Friday, October 7, 2011

Our Visit to the Grand Canyon: Short and Sleet

Thursday, October 6

We arrived at the Grand Canyon Wednesday afternoon in the gloom - overcast skies and threat of rain. At first we thought we'd wait til the next day to explore, but since there was plenty of afternoon left we decided to drive the 40 miles and visit the granddaddy of rocks. During the ride over it began to rain, then pour. It was still a lovely drive with the golden glory of the quaking aspens set against the rich green tapestry of the firs and pines.

When we got to the canyon the rain had tapered off, but the wind had picked up. The Bright Angel viewpoint stretches from the lodge out a quarter mile so we decided that short hike was a good starting point. Omigosh! It winds along the cliff edge with a precipitous drop on both sides. I started hyperventilating at the beginning of the walk and didn't stop until we were back at the lodge. The view unfortunately wasn't so great with the mist and the clouds. One peak we could see was 60 miles away, but on a clear day you can see about 125 miles. The wind was fierce which added to my vertigo. I've
 decided I prefer the civilized mountains in the east to these majestic monsters out west that threaten to swallow you in one gulp. I have no trouble hiking in the Appalachians and Alleghenies. Thank you, 1500 feet up is high enough.

We met a young couple at the viewpoint behind the lodge who had completed the rim to rim hike (about 25 miles) and stayed overnight in the canyon. According to the brochure "Under no circumstances should you try to do the rim to rim hike in a day!" No doubt there are plenty who would be stupid enough to try, although I doubt if there is enough daylight this time of year. Can you imagine hiking up from the bottom of the Grand Canyon in the dark?  The couple were from Connecticut and were leaving to return home on Friday. They had left their heavy jackets behind at the south rim as a weight control measure to lighten their load because the day before on the canyon floor the temperature was 90 degrees. Coming up on the north rim was a cold treck and they bought new jackets when they reached the top. Like the park guide says, the weather can change unexpectedly.

We drove back to the campground in another downpour that was turning to sleet and saw several mule deer along the route with their funny big ears standing straight up. The weatherman was calling for 1/2 an inch of snow during the night, but we woke up to about two inches on the ground, another two called for during the day, and a possible three inches that night. It was snowing little ice balls so we decided to get while the getting was good.

Breaking camp required brushing the snow off the roof (some folks were on top of their big rigs with brooms) before we could take down the ends. The owner's manual warns not to push the ends down with too much snow on top and this was one wet, heavy snow. Fortunately (Thank you, angels.), I had picked up a snow scraper/brush when we stopped at the hardware store in Jackson Hole to get a wrench for tightening the tow ball. I can't say it was with the expectation of having snow; I just knew we needed one. But what a providential purchase. That and a large stick near our campsite plus a borrowed ladder from our neighbor provided our snow removal tools.

The sun kept trying to come out while it was still snowing, so I thought we might see a rainbow, but no luck. We talked briefly about going back to the north rim, but decided the visibility over the canyon would be even worse than the day before and we had both had enough of looking over the edge of cliffs. So we headed out and enjoyed the view of the snow-covered trees along the highway since the road was mostly clear. The weather gradually improved as we descended to lower elevations until the sun was shining and there were mostly clear skies for our drive to Monument Valley. We said good-bye to the Grand Canyon without too much regret, except we would have liked to see the Kaibab squirrel who has a white tail and big ears that look like Mr. Spock's on Startrek. There are definitely some different critters out here in the west including a little bluebird who perched on a roof edge long enough for me to snap his picture. The western species is different from our eastern variety -- not as pretty in my opinion.

Our ride to Monument Valley was easy and pleasant past the Vermillion Cliffs which are beautiful. The colors of the mountains, buttes, and mesas are brilliant scarlet -- so is the dirt. What a contrast to the bright blue of the sky and stark white of the clouds. All the colors seem more vibrant and the air is so clear you can see for miles. Many of the roads since we got to Arizona stretch out in undulating ribbons to the horizon - or to a butte. Looking back at one point we could see the road running along next to the base of one set of cliffs as we were driving along the base of another set opposite.

What a funny day. It began under 30 degrees with snow and sleet and ended in sunshine and 50 degrees -- still chilly, but a far cry from the freezing wet cold at the north rim. And best of all, we now travel east toward home. Our western most point was Hurricane, UT about ten miles outside Zion. Now every mile brings us slowly back to Virginia. I think I'll be humming Carry Me Back to Old Virginny for the next few weeks even as we enjoy the remaining stops on our trip.

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