Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Grand Canyon National Park

I've Roadtripped to the Grand Canyon several times. The first time was during a Roadtrip that originally was just going to Yellowstone. At Yellowstone there is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone that is so Grand I felt like the most famous Grand Canyon needed to be seen.

Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park come between you and Grand Canyon on your way south from Yellowstone, so this Roadtrip was the first visit to those parks too.

Arizona State Route 67 is the road that takes you to the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. On that first visit, not knowing what to expect, the scenery turned amazing before you got to the main canyon as you started seeing hints of Grand Canyon on your left. That first Grand Canyon visit was a short one. We checked out a few overlooks. Vowed to return and hike down into the canyon. Then hurried on to Las Vegas.

The next visit to the Grand Canyon was to the South Rim. This was part of the longest Roadtrip I've ever been on, going through Utah, then Colorado, up Pikes Peak, across Royal Gorge, on to New Mexico and Carlsbad Caverns, then Texas before heading west, eventually getting to the Grand Canyon.

The South Rim is much more developed, than the North Rim, as in the South Rim is like a small town. I prefer the North Rim. The South Rim has quite a collection of places to stay, in addition to the National Park Lodge. Grand Canyon Village is a big mall like place. I don't remember much of the National Park campground, besides staying there. And, in the morning, waking to the most spectacular sunrise I've ever seen.

That morning the plan was to hike down the Bright Angel Trail, all the way to the Colorado River. The trail descends 4,380 feet to the Colorado. It is easy going, heading downhill. You don't think about having to go back up. Hiking into the Grand Canyon is the opposite of all other hikes I've been on, where the uphill comes first, when you're full of energy. There is water available along the trail at Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse, Three Mile Resthouse and Indian Garden. Indian Garden is like an oasis.

We did not make it all the way to the Colorado River. The picture above is as close as we got to crossing the river. It was another 1000 feet, or so, of de-elevation to descend to get to the river. Time was running out. So was food and energy.

The climb out of Grand Canyon was hard, the sun began to set for the last half mile or so. All in all, it was fun and I'd do it again. And bring more to eat.

The next time at Grand Canyon was back to the North Rim. This was part of a Roadtrip that had gone through Reno, then the Loneliest Road in America, then Great Basin National Park, then on to Bryce, Zion and Grand Canyon, before heading to Las Vegas and Death Valley. This visit to the Grand Canyon left me with one of those moments of of overheard memorable dialogue that sticks with you. I was sitting out on the patio of the North Rim's Lodge. The patio is made of rock and is huge. There are big wicker chairs to sit on. I overheard a Southern lady talking, saying something I thought only occurred in a Tennessee Williams play, not real life. She said, "When Papa went to the war it was just me and Sister Woman to fend for ourselves." On and on she went, always referring to her sibling as Sister Woman.

The next time to the Grand Canyon it was the South Rim again. Two days before New Year's Eve, staying in Flagstaff the night before. It'd been a Roadtrip to Disneyland for Christmas, then on to Las Vegas. After Grand Canyon the Roadtrip headed across the Painted Desert to Monument Valley and Moab to go to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.

On this last week of December South Rim visit there was snow on the ground. You could not walk down the Bright Angel Trail due to it being ice-covered. We stopped at the various overlooks, like Hermit's Rest and Desert View, then hit the road.

The most recent visit to the Grand Canyon was not in winter, yet a lot of snow appeared. It was in mid October at the North Rim.

This visit to the Grand Canyon was part of a Roadtrip that had started with Houseboating on Lake Powell, then going down the Moki Dugway, then staying at the San Juan Inn in Mexican Hat, then Monument Valley, heading towards the North Rim via Page, Arizona, crossing the Grand Canyon on Navajo Bridge, passing the Vermilion Cliffs and ending up at the North Rim in plenty of time for our 6 o'clock dinner reservations.

We stayed in log cabins that are part of the National Park Lodge. That night, about midnight it started snowing. The snow turned into a blizzard. By morning we were snowbound. We had reservations for that night at the Zion National Park Lodge. We were told that snowplows were being brought in from Utah, that we should be prepared to evacuate as soon as they got the road cleared.

When the clouds briefly lifted the snow-covered Grand Canyon looked different than I'd ever seen it. I prefer the non-snow covered version, but I was glad I got to see this. About noon the snowplows made it through. A mass exodus ensued.

Eventually the North Rim of the Grand Canyon gets snowed in every year. The North Rim is about 1000 feet higher than the South Rim, which is only 10 miles away as a bird flies. As a car drives the closest route is 220 miles from Rim to Rim, via Navajo Bridge. Hiking it is 21 miles, via the North and South Kaibab Trails, from Rim to Rim. Few hikers can manage that in one day.

To ease the congestion, on the South Rim, the Park Service operates free shuttle buses on 4 routes. The routes interconnect, but do not overlap. The shuttles require no ticket. You just park at one of the lots and hop a shuttle, getting off at a viewpoint or Grand Canyon Village. This is a huge improvement. The traffic congestion was terrible at Grand Canyon's South Rim, Yosemite and Zion. Now all three have shuttles, and control the number of vehicles allowed in.

I hope to Roadtrip to the Grand Canyon again some day, staying several days at the North Rim, doing a lot of hiking, preferably with no blizzards.


Cheap Tricks and Costly Truths said...

I've never been to the Grand Canyon, but your vivid description and lovely pictures have me hearing the void beckoning me to come...trace the granite with my fingers. Oh, I do hope that you get to go again. It's quite quaint for you to remember that bit of southern dialogue...when they're young they're referred to as "sister girl".

Durango Roadtripping said...

Well, Sister Girl, we need to get you to the Grand Canyon. It is overwhelming. No imagination could imagine the Grand Canyon. Mother Nature does some amazing work. If a person isn't happy looking at such a thing, they should just give up and check out and find another planet to call home.

Cheap Tricks and Costly Truths said...

Whenever you plan on organizing another lovely expedition...I'd love to be a part of your entourage :)

Durango said...

Consider yourself on board.