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Published: September 4th 2012
Episode 3 : National Parks of the South West.
Hello to all our friends and family back home. It is now officially the end of Winter in Australia (well, officially anyway).
We have spent the past several days visiting some of the most outstanding National Parks and natural landscapes in the USA. From Vegas we drove four hours East, to the Grand Canyon, in Arizona. It is very difficult for any words or photographs to adequately describe how magnificent this place is. The gaping canyon, the seemingly endless jagged peaks and deep valleys, and the different coloured rock layers are stupendous. The whole place is very well run, with a great visitors centre and small village providing everything you could need. (Fred; The best place to stay and eat is El Tovar – we stayed at Bright Angel Lodge – very adequate, but had a drink at El Tovar – wonderfully atmospheric. Both places are right at the Canyon rim). We did not end up doing any flights over the canyon, as others has recommended, but were more than happy to walk along the South rim trail. Animals that we saw along the way included some elk, mule deer, various squirrels and chipmunks. Also, while out critter spotting around midnight one evening, I saw a raccoon trying to raid a rubbish bin. I told the ranger the next day, but she said that there are no records of raccoons in the park.
“You sure it was not a bobcat?” she asked. A bobcat ! Certainly not, I thought. Craig Smith knows his animals. The thing I saw had a long striped tail, grey body and a black and white bandit face. She remained skeptical, but I added the raccoon to my list of animals spotted at the Grand Canyon, along with the hippopotamus that I saw in the river earlier that day.
The animal highlight at the Grand Canyon undoubtedly occurred on our last afternoon. We had just been to a ranger talk on the endangered Californian condor: basically a huge vulture - a scavenging bird with a three metre wingspan, and distinctive red face. They once numbered only 22 in the world. He explained how they had been brought back from the brink of extinction and were reintroduced to certain isolated places, such as the Grand Canyon. If we were lucky, he said, we might see one. About 15 minutes after his talk, I went back into our cabin to get two beers for our imminent sunset viewing. I emerged to hear Ross shouting:
“Craig ! Quick - look up! Look up!”
I looked up just in time to see it gliding majestically just above us – unmistakably, a Californian condor.
From the Grand Canyon we drove some three hours further East, to Monument Valley, on the Arizona/Utah border. This amazing landscape features massive red sandstone monoliths, mesas, spires and buttes (pronounced “beauts”) rising from the desert floor (Fred; highly recommended). Monument Valley was used as the backdrop for most Western movies, including those of John Wayne. However, I recall Monument Valley most vividly as the background for the Roadrunner and Wile. E. Coyote cartoons, the latter forever dropping an anvil from the edge of a precipice, invariably to his own detriment. Anyway, Monument Valley was magnificent, especially at sunset and again at dawn, when the huge monoliths were bathed in an orange glow. The whole place is part of the Navajo Indian Nation, and we learnt a bit about Navajo culture while there (and ate Navajo tacos with blue corn frybread). Apparently, during World War II, Navajo folks played a key role for the USA in the Pacific, because their Indian language was used as a code. Their cryptic communications completely baffled the Japanese.
Our last stop in the South West was Bryce Canyon National Park, in southern Utah. I had read that the mass of rocky spires and shapes here is truly awesome, and they sure were. Bryce is unique - there is no other landscape in the USA like it – and I have not seen anything like it anywhere else in the world. The whole area comprises a natural ampitheatre, and inside it are forests of hoodoos – tall red and white spires and pedestrals of rock, of every size and shape. An incredibly un-earthly sight and very highly recommended. There were critters here too. We managed to see some pronghorn. Technically neither deer not antelope, they are a striking brown and white colour with characteristic forward pronged horns. A fine male specimen obligingly walked across a meadow, closer and closer to the car, posing for great pics.
We then drove some four hours North, to Salt Lake City. There is nothing that particularly interested us in the Mormon heartland of America, but it was the easiest place to catch a flight to Billings, Montana, for Yellowstone National Park. SLC was pleasant and incredibly clean. One thing of note that we encountered was the bar in which we had a drink – it had a frozen strip along the length of the bar, with a dusting of ice- where people rested their drinks to keep them cold! Cool !
Well, now we are flying up North to Yellowstone NP.
Bye for now
Craig and Ross
P.S. Sue: have a great trip to Spain.
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