Day 170 – Grand Canyon Loop, May 16, 2011 (The first part of this loop was about 6 weeks ago)
I’m not even sure how to start this blog about the Grand Canyon. When I originally plotted my course around the USA, I simply glanced at the number of stops and total number of miles associated with each drive listed in the Reader’s Digest Book and allotted a day for every four stops or 100 scenic miles on average. Each day, upon reviewing the drive a little closer the night before I depart, I mentally determine general stopping points based on location, shower and food needs, and cell service and adjust my tour accordingly.
Upon reviewing the drive along the Grand Canyon South Rim, many of the stops were merely overlooks which don’t take much time compared to hikes. I decided I would travel the South Rim which included 8 stops and only 35 scenic miles of driving in a day as opposed to the original two days I set aside. A few items that entered into my decision making process were the fact I had already twice rafted down the Colorado River which carved the Grand Canyon, reliance on my imagination given my limited knowledge of possible rim activities, and the perceived effort of finding a place to stay for the night. While it may take me a while to make up my mind, once I set my mind to something, it is difficult for me to change it.
I must say, if I had a do over, this may have been a place for a retry. First and foremost, there are a million places to stay both inside and outside the park, cell service is plentiful in the populated areas, restaurants are nearby, and a handful of hiking activities exist at the rim. Despite the fact I know the Grand Canyon is a major national and international attraction and I presumed commercialization would be present, I was surprised to see the extent. I guess I expected Williams, about 60 miles from the park, to be the last major stop and that the area nearby the southern park entrance would be somewhat remote…not so. I also expected that a road would pass by the canyon, tourists could pull off into the parking lot, walk up to a railing and snap a photo, and perhaps walk a few hundred yards near the edge of the rim.
Little did I know that a 13 mile paved trail without railings mirrored the southern rim. Moreover, I didn’t realize visitors could test their stamina on a few trails leading into the canyon, but not have to commit to making the 7.8 mile trek down to the river, resulting in over a 15 mile roundtrip hike that isn’t recommended as a day hike. In addition, I expected the most well known trail, Bright Angel, to be extremely narrow when in fact it was generally four to five feet wide. While I’ve bungy jumped and skydived, standing too close to a ledge tends to make my stomach churn, my head spin, and my knees buckle, so I didn’t think I’d enjoy the Bright Angel Trail. Had I really understood the opportunities in the park, I would have stayed nearby the park and gotten a very early start to at least attack the 3 mile roundtrip hike down to the first Rest Stop on Bright Angel Trail and then spent some time walking the rim trail where Petey was allowed to join me. The second day, I would have attempted the Grand View Trail that looked narrower and steeper than the Bright Angel Trail and according to the sign wasn’t maintained and then bounced around to a few of the additional vistas in VANilla.
Having said all that, a day was enough for me this go around, but I think it would be fun to return with some fellow hikers, a reserved spot at Phantom Ranch on the canyon floor, no dog, and a handful of days set aside to hike in the canyon. I’m told that 80% of people who have visited the Grand Canyon have only been to the rim. At the risk of offending a few readers, I must say those who have only visited the rim have short changed themselves. Don’t get me wrong, one must admire the grandeur of the canyon (277 river miles long and 1 mile deep), marvel at the length of time it took to form (millions of years), and wonder in amazement at the explorers who found a way to cross the 10 to 18 mile wide gorge.
But the experience at the rim is entirely different from the experience on the canyon floor. It’s like going on a sightseeing tour as opposed to an adventure. While the sheer size of the canyon is indescribable and had to be both an inspiring and frustrating site to early explorers heading west, the raging waters of the Colorado River that look like a calm creek from the rim provide rafters with an exhilarating journey through the largest navigable rapid in the Northern Hemisphere – Lava Falls. As the cool breeze at the rim keeps temperatures near an enjoyable 8o degrees for summer tourists, valley goers tolerate icy 42 degree water released from the depths of Lake Powell to find relief from the still 100 degree heat below. The immense serenity visitors feel as they gaze at birds gliding above the multitude of butte, spires, and plateaus contrasts with the intensity adventurers on the canyon floor feel from vigorous hikes to cliffside Indian dwellings, body surfing the Little Colorado’s rapids, and leaping from the tops of waterfalls to pools below. It is like visiting two separate places in one.
Now to start the description of my day…My “sightseeing” day began in Williams. After visiting the local coffee shop operated by two kids that had to be under thirteen, I tried to find a geocache in the local cemetery to drop off the travel bug I picked up the other day, but the high winds and tall trees were wreaking havoc on my gps. My device never registered that I was within 140 feet of the cache when in fact, through the description of the cache location and the hint, I’m quite certain I was near ground zero. While I failed in the caching department, I may have found the most colorful cemetery in America. All the graves were decorated with anything from plastic flowers, beer bottles, day of the dead memorabilia, paint, stuffed animals and flags. It was quite a place. While I haven’t visited too many cemeteries in my lifetime, this one ranks as a favorite.
We continued on to the South Rim where we visited Yavapai Point and walked a few miles on the paved rim trail. Given all the photos I took, the short distance took a long time to cover! I find the vastness of the Grand Canyon awesome, but also slightly discouraging as the haze, even on a clear day, seems to wash out the colors of the canyon walls. According to the information sign, I could see 150 miles, yet I felt like my eye was only picking up a tenth of the colors. Imagine viewing the canyon walls at closer distance, I can’t imagine the multitude of colors that would be present.
After the walk along the point that wasn’t extremely crowded, we drove west to a parking area near the Bright Angel Trailhead and the shuttle bus stop where visitors can take a 75 minute West Rim tour not counting the time to visit overlooks and wait for the next shuttle that runs every 15 minutes. The line for the shuttle bus looked at least 30 minutes long, and given I’m in a car all day, I decided to venture down the Bright Angel Trail. As I previously mentioned, I was pleased to see the trail was much wider than I had imagined and well maintained. Most of the folks along the first mile of the trail were simply rim visitors, but I met a couple that had packed out from the campground below. They seemed slightly worn out, but enjoyed the adventure. I also couldn’t help but think what it would have been like to be at the Bright Angel Trail when Oprah filmed her exercising and dieting efforts. That had to have been chaos!
After meandering down and then back up Bright Angel for only an hour and stopping for chats and photo opportunities along the way, I joined Petey in VANilla, and followed the road back to the east to enjoy a handful of overlooks, including: Grandview, Moran Point, Tusayan Ruin, Lipan Point, Desert View and Watch Tower.
My favorite overlooks were Grandview and Lipan Point and I found these spots to be more magical than the views located near the hype. Grandview Point came to be in 1890, when prospector Pete Berry staked the Last Chance copper claim 3,000 feet below the rim on Horseshoe Mesa which began a 17 year flurry. Despite the mine’s ore earning a World’s Fair prize in 1893 for being over 70% pure copper, the high cost of packing ore to the rim and shipping it to be refined doomed the operation. Pete Berry sold the mine in 1901, and the new owners ceased operations in 1907 when copper prices plunged. In the meantime, Pete Berry began operating his Grand View Hotel. Tourists took a 12 hour stagecoach ride from Flagstaff to take a mule ride into the canyon. Thus began Grand Canyon tourism! Grandview was the canyon’s most popular tourist destination until the Sante Fe Railroad reached Grand Canyon Village, 11 miles down the road and tourists chose the train over stagecoach transportation.
Both Grandview and especially Lipan Point provided wonderful views of the Colorado River. Hance Rapid could be spotted below Lipan Point. The rapid is almost a mile in length and drops more than 30 feet. While on the river, this rapid appears enormous, while on the rim, it was hardly visible. Had the information sign not pointed it out, I would have thought I was only watching a trickle of white water.
While Moran Point is named for the artist whose paintings helped persuade the federal government to preserve the canyon for all Americans, I didn’t find this view to be particularly interesting, though I’m thankful that Moran raised awareness of the Grand Canyon. I moved on to take a quick walk through the Tusayan Ruin and finally to visit Desert View. I was really looking forward to climbing the 70 foot Watchtower perched on the edge of the cliff, but it was closed for renovation. The tower, designed by Mary Colter, was completed in 1933. Her goal was to build a structure providing the widest possible view while harmonizing with its setting.
For more information on the Grand Canyon and how it was formed see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Canyon as I could obviously write for days. It even tells you how many over zealous photographers have fallen over the edge.
VANilla carried us to Tuba City for the evening where I found a spot in the Quality Inn parking lot. Oh how I wished I acted on my thought to use the shower facilities at the Grand Canyon in the middle of the day. I think it may have been a mistake to pass them up. At least the hotel has a restaurant that prepared a mean green chili and pork soup. It hit the spot. ETB