Friday, August 27, 2010 -While the previous day entailed just a skirmish with the Grand Canyon, today would be an all-out assault! As everyone knows, an army travels on its belly, so with that in mind we hit up the breakfast buffet at 6:40am. We left the kids behind, of course, because teenagers would only slow us down. In all, it was a lovely time as we gazed out over the Canyon and swapped ABD Costa Rica stories with our Guide, Chris.
By 8am the entire Group was boarding our coach out front of Bright Angel Lodge. Joining us for the morning South Rim tour was a local National Parks guide, Robin - who I can only describe as having the vague appearence of a backwoods hermit coupled with encyclopedic Canyon knowledge and a sardonic sense of humour. Naturally, I liked the man.
As the coach made its way towards Grandview Point, Robin gave us a detailed rundown on local geography, the village of Grand Canyon, and the logisitics for the seasonal Park staff. Grandview afforded us a very different perspective on the Canyon. In addition to the elevation, the Rim is dotted with large boulders and rock columns - all perfect for unusual 'floating in air' pictures of your Loved Ones. The best/worst was a column that required the Subject to step (jump?) across a small chasm that seemed to separate the column from the Canyon Rim, itself. Once across, you are presented with a 7-foot platform of rock surrounded by, well, the Grand Canyon. My son was onboard with this photo-spot, so he and Guide Mike made the leap. My wife and daughter were totally not interested, while I eventually relented and hoped my heart would not pick this point in time to fail.
The Boy and The Guide defy death as the
Grim Reaper (not pictured) checks his watch.
After Grandview, we travelled on to The Watchtower - an iconic (and slightly touristy) part of the South Rim affording amazing views of the Colorado River. Robin was kind enough to escort a few us around the building to point out various features of its design and the Native wall-paintings on the inside that depict the Creation Story. We all then went up top for more of Robin's lessons about the Canyon and the River. Interesting note about context: from the top of the Tower I might guess the River below to be approximately 30 feet across when, in fact, it is closer to 300 feet between shores!
Looking inside the Watchtower at Native paintings.
By 11:30am we were back at the Lodge where we started the day's tour. Since the daily tourist train was set to arrive soon, we opted to grab a quick lunch at the nearby Maswik Lodge (cafeteria-style, but good food). I made sure to load up on the carbs because the free-time afternoon was going to involve hiking down into the Canyon!
My daughter, who has knee problems, elected to stay behind and explore the gift shops. My wife, son, and I hit the Bright Angel Trail under (thankfully) cloudy skies for a hike to the 1.5 mile rest station checkpoint. As instructed, we brought a few bottles of water for each of us and lots of salty snacks - all to ward off the surprising effects of dehydration for the 2 - 4 hour round-trip. Seriously, do not ignore the warnings about dehydration!
The trip down was a fast 45 minutes during which we descended 1,100 feet into the Canyon (it's much faster if you don't use the trail, I'm told). The trail alternated between rocky and fine sand. The scenery along the switchbacks was simply stunning, but the majesty of the Canyon was slightly dulled by the dead-eyed red faces of the hikers coming back up the trail. This is what was in store for us later in the day, I feared.
I will own this (ranked easiest part of) Bright Angel Trail!
By 2pm we had reached the rest station, where we....ummm....rested. Now was the time to screw our courage to the sticking place and face the climb back up. While I prayed my hockey-ravaged knees would withstand theclimb, my larger concern was for my son, who was obviously hot and tired. My wife was/is the strongest of us all, and I'm guessing she could likely carry us top-side on her back!
Well, we climbed and we sweated and we breathed raggedy breaths up the steady, unrelenting incline. In those areas that were steep, we found rough stairs constructed of rock and logs. We made frequent rest stops for snacks and water where we would spend our moments shooing away the greedy (and fearless) Canyon squirrels looking for handouts.
The view from the Trail.
But by 3:15pm we had made it to the top - all of us seemingly intact. As luck would have it, our arrival coincided with the daily 'condor talk' presented by the Park Rangers. So we spent some time learning about condors while secretly looking forward to the showers waiting for us back in our room.
We elected to have dinner at the more upscale El Tovar Lodge next door to the Thunderbird. Built in 1905, it's the one remaining log-constructed building in the area. Walking into the lobby is reminiscent of walking into DisneyWorld's Wilderness Lodge (or perhaps it's the other way around). Regardless, I was happy that my wife had made reservations the day before, because even at our 7:30pm dining time the Lounge was doing a steady business. The food and service was all very good - not the very best I'd ever experience, but still very good. What made the experience memorable for me was the feeling of being transported to another time and place. It's just something one must experience for themself, I suppose.
After 90 minutes of enjoying the El Tovar, we strolled back to our rooms where we prepared our luggage for the next morning's 6:30am pick up. This was out final chance to say good-bye to the silvery moonlit cliffs of the South Rim. Tomorrow... Utah!