recognize this pridefulness in myself. But, about half-way through the book, his stance seems to be wavering. I am quite curious to see how this turns out.

There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than ...the Canyon of the Colorado...and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children's children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred. ~ Theodore Roosevelt