Short prologue: I bought a set of cards with inspirational questions on them to use as writer’s prompts down at Backstreet Arts, and in a fit of masochism decided that if I weren’t actively working on anything while I was down there, then I was required to draw one randomly and answer it.
Ugh. This is the kind of gross self-affirmation any of which I do not need. But an oath is an oath, and I think I’d like to share my response.
Ha. I am perpetually self-indulgent. Every day I enjoy what I do—and I do what I enjoy. This idea of not enjoying life is completely alien to me.
This includes the things I have to do, duties and burdens—far be it from this atheist to claim biblical inspiration, but the verse, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” [Ecclesiastes 9:10] seems to have stuck with me from Sunday School. Why not commit to your tasks with joy and appreciation?
It’s certainly not the case that I am a Pollyanna about life—there is plenty in my life that frustrates me or makes me unhappy. But it has never made sense to me to regard all of life as roadblocks. For one thing, taking things “personally” is the quickest way to misery: if the universe is out to get you, how are you supposed to enjoy your existence in the face of that?
Here’s what I bought on our trip. We have a rule not to buy “stuff” these days, but that rule does not include jewelry or art. Or in my case, booze.
At the Wal-Mart in Phoenix, where we stopped for quick supplies before heading on. I mean, I had to have these, didn’t I, to celebrate my Americanismness at the Mexican restaurant in Tusuyan.
I follow Anne Lamott on Twitter, and her book Bird by Bird has been circling my consciousness for a while. The Wild Unknown Journal is a tool for Backstreet.
Ah… Two locally distilled gins, plus some Blackstrap Bitters which I had never seen before, plus prickly pear syrup. The El Tovar served a prickly pear margarita that wasn’t bad, and as I searched in my head for fun cocktails to take to Transformus, it occurred to me to make a prickly pear daiquiri. (I have done so, and I’ll post about that later.)
The Desert Rain is a pleasant dry gin, and the Western Sage is a really good botanical: less juniper, more other flavors.
These two items came from the Cameron Trading Post. Other gift shops had sandstone thingies, but Cameron was the only place that had the orbs. This one spoke to me. The green onyx bowl will join the carnelian bowl as a receptacle for essential oils.
At the Watchtower on the way back from Cameron, several Hopi artists were demo-ing their craft. These earrings appealed to me: the water symbol, with mists rising. Mr. Seweyestewa was not charging nearly enough for these, either.
Two more lizards for my collection. The one on the left came from Cameron; the one on the right, from one gift shop or another, is Oaxacan.
I broke our rule about ‘stuff’ with a coaster. But really, it’s the centennial of my second-favorite place on earth.
Nice new agey music; I remembered I already owned another CD by the artist.
A long sleeve t-shirt. Also a centennial item.
All in all, not a heavy shopping excursion. (Although two bottles of gin and a sandstone globe can get your luggage slapped with a bright orange HEAVY sticker.)
We got up to see the sunrise, the Lovely First Wife’s first.
And we were off. Driving out of the Park, we were hoping some elk had come to say goodbye, but not one of the beasts appeared.
Then, as we drove through Tusuyan, the Lovely First Wife cried out, “There! A big one!” I had completely missed a healthy young male right by the road. I swerved into the NatGeo parking lot and we circled back around. Have a slideshow:
He absolutely ignored us. He also ignored the couple who was less than twenty feet from him, which is extremely fortunate for those idiots.
The drive back to Phoenix was through the usual magnificent countryside, and the rest area we stopped at was pretty incredible. For one thing, it had this lovely cactus:
For another, it had these fabulous little rainbow lizards:
This is one of three we saw; the other two were involved in a chest-puffing contest which the Lovely First Wife caught on video. You should ask to see it sometime.
Then we got to Phoenix, arrived at the airport, and flew home the end.
Not actually: I have two more posts to write, the swag post and the pro tip post. Stay tuned.
We took the Blue shuttle over to the Visitors Center, then hopped the Orange shuttle over to the Yavapai Geology Museum.
There we were saddened to find the remains of another victim of the Park’s squirrels. They go for the young and the weak.
The Canyon is as usual its stunning self.
Some of the exhibits of the Geology Museum are showing some wear and tear and need some refurbishing, but the place is still a must-see. However, go only after you have been looking at the Canyon so much that you are ready to receive the information the Museum has. Do not make the mistake of trying to learn what the exhibits are teaching and then apply it to the Canyon.
I was reminded of the technical term for the missing layers of geologic time: nonconformities. The museum uses the metaphor of an encyclopedia to describe “reading” the layers of rock, and now I can describe those among us who are abysmally ignorant as being “eat up with nonconformities.”
I cannot even now describe all those layers of rock, or why limestone alternates with schist or sandstone, but I can marvel at the vast stretches of time represented by what I see. The Colorado River has only been carving this place for five million years, but the rock it is carving through has taken half a billion years to lay down.
(I will say that I’m doing better than several people I overheard at the museum, looking out the window, either pointing out “a body of water down there” to their companion, or excitedly learning that a river did all this.)
Do you remember, a week ago, when I outlined my main reason for coming here? Of course you do: it was to see an electrical storm roll across the Canyon, an exciting daily feature of the monsoon season.
This, dear reader, is the weather I have had to endure for the entire week: crystal clear, balmy during the day, pleasantly chilly at night, so many stars you can’t find your familiar constellations. There may have been a sprinkle or two on Tuesday, but that was just to tease me. There were no storms, not even of any kind.
All this means is that we will be forced to return.
We spent the afternoon taking a break, resting, watching some Disney-owned channel run every single Star Wars movie on a loop and critiquing each one. I ventured out to Maswick Lodge to upload yesterday’s photos and blog post, but mostly we just vegged.
Eventually we went to the cocktail lounge at Bright Angel Lodge for a “Tap Takeover,” a regular feature there where a local(ish) brewer brings their beers for a fun night. There was a great duo playing pop tunes in the corner, and we met Orville, a native of the Canyon who works there in retail. We learned a lot about daily life there: owning a home, raising kids, dealing with the remoteness. Neat guy. (One of his friends, an NPS employee, just transferred to Alpharetta; the wife was an English teacher—job alert!)
We returned to El Tovar for the sunset…
In the lobby, a historical preservationist entertained us with songs by the group America, along with the stories behind them.
…and then dinner, where we met a couple from Augusta, GA, Mike and Annette, who had just up and moved out here for jobs in the Park, he with engineering, she as a physical therapist at the clinic. We learned even more about living and working at the park, just in case we were thinking about chucking it all and retiring out there. Which we do every time we’re out there. For one thing, I think the cocktail bars could learn to use green Chartreuse.
Any way, we now have a place to stay in the Canyon courtesy of Mike and Annette.
As we wended our way back to the cabin, the sliver of a new moon set over the Canyon. (The phone is unable to capture it.)
 A guy we met on the trail said that he’s an amateur astronomer and can’t find stuff when he’s out here.
It was truly a glorious 4th here in Grand Canyon. For one thing, it did not rain on our parade, nor did we have to listen to wooden, anodyne speeches.
I have nothing to report for the morning. Having missed two days in blogging this adventure, I had to set aside the entire morning to catch up. The only thing that made it easier was that—as was foretold in the prophecies—the National Park Services HQ has wifi, real wifi, wifi that might even be faster than mine at home. (I’m looking at you, NuLink.)
So I spent a couple of hours resizing the photos and writing the posts, then hopped the shuttle over to the Shrine of the Ages and walked over to the HQ. I passed through the lobby into the courtyard and set up shop on a picnic table.
Technically the wifi belongs to the NPS Research Library, a tiny room off the courtyard.
We had stopped by late Monday afternoon to upload photos, finishing just seconds before they closed up. The librarian actually rushed out the door ahead of us; he was not in this morning so I could say hi and thank him.
As I was waiting for the many many photos from Tuesday and Wednesday to upload, I noticed this:
What was it? It seemed deliberate, but it also seemed not quite right for some reason. A closer look was not enlightening.
There did seem to be a pattern.
Finally, a ranger emerged from the education department; she was able to tell me that it was a sculpture representing the Glen Canyon Dam’s impact on the humpback chub. You may recall that Major John Wesley Powell described the river as “Too thick to drink and too thin to plow” back in the day. After the dam was built in 1963, the raging, silty river became a frigid, clear river. The ecological impact on the area is only now beginning to be understood.
One of the impacts was on the breeding capabilities of fish like the humpback chub, and this sculpture is an illustration of that.
The ranger told me that it used to be in a more prominent position, when the courtyard was used for classes and demonstrations more than it is now. The piece has been shoved aside and needs repair; she said its future was uncertain. It seems a shame, though.
Finally I was able to rejoin the tour, and we made plans for the rest of the day.
First up, take the Blue shuttle to the Visitors Center, then hop the Purple shuttle to head into Tusuyan, the tiny town just outside the Park.
There we celebrated our Americanismness by having lunch at Plaza Bonita. As one does.
Remember, boys and girls, that when you’re in a desert climate, you have to make sure you are maintaining your salt intake.
The real reason we went into town is that THEY WERE HAVING A FOURTH OF JULY PARADE, KENNETH!
But Dale, I hear you say, what’s the big deal?
The big deal is that Tusuyan ONLY HAS 558 RESIDENTS! I wanted to see how they were going to pull this off. When we got to town, they had blocked off the northbound lane of Hwy 64 and diverted all traffic into the southbound lane.
We had read in the newspaper that there would be a bicycle decorating session at 2:30, followed by the parade at 3:30. I surmised that the parade would consist of small children on their decorated bikes.
And SO IT WAS!
Actually, there was more.
Lots of Grand Canyon Centennial stuff…
A school bus with a horn like an 18-wheeler…
Smoky the Bear (tiny in the center with his ranger handler)…
At one point it was clear that some poor schlub had gotten into the parade by mistake. Rather than go with the flow and just wave to the crowd, he panicked and tried to pass the parade to get out. Bless his heart.
Obligatory emergency vehicles…
The tourism contingent…
I should say at this point that it’s apparently the custom in these parts to pelt the parade with water balloons. And this float fought back with water guns.
A stage, with a chorus, I think; it was facing the actual parade route.
Winding it all up: horse, with mule.
And it was simply the bestest parade ever. We even had a flyover, although I’m sure it was just a canyon flight returning to the airport. Kudos to the citizens of Tusuyan!
We strolled down to the other end of town to the Best Western. (Tusuyan is only six blocks long, if it were divided into blocks.) In the gift shop was this book:
It is exactly what it says it is, and it’s nearly 600 pages long. It won an award. Oy.
We crossed the street and headed back up.
A pretty flower I hadn’t seen before:
When we got back to the north end of town, we crossed over to the party. Yes, there’s a party!
They had a good band, food/drink, a silent auction, a PTA booth, everything you should have.
The party was to continue until late, but we had plans. We hopped back on the Purple shuttle, Blue shuttled back to the Village, and then drove the 35 miles out to the Watchtower, barely in time to catch a ranger talk: “Finding Meaning in Deep Places.”
Here was our ranger:
You can’t see it, but he has a cute little blond ponytail. Hippie ranger indeed: he handed out little booklet/journals and pencils, then led us through a guided meditation on what we saw, what it meant to us, what we hoped to find, very woo indeed. I loved it.
And then it was time for sunset.
We made the long drive back to the Village and had a very late supper at Bright Angel Lodge, where apparently the bartender was “having a thing” (as our nearly comatose waiter put it) — the gin and tonic arrived 40 minutes after I ordered it, and flat. We bonded with the three young men in the booth behind us over the amazing breakdown in service. Like everyone else we have talked to, their awe of the Canyon was palpable.
One more day (Friday), and that post will be late: on Saturday we will spend the entire day getting home.
One item on the Lovely First Wife’s bucket list has been to do the Skywalk at the West Rim. She’s been thwarted in this goal by the fact that the West Rim is four hours away, but since we’re here for the entire week we made the trek over.
To get there, you have to head south on highway 64 to Williams, then west on I-40, then back up via a couple of highways and then just plain roads.
Here is a traffic sign. I wish I could remember what the message was, because it was very amusing. Maybe it will come to me.
As you turn off onto the road that eventually leads to the West Rim, there is a Joshua tree forest.
I won’t bore you with the rugged landscape through which we drove. It’s stunning, but the phone just can’t capture how gorgeous it is.
Finally we arrived. The West Rim is tribal land, and the Skywalk is the Hualapai tribe’s tourist attraction. It’s a thing: planes, buses, and helicopters buzzing around like hornets are all part of the business.
The white thing is a giant inflatable Quonset hut contraption with the ticket office/gift shop.
We found the crowds.
We stood in a line outside for a while until it became apparent this was the line for people without tickets. So we went inside and stood in another life for people without tickets until we realized our error. Again.
Finally the Lovely First Wife asked for directions and we got into the proper line for boarding the bus.
There are three stops for the buses: Eagle Point, Guano Point, and the Ranch. Here was our first view of the canyon from the bus:
Here for some reason is a selfie that I did not mean to take:
The Skywalk facility at Eagle Point is a lovely postmodern thing, which is detracted from by some pretty basic infrastructure/fencing. The staff are friendly and helpful.
The front entrance.
Remember the crowds? We were in line with them. It took a while to get into the building, and then in true Six Flags/DisneyWorld fashion, there was another line that snaked back and forth to get to the locker room where you have to put all your personal belongings into a locker and put on shoe coverings before you go out on the actual Skywalk.
It occurs to me that you may not know what the Skywalk is, and somehow I failed to get a good photo from the outside. (Cameras are forbidden on the Skywalk itself.) If you look at the longshot of the building above, you’ll see what looks like a patio extending toward the canyon.
It is not a patio. It is a 10-foot wide, horseshoe-shaped glass bridge that extends 70 feet out over the rim of the Grand Canyon. Look down and you can see right through the glass platform 4,000 feet to the floor of the Canyon below.
You may very well be wondering why a slightly acrophobic individual would even want to do such a thing. The truth is, I didn’t, and I wasn’t going to, but when ordering tickets I decided I would be the good, giving, and game husband and venture out onto this thing with my Lovely First Wife.
It was a mistake.
I can stand on the edge of the canyon with no problem, though I am more than usually alert when doing so. On the Skywalk I had a moment. I moseyed along, not looking down 4,000 FEET, KENNETH, only out to the canyon, hugging the rail, and finally abandoned the Lovely First Wife to enjoy it by herself.
It was unnerving. My mother-in-law is fond of advising us to “travel when you’re young and have the health to do it.” I have amended that to “travel when you’re young enough never have to do that again.”
Before getting back on the bus we strolled through the tribal exhibits outside, replicas of shelters/homes built by the various peoples of the Southwest.
A wikiup—a word I hadn’t thought of it in years:
A sweat lodge:
A hogan, the winter home of the Navajo:
Back on the bus, and on to Guano Point. Yes, it’s titter-worthy. It was named that because about 90 years ago a cave was discovered over on the north side filled with guano, i.e., bat poop, which was very valuable as fertilizer. The guano company built a tram across the canyon to transport miners and guano.
There’s a snack bar, etc., and a spectacular view.
Here’s a spirit, watching craftily at the snack bar area.
Here are his cohort:
And here’s the spectacular view:
Yes, it’s a spit of land out into the canyon. This is not a problem.
The canyon looks very different here:
Very austere, not as brightly colored as the Park, but still beautiful.
There are helicopter rides, as you can see in this photo:
There are pontoon boat rides, as you can see in this photo:
If you didn’t see the helicopter or pontoon boat, go back and look. That’s how huge this place is.
For example, the little knob at the far end of the spit is actually not that little. See the tiny people on top?
Around the knob are the remains of the tram. It was damaged by a fighter jet (!) in 1960, and the company shut down. It creaks and whistles in the wind.
I decided to climb the knob, which you probably find amazing, given that I had just freaked at the Skywalk. And so it came to pass: there’s a path that winds around the knob, but I only made it a quarter of the way when the 4,000 foot drop just got to me. I retreated.
BUT THEN I realized I could just go straight up, avoiding the precipice entirely. I just had to be clever about not twisting my ankle off.
The view from the top:
I went up the far side and came down the near side. In doing so, I found traces of my people:
After I got down, I finally found the Lovely First Wife, who had unbeknownst to me attempted the climb from the near side, gotten stuck (she’s afraid to climb down; I have issues with climbing up), and had to be helped down by a kind stranger.
We headed back to the bus stop, missing one bus while some of us purchased some jewelry from the artists there.
The third stop, the Ranch, we didn’t bother with. It has a “Wild West” village look, plus the new zipline, etc., none of which interested us. Plus it was getting late and we still had the four-hour drive back to the Park ahead of us.
The drive back was uneventful. I will say that being on an interstate provided me with internet access; while the Lovely First Wife drove I got some bills paid and some prickly pear syrup ordered from Amazon, plus caught up on some burn Board business.
We pulled into the Park just as the sun was setting. I wish I had photos, but by the time we got back to the cabin it was gone.
We did get a couple of elk doing their thing:
We cleaned up, headed up to El Tovar, snagged a table, and had a light but first-rate soup and salad. The young man who kept us watered is an Iraqi-born Romanian, working here for the summer—Xanterra has job fairs all over the world, recruiting charming youngsters to wait tables. It’s a great deal: they’re paid well, and pay nothing for lodging or board for the summer. This young man was there with four other buddies from Romania (he’s studying to become a mechanical engineer), and I told him frankly I was jealous of his experience. His description of first seeing the Canyon was delightful and completely matched our own.
 What, you didn’t know I am now on the board of directors for Flashpoint Artists Initiative, the concern that runs the Georgia burns? It’s a saga all on its own. Later maybe.
I have heard you wondering, “Dale,” you wonder, “what on earth possessed you to go to the Grand Canyon for the week of the Fourth of July?”
It’s a fair question, and you will recall that one of the items on my non-existent bucket list was to watch a lightning storm come over the Canyon. What does it look like? Have a look.
So I called out to the Lodge to make reservations so that I could talk to a person. After making sure he was actually in the Park and not in a cubicle in Dubuque, I explained my goal; he laughed and assured me that if that’s what I wanted, I was coming at the right time.
“But Dale,” you expostulate, “it’s the Fourth of July! What about the crowds? And the heat??”
Again, fair questions.
The Weather Channel app on my phone had a practical hardon for 100°+ temperatures for the week. Every day I’d check, and every day I’d check it to see if it had ameliorated its position. Nope: 104°, 102°, 99°, maybe some low 90s later in the week.
The other weather app on my phone (Hello Weather) claimed it was going to be much milder, but Weather Channel insisted: we were going to melt.
It was not until we began packing that Weather Channel gave up the pretense and admitted, well, yes, the whole week was going to top out at the mid-80s, with lows in the 50s. And so it has been: warm, but not hellatious, and cold enough at night that the Lovely First Wife thinks it’s perfect. (Once we got here, the Weather Channel continued its snark with warnings of rain that simply didn’t exist.)
And crowds? Not so much. Yes, the tour buses disgorge the daytrippers, and the area around the ice cream shop is sometimes crowded, but nothing like Disney World or Manhattan or the Vatican. And when the daytrippers get back on their buses, it’s more like a private resort than anything else.
So while your mileage may vary, we can recommend the week of the Fourth for a Grand Canyon vacation.
Today (Tuesday) we had decided that we would drive over to Cameron. The Lovely First Wife is addicted to travel books, and her book jocularly recommended Cameron as being not much more than the “trading post” and gallery. Sure, we thought, we’ll drive over to Cameron, look at the trinkets, then drive back to the Desert View tower and work our way back along the canyon.
It wasn’t until we had woken and were getting ready that we remembered that the Cameron Trading Post was where the all-day marathon tour from two years ago stopped on the way back to Tusuyan. Oh well, might as well go check it out.
What I at least had forgotten was that the trading post had really nice stuff, mostly nicer than the run-of-the-mill gift shops (although they had plenty of cheap tacky fun stuff too). And the gallery is just that: high end jewelry and Native American artifacts worth a fortune. Like that Navajo cape? A mere $69,000. That kind of thing.
There is a lodge there, and since we were not on a tour schedule we explored the area. There’s a lovely garden behind the gallery, part of the lodge.
And behind the lodge, the beginnings of the Canyon, or at least a example of the early geologic processes that formed the Canyon.
(That’s not a road, it’s a wash.)
On the way back, we stopped by a still-under-construction roadside park, the Little Colorado River viewpoint. Here the Canyon really gets going.
Back at the Canyon, we headed to the first thing you get to when you come in the East Entrance: the watch tower, designed by Mary Colter. This gem was part of the whole tourism push by the gang back in the 1920s.
We’ve been here twice before, of course, but the interior is still stunning.
It is twenty miles away from the Village, so it would have been a literal daytrip for our predecessors. But it would have been worth it.
It is here that the Colorado River—for reasons still unknown—took a sharp right turn and dug a trench.
The Park Service does a very good job of providing context for what you’re looking at: geology, history, natural history. The view in this next photo is of Hance Rapids, one of the gnarliest passages on the river. It drops three stories in its flight.
Let’s take a closer look:
See the white water? Look at the rock layer where it starts. Follow the rock layer straight downriver. Notice where the river goes. That’s a ride.
A hoodoo, for you:
One of my pro tips for the Canyon is to drive out to the Tower, then drive back, stopping at every viewpoint. You might wonder what difference a mile or two makes. Trust me, it makes a difference even if you’re looking at the same piece of the Canyon. For one thing, the light will have changed even in the short time it took you to drive.
Here’s a hoodoo known as The Duck.
Once back in the Village, we decided it would be our nice night out. We dressed up and headed to El Tovar, where we had reservations in the Dining Room.
Pro tip: If you’re going to bring nice pants to wear for an evening out, remember to pack nice shoes. Otherwise, you have to fall back on city chic with jeans, white shirt, and jacket, to go with your sneakers.
I rarely take pictures of my food, but this dish: grilled trout with a pickled ginger sauce, jasmine rice, and snap peas. Oh my.
Sorry, no sunset photo today. We were busy wallowing in first class dining.
 Although curiously I made no mention of it at the time.
I went out to sit by the canyon and work on yesterday’s post, but it was a little chilly so early in the morning, so I thought I’d mosey over to the lodge and type. (The Lovely First Wife was still asleep.)
But my way was blocked.
Two young mule deer standing in the parking lot, unsure of what to do next. “I don’t know, Becky, why don’t you ask him?” “No, you. Is that a tick on your flank?”
A trio of guys came up the other end of the parking lot. They stopped. The deer dawdled. Finally a car started up the lot, and they took action, springing away to… the nearest patch of grass.
After breakfast, we hopped the Blue Route over to the Visitor Center for the Critter Talk, a ranger-led chat for children. This one involved the pelt of a javalina, a smallish wild pig that flocks in the park. The main point was to leave the wildlife alone; we were reminded that the squirrels are the most dangerous. (When the children were asked to name the three predators of javalinas, they stalled out after mountain lions and coyotes, so I suggested squirrels. I was ignored.)
It was decided after the Critter Talk that we’d hop on the Blue Route and go see what the General Store had to offer. The first eight seats on the buses are reserved for the elderly and the handicapped, and if you’re sitting in one that’s needed you are expected to vacate the seat for the less young and healthy. This particular bus driver was eager to assist the elderly, apparently, because he told two young people to rise and let us have their seats. We informed him that we were not that elderly.
At the General Store, I was looking for a carabiner clip to make it easier for me to get my water bottle off my satchel, and the Lovely First Wife is always looking for something. The General Store has a complete collection of camping equipment, plus a grocery store, and you may recall that in Arizona they are sensible and sell liquor where it’s most convenient. So in addition to the clip I bought these:
They will have to wait until we get home for an evaluation. I’m not flying with open bottles of anything.
Of course, some believe that a suitcase full of cloth is not cushion enough; the Lovely First Wife went into the post office to buy bubble wrap, and while I waited, the surface of the bench I was sitting on attracted my attention:
The weathering of the wood reminded me of the topography of the Canyon, and it led me to a Deep Thought: the beauty of the Canyon is the result of a half a billion years of loss, not only along the main path of the Colorado River, but also from the tributaries along the way. Without the loss of those trillions of tons of rock and sand, now somewhere at the bottom of the Gulf of California, there would be no Grand Canyon.
I’m sure there’s a philosophical point to be made here. Maybe it will come to me.
The one on the right looked like it might be a relative of tobacco.
Back in the Village, our first stop was the Kolb Studio.
The Kolb Brothers, Ellsworth and Emery, were part of the first tourist booms in the 1910s and 20s, settling on photography as their thing. They built a small studio at the head of Bright Angel trail and sold photos of the mule trains to the tourists, more or less the same as the roller coasters at Disney World.
Not only that, but they boosted tourism to the Canyon by taking many of the first photographs of the Canyon, followed by movies. Their one-room studio grew to a five-story structure perched on the canyon wall, including a lovely home for Emery and his wife, plus an auditorium for lectures and movies. That room is now an exhibit:
The boat is a “lightweight” collapsible boat they designed for their trips down the river. It is worth noting that the first time they did this they had absolutely no experience as river runners. And the immense amount of camera equipment and film they had to schlep here and yon was confounding.
Also note the amazing PR that the brothers did for the Canyon: hooking up with Fred Harvey, the National Geographic Society, and others, to spread the word of the the Canyon (and therefore their business) far and wide.
Up the hill from the Studio is the Lookout, designed by Mary Colter. Here I’d like to rave about her architecture for a moment.
Here is the Lookout:
As many times as I have walked past it, it was only yesterday that I noticed:
There’s a system of terraces beneath it on the canyon wall, made from the debris from the construction of the Lookout.
Her whole thing was to grow her buildings out of the land, looking like part of the landscape.
The view from the Lookout:
Colter’s work is organic, natural, completely of its place, and beautiful.
Contrast this, then, with the Thunderbird and Kachina Lodges, built in the 60s (I’m guessing), squatting between Colter’s Bright Angel Lodge and El Tovar:
Why did anyone think Brutalist anything was appropriate for the rim? I keep thinking that maybe they were wanting to bring the Canyon “up to date.” After all, they were mining uranium at the time over near Hermit’s Rest—and are still cleaning up that mess. The only advantage I can see to these institutional hotels is that some of their rooms actually overlook the canyon. Still, the whole thing is sore-thumb tasteless compared to the rest of the Village.
A little flower:
Prickly pears in bloom:
El Tovar’s front entrance:
El Tovar is a lovely old pile, all timber and stone. Very Teddy Roosevelt.
We had lunch on the cocktail lounge veranda, meeting a nice couple from Madison, WI, and their two adorable sons, along with the wife’s father who now lives in Sedona. Of the five adults there, three of us were theatre majors and four of us were educators.
Another cactus in bloom:
I could not resist. You know who you are.
We decided to go check out the Shrine of the Ages, an interdenominational chapel next to the Park cemetery. When we got there, it was not open, but I could peer enough in to see that it’s just a plain auditorium without much to recommend it.
While we were waiting for the shuttle back to the Village, an elk began his afternoon munching. The Lovely First Wife got a few shots; I got this one from the shuttle. (Drivers always stop for elk photos.)
The sun began to set, and we decided to walk along the rim trail toward Yavapai Point to see the sunset.
On the way, the Lovely First Wife snagged this portrait of a lizard, species unknown:
I would like to make a point with the next two photos.
These are the canyon edges, as in it’s a straight drop of a couple thousand feet right there. Nothing—I repeat, nothing—keeps you from walking right up to the edge. Common sense, perhaps. Humankind’s innate fear of edges of heights, maybe. But there are no constraints. Radical self-reliance, as we say in Burner Land.
Here’s an interesting photo:
Along the Rim Trail, as we said previously, there is the Walk of Time. One of the displays talked about about two billion years of missing geologic time: erosion simply wore away the surface of the earth, then deposited new stuff on the old. That’s what you’re seeing here. See the white stripe in the middle of the mesa, that just sort of stops short of the top? That’s where layers of rock were pushed up, as tectonic action is apt to do, and then the mountains that were created thereby (think the Himalayas, which are still growing) were completely eroded flat, becoming seabeds—and new layers were laid down on top of that.
That’s awesome, isn’t it?
We reached a pretty cool place to watch the sunset with a bunch of other people.
As usual, the Canyon is at its most seductive at sunset.
And the sunset was lovely.
We walked back in the dusk to the Village and had a simple supper in the Harvey Cafe at Bright Angel, then to bed.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
The flight to Phoenix was uneventful—my Lovely First Wife booked us first class seats! She was a little miffed when I dashed to the restroom before boarding, since it meant we were among the last of first class to board, and the whole point was to be one of those smug bastards already seated in our leg-roomy seats while the peasants file grimly past. I assured her there were plenty of peasants still to board.
Phoenix is a lovely little airport, not hard to negotiate. We got our rental car and headed north to Flagstaff.
Flagstaff is much as we left it a couple of years ago, with the Hotel Monte Vista right where we left it.
We ate at Bun Huggers, a burger place I knew about only because when I dropped my cello off for inspection at Vinylite downtown on Thursday, one of the guys there said he had lived in Flagstaff and helped build the it. (The Newnan Vortex™ strikes again.) The burgers were good. We recommend it.
Of course we went shopping: we bought chains for the silver pendants I made at Backstreet and a couple of books. All our favorite shops were still there, and I was sore pressed not to buy more sound makers from the shop full of singing bowls and things.
I loved this idea: the city has recycling…
…but look how they label the trash side:
You are committing to putting more stuff in the landfill. That’s a commitment none of us think about, is it?
The drive to the Canyon from Flagstaff is lovely, of course.
We passed on through Tusuyan, where we usually stay, and sailed through the park gate: lifelong Senior passes are the bomb. Once inside, we were almost immediately stopped by an ELKJAM!
These four were insouciant punk youngsters who were completely unconcerned that a) they were stopping traffic as they munched on grass next to the road; and b) they had their own crossing guard (a volunteer in a neon vest, whose picture we failed to get).
We checked in at the Bright Angel Lodge.
We lucked out and found a parking spot near our cabin, and as soon as I got out of the car, there it was, you guys.
My Lovely First Wife turned around, and I was gone. I had to go over to the rim. The effect is immediate: the sense of awe overwhelms you—you breathe more deeply—the immense complexity of the view has you in its grip.
We found our cabin, Cabin 6170.
It’s in a cluster of about a dozen cabins. Ours has its own bath, which apparently makes us royalty. Well, among the Bright Angel folk; real royalty stays at El Tovar up the road. When I booked this trip, there were rooms available at El Tovar, but none had windows overlooking the Canyon. I opted for the cabin. Also, it’s not air-conditioned, but does have a ceiling fan.
Soon we were back out at the rim.
See that last view? Look at this map.
See the little orange blob, where You Are? That’s the area of the Canyon you are seeing. THAT’S HOW BIG THIS PLACE IS, KENNETH.
For dinner we opted for snacks/drinks at the cocktail bar at Bright Angel. (That’s a Pomegranate Manhattan, which was more like a Cosmopolitan than not. A bit sweet.)
Then back out for a walk.
This is the centennial of the park, and the Park Service has done some improvements since we were here two years ago. One of these is the Walk Through Time, a look at the geology timeline of the canyon. Every meter or so there’s a little brass ring, indicating a million years of time. At the Village end of the trail, you start over 1,800 million years ago, and eventually you end up at the geology museum at the other end. (I think maybe you’re supposed to start there and work your way back in time.)
They have examples of rocks along the path, often tied to the view.
Every ten meters you get an update of how far back you’ve gone.
This particular rock demonstrates the immense pressure the rocks underwent during one period: that squiggly line was once a level layer of sedimentary rock.
Sunset at the Canyon is one of the reasons you go there. We weren’t expecting a lot of this one, since there was a cloudbank, but one of the lessons of the Canyon is that you don’t just snap the photo and walk away to the next thing.
And then the sky turns to fire.
While below, the canyon begins to sink into monochromatic darkness.