Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Grand Canyon

On Sunday, March 2nd, we arrived at Grand Canyon National Park (Southern Rim), albeit late in the day.  We stayed within the national park at Grand Canyon Village (Trailer Village).  Grand Canyon Village is a revived remnant of the early pioneer settlement that was there over a hundred years ago.  Today it is mostly hotels and campgrounds, but there’s also a general store, bank, post office, restaurants, medical clinic, mule barn, passenger train depot, library, church, cemetery… just about everything that would normally be found in a small town.  And the best part is that you can get anywhere in the village (and beyond) by utilizing the free shuttle bus service that constantly runs throughout the national park.

On Monday, March 3rd, Steve had to fly back to San Antonio to work, but not until later in the day.  So we had the morning hours to tour a little bit of the park. We caught the bus at the campground and decided to switch to the “Red Route” which goes along the southern rim, west of the village. We stopped at every point along the route, getting off to amaze at the view, then getting back on to ride to the next stop.  We stopped at Trailview Overlook, Maricopa Point (which gives a view of the uranium Orphan Mine), Powell Point (which is a memorial to the first person who documented an expedition down the Colorado River, John Wesley Powell), Hopi Point, Mohave Point, The Abyss (which is a 3000-foot sheer drop into the canyon), and Pima Point.  Each viewing point gave different views of the canyon, several of them offering glimpses of the Colorado River down below.  At the end of the Red Route, we visited Hermits Rest.  This native stone building was designed by the famous architect Mary Colter in 1914, and it has been offering rest to weary canyon hikers during the century since then.  Afterwards we rode the bus all the way back to the campground, Steve took off for his flight back to Texas, and the rest of us did laundry, got some groceries, and cleaned up the camper in preparation for the week to come.

On Tuesday, March 4th, the boys and I rode the “Orange Route” which goes along the southern rim to the east of the village.  We started off by going to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, which we missed the first day.  Here we picked up Junior Ranges workbooks and watched the acclaimed movie about the history of the canyon.  After we jumped on the bus, we made stops at Yaki Point, the South Kaibab Trailhead, Pipe Creek Vista, and Mather Point, finally ending at the Yavapai Geology Museum where we caught a ranger-led program about the geologic history of the canyon (and in which the boys were chosen to help with the acronym that described the formation of the canyon).  With the completion of that program, the two youngest boys earned their Junior Ranger badges.  The ranger swore them in right there on the rim of the canyon in front of the crowd of program-goers.  After that, the weather had turned a bit too chilly for us, so we headed back home for the rest of the day.

On Wednesday, March 5th, after waking up to temperatures in the teens, we waited until after lunchtime before heading out for the day.  This time we decided to ride on the “Blue Route” which essentially goes around Grand Canyon Village.  We started by going to the Verkamp Visitor Center and learning a bit about the human history of the canyon.  Then we walked along the rim for a little while, popping in and out of the historical buildings along the way, many of which had a small museum or gift shop inside.  We saw the Hopi House, which is a century-old house built in traditional Hopi style; walked past the historical El Tovar Hotel, Kachina Lodge, and Thunderbird Lodge; went into the Bright Angel Lodge and looked through the museum inside which showcased the Harvey Girls of the early 1900’s (incidentally, Judy Garland starred in a movie called “Harvey Girls”); went into the Kolb Studio where we saw many interesting pieces of canyon-inspired art as well as viewed the first-ever “moving picture” of the canyon; and lastly ended our tour of the village by hiking on the Bright Angel Trail.

The Bright Angel Trail is open to anyone who wants to hike down to the bottom of the canyon.  The boys and I had decided to go as far as the first tunnel, which was an easy ¼ mile hike. After walking through the first tunnel, Native American pictographs, estimated to be 700-800 years old, are easily viewed on the side of the cliff just above.  (And exactly HOW an Indian got onto the side of that cliff, I’ll never know!)  The boys decided that they wanted to continue down the trail a little further to the second tunnel, and I was silly enough to allow them to talk me into going further.  However, we got about halfway to the second tunnel before we (*I*) called it quits and turned us around to go back up the trail.  Not being used to the 7000+ feet elevation, I was huffing and puffing the whole way back up the canyon.  Oh, my!  We should have stopped at the first tunnel!  After our hike on the Bright Angel Trail ended, we had a snack before boarding the bus back to the campground. 

The next day, on Thursday, March 6th, we decided to branch out on our own and explore the Desert View scenic drive.  This auto trail goes east of the bus routes, along the southern rim but further than we had yet been.  Besides the amazing views that we stopped to see, we stopped at the Desert View watch tower.  This tower was designed by famous architect Mary Coulter and was modeled after Native American architecture found in ruins of the area.  The inside of the tower has wall paintings depicting ancient Hopi legends.  It was painted by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie, the same artist who painted the amazing wall murals in the Painted Desert Inn at Petrified Forest National Park.  After we walked the several floors of the tower and saw the amazing view from the top, we drove back down the Desert View scenic drive to the Tusayan Ruins.  Here we were able to attend a ranger-led walking tour of the ruins which are estimated to be 700-800 years old.  It’s amazing to think that a small settlement of 30 or so people could survive in such a harsh environment, but they did!  On our way back from the scenic drive, we saw an entire herd of elk alongside the road.  The elk are everywhere in this park, even blocking the busses sometimes.

Later that evening, after we had been home resting for a few hours, we attended the nighttime park ranger program.  This program was held in the “Shrine of the Ages” in the park, which is a multipurpose chapel-type of building at the park.  The program was excellent, and it was the perfect end cap for our stay at Grand Canyon.  The topic was on the geologic history of the canyon: how it formed, why it formed, how old it is, etc.  I thought it was going to be only a half hour long, but it ended up being about an hour longer than that!  But like I said, the program was entirely engaging, and even the older boys said it was very, very good.  I think they learned more science in that short program than they have in the entire last year at home with me!  (haha)  As for the younger two boys, they literally fell asleep about 20 minutes into the program and slept the rest of the time, enabling me to listen intently to the program and not worry about squirmy little boys!

On our last day at Grand Canyon National Park, we hung about at the camper preparing to hit the road again.  Laundry, groceries, vacuuming… there’s no end to it!

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Grand Canyon.  Pictures really can't capture the true feeling that one encounters when standing at the rim peering at the vast chasm spread before the onlooker. We spent a week at the park, and we were able to fill the entire week with tours and activities without overextending ourselves.  We really lucked out with the weather while we were there. March weather at Grand Canyon can be unpredictable and quite wintry. We had lows in the 20's at night and daytime highs around 60 with lots of sunshine. The park is very organized, but considering that they accept approximately 5 million visitors each year, I suppose it has to be that way!  We would love to return again sometime in the future.  Steve and I want to hike to the bottom of the canyon someday… if we aren’t too old to try it by the time we return!