Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Southwest trip day 2: Needles, CA to Grand Canyon, AZ

We left Needles, California at 8:30am and soon crossed the Colorado River into Arizona. We were greeted by beautiful clouds and spiky mountains that reminded us of Mount Doom in Lord of Rings.

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Mount Doom-like mountains just across the Arizona border

The biggest attraction in this part of northwestern Arizona is Lake Havasu City. Founded in 1964, this master-planned desert community surrounding a lake created by damming the Colorado River is known for one thing: London Bridge.

In the late 1960s, the master mind behind this snowbird haven bought the old bridge which had spanned the Thames since 1831 and transported it to the Arizona desert where it was rebuilt brick by brick. He also hired a guy who had worked on the design of Disneyland to create the English Valley surrounding the bridge, and a tourist attraction was born. According to a flyer my wife picked up the Visitor Center, London Bridge is the 2nd most visited attraction in all of Arizona—a depressing thought considering how many natural wonders there are in this state.

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Lake Havasu City Visitor Center in the middle of the English Village

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London Bridge

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London Bridge

After a hot 20 minutes, we left this endless strip mall of a town behind and resumed our drive east. We stopped for lunch in Williams, a pleasant burg which—together with Flagstaff—is one of the two major gateways to the Grand Canyon.

The traffic on Arizona State Route 64 from Williams to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon was very light. I was puzzled, considering this is the height of tourist season. Even at the entrance station there was no line. However, as it turned out, this was an unreliable indicator of how many people were already in the park. Many thousands!

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Arizona Highway 64—only 36 miles to the Grand Canyon

Ravens were circling in the sky and sitting in the trees as we parked our car at the Mather Visitor Center. A good omen, I thought.

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Raven and swirly cloud

Our first view of the canyon was from Mather Point right behind the visitor center. This was my fourth visit to the Grand Canyon but my daughters had never been. No matter how many photos or movies you’ve seen, you can’t really appreciate the immensity and grandeur until you stand at the rim and see it for yourself.

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Mather Point—our first canyon views

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Mather Point in late afternoon

While my attention was mostly focused on the canyon, I couldn’t help but notice Agave utahensis var. kaibabensis, a beautiful agave native to the Grand Canyon and the Kaibab Plateau. It’s a beautiful plant that’s still fairly rare in the trade. It’s very cold hardy but demands almost complete dryness in the winter, otherwise it will rot in a heartbeat.

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Utah agave (Agave utahensis var. kaibabensis)

For sunset we decided to take the free shuttle to Mohave Point, one of the premier spots. Unfortunately, we had parked our car in an awkward location, requiring us to take three different shuttles (there are four or five different lines, each one serving a different part of the park). My answer to where all the people were was answered once and for all: They were on the shuttles!

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On a free shuttle

The views from Mohave Point were breathtaking. See for yourself!

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Colorado River from Mohave Point

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Colorado River from Mohave Point

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Sunset at Mohave Point, looking toward Hopi Point

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Sunset at Mohave Point, looking toward Hopi Point

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Just past sunset at Mohave Point

The scramble to get back on the shuttle after sunset was unbelievable. Think rush hour in Manhattan. Since we had to change shuttles twice, it took us an hour to get back to the car and then another 30 minutes to our motel in Valle, about 20 miles south of the Canyon.

Unfortunately, the “Free Wifi” sign in front of the motel appears to be false advertising because I haven’t been able to connect to the Internet yet. If I don’t manage to find a free hotspot in Tusayan, the small town just outside of the park entrance, I will need to post this dispatch tomorrow from Tucson. Really sorry for that!

9 comments:

  1. Lovely photos! Such a breathtaking sight no matter how many times you see it (extra points for working in the Agave shot too!).

    In addition to the free wifi that doesn't actually exist I love the wifi that is there but kicks you off every 63 seconds when someone new tries to connect. Grrrr!

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    1. As it turns out, free Wi-Fi does exist--in the parking lot! I'm standing in the parking lot with my laptop propped on the lip of the trunk as I'm typing this. Still slow, but better than in the room where there is no signal at all.

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  2. Some beautiful shots Gerhard! I've seen The Canyon from the air many times, but have never visited. If I ever do I'll need to find out how to get into more remote areas, as it would *really* be impressive to see this without a railing and hordes of other tourists.

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    1. It's quite easy to get away from the crowds as long as you are willing and able to hike a bit. Most people don't stray far from the view points (yours truly excluded, I have to admit). In addition, the North Rim is far less visited than the South Rim.

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  3. A fantastic fix. How many bus loads came and went while you watched the changing light over the GC? Bill

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    1. Many! The number of visitors is truly impressive--5 million a year. Equally fascinating is the number of people using iPads (!) as cameras. There's something funny about holding up a device that large as you stumble around trying not to trip, LOL.

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  4. Wow! Lost for words actually, simply stunning scapes! The views from Mohave point are breathtaking!

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    1. And the views are ever changing, depending on the light. A truly magical place.

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  5. Stunning photos, loved seeing them. Thanks for your efforts to find the wi-fi!

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