"" Writer's Wanderings

Friday, October 24, 2014

The National Park Road Trip - Grand Canyon Day Two

The worst part of watching the sunrise is having to get up at the crack of dawn so we chose to sleep in the next morning at the Grand Canyon. It was nice staying right in Grand Canyon Village. There was no extended travel time and no matter where you stay, you are always close to a blue line village loop. We took the blue line shuttle to the yellow line shuttle to begin our day.

The yellow line goes all the way out to a place called Yaki Point but we chose to get off at the stop just before that. There was no trail leading from Yaki back toward the village. The stop we chose, South Kaibab Trailhead, gave you a choice of two directions to hike. One was the unpaved trail that went down into the floor of the Canyon and the other, a paved trail, went toward the Visitors Center. We did look at the trail that went down but what goes down must come up again if you want to return. There was no way either of us would choose to walk a mile UP so we chose the path more traveled.

It was one mile to the next stop, Pipe Creek Vista. When we arrived, we looked at each other, nodded and continued on. The next stretch was 1.4 miles and got us to Mather Point which is right by the Visitors Center. It was a good time to take a break and decide if we could continue on. 

While we were there we decided to catch the movie shown at the Center. It was a good explanation of the formation of the Canyon and some of the sights to see plus it gave us a chance to sit and relax a bit.

Once the movie was over we took inventory. Knees, feet, calves were still good so we continued on. From Mather Point to the Geology Museum was .7 miles and at that point, the Trail of Time began. It was fascinating. Along the trail, there are markers that represent the passage of time in the creation of the Canyon and samples of the types of rocks found in the Canyon and their ages. You could really see what kind of rocks were contributing the colors and textures of the Canyon.

As we hiked, we could hear a helicopter and we finally located it below us flying a scenic route in the Canyon. It eventually landed and we could see a small figure get out. Well, that was one way to get to the floor of the canyon and not have to climb a steep trail to get out. If only I didn't mind a helicopter ride. . . 

Two miles down the trail, we were once again at the El Tovar and ready to eat. We had enjoyed the Navajo Nachos so much the day before we decided to eat lunch at the lounge again. The mistake we made was each ordering something different instead of splitting one order. Our excuse? We were hungry. My brat came with big fries and Bob’s steak tenderloin chili was almost all meat. It was too much for either of us to finish but it was very good. And you couldn’t beat the view from our table on the porch.

Phantom Ranch Lodge-stopping place on rim to rim trail.
As we ate lunch we tried to remember whether or not the walk west from the village was uphill or downhill. We chose wrong. We should have taken the red line to Powell Point and walked back to the village from there. Instead we trekked uphill to Powell, stopping a lot to take pictures—a good excuse to catch our breath. The walk here gave us a good view of the village and of course another excuse to take a picture while we caught our breath again.

Grand Canyon Village
Reservations for dinner at the restaurant at El Tovar were made two days previously so we got a little better time, 5:15. By the time we got back on the shuttle from the end of our walk, we had just about time to shower and dress and make our reservation time. Our table wasn’t as close to the window as before but our dinner more than made up for that. After our big lunch neither of us was that hungry so we asked if we could split a dinner and our waiter was very gracious about it. We ordered the duck (a half duck) with orange sauce. It came with rice and beans and a variety of veggies. The waiter even split the entrée for us. It was perfect and tasted heavenly.

Our day so far had been very successful. We had finished hiking all 12+ miles of paved trails and enjoyed two wonderful meals. There was only one thing that would make it perfect. Pictures of the night sky.

I began to text my daughter-in-law, the photographer in the family, and she graciously gave me a starting point with suggestions for f-stops, shutter speed and ISO settings. Once I figured out how to set them all on the camera and put it on the tripod we were ready to try again to capture the night sky’s jewels.

We set up in a dark spot on the rim trail near the lodge and tried the first shot. I was so excited I almost jumped up and down. You don’t want to do that near the rim. 

We made a few more adjustments testing what worked best and managed several really good shots. The moon was bright enough that it lit the Canyon just enough to show in the pictures along with the stars. It would have been nice to capture the Milky Way but even to our eye, the moon was so bright that the MW got washed out. Still, I did it!! Success! Many thanks to my photographer daughter-in-law, Lori. Her patience was much appreciated and rewarded with the pictures I got. Take a look below.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The National Park Road Trip - Grand Canyon

Of course we couldn’t visit the Grand Canyon without viewing at least one sunrise so we awoke early at 5:45 and dressed warmly. The temps were into the 40s at night and it was a chilly morning. Many were gathered at the rim on the side of the El Tovar Lodge, holding their coffees in one hand and cameras in the other. We watched as the sun came up and began to light the walls of the canyon. When we’d had enough and were chilled, we returned to the room—Bob back to bed and me to the computer to catch up on recording our trip.

Looking across to North Rim 18 miles away
After a bowl of cereal and some fruit along with a shot of caffeine we were ready to begin our first hike. The parks all have these nice newspaper sized guides that include great maps and information. Using ours for the Grand Canyon, we had looked at the three different shuttle routes that would take us where we wanted to go. To the east was the orange route and to the west was the red route and in between was the blue which connected all the hotels and village facilities and connected you to the outer shuttles.

We chose to make our first trip out in the red shuttle area and walked to where the red shuttle began not far from the lodge. You can opt to get off at each stop/viewpoint and look around then board the next bus which should arrive about 15 minutes later. We decided to ride it all the way to Monument Creek Vista where a paved trail would take us all the way to the end of the shuttle run at Hermit’s Rest. The trek would be about three miles but at the end of it we promised ourselves a snack at the snack bar and a ride back on the shuttle.

California Condor
The walk was wonderful. Fresh air and beautiful scenery and with the sun at our backs and beginning to warm the air a bit, it was refreshing. I was snapping picture after picture and wondering what I was going to do with them all. The most difficult thing was to try to capture the depth and breadth of the canyon. The canyon is 277 miles long, 18 miles wide at its widest point and a mile or more deep. Next to impossible to portray in a photo.

When we made it to Hermits Rest, we headed for the snack shop and as we rounded the corner, I could smell chocolate—fresh baked chocolate. Who knew there would be homemade cookies all the way out there! We split a sandwich and got two coffees to go with our cookies. Best reward for a long hike, right next to the views of course.

Arriving back at the lodge, we noticed that the Grand Canyon Train was in. It arrives daily around eleven in the morning and leaves again just before four. That also happens to be the busiest hours around the Grand Canyon Village as that is about the same time the tour buses arrive. The train comes from Williams, Arizona, on a daily basis. There are several different packages available to choose from for the trip and you can find information about it at their website, Grand Canyon Railway and Hotel. The train has been running since 1901 and one of the original steam engines is on display at the train station in the village.

After a short rest, feet up, we decided to go to the lounge to get a drink and a snack. We ended up with a nice plate of Navajo Nachoes which we devoured (guess the hiking makes you hungry) and then we were off again for an afternoon trek. This time we went out to the yellow line and got off at Mather Point and walked to the Geology Museum at Yavapai Point—about .7 mile on a paved walkway. I was getting spoiled with all these paved walkways.

The Geology Museum was what you would expect, showing the evolution of the canyon and the elements that make up the walls and of course the variety of colors and layers of stone.
Back on the bus and back to the lodge for a shower and another feet up rest and we were ready to take on dinner at the Bright Angel Lodge. We ate in the more casual restaurant and enjoyed a quiet time rehashing what we’d seen and what was yet to be seen.

Notice the people on the cliff edge. 
Bob still had enough energy to go to one of the ranger programs that centered on the history of the Canyon told through the works of art by many different artists through the years. He was very impressed with the information. When he returned we tried unsuccessfully once again to take a picture of the night sky. Where could I find out how to capture the jewels that sparkled in that clear night sky? A thought suddenly occurred but with the time difference it was too late to follow up. Tomorrow I would for sure.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The National Park Road Trip - Zion to Grand Canyon

Zion Canyon from Overlook
From Zion we were to visit the Grand Canyon. As I awoke that morning, I wondered if the Grand Canyon would live up to its name. So far, we had seen so many wonderful scenes and interesting formations and flowers and animals and. . .the list went on. Would the Grand Canyon be a disappointment?

The morning drive took us back through Route 9 that we had traversed in the pouring rain just two days ago. Gone were many of the waterfalls we’d seen along the way. In their place were long streaks of black where they’d been. There was one more hike we wanted to take before leaving Zion that was said to be moderate with long drop offs mostly fenced. You never know what you’re getting into exactly but we geared up and took off.
The Canyon Overlook Trail was just past the long tunnel with the parking lot being on the right so catching this on the way out seemed to be the way to go. Yes, On the trail there were long drop offs. Some had handrails but there were a few spots where there was just enough space for one person at a time. Thrilling. The view at the end was worth the trip though. It was a great opportunity to view the canyon from the top.

As we were leaving, we passed a couple with two young children who were about six and three. I just shook my head. Did they not read the literature? Or maybe they just stopped and didn’t check. This was no place for little ones to hike.

As we were about to get in our car we realized that people were photographing something on a ledge just above the street. Sure enough, two bighorn rams sat there watching the morning traffic pass below them.

Arizona Scenic Route 89
There were two ways to get to the Grand Canyon from Zion. Both were Route 89 but on the map, one was marked as the scenic route. We chose that one and were happy with our choice. Several vistas were worth a stop for a picture as we headed into Arizona and through the flat desert between red tinged mesas.

Before long we arrived at the first viewpoint for the Grand Canyon. It’s called Desert View at the east entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park. There is a huge visitor center there but we scurried past it to get our first view of the canyon. Again, “Wow!” was all I could say. The next thought was so that’s why it’s called “grand.” It was already living up to its name.

Absolutely Grand!
The afternoon was waning and we still had twenty-five miles to drive to the El Tovar Lodge in the park where we were booked for three nights. This was one time we were truly glad to have a GPS. Once you enter Grand Canyon Village, finding your way around “the loop” is a bit overwhelming. With our lady’s helpful directions, we made our way to El Tovar but found our next challenge in trying to park. The lot closest to the lodge was full and we could find nothing that indicated a place for hotel guests. We would learn that it was pretty much a free-for-all and once we found a spot, we didn’t plan to move until time to leave.

Our room was on the terrace level which sounded lovely but actually was just a label for that level of the lodge. There was no terrace and our window looked out into a small hillside topped by the lodge’s driveway. The El Tovar was built in 1905 and was a premier spot to stay back then. It was designed in a European fashion said to appeal to the upper crust of the times who thought that anything European was the best. It was designed as a cross between a Swiss chalet and a Norwegian Villa. Built from local limestone and Oregon pine at a cost of $250,000, it was considered the most elegant hotel west of the Mississippi. Theodore Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Zane Grey, Bill Clinton, and Paul McCartney are among the list of celebrities who have stayed there. In 1987, it was placed on the registry of historic places.

El Tovar Lodge
Our room had obviously been upgraded since 1905 and probably more than once but it maintained the look of the period with a black and white hexagonal tiled floor in the bathroom and a free standing sink adorned with Kohler fixtures resembling the period or a close facsimile. We showered and dressed in our casuals for dinner in the restaurant which had to be at 4:45 since everything else was booked until nine p.m. That worked just fine since we’d gained an hour from Zion and it was dinnertime anyway.

Our view of the canyon from the second row of tables by the window was great. I’d like to say my chicken piccata was too but it wasn’t what I had envisioned. Bob enjoyed his pasta dish and we both ate too many warm tasty rolls.

The advantage of eating early was that we were ready for the sunset which came at around 6:15 local time. By now we had learned that it’s not really the sun setting that you want to see but rather the rays of the sun reflecting off the multi-colored cliffs of a canyon. The Grand didn’t disappoint. It was a lovely evening display.

Grand sunset
This park, like Zion, has shuttles and is really the best way to get around although it can be a little slow. But remember that parking? You don’t want to give up a spot. Needing to get some orange juice and milk for our breakfast in the morning (we try to cut corners where we can) we boarded a shuttle for the market plaza that was near the campgrounds. In about 25 minutes we were there. The trip would have been short in a car—provided we didn’t get lost in all the confusing one ways and loops and found a parking place again.

By the time we got back to the El Tovar, it was very dark. There were more lights around the area than had been at Bryce Canyon but we walked to the rim anyway to look at the stars. They were still spectacular. Only now, days later, the light of the moon was beginning to wash out the Milky Way. I was determined now though. This would probably be my last chance to get a picture of the night sky. I vowed to try again the next night. Would I be successful?

Friday, October 17, 2014

The National Park Road Trip - Zion

We awoke to a beautiful sunny day. Except for some of the deposits of muddy red sand, you’d never known the day before had been so hazardous. Of course there were also several rock slides in the park that were still being cleaned up but our ride with the ranger was still on. Our bus sat right beside the flagpole that had been indicated to us the day before and soon our ranger arrived and informed us that she had a plan A and a plan B in case there was a road still impassable.

There was nothing to worry about. The rock slides and sand deposits and damage from the river and instant waterfalls only helped her to prove her points about how the canyon was formed. While those sorts of weather happenings needed thousands of years to erode and cut through the canyon we could all understand how it could happen.

Our ride with the ranger gave us some stops along the way that the regular shuttle didn’t do so we got to leisurely see parts of the canyon without having to hike to some of the spots. We ended our ride at the Temple of Sinawava at the end of the shuttle line. Given the option to ride back to the visitor center or stay and do a little hiking, we opted to stay.

The trail was already full of people but it was a fairly easy walk to the end where the trail continued to a more difficult one that goes through an area called the Narrows. It’s a narrow opening between two cliff walls where the river flows through. You have to wade through the river water to continue the trail. Because of the speed of the river plus its depth after the rains, the park had said it was closed. We did see three men who appeared outfitted (you were required to have some special equipment including some thick walking poles) and headed for the Narrows trail. We wondered if they were a search team looking for the people who had left a car in the parking lot that had a notice on it which read, “You are overdue. Please contact the visitor center or a ranger to check in.”

The shuttles are the only way to get through the main area of the park without special permission and they reduce traffic as well as emissions since the shuttles all run on propane.  Upon our return to the parking area, we caught the next shuttle to a place called Weeping Rock. While considered an easy trek, it was a lot of uphill walking. The good part of that was coming back, it would be all downhill.

We got to Weeping Rock and found it wasn’t weeping, it was crying a river. All the rain was still seeping through the rocks at a good rate. Lovely green maidenhair fern graced the rocks around the area and lots of moss softened the harsh lines of the rocks.

When Bob had originally planned our trip and tried to get reservations at each park lodge, he couldn’t get into the Zion Lodge. We decided to stop by and check out what we missed as well as stop for lunch. The lodge was rustic and comfortable looking and the restaurant had an inviting menu. Bob made reservations for us to return for dinner and he was handed a special red tag for the car. We would not be able to return by shuttle after dinner so we would have to drive.

Lunch was enjoyed at the outdoor café and then we trekked off to a trail that led to the Emerald Pools. Again the trail was said to be easy and it was, mostly, but we were getting a bit tired and sore from uphill climbs. We found a spot short of the destination to observe what were probably emerald green pools of water on a normal day but like all the other water ways they were chocolate colored with the mud stirred up from the rains.

The shuttle deposited us back at the Visitors Center which, with a short walk through the pedestrian entrance to the park, got us quickly back to our room at the Cable Mountain Lodge.  I left my backpack and camera in the room and we took a leisurely walk along the other side of the river where the campgrounds were. We thought often of a few of our friends who love to camp and decided that we would definitely leave the camping to them to enjoy. It was impossible to imagine what it would have been like in one of those tents in the rain the previous day.

Showered and dressed casually (dress code at each park is jeans and shirts), we drove to the park entrance and showed our pass and ID even though we had the red tag. The red tag got us through the area where normally only shuttles are allowed. Along the way we had to slow for some wild turkeys. We didn’t expect those here.
At the lodge, we enjoyed the view out the window of the huge cottonwood trees on the lodge grounds and the cliff wall in the distance. We weren’t seated at a window but were near enough to enjoy the view. While the view was nice, the dinner was even nicer. I had a pecan encrusted trout with garlic mashed potatoes and the vegetable of the day which included zucchini. I winced at the zucchini but when it came it was absolutely delicious. If zucchini were always that well cooked (not mushy) I’d always welcome it on my plate.

The sun had already set as we made our way out of the park. Not far from the Zion Lodge, we had to stop for a herd of mule deer. Unfortunately the pictures I took blurred but there they were, deer caught in the headlights. At least they weren’t at my house eating my flowers. You know, when they’re not eating your garden they are kinda cute.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The National Park Road Trip - Driving to Zion

Our drive to Zion National Park was scenic and dramatic. The drama was mostly in the skies. It rained a great deal of the way but as we neared Zion, the skies darkened more and we worried that it would be a difficult drive on Route 9 through the park east to west in order to get to our hotel room. The description of Route 9 in the tour book mentioned hairpin turns and narrow roads.

Several times as we neared the park, the rain poured down and slowed traffic. Once we neared the east entrance though it seemed to abate. The park ranger looked at our pass, gave us our maps, and said to be careful because there was the possibility of flooding. Little did we know that we would be some of the last people through that route for the day.

There were two tunnels to go through as well as lots and lots of curves and switchbacks. We had to stop once so we could take a picture of a waterfall that was obviously just water running over the side of a cliff due to the downpours. After that though, we thought it best to make our way as quickly and safely as possible to our hotel, the Cable Mountain Lodge.

When we arrived at the Lodge, we watched with amazement as the Virgin River was roaring past the parking lot and looking quite menacing. Receiving our keys to our room, we walked around to find that there was no way to get too it. Water was more than ankle deep in front of the room. We returned and received a new room assignment but had to walk through wet slushy grass to get to the door since the sidewalk was flooded.

We decided that we wouldn’t carry our luggage in until we were sure the whole place wasn’t going to flood. The river was still rising. We ventured out to find food and farther up the road, we found Blondie’s Diner and had a great lunch. When what we needed for breakfast in our room wasn’t available at the local convenient stores, we decided to head for a nearby town that was a bit bigger. By nearby, I mean a half hour away. The nice thing was that just ten minutes up the road, it wasn’t raining and by the time we returned, the rain had subsided and so had the flooding a bit.

The Lodge has a large screen movie theater (almost IMAX size) on its campus along with several restaurants and gift shops.  The movie that highlights Zion Canyon is called Treasure of the Gods and is a 40 minute film that features the myths and history of the canyon. That afternoon, we enjoyed some popcorn and the story of the area’s settlement and some of the legend that goes with the Zion canyon area.

By the time we were done at the movie, the rain had stopped and we noticed the river seemed to be going down a bit. We carried our luggage in and settled into our room.

All told, the reports said that we got two inches of rain in Springdale within about five hours and the Virgin River had risen seven and a half feet. The park closed Route 9 for most of the afternoon and evening. We felt fortunate to have a room and not be caught with nowhere to stay but we worried that our ride with a ranger in the morning might be canceled. We’d find out in the morning.

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