Arizona - The Grand Canyon

Published: May 31st 2014
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The Grand Canyon – South Rim

We travel Highway 180 from Flagstaff then turn onto the 64 (via a bizarre Flintstone’s Bedrock City in Valle) on the way to Tusayan, a town with loads of new development 7 miles from the Visitor Centre at the Grand Canyon.

We pop into the National Geographic Visitor Centre as we have heard that they run a 34 min IMAX film on ‘The Secrets of the Grand Canyon’ for $12 each. It’s pretty well attended but is quite disappointing. There’s a bit about the history of the Canyon - as much as they know about – which isn’t really very much as there are huge gaps in their knowledge. There’s nothing about the geology. There’s reference to the Anasazi people who lived on the rim and among the cliff faces in the 11th & 12th Century, then nothing till the Spanish arrived looking for gold in the 16th century, then fast forward to the 19th century when Major John Wesley Powell made a historic trip down the Colorado (and survived unlike some of his crew). Then it’s the hunters and trappers, then miners (copper, silver and uranium were mined here before tourism took off) then tourism.

We get to GC itself at 5.30 pm to find the Visitor Centre (VC) closed (8am to 5pm only) – nothing like a government department to forget the customers. This is supposed to be the pre-eminent tourist location in the US guys! We get to the RV Park which is fully booked, so we are glad we booked 6 months in advance.

The RV park has no Wi-Fi but there is free Wi-Fi at the Plaza Market nearby which is 10 mins walk away or a short drive. There are no showers on the site but a shared facility with the Campground down the road, where you have to pay $2 for 8 mins (shutting off water makes no difference). This is ridiculous for a site that clearly makes a shed load of money from visitors each year – come on guys – get your act together!

On the good news front – the toilets at the RV site are near our pitch (D17), though not brilliant, it has heating & washing facilities at least.

We decide to go out for a walk to get orientated, but this takes a bit longer than we thought as we take a few wrong turns. There are hoards of deer and elk roaming freely in the park which seem quite unafraid of the tourists. After an hour we finally make it back to base camp, plan the events for the next few days, have a BBQ and are & off to bed.

While preparing our BBQ dinner a desperate Ozzie family with 2 young kids come over for help to light their fire as the kids are starving. As we have finished we offer them the use of our BBQ which is doing really well. They are grateful but decide to take the coal out into their portable one and cook by their RV. They are from Melbourne and the kids seem pleased that food will be served soon.

After breakfast it’s to the VC – the Ranger Laura was very helpful (nice change. We find the staff at the Park Entry & RV Site and Campgrounds generally not very helpful, quite unusual for NP staff. They seem to have adopted a minimalist approach to the job it seems. Unless you ask specifically we won’t volunteer any useful information!).

We watch a really good 8 min long video on the evolution of the GC (shown on a revolving sphere like a globe) which they date as starting about 1.8 billion years ago, when the Americas were created by the shifting of the earth in its old form. It refers to the Anasazi people who lived here, then there is a big gap in their knowledge about who else lived here or what happened to the people, it’s thought that the ancestral Puebloans also lived here for a while, jump a few hundred years when the Spanish arrived and they were the first known white folks who say the GC, jump a few more hundred years again and in 1876 Major John Wesley Powell (a one armed military guy from the Civil war) took an expedition to navigate the Colorado river with a crew in 4 boats that got battered around in the rapids. Only 2 boats finished. Lake Powell is named after him.

The NP brochure suggests that 9-12,000 years ago hunter gatherers lived in the Canyon (the Paleo Indians), between 2,500 to 9,000 years it was the Archaic people, then came the Basket makers (1,200 to 2,500 years ago), the Ancestral Puebloans (800 – 1300 years ago), then recently the Hopi Indians guided the Spanish here in 1540, & Wesley went past in 1869 and the railroad arrived in 1901. The place was declared a National Park in 1919.

Tribes associated with the GC are the Havasupai (People of the Blue Green Waters) who live in Havasu Canyon, The Hopi – some say descendent from the Puebloans (Anasazi), the Hualapai who live in the South & West of the GC, the Kaibab-Paiute who live North of GC and the Navajo who still live in Hogans in the area.

It’s difficult to take any talk of the history of the place as definitive as during our travels we have been told so many different stories of who was where when – even by the Puebloans and native Indians. So your guess is as good as anybody’s!!

Many trappers and miners worked in the Canyon, till they discovered that tourism was more lucrative than mining and this first started in 1886. The Railroad arrived in 1901, the first cars made it in 1902 and the area became a National Park to try and regulate & preserve it in 1919. The rest as they say is history……….

We then go to Mather Point – about 5 mins walk from the VC and we get our first glimpse of the GC. This is Pete’s first ever & he seems impressed despite the cold breeze which makes the 68 degree temp seem chilly.

The area has plenty of wildlife:- Beavers, rattle snakes, Desert Bighorn sheep, Mountain Lions, Mule deer (many that roam the Park & the RV site quite friendly and tame), huge Condors, a hoard or friendly squirrels who come up to visitors for food, to name a few.

The landscape varies from deserts, to forests of Pinyon pine, Juniper, Ponderosa pine & Montane Forest to the Colorado River cutting through the GC 1 mile down, running through it for 277 miles with its rapids and with changes in colour (red, to brown, then green to azure blue). The various colourful layers of the canyon are amazing - white, beige, grey, black, pink, red & green. The average height on the rim is 7,000 feet above sea level. The GC is on average 10 miles wide and is definitely one of the top natural wonders of the world for us. Every sighting seems fit for a picture – the canyon is difficult to photograph in all its glory, best results for us were early morning and definitely the 1 to 1.5 hours before sunset – depending on location along the whole rim which is miles long.

Our plan is that M & C will do some trails down and Pete will stick with some of the Rim Trails.

We catch the Blue Shuttle from the VC to the Village area to get orientated. We get off at Bright Angel Lodge and walk to the Lookout Studio (designed by Mary Colter) which has some fabulous views of the Canyon. The weather here seems warmer as there is little or no breeze. We walk past the Kachina Lodge & Thunderbird Lodge, along the rim then to El Tovar Hotel, The Hopi House (designed by Mary Colter) & Verkamp’s Visitor centre. This centre has been around since 1906 and in the same family till 2008 when the park bought them out. These are part of the ‘Historic District’ of the Grand Canyon along with the Bright Angel Lodge and the Santa Fe Train station a short walk below.

We have lunch in the RV at the RV Park as the mid-day sun is no good for hikes or pictures. So C mops the RV inside – something she has been itching to do after all the dust of Utah. She does a grand job but 5 minutes later there’s another dust layer on the floor!

In the late afternoon we do the 25 mile drive to the Desert View Point which has many overlook points. The intention is to see sunset at the end of the trip at about 7.25pm. We take about 2.5 hours to do the trip stopping off at some pull in sections and some notable overlook areas such as Grandview point – quite spectacular with views up and down the canyon in the later afternoon sunshine (they used to have a hotel here in the good old days); Moran point (where there still is a trail leading to an old copper mine); Desert View Point (after a slight navigational problem where we missed the turn and ended up leaving the park and then re-entering) where there is a replica Navajo watchtower constructed by Mary Colter (an architect greatly influenced by the Indian way of living) who also did the Hopi House in the village.

We cross paths with a troupe of Harley riders, obviously on a supported trip – a large truck carries all the bags etc, with a lead rider/guide and there are more groups like this – a popular trip we guess.

It’s the big day – one reason Pete is with us on this road trip. We had bought him (his choice) a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon (a 50min flight) for his 70th Birthday present last year. He’s scheduled for 10 am and the weather looks good. We drop him off in the RV by 9ish at the airport near Tusayan. C & M get on with some time on our own for a change & chill, then return to pick him up at 11ish. Pete is over the moon with the experience – M’s not sure he’s seen him so happy before! (It is pretty awesome so see the Canyon from the air – we did it when we were here 10 years ago).We’re glad he had a good time. He savours the experience for the rest of the day while we get on with wandering.

It’s a really hot day & we picnic outside at the RV Village which is a nice change. Then it’s off to Yavapai Lodge for emails with family & friends. Later in the afternoon when the sun has lost some of its heat (around 4.30pm) we take a trip along Hermit Road for different views. To get here we have to first take the Blue shuttle to the Village point then change to the Red Shuttle to Hermits Rest. We stop off at Pima Point which has some lovely views of this part of the canyon with the river and rapids in view, next its Mohave point (great views) then a walk to Hopi point to meet Pete and then walk to Powell Point for the shuttle back. We get back a bit late for the sunset views at Yavapai Point so decide to do so tomorrow.

As part of the post 70 year birthday celebrations we have bought some steak (reasonably priced from City Market) and a bottle of Beringer Malbec wine (for a change). We have a good BBQ and the wine is great for a change even if it cost $8 (discounted of course!)

We wake up to a great sunny day – the forecast is 78 degrees, we take the RV to park near the Visitor Centre and hop on the Orange Shuttle Bus to take us to the start of the South Kaibab Trail where we will do the hike to Cedar Ridge and back which is a 3 mile trip down 1.5 miles (1200 descent into the Canyon). P visits Yavapai Point and the geology museum – the hike is a bit too tough for him.

The hike is a great way to see below the rim without going all the way to the bottom. And fortunately we get quite a lot of shade – we’re surprised at how many folk go down later when the sun is fully onto the path. It’s quite a steep descent at the beginning then a pretty well made up path down to Ooh Aah Point – a rocky outcrop about ¾ mile down with good views of the panorama. Then it’s keep on going down to Cedar Ridge which has long drop loo’s, a mule station and a great vista for a snack stop (shared with a squirrel but don’t tell the Rangers).

We make it back up in good time then take the bus to Yaki Point for another vista (a good one mind!) & then back to the VC. As we are earlier than expected we treat ourselves to a coffee at The Bike Shop (the coffee smells better than it tastes). Then we go for a hike from Mather Point to the Yavapai Point (0.75 miles) where there is a Geology Museum as well as an Observatory. It has some great displays to try and appreciate the scale of the wonder that the Grand Canyon is. When standing at the Rim in the Geology Museum and seeing pictures from the other side, it makes you wonder how like ants we are in the grand scheme of things and passing through this world in a moment of time compared to the history and scale of this wonder that is the Grand Canyon.

We meet up with Pete for lunch in the RV, however, there’s a lot of cloud cover developing so sunset is likely to be a ‘no show’. So it’s off to the Yavapai Lodge to use the free internet to sort out a few things to do with our future travel plans in Canada & catch up with emails to family & friends. Later we go back to the RV park as it definitely looks like there will not be much of a sunset.

We shower in the RV, as so far we have been lucky with great shower rooms at the other RV sites (except Canyon De Chelly). However, here we have to travel to the shower rooms and then pay $2 each for a very short time, so it’s a no brainer and it works well. We definitely could take to an RV lifestyle – something new to mull over for the future? After another BBQ for dinner it’s bed down for the night & hope for a sunnier day tomorrow.

Good news! It’s a sunny day, and we take the Red Bus Shuttle to Hermits Rest. Pete gets off at Hopi Point to do a shorter walk to Mohave Point while we initially get off at Hermits Rest and realise that we were here 10 years ago. The Building is a historic listed building, built by the Santa Fe railroad company. Other than that and the hermits trail to the bottom of the canyon there’s not much to do or see – views here are in short supply. We do however, buy ourselves 2 long sleeve T shirts for $27.

We catch the bus back to Pima Point which has good views of the canyon and the river running through it and some rapids on show. From here we hike along the rim for 3.7 miles passing Monument Creek Vista with some great panoramic views – though the slight cloud cover make the pictures less crisp. Then it’s onto The Abyss 0.9 miles away which sees a sheer 3,000 foot drop off into the canyon. Then the final 1.1 mile to Mohave Point which has some of the best views of the GC around the western rim. We are now done and head back but it takes us 45 mins to get to the VC and it’s 1.40pm.

We rush to the campground to do the Laundry – there seem to be no parking facility for RVs here. What a dumb set up. C gets things going while M does lunch and we eat in the RV Parking area. We park near the campground entry parking lot as there is nowhere else and a couple of Rangers pop by. The first is cool about us staying here and using the Laundry, the other 20 mins later seems to suggest that we have to park at the VC then catch a shuttle here with our Laundry – what nonsense. As we only have a short time to finish off he lets us stay here but these guys are going to get no more than 2 from us on Trip Advisor.

After some time in the Yavapai Lodge with the Internet we decide to go and do the ‘Trail of Time’ from Verkamps Visitor centre to The Yavapai Geology Museum which is at one of the better locations to observe sunset. The Trail is about 2 miles long and has a host of facts about the geology of the canyon and at strategic points samples of large pieces of rock from different layers of the canyon right from the bottom under the Colorado river to the top. They make fascinating exhibits.

While the colours in the canyon are pretty good, the amount of pollution in the air makes the pictures less than crisp but we take quite a few anyway. We then catch the Orange shuttle back to the VC and take the RV to the local cemetery called ‘Shrine of the Ages’ which is a very simple graveyard with many pioneers buried here including the Verkamp family.

Next day we are up early and it’s a bit overcast. We make for Yavapai Lodge to Skype with Louise and Little Pip (Olive, our granddaughter) back home in London before they head off on their holiday to Turkey. It’s 4pm their time & it’s 8am in the GC – they are having a spell of good weather & Ben is preparing the BBQ.

So we get to the end of our South Rim sojourn. We are making for Page and Lake Powell, our next stops before we return to GC but the North Rim this time, which we haven’t been to before. We drive out on the Desert View Road and stop for a last few looks on the South Rim – Lipan Point one of M’s favourite’s which we had seen on the first night at sunset. We also stop briefly at Navajo Point that we had not done before and after a few more pictures its bye to the South Rim.

The Grand Canyon – North Rim

After a couple of days break in Page & Lake Powell (see next blog), it’s an 8am start to get to the GC North Rim via Kanab. It’s hot and sunny again. P drives us to K and does good time so we are there at 10 and realise that as we are now in Utah, the clocks are 1 hour ahead. Though by the time we get to the GC we will be back in Arizona so on the same time as Lake Powell where we’ve come from. What a palaver!

Kanab is a one road town but is ‘famous’ for being ‘The Little Hollywood of Utah’ as the area has been used in over a 100 films and TV programmes – mainly westerns since the 1920s. We are really not sure why from what we see. Some notable names have been through here filming among them, Gregory Peck, Telly Savalas, Omar Sherif, Clint Eastwood, etc. There are a few quaint little stores and a theatre out of the 20s & 30s together with a ‘walk of fame’ with pictures and bio of some of the movie and TV stars who’ve been through here. We stop at the Visitor Centre where a guy is really helpful and informs us that to see. ‘The Wave’ which is an amazing rock formation in the area is literally a lottery to get in to as only 20 of all applications are selected each day and we had to be there at 7.30am for the draw. No chance as we’d have to drive 80 + miles to be told we couldn’t go! The previous day they’d had 85 applications.

We stop off for some coffee after walking down Main Street – which is actually an ordinary residential street. The real ‘main street’ for Kanab is Central street with most of the shops & businesses on it. It’s a lot cooler here and the forecast for the GC is 22 degrees F less than Lake Powell.

After filling up with gas, we make our way to the GC. M drives till near the Park & C takes over. It’s through the park Entry point and then the NP Visitor Centre where a very helpful ranger suggests some walks and viewpoints. We walk a ½ mile down a side trial to Bright Angel Point for our first glimpse of the Canyon from the North Rim. It’s pretty spectacular in a slightly different way.

The North Rim is relatively quiet and only gets about 10% of the tourists the South Rim does, so it feels much more remote.

After a picnic lunch on some rocks overlooking the Canyon we decide to do the 45 min drive to Cape Royal (the end of the road), stopping en route at Vista Encantada which is pretty good, Roosevelt Point (M thinks it’s not worth a stop at all) where we had some friendly words with an English fuck wit who parked his RV alongside a truck to block the road. When asked to move he was most put out as we were interrupting his tripod assisted photography. After a few choice expletives he got the message & moved the RV.

Next stop Walhalla Overlook – less excitement – but good views. No idea why they give these views these names?? Finally it’s Angel’s Window – a hole (square not round) in one of the cliffs and then the main attraction Cape Royal which is definitely worth the journey which is a bit of a nightmare as the roads are very winding and narrow. It’s only about 20 miles but doing it in less than 45 minutes, especially in an RV would be suicidal.

Back at the camp M stokes up a great fire which is great with some Corona beers for a change with a lime slice in it before dinner, and it’s jumpers on as the forecast temp is freezing tonight and we have no hook up on the GC Campground RV Park. It’s limited use of the generator only am and pm as well so we can’t use the heating for too long.

Next day is cooler (61F or 16C, but the sun is out and it feels warm). After a lazy start, as we don’t have too many plans, we take the Transept Trail from the RV park to the GC Lodge about 1.5 miles away through the forest and along the rim of Transept Canyon. The GC looks a bit dull/hazy as there is a lot of pollution/haze around. We later learn that this has been caused by a large fire down by the Flagstaff area. However, this doesn’t spoil our hike and the view from the Lodge where we slip into some easy chairs outside and enjoy the views. As the day progresses the haze gets worse so we’re glad we did the rim drive yesterday. Later we explore the shops, saloon and Deli before heading back on the Bridle Trail (circa 1 mile) that goes to the RV Park for lunch and are surprised to see a large colourful snake crossing the path. (After some research by C, she decides it’s a Sonoran Gopher – non venomous).

Lunch is a picnic by the rim again and the afternoon is spent catching up with stuff in the RV as it’s got cooler & cloudier. We head back to The Lodge just in case pre sunset light improves but no luck, so back to camp for another, even bigger fire (M definitely was pyromaniac tendencies thinks C) and dinner. Unfortunately, the generator packs in half way through prep – thankfully M is cooking the meat on the grill, so no microwave, no charger points and no heating for the night. Another call to Cruise America in the morning!

And so we end our Grand Canyon tours. We liked the North Rim – it felt a bit less of a theme park but whichever Rim you go to, you can’t help but be awed by the views. Amazing!

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