The Grandest of Views.

20 Nov

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With great expectations we entered Grand Canyon National Park, walking to the view point at The Watchtower with many other visitors, we waited to be wowed by the experience, and whilst I considered the natural feature amazing I could not find a WOW!  Amazing, yes, difficult to comprehend the size, yes, but Wow, well, not really.

The beautifully decorated Watchtower gave panoramic views of the eastern part of the canyon and our first glimpse of the Colorado river deep in the rocky depths at the canyon floor

IMG_2451Designed by Mary Colter the tower is decorated with various Indian art pictures and artefacts found around the canyon. It was pleasant to just sit a while within the stone walls and take in the internal structure and decoration of the building. Without realising this was a place of worship and gathering it had a serenity and  despite the constant flow of visitors who spoke with a variety of accents and languages there was an air of tranquillity there.

There are various view points along the road leading to the Trailer Village Campground where we had reserved a site for three nights, some we were not able to stop at either because we were too big or because the RV parking had been taken up by normal size trucks which happens all too often. On arriving at the campground we were pleased to find the shuttle bus stop was a very short walk away and this would be our link to trails and vistas while we camped there. We settled down to decide how best to fit in everything we hoped to do in the next few days.

A geology talk at 10.30 in the Canyon View Visitor Centre seemed like a good start to our first morning and Ranger Pat, as she introduced herself, certainly kept our interest with her down to earth analogies’ of the time scale of the canyon’s geological features, taking us from display to display around the room and explaining in simple terms the scientific facts. We left with a better understanding of the rock formations and a desire to view them for ourselves if we could. We took the trail from the visitor centre along the rim, looking out to the North rim IMG_2479and attempted to remember the names of the rock layers and identify them. It was still difficult to take in the magnitude of the place, looking to what initially seems like the bottom and then realising that there is another several hundred feet below that point which, if you look carefully you can just make out!

The shuttle bus from the campground took us westwards in the afternoon to the Village area, here the historic buildings of the hotel and lodges dominate the rim along with the train station and the livery where the mules for the trail down into the canyon are housed. We took in the slightly different view from this point along another area of the rim trail and went into the hotel to access the internet. Built around 1900 and also designed by Mary Colter, the interior was log cabin style with a cosy feel enhanced by the huge open fire to one side of the reception area, it was maybe a little warm for a fire but still, there were some people huddled around it, maybe visiting from California!

We had a note from Monica and Lawrie when we got back to haRVey, they had arrived and were in the other campground, we arranged to meet them next evening for a talk on the California condor being given at the Shrine of the Ages Centre, the following morning however while riding the shuttle to the western area IMG_2557to walk the rim there, they climbed aboard too! We all got off at Hopi Point and enjoyed the view along a more rustic trail. The trail was more exposed along the rim here, enabling us to look down the sheer cliff walls, many places had no guard rails and for the fool hardy could be very dangerous. We kept well back but were still able to enjoy the rock formations IMG_2544

Including a feature Monica and I christened  ‘the chiselled man’.

Monica and Lawrie rejoined the shuttle but we walked on to the Abyss, sheer cliffs of 3,000ft . A perfectly positioned bench gave us a place to rest and we were entertained by a Red Tailed Hawk who rose on the thermals from the depths of the canyon with a wonderful aerobatic display, effortlessly twisting and gliding close to the cliff face. We also re boarded the shuttle to Hermits Rest, the end of its route and enjoyed a drink there while sitting looking into the depths of the canyon

We were surprised to find Ranger Pat giving the evening talk on the reintroduction of the Condor, obviously a knowledgeable and versatile lady she again kept our attention with her easy style. She related to us how, when it looked like the last pair of breeding Condor in the area were under threat they were all taken into captivity, eventually with the dedicated help of the team working for their survival, Condor were reintroduced to the wild, first to California and then into The Grand Canyon area. Several breeding pairs now survive in the wild, there have been casualties and there is still a long way to go before the goals of the conservationists are reached but slowly this huge bird is again spreading its wings across the Canyon skies. Monica and Lawrie had been lucky enough to spot two numbered Condor at Zion National Park and with the information we learned will be able to check up on ‘their’ birds via the web site to the conservation group.

We said our Goodbyes to each other that night as this was where they would turn south while we headed west towards Las Vegas, our short acquaintance had been filled with adventures for us all and we hope to keep in touch and meet up at some point along the road.

We intended  to spend our last few hours in the area below the rim on the Bright Angel Trail, the full trial is thirteen miles to the bottom of the canyon where you can camp overnight, then either return to the south rim or continue on to the north rim. IMG_2609 Organised trips use mules as pack animals along the trail and many people hike with large backpacks full of overnight gear. We would have loved to be able to walk the full trail but this would need preparation and training to attain the stamina required. The trail descends around 4500ft into the canyon, its great going down, you’re fresh, no tired legs, what you have to remember is that coming out is all uphill, and you are walking at about 7000ft above sea level, so altitude takes its toll too. Many people fall foul of the hot weather in the summer and rangers treat twenty people a day for heat exhaustion, deaths on the trail are not rare but uncommon, unfortunately we did observe a helicopter airlifting a body from the bottom of the canyon. We carefully timed our decent aiming to reach the first rest point which the map indicated was a three mile round trip.

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The path began reasonably but soon deteriorated, erosion caused by the many passing feet including those of the mules meant the surface was less than even, however it was easy walking down hill, the effort of those coming back up however was obvious to see and we were more than aware we had the same trip to do. We walked for an hour and could see the rest station was still far below us, determined not to over stretch our ability we turned around at this point. When we looked at how deep we had dropped into the canyon we had only descended a fraction of its depth.

I initially felt we had not achieved a great deal, we had not gone very far, but we did get below the rim and we also got back without feeling too tired or out of breath covering the return journey in exactly the same time.

It was a good experience to have visited a World famous location, to stand and view a scene most people only dream of, however for me, other locations we have visited held me in greater awe of their beauty and natural grandeur.

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