Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Grand Canyon, AZ

Our detour east to meet up with Ann’s brother was well worth it and ended up bringing us to some unexpected places, but it basically put us back two days before we’d be back where we’d left off. Of course, that’s the beauty of being flexible while traveling. On the other hand, it meant we’d be hitting the Grand Canyon on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. No problem, I don’t think it’s a real big tourist spot…


We did our best to cover some ground on Thursday so we could enter the park early on Friday morning and try for one of the first-come first-served campsites. Thus far on the trip, I’d been doing the driving. It’s a routine we tend to fall into on these trips, not really for any reason. We usually start out alternating with each tank of gas and then before we know it, I’m driving all the time again. It’s not a big deal. I like driving and Ann likes stalking people on Facebook on her iPhone when we can get a connection. On this day, she suggested she should take a turn becoming more familiar towing the trailer. Why not? It’s not like the last time we switched drivers suddenly on a long trip we almost ended up in a Panamanian prison. Actually, she seemed very confident towing, and – between you (one blog reader) and me – I think she may have enjoyed the time not being constantly pulled at by a toddler trapped in a car seat.

I don’t know, Wynne and I really seemed to find our own synergy back there…


I-40 between ABQ and Flagstaff is frankly, pretty desolate. I’m starting to think there are so many dinosaur bones in this area ‘cause they died of boredom.

Roadside attractions…

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and of course…


Trains carrying stacked cargo seemed to stretch impossibly far behind the double locomotives, reminding us of the shipping containers we’d seen at the Panama Canal and ultimately packed our Xterra into for the sea voyage home.


With truck stops the only place to get out and stretch your legs, even a farm-raised California girl can be tempted to tear into a bag of “Baken-ets.”


We stayed overnight at the Meteor Crater RV Park before heading north on more lonesome highway toward the canyon in the morning.



For some reason we call Wynne “babbit” – you know, like a cross between a baby and a rabbit – so we liked this intersection on the GPS screen.


Our goal was the Desert View Campground on the east side of the south rim of the canyon. In addition to being the only first-come first-served campground in the park where we might still have a chance of getting a spot, it was 25 miles away from the Grand Canyon Village, a place we imagined would be quite the scene on a holiday weekend. Online searches seemed to say that if we got shut-out there, we could either free camp in the adjacent National Forest or go through the park and out the south entrance to a National Forest campground called Ten X. Last resort would be one of the private campgrounds near the entrance.

I tend to get a little amped in these unknown situations, running scenarios endlessly in my head, so when we finally pulled in around 10:30 am and saw an empty spot, I pretty much pushed my family out the door to “guard it” while I scouted for others. It seemed hard for me to believe that there would be availability on this particular weekend, but as I looped around, there were several - maybe 1/3 of the 50 sites – free. With a posted maximum vehicle length of 30 ft (we’re 36 ft hitched), some sites were more doable than others, but we ultimately found one with a little loop that we could curl ourselves around, another benefit of the articulation of travel trailers vs. motorhomes.

Desert View is a great little mellow campground with large sites. No hookups but water is available plus bathrooms and showers if you need them. Especially since picking up a 120 watt briefcase-style folding solar panel for a “show price” at the Overland Expo and a couple 6 gallon water jugs, we can pretty much live it up off the grid if we’ll only be somewhere for a couple days. Oddly enough, as any long-term RV’er will tell you, it’s actually gray water – from the sink and shower – that will often limit your stay.

That afternoon, we strolled down to the Desert View Watchtower for our first views of the canyon. Hard to take it all in.


The Watchtower itself is quite impressive, built in the 30’s with inspiration from those built by the Puebloan Indians in this area. The interior is decorated with reproductions of Native American art with a 4 story spiraling staircase leading to a 360 degree view at the top.


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Because one of us had to wait at the bottom with Gorilla and the stroller while the other went up, we got a chance to play “guess where those people are from.” Of course, this is all shameless generalization, but let’s face it, you can tell within a couple seconds. Smoking either meant somewhere in Europe (France, nes pa?) or Arizona. But you could tell if it was Arizona by the tank tops, short shorts and tattoos. Europeans were dressed more stylishly, a variation on American hipster with bright shoes and graphic shirts with brand names scrawled across them. British or Irish accents were usually heard from couples in their 50’s, well-kitted with travel gear hanging from each shoulder and minding their own business. Germans, Austrians, Swiss were typically super excited to be there, jumping up on rocks and running towards the railing to take a picture before the canyon disappeared. The Japanese could be spotted miles away in neon yellow, green and pink and usually traveling in hoards of at least 20. Of course, that means the majority of the rest were Americans. Yep, fat – usually eating at any given moment, complaining loudly and yelling at their kids. I mean, except for the adventurous looking young American couples who probably had just put on a few extra pounds ‘cause they’ve been doing a lotta driving and haven’t been getting out of their trailer to exercise as much as they should (and maybe occasionally making some bad decisions relating to bags of truckstop Baken-ets) and simply trying to assertively set reasonable boundaries for their toddlers in an effort to encourage their independence while keeping them from climbing over the railing like a fired-up Bavarian.


Back at the campground, we decided we could use a little more exercise in the form of a stroll around the loop while the pizza baked. Note the rare, final printing edition Ruined Adventures beer coozie in the cup holder of the Bob stroller.



The next morning, we unhitched (another benefit of a trailer!) and headed towards the Grand Canyon Village. With Gorilla, the only “hikes” we could do were the paved rim trails which were actually pretty spectacular. After reading some of the warnings, we were okay with putting off the hikes down into the canyon.


Check out the switchbacks descending below the rim.


And Gorilla really seemed to enjoy the views… of the squirrels just on the other side of the fence.


The rim trail covers something like 13 miles of paved pathway at times only feet from the edge.






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We walked a couple miles on the path to the Grand Canyon Lodge, perched right on the rim, reminding us of the first “official” night of our honeymoon at the Ahwahnee in Yosemite after leaving San Francisco headed for Mexico.


While it wasn’t the lifesize one she’d wanted at Mesa Verde or the big cat she’d ridden earlier in the day at the surprisingly good grocery store at Desert View, Wynne did end up getting herself a Bobcat stuffed animal which has quickly become a bed-time must have.




I’d heard that the Watchtower was one of the best spots to catch the sunset on the South Rim, so after getting everyone settled in the trailer, I drove back out to the lookout. I guessed I wasn’t the only person who’d heard the news as I squeezed my way into some of the last open space along the railing. The rumors were true…




There was a discussion this past week on Facebook about whether not doing any processing on your pictures was some kind of “badge of authenticity.” The fact is, sometimes – most times – a camera can’t capture an image just like you’re seeing it, and it’s necessary to do some tweaks on the computer to communicate the scene. Of course, there are also times – sometimes because of a false recollection of the scene or just weird light on the computer screen while editing – that processing can yield an unrealistic result or one can push things too far. I try to make things look the way I remember them, but certainly have been guilty of both.

Finally, there are times when the processing itself can become part of the art, driving the reality of the colors and scenery captured beyond the possible, but still creating something beautiful to look at. Check out these two HDR (High Dynamic Range) images I took that use a series of over-exposed and underexposed images to create a single picture merging the optimal exposures for each individual feature of the landscape.



Okay, maybe not what it actually looked like standing up there at the overlook, but it certainly captures what it felt like…

On the way out the next morning, we realized that we hadn’t gotten that classic Grand Canyon shot of the four us on the edge. We found a spot long enough to pull the trailer over by the side of the road, set up the tripod and had ourselves a little photoshoot!




I knew the Grand Canyon had to be something special just because it was known worldwide, but I thought I’d just want to find an overlook say, “Oh, there it is, now I’ve seen it and be done.” I posted on Facebook that we’d been to the Grand Canyon of Mexico (Copper Canyon), the Grand Canyon of the Pacific (Waimea Canyon on Kauai) and now finally to… well… The Grand Canyon. So, I can now say that as beautiful as those others are, there’s a reason this is the one by which all others are measured. The immensity, the depth, is too hard for the eyes or mind to grasp. It messes with your balance, pulling you in like a geologic black hole. And all the way down at the bottom, looking like a tiny ribbon of green, is the mighty Colorado River that carved it all out. Heck, I might even risk the projectile vomiting to come back one day and explore beneath the rim.