Grand Canyon 2019, Day 2

When you go to bed at 9:30 a.m MST (1:30 EDT), then you’re apt to wake at 5:00 a.m. and encounter the sun.

The wifi here is incredibly slim and slow—the notebook in our room describes it as “variable”—which is not surprising, since we’re so remote that everything here has to be trucked in from somewhere else. (In the early days, they had to ship in water.) I have taken to prepping the photos for these posts at the end of the day and then let the laptop grind away trying to upload them overnight. Even then, the connection is spotty. Thank you for bearing with me.

You will see lots of plants today, because I like plants. I’d love to take a botanical tour of the area: names, uses, weirdnesses. Amazingly, the park does not have such a thing. I should retire here and volunteer, after learning the plants, of course.

First up, a thistle in near bloom:

Then this plant:

Close up you can see that it flowers, and then the flowers explode into these little Truffula trees:

They are quite beautiful.

Our main adventure today was to hop on the shuttle that goes out to Hermit’s Rest, the farthest outpost of most tourists. (Trails of course go on forever.) Regular traffic is not allowed out on this road, although you can bike it.

Have a map:

That’s the whole South Rim. Zoom in:

The shuttle stops at a series of lookout points along the way, which are also connected by hiking paths. That’s on the way out; the shuttle stops at only three stops coming back in, so if you’ve decided to hike it and then want to give up, you’ve got to struggle on to one of the pickup points to get back.

Here was our first view, from Trailview Overlook:

That’s the entire Village across the way.

Here’s the Bright Angel Trail zigzagging its way down. It was full of hikers and mule trains and, we heard later, at least one elk making his way up against the flow of traffic.

The Bright Angel Trail is a monster, a 70-mile hike from rim to rim. The Lovely First Wife did go down the first little bit for her morning walk, but it was the coming back up that confirmed our belief that the Bright Angel Trail is best admired from afar.

We continued our trek west. Maricopa Point:

More flowers. I like the way these little asters’ centers turned from yellow to maroon as they matured.

This is sage.

Ignoring the cicada, what interested me here was the belated realization that I was looking at the plant used to make smudge sticks for us hippies to use. I think I had not seen the plant when it was sending up these shoots, which are the part used to make the smudge. When I rubbed one, it gave off that wonderful incense smell.

Unidentified flower:

This was our first view of the canyon that did not include the parts we’re used to seeing, i.e., we had traveled outside the boundaries of the familiar.

—Click to embiggen—

Here’s a random shot.

You are less than 100 feet from the rim of the Grand Canyon. Look again. This is one of the remarkable things about the place: you can’t see the canyon until you are literally at the edge. It’s not like the beach, where you can catch glimpses of it between buildings or watch it get closer as you drive to your condo. It’s just not there—until it is.

More sage:

Since it’s a federal offense to take plants, animals, or animals from the park, I would never even think of plucking a couple of sprigs. How dare you suggest such a thing!

At Powell Point, there was what appeared to be a pagan altar where tree-hugging liberals sacrifice conservative babies. You know how we do.

Upon closer inspection, however, it turned out to be a monument honoring Major John Wesley Powell, the one-armed Union officer who led the expedition to explore the entire canyon in 1869. If you haven’t ever learned his story, take the time to find a video about the expedition. It’s pretty hair-raising.

More canyon. Always more canyon. This shot is of the Battleship, where the California condors nest. You can often see them riding the currents below you. Only once have I seen one above me.

Obligatory ‘where the sidewalk ends’ photo:

We walked the first three or four stations. Views as always were spectacular.

If you look carefully here, you’ll see one of my lizard friends. He was closer but scurried before I could get my phone out.

Here’s an incredible view of the great lower plateau with the river’s gash in the middle of the canyon:

And a broader shot:

—Click to embiggen—

Finally, after hopping back on the shuttle, we made it to Hermit’s Rest, one of the original buildings designed by Mary Colter.

It may astonish you to know that although the Canyon was made a National Park in 1919, it had been an extremely popular tourist destination for years before that. A couple of entrepreneurs built hotels, enticed the Acheson, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad (along with their restaurateur Fred Harvey (and his Harvey Girls)) to build a line straight into the area, and here we are.

Hermit’s Rest was built as a daytrip in the 1920s; you’d pile into the wagon and get taken out along the rim to this place, where you were served a meal in splendid isolation. You could then go even further to a campground if you liked.

Nowadays, Hermit’s Rest is a gift shop and snack bar. (You can still keep hiking if you like.)

Back in the Village, we opted for the “soda fountain” in the rear of Bright Angel Lodge, sitting on the stone wall at the rim to dine al fresco.

Later in the day, we saw this sign:

It was merely the most extreme of the signs warning us not to indulge the squirrels (although the one defining the beasts as carriers of plague was pretty stern).

So here is one of them.

Here’s another trying to eat my Lovely First Wife.

She was completely unaware she was about to be devoured. I shooed it away, but it was persistent.

Pro tip: If you blow in its little face, it will finally take the hint and go away.

At 2:15 there was a demonstration of Navajo music and dance outside of Hopi House, next to El Tovar. We went early to wander through Hopi House, designed by Mary Colter as a display/gift shop for Native American crafts. It was a replica/homage to Hopi dwellings (in stark contrast to El Tovar’s ‘rustic chic’) and it’s still a gift shop.

Upstairs is an odd little room, blocked off from entry, a Hopi “altar room.” You can peer into it; accompanying signage identifies its history (a white missionary collected and preserved native artifacts) but gives no clue as to what kind of “altar” it was, i.e., neither the kinds of rituals performed there nor the psychoactive substances that might be involved.

The Navajo demonstration was a sensitive blend of education and gentle reminder of American history vs. native history. (It was also a clever mix of entertainment and prompts for tips.) The narrator/singer/drummer’s father was a Code Talker during WWII, so the patriotic material was unforced; the narrator sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” in Navajo, quite well.

One of the prayers he sang, once he translated for us, turned out to be a Navajo song I have in my Book of the Labyrinth, with the recurring phrase “I will walk in beauty.”

His son and grandson danced a couple of dances. And then the son danced a hoop dance. Oh my. Here’s the first hoop:

In and out, up and down, he finessed that hoop over, under, around, and through his body in ways I cannot begin to describe. And then he started picking up the other hoops, one after another, slipping in and out of all of them, linking them with his body until he had all eight woven into a bloom or globe around his head. I have no photos of all this because I was too entranced. You’ll have to come see it yourself.

Afterwards, we decided to hop on the Blue Route shuttle and just ride the whole loop. We saw a great deal of the park’s infrastructure that unless you know where to look—or even what to look for—you’d miss it entirely.

We hopped out at the main Visitor’s Center, did some shopping at the Conservancy store, then went on up to Mather’s Point to—what else?—see the Canyon. It was shortly before sunset…

…and the Canyon was as usual unbelievably gorgeous.

Then, back on the shuttle to a lovely dinner at the Arizona Room, the nice steakhouse on one end of Bright Angel Lodge.

Another beautiful day at the Grand Canyon, topped off with a clear, brisk night and more stars than you need to keep from going insane at the grandeur of it all.

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