Monday, 5 May 2008

The Grand Canyon, Arizona

Where on earth do I start when writing about the Grand Canyon? I just don’t know where to begin. The drive to the Grand Canyon took longer than we’d anticipated, so we stayed over night in an RV park outside of the canyon. The following morning we woke up bright and early and headed to the park, as we had nowhere booked to sleep, so we didn’t want to arrive late.

The drive into the park was so much more alpine than I’d expected. I really thought the canyon was in the middle of desert land, but it felt more like Canada with all the tall pine trees. At the entrance to the park we were told by the ranger that we had no hope of finding a camp site to sleep in inside the park. That was disappointing, but Dan never gives up and he asked in the visitors centre, where he found out there were 3 spaces in the dry camping park (no hookups). He sprinted back to the RV and we raced to that campsite, to find two RV’s in front of us. We got the last space! The following day Dan went over to the other RV park, that had hookups, and asked for a spot. The ranger there said he had nothing. Dan asked if he wouldn’t mind double checking. So as he rolled his eyes up and checked through the bookings he said ‘Oh, we must have had a cancellation!” and so we had another 2 nights to sleep in the Grand Canyon National Park. Three nights in total. Not bad considering we’d been told we didn’t have a hope of finding a space.

I think the majority of tourists from Britain see the Grand Canyon on a one day tour. I know Dan did that many years ago. The tour bus drops them off and then collects them three hours later. But we had three full days to explore the park, and so we were able to see some of the less touristy parts.
On day one however, we took the free shuttle bus up to Hopi Heights, with many other tourists. The shuttle buses came every six minutes and always had space on board, so it was an easy way to see the park. I remember when the bus doors opened and I caught my first glimpse of the canyon. Wow. It just took my breath away. Photos can not convey how huge it is, how wide and deep. All our photos, although lovely, in no way truly show how vast the place is. There are no words to describe the Grand Canyon adequately. You simply have to go and visit it yourself.
We rode the red bus line up to the top of Hopi Point. Little Barney was quite scared of the sheer height of the cliff edges we were standing on, and every time a gust of wind came he begged to go home. On another of the stops we walked out across a cliff to a huge rock with a memorial plaque on it, with the names of the men who first discovered the canyon. The walk across to it was scary for a mum with three adventurous kids. The cliff walkway was about 6 feet wide, with no rails on either side, and possibly a mile drop off if one fell. The wind was harsh and Barney was clinging onto me begging to go back to the bus. But we made it across to see the view there. Dan proceeded to scare a couple of touring pensioners, by climbing out to an area that looked like a sheer drop from where we were standing. But it was an optical illusion and he only had about a 10ft drop below him. However, the old couple nearly had kittens when they saw him, and started calling him back, telling him the wind would blow him away. I had to explain to them. I read that 600 people have died in the area, many of which are tourists who have ventured too far for the perfect photo, and fallen off the edge. I was completely surprised at how many un-fenced cliff edges there are.

On the second day we drove the RV to Mather point, which is the first place on entry to the park where its possible to view the canyon. Because of this it is packed with tourists. This area was fenced all around. That is how I expected the entire place to be. But it wasn’t at all. After stopping at Hopi point and various stops on the red bus route we walked some of the ‘Rim Trail’. The trail often has no rails at the edges, and I was a nervous wreck trying to keep an eye on all three kids and Dan (he’s the most likely to fall off a cliff!) On my first night sleeping in the Grand Canyon, I spent the entire night dreaming of catching various family members before they would fall to their doom.

During our Rim Walk we spotted a park ranger giving a talk about the California Condors that live in the area. We hiked down to where she was and sat for 40 minutes listening to her, whilst watching the condors flying hundreds of feet below us. The kids learnt a lot from that talk. The condor weights up to 20lbs, has a wingspan of up to 9.5ft, and can live 50 years in the wild or 80 years in captivity. It was great to see them flying below us. They are ugly critters though, I must say.

The Grand Canyon is a mile deep. I didn’t realise that. If you can imagine standing at the edge of a 1 mile drop, you might understand how its possible to feel slightly dizzy. I felt dizzy on more than one occasion. But I just loved staring out at the vastness of the canyons, and the Colorado River below.

On day three we decided to drive Thelma II up to some of the areas that the shuttle bus didn’t run. This is when I really started to feel that I was exploring the area for real. We left most of the tourists behind us and headed eastwards. There were several scenic areas to stop and view the canyon, but the road in between these areas were covered in alpine forests. So different to how I’d imagined. We saw wild elk grazing in the forests.

At the end of our drive we stumbled upon an old watch tower. We had no idea it was there. This watch tower is built right on the cliff edge, and has 360 degree views of the canyon from the top. Inside the watch tower is decorated with Indian Petroglyphs. It is well worth the drive if you’re in the Grand Canyon area with a vehicle to visit this watch tower.

I had really wanted to venture down inside the canyon on one of the trails there, but I was so sick with the cold while we were there that I could barely walk. I still enjoyed the views through my watery eyes, but it was a shame not to be able to climb down into the canyon. We were told that if you climbed down for 30 minutes, you had to allow 2 hours to climb back up again!

Edit - there is an album on facebook called 'the grand canyon' but i can not add the link to it on here yet, as this goverment internet connection Im using doesnt allow connections to facebook. So annoying. I will add the link next time. Meanwhile if you are a friend of mine on facebook you can go see the photos there yourself.

Please also take time to read Jimmies first blog post below this one.

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