KELLEY AND DAVE'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE: WEEK 3, Flagstaff, Sedona, Jerome, N&S rims of Grand Canyon, Kanab,ARIZONA TO UTAH

Published: January 28th 2009
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The Big Trip West…Notes From the road:

WEEK THREE: Thursday, June 5, Flagstaff. Sunshine and a temperature of 40 degrees! Quite a difference from the 85-95 degree temperatures over the last week but at least it’s not raining. Flagstaff’s annual rainfall for the month of June is .57 inches. Since we came into Flagstaff in the rain, we should be good for the rest of the month. Our new car has been through so many dust storms in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona that we can’t really tell what color it is anymore. I had though that after last night’s rain the car would be clean but now the dirt has congealed into blotchy mud patches, good camouflage for Africa I suppose but there are no elephants here.
Breakfast in Flagstaff was a treat in the historic center of town. Everything is centered around the train station and you don’t have to wait long to hear the rumbling of the trains and the sharp whistle echoing off the mountains as it rolls into town. We found a small downtown diner that was a local haunt and ordered thick slabs of French toast and hot tea and coffee, thus fortified we set out to explore the historic district of Flagstaff. The buildings are charming and the town has the feel of many of the old rural Vermont mountain towns I once frequented when I lived there. I had heard there was an arboretum in Flagstaff so we decided to check it out. We drove several miles over washboard roads (at 15-20 miles per hour which was very uncomfortable for Mario) and when we finally got there we found that none of the flowers were in bloom since it was a damp late spring and unless we wanted a brisk walk in the woods we were likely not going to see much so we drove back into town, again over those washboard roads to see the unique Arts and Crafts style Riordan Mansion, a National Register Historic Site. This 13 room log slab- sided mansion was built in 1904 for two Riordan families. The Riordans built a successful logging industry in Flagstaff and were influential in the social and economic development of the area. The house has many interesting features including volcanic stone surfaces around the fireplaces, imported Vermont maple for the flooring, locally handcrafted furniture, Tiffany style lighting, a water fountain in the all glass breakfast room, central heating and plumbing that was unique for the time, sky lights and a hanging porch swing in the formal living room.
The day was soon getting away from us so we left the mansion and headed up to Sunset Crater Volcano just north of Flagstaff. I am almost at a loss of words to describe this place. If I had been told I was on the moon I would have believed it. The landscape was so foreign with rivers of huge shiny black chunks of dark basalt rock (the Bonita Lava Flow) that would have been impossible to cross had we been allowed to do so. Tall ponderosa pines disguise much of the lava flow until you get glimpses of the chunky black rivers winding through a clearing. The crater itself is 1,000 feet above sea level and erupted between 1040 and 1100. It is 2,250 feet in diameter at the top and although the Sunset Crater is commanding in its presence, there are many other visually stunning craters and mountains formed by volcanoes throughout the San Francisco Volcanic Field of northern Arizona. The various textures of the lava were surprising to me. In contrast to the massive chunks of lava in the “river” below the crater, the area surrounding the mountain’s base was soft; dusty sand-like particles created a very fragile surface that is easily eroded. There is not much vegetation on the crater itself giving it an eerie moonscape appearance. There were few birds and little evidence of wildlife in this hauntingly quiet place. Most of the mountains in this region were born of volcanic action, including Arizona’s highest mountain, Humphreys Peak, at 12,633 feet.
On a short drive north of Sunset Crater we found a dramatic view for the Painted Desert that we were unable to see on our drive west on route 40 from New Mexico to Flagstaff. Today it was hazy in the afternoon sun but the dusty pink landscape in the distance was like a soft, liquid watercolor in contrast to the bold, dark green pines in the foreground. My camera could not do it justice and I wished I had the time and my watercolors to attempt to capture what I saw.
Again we missed lunch on our trek in the mountains so we headed back into Flagstaff to grab a late lunch/early dinner. We found a funky Dara Thai Restaurant opposite a Youth Hostel that advertised rooms for $5 (although the sign probably dated back to the glory days of Route 66.) The sign on the restaurant door said the restaurant was voted best of Flagstaff in 2007. There were a variety of posters covering the windows for poetry readings, tarot readings, tattoos, and concerts as well as a variety of political rallies. With its focus on vegetarian food, our dinner was as good as promised and quite plentiful so we ate what we could and packed up the rest in our cooler to reheat for another meal then headed to Oak Creek Canyon. Highway 89A winds along Oak Creek for 12 miles of breathtaking hairpin turns. There is a lookout along the way where you can walk to the edge of the cliff to see the road below wind through the canyon. The view is not for the faint of heart for the sheer cliff drops sharply below. We arrived at the lookout at 4:55, just in time to shop at the Indian stalls lining the road to the lookout. There were Kachina dolls, dream catchers, jewelry, pottery and blankets for sale and of course I needed to browse and ended up with some lovely handmade gifts.
The Indian market was closing and the sun was disappearing fast behind the high rocky canyon walls so we drove down the steep winding switch backs through Sedona and then finally south into Cottonwood, where we had reservations at the Best Western. As soon as we checked into our room we “checked into” the hot tub, went for a swim and rested up for our 4:30am wakeup call for our Hot Air Balloon ride in the morning.
The sun was not up yet on Friday, June 6. At 4:50am we were picked up at our hotel for our hour long ride in a hot air balloon over the mountain-edged verdant Cottonwood Valley. With coffee in hand, Dave got me to the van on time and we headed out to the launch site. I have seen many hot air balloons in Illinois but never saw them launch and certainly never rode in one. Dave was excited (which is a major statement here) about the flight and the engineer in him surveyed the 4-person support team as they unfurled the limp balloon on the tarp-covered ground. When the balloon was fully laid out on the tarp I was amazed at how large it was. Once the balloon was in place a large fan was turned on and two people held the mouth of the balloon open to allow the cold air to slowly fill the balloon up. Once the balloon was filled with cold air, the propane, which by now was strapped onto the basket we would ride in, began replacing the cold air with hot air and slowly the large balloon began to right itself until it was fully upright and ready to lift off. One by one each of the five of us (the pilot, two women and Dave and I) climbed into the basket-woven gondola, which by my observation had seen better days. Within seconds we lifted off the ground so quietly and effortlessly that I wasn’t even certain we were airborne until the ground began receding from our tiny perch. I had always imagined that the ride would be quiet but I was surprised to find out that there was really no sense of movement except for the breeze and the only sounds
Deer on the Beaver Creek Golf CourseDeer on the Beaver Creek Golf CourseDeer on the Beaver Creek Golf Course

Dave plays golf while I get distracted with the deer
were those of the cows lowing beneath us. I would have believed it if you told me we were watching a movie. As the sun broke over the horizon, the vista began to sharpen and the mountain range unfolded before us. The ride was gentle and smooth and was over all too quickly for us.
Since we left so early we got back to the hotel in plenty of time for breakfast. I had given Dave many brochures on golf in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona and this morning I insisted that he play golf! He chose Beaver Creek, a little course in Cornville about 15 miles from Sedona where he could walk and play nine holes. I walked along with my camera, recording Dave’s swing as well as the surrounding landscape until I surprised 5 white-tailed deer in the thicket adjacent to the 14th hole while photographing flowers (not Dave). Then I totally disappeared until the 17th hole (he played the back nine) fully absorbed in the antics of those deer.
As I was walking the course with Dave, I was also walking down a sweet memory lane of my own. When I was a little girl we lived near a golf course. As I listened to the swing of Dave’s club, the connection with the ball, the crunch of Dave’s feet on the gravel paths, it brought back the times when my dad would let me walk with him the few times he played golf. I felt so important when he let me wash his golf balls in the ball washers or pull his clubs out of the bag. There were too few times that I had alone with my father and these memories came flooding back as an echo of childhood happiness.
It was getting quite hot by the time Dave finished his 9 holes of golf so we headed into the clubhouse for lunch and a cool drink. The Montezuma Well National Monument was not far away so after our lunch we “went to the well”. The Montezuma Well is a natural sinkhole in this dry desert landscape that measures 368 feet wide at the mouth. It is surrounded by 70 foot high cliffs that tower over the green water that flows in and out of the well each day through a 300 foot long cave. As we climbed to the top we found the remains of the Sinaguan Cliff and Cave Dwellers who had built and flourished in an elaborate pueblo city 1,000 years ago. I climbed down to the bottom of the well where it was more forested and cool and saw an amazing aqueduct carved out of the rock ledges that edged the river below. Dave had climbed back into the car and was taking a nap when I returned, understandable since we had been up since 4:30am and he had played 9 holes of golf in the Arizona heat.
We returned to our hotel to take a little rest before heading out to Clarkdale to the Verde Canyon Wilderness Dinner Train that departed at 5:30 to return at 9:30pm. (Take the last train to Clarkdale…oh never mind). Verde Canyon is accessible only by rail and affords wonderful views of rugged high desert rock, river gorges, towering crimson cliffs, and ancient Indian ruins.
When we arrived at the train station I noticed a sign over the station windows that read: It’s The Journey, Not the Destination! I pointed the sign out to ‘Destination Dave’ who smiled but didn’t really get it. Now I realize that it is a Mars - Venus thing; that generally speaking, women enjoy exploring, discovering and learning about their environs while men need to get the job done, in other words if it is not on the agenda, they’re not doing it. More on this later.
Our train travels through a 680 foot man-made tunnel and over several old-fashioned railroad trestles. We spent most of the trip in the open air viewing cars where we enjoyed beautiful vistas and searched in vain for elk but instead saw a pair of bald eagles perched on the cliffs high above us. I met a nice couple (Diana from LA, Oliver was from Wimbledon) and we exchanged travel stories while Dave slept in the car after the sun had set. I told Diana about the journey/destination sign in the train station and she nearly collapsed in laughter. Oliver joined in and they said that was their single most difficult thing in traveling together. Well at least we are not alone.
A mere 2 ½ weeks into our journey and I realize that Dave has mealtime meltdowns and afternoon crankiness if he doesn’t get his nap. (You would think I would have known this by now but he generally eats “with the boys” or on his own during the day at home) I on the other hand, run around in circles like a chicken with my head cut off until I collapse in a puddle of my own creation. We make a wonderful sometimes moody sometimes frustrating, usually impatient pair, but overall we have a wonderful ability to laugh at ourselves; solution? Eat, take naps, breathe and move on.
Saturday, June 7, we started out with another great breakfast at our hotel and while there I ran into a woman transplanted to Scottsdale from Boston who came up to Sedona for the weekend. We talked about the area and she mentioned Elote, her favorite restaurant, a reasonably priced eclectic Mexican restaurant with a sophisticated menu. That sounded too good to be true, so I presented the idea to Dave who, when he heard the word inexpensive was all on board. After breakfast we drove up the steep switchback road to Jerome, a former mining town that is perched precariously on the edge of a cliff overlooking the valley. At over 5,000 feet high, this “city in the sky” once boasted a population of over 15,000 in its mining heyday when the mines were making over a billion dollars in copper and other ore mined from the Cleopatra Hill. When mining began to be unprofitable, this late 1800 boom town turned into a ghost town of only 100 people. Today it is a thriving art community with a population of about 500. Dave and I explored the red light district and old saloons, and bought lemonade from two enterprising young boys sitting outside the oldest family owned saloon in town.
Jerome, Clarkdale, Cottonwood and Flagstaff all remind me of Vermont in the 60s and early 70s. The “Ye Olde Hippie Emporium” in Clarkdale caters to the retired hippie tourists. After the morning excursion up to Jerome we went back to the Best Western to give Dave time for some R&R and me time to do the laundry. Our reservations for the Pink Jeep Tour in Sedona were for 4pm but we were to be there at 3:30. Since we are on Mountain Standard Time, this posed a problem because the Belmont would be run at the time we were supposed to be in Sedona. I told Dave we would try to find a television to watch while we waited for our tour but unfortunately that never happened and Jen, our Pink Jeep tour guide kept us so well entertained we never even gave the race a thought, although when we returned we were sad to learn that Big Brown did not make history, or maybe he did losing in such a big way. Our guide Jen informed us that the guides hired by this company go through rigorous training and most are college educated professionals who prefer to get good health insurance making a career in the beautiful Sedona valley. Not a bad idea.
Jen taught us about the fragile crypto magna crust on the hillsides that if stepped or driven on would so damage the ecosystem that it would take many years to recover. She pointed out alligator juniper, Perry’s agave from which the sweet agave juice and tequila come from, and the red-flowered western Indian paintbrush whose flowers provide a sweet sugar energy boost when stranded in the desert. Jen also explained the geology of the region and among other things, told us the red colors of the rocks in Sedona are actually rusted from iron that oxidized when the oceans receded millions of years ago. If one were to drill through the red exterior of rock one would find light colored sandstone beneath all that red. Our jeep excursion took us 2000 feet above Sedona, (whose altitude is 4000 feet) to wonderful views of outstanding uniquely shaped red rock cliffs. We bounced along in the jeep over very rough terrain on switchbacks that hung precariously close to the edge of the cliff. We would never have been able to negotiate that unpaved rock strewn road in our own car (Jen informed us that many people attempt this in their own or rented vehicles and end up tearing the oil pan off the bottom of the car and no tow truck will come up to get them). Dave and I were very impressed with the knowledge and professionalism of the Pink Jeep tour and would gladly do another.
After the jeep tour we strolled around the shops of Sedona and Dave noticed some prostrate rosemary cascading over a ledge. We have seen a lot of rosemary during our trip: at the Silver K in Johnson City TX, to San Antonio to Santa Fe and Sedona. It is amazing to see the diversity of acceptable growing conditions for this Mediterranean plant, from the warm, humid conditions in Florida to the arid desert of the southwest. Before leaving Sedona’s marketplace, we bought a saguaro ornament (even though we were too far north to actually see one) for our Christmas tree to add to our collection from our travels. Across the street from the shops we found a free museum dedicated to informing the public about the movies that were made in and around Sedona. Right up my alley. Armed with a list of movies to watch when we returned home, we left town and drove out to Elote, the Mexican restaurant in Sedona, for one of the best meals of our trip. Dave had the chile relleno with black mountain goat cheese and queso Oaxaca and I had fish and shrimp tacos with spicy cabbage and lime aoli and avocado with a jicama and orange salad with a red chile vinaigrette. We were told to save room for desert which after that meal seemed impossible but I did order a pumpkin flan and Dave had a Mexican chocolate pie with an almond graham crust. (The chocolate pie ended up coming home with us and we ate it in the car for lunch the next day.) We shared all of the meal and together we could not decide which we liked better, it was all so good. I asked the chef for the recipe for my salad and found he was putting together a cookbook soon. I will be first in line to buy it.
It was imperative that Dave and I walk off some of our dinner so we headed to Tlaquepaque Village in Sedona to stroll through the shops. By the time we got there the shops were closed (Dave was relieved) but the lights were on the stone buildings and a wedding was being celebrated in the center of this unique stone village. The evening was so pleasant we stayed and listened to music peering into art galleries while walking off our dinner. Tlaquepaque and Elote are on the picturesque Route 179 coming in from Phoenix, the same route I came in on years ago. I was dismayed to see all the road construction going on changing the quiet character and charm of this area and I am sure hurting the businesses for the past two years.
Sunday, June 8, final destination today: Grand Canyon…but first a few stops along the way…
Ancient pueblos are to the southwest as churches are to Europe; they are everywhere! Tuzigoot National Monument, at the base of the mining towns of Jerome and Clarkdale is another of the pueblos that Dave and I decided to tour. Tuzigoot (Apache for crooked water) is the remnant of a Sinaquan village built between 1125 and 1400. This village sits 120 feet atop a hill that has a commanding view of the surrounding valley. Parts of the pueblo are two stories high and there were 77 ground-floor rooms. Most rooms were accessed by ladders through openings in the roofs. The villagers were mainly farmers and like many of the other ancient pueblo people, they mysteriously abandoned their village and simply disappeared. There was an elaborate museum attached to this pueblo that described the daily lives of the people living here so long ago. Many of today’s Native Americans are descendants of these ancient pueblo people as evidenced by their crafts, legends and heritage.
Throughout our trip Dave and I have taken turns driving. I try to commandeer the wheel on the switchbacks and steep downward terrain in the mountains lest I have a heart attack with “Mario” at the wheel. This was certainly the case on the Oak Creek Canyon drive on scenic 89A towards Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon. Dave drove out of Sedona along Oak Creek affording us our last views of the beautiful red rocks of this region. The car climbed the steep ascent returning up the twisting hairpin turns in the densely treed mountains that were punctuated by breaks in the foliage giving way to glimpses of red rock cliffs and stony creeks winding below. These all will have to be a memory because Dave, who normally has great patience in stopping for photographs, had none today for he was hell bent for the Grand Canyon and no other stops were on today’s agenda. I did insist on stopping at the lookout over the canyon to breathe in the wonderful scent of pine, listen to the trees whisper and of course run to the edge of the cliff for one last look and photograph of this region. I did run the gauntlet of Indians selling their wares but I had no money in my pocket this time so Dave thought I was safe. Although I did not make a purchase, I was surprised to see these street vendors were now taking plastic!
It is not often that Dave shows emotion, in fact I often have to check to see if there is a pulse, but today was different, he was actually, in his own way, excited about seeing the Grand Canyon. Well, I thought, let’s build on the excitement and show him the vistas that build up to the main event by stopping along the way. That didn’t work. He became really impatient with a few of my photo ops (I am persistent) and I became irritable because the drive up 89 from Flagstaff to the turn on 64 to the Grand Canyon is one of my favorite drives with the dark pinion pine and juniper dotting the rolling hills of soft tawny grasses with the pastel pink desert beyond. To the left, volcanic mountains punctuate the open spaces, to the right, we lose the rich green trees and are left with bleached grasses blowing in the wind. Soon this vista changes to the distinctive red dirt and pale green sage brush replacing the grasses with chunks of black lava rock cascading in ribbons along the road. Sadly, here as well as in the many remote and beautiful places in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona this beautiful countryside is often sullied with plastic bags sticking to trees and shrubs. Another reason to legislate the end of those horrid things.
It’s A Guy Thing. We pushed on towards the Grand Canyon and Dave was becoming more insistent that we get there (it’s the destination not the journey for him) but I was shocked to find out that his destination was our room at the lodge, the Grand Canyon was secondary to his inspection of our night’s lodging! I struggled to convince him to look at the views preceding the Grand Canyon Village so he would have a sense of place beyond what could be seen through the forest and brief openings to the views hidden by the trees. After turning onto 64 from 89 I did succeed in stopping at the Little Grand Canyon Overlook to see the view of the canyon and the dry river below. I was able to convince him to look for some Indian crafts for our grandchildren but as soon as we accomplished that task we were off to the lodge missing countless opportunities for views (and photo ops). We traveled for several more miles on Desert View Drive until we arrived at the first campground and the Watchtower Overlook at Desert View at an elevation of 7450, where he reluctantly got out of the car to see the view. It was a quick stop and I assured him the room would still be there since we paid for it and I confirmed that they were open 24 hours a day, but onward we pressed until he acquiesced and we stopped once more at Grandview Point for a walk along the rim. (I keep telling myself it’s a guy thing.) As we turned down the road to Grandview we found a coyote standing in the road just staring at us. When this beautiful animal approached the car with curious eyes Dave was worried that he was hungry and would jump on the car; I grabbed my camera and leaned over Dave, desperate to get a picture of this beautiful creature. We looked at each other, the wolf and I, for some time and then he quietly turned and walked away.
There is nothing like the view of the Grand Canyon; regardless of the weather it commands your attention. It was hazy and not as clear as I would have liked but it still beats any vista for the WOW factor. We walked along parts of the rim and outcroppings taking pictures and enjoying the view, then feeling Dave’s urgency, we got back in the car and drove to Yavapai Lodge to get settled. I had hoped for no phone and no TV but alas this was not so. Still the lodge is fairly rustic and quiet in the woods bringing peace to these weary travelers. After we unloaded our gear we drove to the campsites nearby to see if we could register for the next night assuming we could find a suitable site away from the road and other noise. This extra day in the Grand Canyon would provide us plenty of time to retrace our steps from the urgent push past the views leading into the park. On our way to the campsites we saw a commotion with people lining the road, cameras in hand. I looked more closely and saw two sets of large fuzzy antlers rising above the little hill directly in front of us. I immediately pulled the car over and jumped out with my camera. Finally Dave found his elk, two young bucks munching eagerly on grass and tree leaves right in front of our eyes! How handsome and big they were, and they were as curious about us as we were about them. I know they can be quite dangerous but there was such a calm about their nature that fear never entered my mind.
When the elk turned and walked deeper into the woods, we left to check out the campsites and I spotted a beautiful western bluebird on a bush just a few feet from the car window. All of this nature and we hardly left the car. I can’t wait to see what we’ll find on our walks in the woods tomorrow.
We had a small and unmemorable dinner at the main lodge and then walked to the evening lecture on mountain lions held in the outdoor Mather Amphitheater. With new awareness of our wild neighbors we carefully made our way back to the lodge (without flashlights) to retire for the evening.
Monday, June 9: Grand Canyon. Dave’s hearing challenges can sometimes be a real blessing. At about 6am I discovered why there was one room left in a sold out lodge. Our room is opposite the ice machine and for over an hour and a half, a steady stream of patrons (some with their kids in tow) filled their bags and coolers to the brim. When I finally got up (after I couldn’t drop back to sleep anymore) I found Dave totally oblivious to the racket going on outside our door. Bliss. Sweet Bliss.
This morning we were out of our room and at the Yavapai Lodge for breakfast by 7am after which we walked to the Yavapai point on the rim for a lecture on the geology of the Grand Canyon. The wiry white haired park ranger who led the discussion had to be in his 80s and likely a former artist or musician because in his passionate description about the landscape before us he used the analogy of a symphony with its crescendos, staccatos and pianissimos and at times a full complement of brass horns. He enthusiastically compared the Grand Canyon to the Pieta, which in his opinion, is the world’s most glorious sculpture carved by Michelangelo and the Grand Canyon he described as the world’s most glorious work carved by water. He said that in all the years he has been in the park he has never seen the same view twice. How wonderful to be filled with such joy and fully experience the life you live each day.
Following the lecture and a short walk on the rim, we walked to Yavapai Lodge, checked out and checked into Mather Campsite, where we set up the tent and air mattress (thanks Jen and Terry!) in the company of curious bluebirds and ravens. With plenty of water and food for the road, we headed to the park bus to start our walks on the western most side of the south rim out to Hermit’s Rest. Each view was spectacular in its own way. We enjoyed several stops along the 7 mile road west of Grand Canyon Village, with an elevation here of 6860, about 1,300 feet less than the North Rim. (I should note here that Dave was thoroughly enjoying life and relaxed taking in the world around him). When we returned to Bright Angel Lodge we were just in time to see a mule train coming up from their day trip half way to the river below. We also saw two ambulances at the trail head and sadly we learned that a body had been found by the mule train along the Bright Angel Trail. It is not an infrequent thing that people underestimate their ability or the weather and do not come out of the canyon alive.
After an ice cream (although it is not Disney, sadly the Grand Canyon has become very commercial) we walked to an afternoon park lecture about the California Condor. We were told that these birds were nearly extinct; at one point records showed only 22 left in the world. “They were dying in large part because the huge carrion that they had survived on were now extinct” said our Park Ranger. A breeding program was established in an effort to increase the population. There are now some 60 California Condors in Arizona and several are nesting pairs in the Grand Canyon as their secondary population in order to provide some security for species survival in case the California birds are wiped out by disease. Each of the condors in the Grand Canyon is individually marked with a number and GPS system on their wings but we were told it was not likely we would see one. Records are kept through observation and tracking to help scientists better understand their challenges and life cycles. Shortly after the program we stopped under the shade of a tree along the rim near Bright Angel and circling overhead, we saw a condor! We whipped out our binoculars and camera and followed the condor until it landed on a ledge about 75 yards from where we stood! Our condor was numbered 46 on the tag identifying him and (as we later found out) he was a 7 year old male born in captivity.
By now it was early evening so we walked about a mile along the rim to get to our campsite. We freshened up and took a glass of wine as we walked the woods around the campsite before dinner back at Bright Angel Lodge. It was quite dark after dinner and I wanted to see what would be visible in the starry sky. The edge of the Grand Canyon rim is very near the restaurant and as we peered down towards the river we saw several sets of lights indicating a trail of hikers coming back up from the canyon. During the day the temperatures at the top of the canyon were 78 but they were 107 on the canyon floor. Likely these hikers wanted respite from the heat of the day but I would be wondering what nocturnal animals would be “out and about” on their climb back to the top. We went back to the Yavapai Lodge around 10:30 that evening to plug in the computer, download the day’s photographs and send some emails home. By the time we got into our tent it was nearly 11:30 and relieved that I was finally finished, Dave went promptly to sleep.
Tuesday, June 10, Things to Consider When Camping. 1. Don’t go to bed at 11:30pm unless you have earplugs for bird noises and a sock over your head to block out the 5am light. 2. Make sure your sleeping bag has a zipper at your feet so you aren’t kept up all night with cold feet. 3. Try to find a campsite near the bathroom but don’t let the light shine on your tent. 4. Make sure your camping neighbors don’t have smoker’s cough. 5. Don’t wear tie shoes in your tent because “slipping them on” in the dark when you’re half asleep to head for the bathroom is a high probability. 6. A cowboy hat is a perfect foil for a no-shower-bad-hair-day.
The temperature was a comfortable 58 degrees when we retired and dropped to 48 degrees by 5:30am. Now that would not have been bad if I had had the forethought to bring warmer clothing and check out the efficiency of my sleeping bag before leaving home. More lessons from the road.
I had expected to be able to do a simple sponge bath in the morning but I had also expected hot (or at least tepid) water in the sink. There was only one faucet in the bathroom by the tent and it was ice cold so, shivering, I jumped in the car, and with Dave I headed to the camp showers and store about a mile away to clean up and get coffee. The showers had slots for two dollars in quarters and as I turned to Dave for some change I heard some women scream at the intensity of the hot water. I decided on my original plan to do a quick sponge bath in their sink (where there was both hot and cold running water). While I was dressing the same women screamed at each other in despair when their 8 minutes of hot water was over and ice cold water came pouring out. My wash up saved both time and money making Dave a happy camper.
Driven by a need for caffeine, we drove, not walked to the Bright Angel Lodge for breakfast (since the Yavapai Lodge’s food was so dismal). As sleep deprived as we both were, even Destination Dave stopped as I’d asked (he had gotten his first cup of coffee while I showered). On the way I saw 10 mule deer jumping and frolicking with reckless abandon in the little clearing by the side of the road. Their faces seemed to light up with delight as they romped and played in the early morning light. Okay, maybe I’ve seen Bambi once too often.
Arriving for breakfast as the canyon comes to life is an awesome thing. At 5:45am Bright Angel was already quite light and alive with birds and squirrels feeding their young. Our server, Nicole, was full of information about Grand Canyon living. There are over 3,000 people living in Grand Canyon Village who support the shops, buses, banks, restaurants, lodging and the national park. (Did I mention Disney?) The buses are run on propane gas and much is being done to recycle and reduce waste in order to protect these precious resources. Although, unlike Edward Abbey, I do appreciate the roads and rest rooms in the park, but I do agree with him that this area would indeed be better appreciated in its purity and it is far too commercial for my liking. Still, you can’t help but get absorbed in the wildlife (yes there is wildlife in spite of all the people) and the views and (to borrow from Frost) if you take the road less traveled here it does make all the difference. Being observant helps too for it allowed us glimpses of elk, coyote, the endangered California Condor, western bluebirds, Steller’s jay, pinion jay, and violet green swallows.
It has been eleven years since I was last at the Grand Canyon, visiting once in May, August and then December. Having been lucky to have three trips in one year in very different seasons, I am able to compare my experiences in those small windows with my experience on this trip. It seems to me that there were more people, more infrastructure to support them and more haze and pollution on this visit. Signs posted along the rim bore my impressions out as they confirmed that polluted air streams from LA and south eastern Arizona to Mexico have greatly diminished the visibility in the canyon. I am sure that Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir and Ansel Adams would be turning over in their graves to see what havoc we have wrought on this magnificent home we call earth.
Destination Dave was hell bent for the North Rim as we left the south rim behind. Under duress he stopped for me to shoot the beautiful scenery near the Navajo Trading Post on route 64 near the Little Colorado River but when we got to the Painted Desert on 89 north and saw the spectacular moonscape he just forged on ahead so in frustration I pointed my camera out the window and shot away at 70mph. Suffice it to say it was a quiet ride until we got to the North Rim.
Stunning photographs of Marble Canyon decorated book covers displayed in the Grand Canyon gift shops. Intrigued, I was eager to see and photograph this canyon myself. Mario however had other ideas but in fairness, neither of us saw the tiny sign announcing this well photographed spot. (Maybe because he blew by at speeds I won’t mention here?)
Towns in this area consist of a gas station, convenience store, and if you are lucky, a restaurant combination motel. One look at our gas gauge told us we had better gas up unless we planned to camp in the car. We stopped at the above described “town” of Soap Creek for gas and a port-a-potty (this town had it all!) and quickly pushed on towards the entrance of the North Rim. The road climbed steadily up into the stunning Vermillion Cliffs that echoed the colors of the Painted Desert. These cliffs lined the horizon on the beginning of the 45 minute ride into the park. I did get Dave to pull in to the rest area for a quick look at that lovely vista. The long road to the park was first lined with tall dark pine and quaking aspen with their spring flush of green leaves. Shortly after, acre after acre of blackened pine sentinels flanked both sides of the road but fresh new growth carpeted the feet of these once majestic trees as happens after a burn, promising new forests and habitats. As we ascended to the highest point on the rim we found snow still accumulated on parts of the forest floor giving us a clue as to how cold it might be once the sun sets.
Finally we arrived at 8250 feet above sea level, at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. After the race for the perfect parking spot (and I might say losing) Dave hurried into the lodge to register for our already paid for room “for peace of mind”. As soon as we unpacked a major transformation occurred: a slightly demonic, destination-obsessed maniac became a relaxed, happy camper ready to check out his new environs. The wind had begun to pick up and a chill was in the air so with sweaters and jackets we went off to explore.
Our cabin was three removed from the ledge of the western side of the canyon. Mule deer looked out from the trees not far from our cabin. As the sun was sinking below the peaks of the craggy mountain tops we walked to the lodge to make reservations for an early dinner. The lodge and cabins were rustic and charming, looking like they were made of giant Lincoln Logs. The dining room, with its huge vaulted ceiling, had floor to ceiling windows facing the canyon. As the wind intensified it created an eerie howl and with surprising gusts, shook the walls and windows of the huge room. I found out later that the plywood on one of the floor to ceiling windows was there because the wind had blown the window out yesterday.
Our meal was surprisingly good. Dave had a traditional meatloaf dinner and I had roasted corn, zucchini, summer squash, and red and green peppers with rice in a rich tomato sauce. It was accompanied by excellent whole grain bread, so good I asked the waiter if we could have some for a later snack. He obliged with half a loaf which we devoured for breakfast with organic peanut butter, hard boiled eggs from the previous resort and excellent coffee.
After dinner we shared a slice of apple-caramel pie then walked the rim and nearly got blown off the side. It was getting so cold and windy (the day’s high was only 63 degrees) we decided to retire early since we had been averaging about 5 hours sleep for the past couple of nights (and the bed promised to be warmer than outside). It was nice to lie in bed and listen to the wind but unnerving at times when the 45-50mph gusts would slam into the cabin rattling the windows and door. Even so, we managed to get 8 hours of much needed sleep.
Wednesday, June 11. We were up by 7am and ready to go. The wind had died down, the sun was shining and the sky was a sharp blue. Again, so much of this part of Arizona reminds me of my childhood home in the mountains of NH. The cottage itself with its old linoleum floors, woodsy smell and cozy rooms along with the rocky paths and steps made me feel right at home.
Once we collected our breakfast we headed to the lodge’s large stone porch and settled in with our coffee and breakfast picnic to enjoy the view of the expansive North Rim at our feet. Bright Angel Point leads to the Kaibab Trail which, after 14 miles, crosses an expansion bridge over to the Bright Angel Trail and the South Rim. As we finished our breakfast we spoke with a man who informed us that his wife, who had just recuperated from breast cancer and a tumor, accompanied by her three girl friends had just set out for a three day rim to rim trek. We also had learned that a man in his 70s had done the rim to rim three times this year. And I was commending myself for not feeling altitude sickness or huffing and puffing over my little hiking accomplishments. Very humbling indeed.
After doing our relatively little hikes around the canyon’s edge, we packed up and headed for Kanab, UT and Zion. I am beginning to think that there is not an area out west that does not have something to recommend it. I had hoped that the drive up to Kanab would be relatively uninteresting so I could write in my journal before my thin brain would not remember, but instead I was drawn to another view of the Vermillion Cliffs and the Echo Cliffs and the increasing beauty of this Wild West.
Kanab is a little cowboy town tucked under the bold red cliffs, well situated as a base from which to explore Zion, Bryce and Lake Powell among other highlights in this region. We stopped for a late lunch at a cute little diner called The Three Bears that advertised the best tortilla soup you would ever eat. It was pretty darn good but the dark chocolate bear claw ice cream was damn good. On the way out of town we stopped at a free Movie Museum that advertised old buildings salvaged from movies that were made around Utah. Scenic route 89 continued north out of Kanab and the scenic description is understated. The massive red rocks and winding switchbacks open into broad western landscapes dotted with buffalo. The landscape closed in again as we began to climb up to Mt Carmel and the breathtaking two tunneled Zion-Mount Carmel Highway to Zion National Park.
When we got to the park entrance we were told that all lodging and campsites were sold out but the park ranger kindly called ahead and found the last campsite available at a park on the edge of Zion in Springdale. Speeding through beautiful photo-ops and long tunnels to get this last spot before it was gone was indeed painful for me. Grrrr. By the time we set up our tent the light was pretty much gone, but the view from our campsite almost made up for it with soaring red cliffs touching a deep blue sky directly in front of our tent.
Zion was minutes away so we explored a bit of the park in the fading light before dinner. We found the Pioneer Restaurant where I had the best homemade turkey tortilla soup and a so-so salad while Dave ordered the huge baked enchilada. We ate too late and too much. The restaurant had WIFI so we were able to log on for a short while getting phone numbers to call ahead for reservations for Bryce. Zion and Bryce are very close to Las Vegas and easily accessible to Colorado and California so the lodging is usually booked long in advance. I knew this but counted on luck to help us through because I did not want to pin us down to any particular time and day (sometimes frustrating for Destination Dave). So far things have worked out well because I was able to get rooms over the weekend in the very booked up region around Bryce. Tomorrow we will find another place near Zion, but for now, I will close this computer in the tent and go to sleep lulled by the cool night air and the faint sounds of a haunting and beautiful Indian wood flute.


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