Monday, June 19, 2017

Grand Canyon Adventures

Our big trip out west this summer was to Grand Canyon National Park. A crown jewel of the National Park Service, the Grand Canyon offers so much to see and do: stargazing under the dark sky, hiking into the canyon, watching the sunrise over the canyon at Desert View station, and riding bikes along the canyon rim.
As you might expect, the park facilities had changed significantly in the 15 years since Greg visited back in 2002.
Grand Canyon South Rim Map
The South Rim Pocket Map has lots of useful information (Source)

Stargazing at the Grand Canyon
We drove in from Zuni, New Mexico to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. It just so happened that we arrived at the Grand Canyon on the first night of the 27th Star Party. At the Visitor Center, we received a presentation from a guy who had seen 5 eclipses and wrote a book entitled Go see the eclipse (and take a kid with you). He has already scouted the anticipated path of the upcoming August 21, 2017 eclipse as it moves across the United States. The presentation ended with a door prize of a little telescope, which was won by a girl on the other side of the room. While our older daughter wanted to win it, I'm not sure how we would have gotten it home.

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After the presentation, we left the theater and followed red lights on the ground into the parking lot to look thru telescopes. The park is a participating member of the International Dark Sky Association, so the heavens were fully on display. We stood in line for one of the larger telescopes, and actually saw Saturn!
Saturn viewed through a telescope from Earth
This is more or less what our view of Saturn looked like
I'll admit that I was unrealistically expecting it to look big and colorful like one of the color satellite photographs used in textbooks, so it was a bit surprising to see it only as a white light on a black background that looked somewhat like a cheerio with a broken piece stuck inside. But even so, it was cool to see the rings. It got late fast, so we barely made it to our room before falling asleep.


The next morning was Father's Day, which we started with a leisurely wake up after last night's stargazing. Breakfast was a buffet breakfast at the Yavapai Lodge. We were finished eating by 9am, and boarded a blue-line bus to the visitor center. There, we booked tomorrow's bike tour to Hermit's Rest before we caught the orange-line bus headed to Yaki Point for our family hike into Grand Canyon.

Hiking the South Kaibab Trail
Before reaching Yaki Point, we hopped off the bus at the Kaibab trailhead. It's approximately 9:30 am, and I made sure to note that there was a water refill station right next to the bus stop. We're going to need it when we finish our hike later today.

It was right around 10 am when we let a mule train start the trail before us, since they would overtake us at some point on the hike.

 A few switchbacks and a fairly consistent downward slope brought us to "Ooh Aah point" about 45 minutes after we began the hike.


Preparation makes a difference!

RRR at Ooh Aah Point


The white soil changed to red and the stairs got harder as we descended.
The steps were worn deep.
Another mule train passed us as we came to a section of trail being repaired. The silty brown soil was harder to walk over, but another layer of crushed stone would go over it as soon as the mules brought the material down.
It's like Neapolitan soil! 
It also got hotter as we descended into the canyon and midday approached. We arrived at Cedar Ridge at 11:25 am, about 90 minutes after we started our hike.

This should give you a sense of how far down in the canyon we are.
There are restrooms (but no water) here, and several mule trains carrying either tourists or cargo were also taking a break.

Circling in the air above us, there were several birds but from a distance it was hard to distinguish the California condors from the turkey vultures.
Welcome to Cedar Ridge!

Not much here but a spectacular view.

The black speck near the top is a vulture, I think.

Starting the return ascent.
After resting in the shade of one of the windswept trees for half an hour, we began our return ascent just before noon.

The timeless mule-train
We reached the bus stop an hour later, at 1:00pm. I'm not really sure why we were faster going uphill, but it probably had to do with me carrying our little one piggyback and not stopping to admire the views at every turn.

We were just starting to fill up our water bottles when the shuttle bus arrived, so we opted to wait for the next one after re-hydrating and spent the time looking at the mules in the nearby corral. A leisurely lunch at Yavapai Lodge that lasted until 3pm aided in our recovery from the morning's hike. I had an a nice Cuban sandwich with beer, and we ordered pizza for the kids. It's all about the carbs, right?
Elk graze everywhere, even in the roads.
After a little nap, we drove over to the Village area, but couldn't find any parking. So, we parked nearby and walked through the train depot to visit the Verkamp's museum, Hopi House, and the historic El Tovar hotel. It's best to have reservations to get dinner at the El Tovar restaurant -- which we didn't have -- so we walked along the South Rim over to the Bright Angel Lodge.
The view from the village
We had dinner at the Harvey House which hearkened back to the early days of the Grand Canyon tourism. The chicken and steak fajitas were good, but the Cactus lemonade was great: the secret is limoncello and prickly pear cactus syrup.

It was about 8:30 pm when we left Bright Angel Lodge, which was right around the time the buses stop running. Fortunately, we'd driven over, previously only vaguely aware that the buses stop running an hour after sundown. A quick jaunt back to our room where we set our alarms for 4 am to get out in time to see the sun rise over the Grand Canyon tomorrow morning.


Sunrise at Desert View
As planned, we woke up at 4 am and were on the road at 4:15. The kids went back to sleep as we drove out to the Desert View tower. Along the way, our headlights caught a coyote darting across the road.
 The pre-dawn sky here is a magical sapphire blue, resting on the black silhouettes of trees towering beside the road.
 We pulled in to the desert view station parking lot after about a half an hour of driving.
 On our walk to the rim, we found ourselves mere feet away from an elk with huge antlers that was grazing in the early morning light.

We were first to the lookout, a few minutes before 5 am, so we enjoyed the spectacular view in complete solitude.
 Far below, the Colorado River was an emerald green, flecked with pearlescent white rapids.

Sunrise and moonset?
As the shadows sank farther down the canyon walls with the rising sun, warm colors were gradually released from the darkness.
First came the grays, followed by browns mixed with greens, then the reds slowly intensified in the morning sun.

As the sun rose above the horizon, its light streamed over the canyon, drenching us in a blinding golden light.
 The soft orange glow on the horizon faded into blue as condors, ravens, and vultures soared around us.
Birds soaring into the sunrise
 Behind us, the tower glowed gold against the clear blue sky.
When our kids weren't clambering about being chilly and wanting to go back to the car, you could hear the faint sound of the wind rustling in the trees in the canyon below as it carried the scent of wildflower up to us from from some hidden corner of the cliff side.
 The gravel crunched softly under our feet as we moved along the canyon's rim to admire the view.


During this experience, it occurred to me that despite its overwhelming natural beauty, capturing a great image of the Grand Canyon is more challenging than I had expected.

Why? Mostly, it's because with every step, the view gets better. So you take a photo of a great view, move a couple of feet down and now the view is even better and that photo you just took is just kinda "meh".

I mean, the photos are still gorgeous and mesmerizing and don't capture vastness of the canyon, but yeah, it's hard to comprehend unless you've been there.
Panorama of the sunrise over Desert View
After the sunrise, we drove across the park and had breakfast at El Tovar around at 7:20 am, and no reservations were required. The ambiance of the dining room takes you back in time, while the chili-laden Southwestern Omelette established a distinctly savory sense of place.

After breakfast, we walked a bit of the rim before heading back to our room to reclaim the sleep we'd left there hours earlier.

Yeah, I took a picture of a picture.
After our morning rest, we had lunch at the market plaza, then rode the bus to the visitor center around 1:45pm. At the visitor center, both girls received their Junior Ranger badges after completing the requirements and taking the pledge.

Riding bikes along the Grand Canyon Rim
After the kids were sworn in as Junior Rangers, we went for a bike tour. Our guide was the awesome Micaela, who happened to have a degree in outdoor education from UNH, and our girls loved her. Because we'd hired a guide instead of just renting bikes on our own (which was another option), the tour van took us from the visitor center to Hopi point, which included skipping the steep section from Bright Angel to Hopi Point.
We were also successful in dodging the rolling rainstorms from the 3 pm start of our ride from Hopi Point to the 6 pm finish at Hermit's Rest.
The skies are opening up


I suppose you can't put a guard rail around the whole canyon.


Just look at those layers!


Look at that rain!
We made several stops to take in the scenery and smell the cliff-roses, while Micaela taught us about the Canyon's flora, fauna, and geology along the way.
Family photo

Photobomb by our guide!
We highly recommend the Grand Canyon bike tours with Bright Angel Bicycles. They even offer a tag-along adapter for the little ones!
Greg's bike  with the tag-along for the (almost) 5 year old.

Our older daughter makes her demands

Save mommy!

That didn't go as planned...

See that triangular gap in the floor? Avoid that.


Active outdoor education



The end of our ride


Fireplace inside the Hermit's Rest building

From Hermit's Rest, the bike tour van dropped us at the Maswik Lodge for dinner. The food court there has several options, and the adults washed down their meals with some Brightangel IPAs from the Grand Canyon Brewing Co. We caught the blue-route bus back to our lodging around 8:15 and called it a night.


Desert View Station
On our last morning in the park, we left our lodging around 10:30am and stopped back into Desert View to climb the tower and get some fuel before driving off into the desert. After all, a road trip on a 1/4 tank isn't going to get you very far.
Let's climb it!

Going up...

Looking up

Looking out

Traditional jewelry-making exhibit
 We departed Grand Canyon National Park through the Desert View gate around noon on our way to see Sunset Crater and Walnut Canyon.




« Yesterday: Pueblo of Zuni - Tomorrow: Sunset Crater And Walnut Canyon »

Trip Summary: American Southwest

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