Friday, July 27, 2012

Southwest trip day 3: South Rim, Grand Canyon

This morning we spent a few hours on the Bright Angel Trail, the most beloved—and used—trail in the Grand Canyon. We didn’t make it all that far because we stopped many times to gawk in awe at the ever changing views. I imagine most people only do a short walk and then go back although we did see a fair share of sweaty and tired-looking hikers, no doubt returning from the canyon floor.

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View from the Bright Angel Trail

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Rock gate along the Bright Angel Trail

When I was much younger, a friend and I did the 4.5 mile hike to Indian Gardens and spent the night. A rain storm surprised us in the middle of the night (we only had sleeping bags, no tent), but it was a wonderful adventure all the same. The all-encompassing sense of tranquility and isolation at the bottom of the canyon left a lasting impression on me. I’m too out of shape now to undertake the 8-hour hike involving a 4,000+ ft. elevation gain but at least I have those memories.

Some statistics to illustrate how immense the Grand Canyon actually is: It’s over 250 miles long, 18 miles across at its widest point, and on average more than 5,000 ft. deep. (The highest point, Point Imperial on the North Rim, is almost 9,000 ft. above the level of the Colorado River.) All of this was carved out of ancient rock by the unrelenting action of water; while this took 6 million years, that’s not very much in geologic time.

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View of Indian Gardens (the dense cluster of green on the canyon floor) and the trail out to Plateau Point where you have a stunning view of the Colorado River

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The wispy clouds mirrored the layering of the rocks

                                                                                                                                   

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Steep drop-offs along the trail

As a succulent lover, I’m always on the lookout for yuccas, agaves and cacti. The most common succulent along the South Rim appears to be the banana yucca (Yucca baccata), which was much used by the native peoples. It usually grows in clusters and would be very attractive in a garden setting where old leaves can be removed to create a more manicured look.

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Banana yucca (Yucca baccata)

                                                                                                                                 

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LEFT: Banana yucca (Yucca baccata)
RIGHT: Utah agave (Agave utahensis)

I also spotted a few Agave utahensis (probably subspecies kaibabensis) on the Bright Angel Trail, including a dead one with a desiccated flower stalk (see above on right). The most pristine specimens I’ve seen so far have been on the grounds of the Mather Point Visitor Center.

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Utah agave (Agave utahensis)

After lunch at We Cook Pizza & Pasta in Tusayan (good if pricy pizza; mediocre salad bar) we drove back to Valle for some downtown, including a swim in the motel pool.

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Motorcycles outside of We Cook Pizza & Pasta in Tusayan

The closer we got to Valle, about 20 miles south of the Grand Canyon, the darker the sky became. I was excited because I love moody clouds and I was hoping it would rain. Which it did. Huge, wet drops. It didn’t last long where we were, but from the puddles beyond the road we saw later in the evening, the Park got quite a bit.

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Rain clouds near Valle

For sunset, we decided to go back to Yavapai Point which we had explored earlier in the day. From there you have unobstructed views to the east and to the west.

This is what the view from Yavapai Point looked like at 2p.m…

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View towards the west from Yavapai Point at 2pm

…and at 7:30pm:

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View towards the east from Yavapai Point at 7:30pm

After the sun had dropped below the horizon, the reflections from the pink and raspberry clouds overhead cast the canyon into a soft vermillion light:

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View of the canyon bottom from Yavapai Point at 7:45pm

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View towards the east from Yavapai Point at 7:45pm

Driving back to the motel in the dark, we saw a great deal of lightning activity on the horizon. I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to photograph a thunderstorm at some point on our trip. Maybe over the magical landscape of northern New Mexico…

SIDE NOTE:  We spent $12.50 each yesterday to see the IMAX movie about the Grand Canyon at the National Geographic Visitor Center in Tusayan. The sheer size of the screen makes any IMAX movie an experience, but in terms of content, I must say the free movie at the Mather Point Visitor Center in the National Park was superior. The IMAX movie uses actor to recreate the human history of the Grand Canyon (with at times cheesy results), while the National Park movie focuses on the Grand Canyon, its geology and its flora and fauna.

8 comments:

  1. GERHARD, You are not too old to do the trek. I know people older than I who do it. Still, it must have been wonderful to have done it when you were young. Great memories.

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    1. It's not my age, it's the fact that I'm out of shape. I'd have no problems going down, it's the coming back up that's the problem. And I'd be scared for my life riding one of those mules--the trail is very narrow in places.

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  2. So glad you had more pictures of the GC to post, simply gorgeous!

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    1. I feel very fortunate to have experienced two great sunsets at the GC.

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  3. i love the last few photos most of all. Wow.

    I agree with Linda, you can easily do the first half of that trek with no problems. ;-)

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    1. The light about 10 minutes after sunset was simply spectacular. Amazing how many people disappear right as the sun touches the horizon (or what we can see of the horizon). They miss what are often the most magical moments.

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  4. Wow. Great photos. I feel like I am in the car with you guys singing away.

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    1. Taylor Swift didn't come along on the trip, but the rental car has XM Satellite Radio so there are plenty of options. Strangely enough it's me doing most of the singing!

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