Tag Archive | Grand Canyon National Park

SW National Parks Trip: Hiking into the Grand Canyon

No day at the Grand Canyon would be complete without some hiking into the Canyon.  When Jon and I (mostly me!) were originally planning our Southwest tour, we were both really interested in hiking to the bottom of the Canyon.  Although it is possible to make the hike in one day, most people recommend hiking to the bottom, staying overnight at the Phantom Ranch, either staying in the hostel or camping, and then making the hike out of the Canyon the next morning.  Unfortunately, as we were only going to be at the Grand Canyon for one full day, we ultimately decided that we wouldn’t be able to do the full hike on this trip.

Earlier in the day, while we were exploring the Grand Canyon Village, we hiked a short way down the Bright Angel Trail.  The Bright Angel Trail head is right next to the Kolb Brothers Studio; it is the longer of the two routes to the Phantom Ranch, with a total length of 9.9 miles from the trail head to the Ranch.  It is also the more popular trail most for day hikers descending only a short way into the Canyon and also for hikers doing the entire route to the bottom.  It is not as steep, and it is situated right at the Grand Canyon Village.

On our hike of the Bright Angel Trail, we discovered that the trail is very popular.  There were dozens, if not over a hundred people hiking on the early portion of the trail, ranging from serious hikers with poles, lots of water and sun protection, to tourists in flip flops charging down the trail with no water and only a cell phone camera.   We even saw a dog, although the trail is clearly marked with a sign indicating dogs aren’t allowed.  But as I  have said before, people are stupid.  There are beautiful views, and lots of places to stop along the trail for photos.  We only hiked about 1/3 mile down, because we hadn’t had lunch yet and hadn’t filled our water bottles.

The Bright Angel Trail is much more crowded

The Bright Angel Trail is much more crowded

After we finished checking out the Desert View Watchtower, we parked along the highway and walked over to the trail head for the South Kaibab Trail.  This trail also descends all the way to the bottom of the Canyon and meets up at the Phantom Ranch.  It is significantly shorter than the Bright Angel Trail, reaching the Phantom Ranch in 7.4 miles.  However, it is also much steeper, with grades as steep as 22% in some places.  And unlike the Bright Angel Trail, the South Kaibab Trail does not provide access to water at any point along the trail, only at the trail head and the bottom of the Canyon.  Plus, the trail head is much more remote, which cuts down on the scores of tourists.

As we walked over to the South Kaibab Trail Head along the Rim Trail, we started seeing our first live elk.  They were literally standing on the trail about 10 feet away from us!  Which left us in a predicament, because the rangers say you are to back away from the elk, but we needed to go that direction!  And the elk didn’t seem to be the least concerned about our presence.  After a few minutes, they moved off the trail and we were able to scoot around them, but not before taking some photos.  And we definitely weren’t at the recommended 75 feet of distance!

Elk just off the trail near the South Kaibab Trail

Elk just off the trail near the South Kaibab Trail

The South Kaibab Trail begins with several switchbacks that take you quickly below the rim; I think there are 9.  It reminded me of Walter’s Wiggles at Zion National Park, on the Angels Landing Trail.  And you are greeted with amazing views!  We hiked 0.9 miles down into the Canyon, to Ooh Aah Point, and I was struck by the view the entire time.  At Ooh Aah Point, we stopped and rested for a little while, before beginning the hike back up to the Canyon Rim.

The South Kaibab Trail, with the first set of switchbacks dead ahead

The South Kaibab Trail, with the first set of switchbacks dead ahead

The South Kaibab Trail – if you can see the tiny person near the middle of the photo, that’s Ooh Aah Point

The South Kaibab Trail – if you can see the tiny person near the middle of the photo, that’s Ooh Aah Point

So, what did I think?  Well, it was strenuous, with sections of the trail that were fairly steep.  I’m certainly not a super athlete though, so people that are reasonably fit should manage just fine.  I’m pretty convinced that although I probably could do the entire Rim to River to Rim hike in one day, I’m not sure I would want to.  I think that would make for a very tired and sore Camille the next day.

Me at Ooh Aah Point, with the Grand Canyon in the background

Me at Ooh Aah Point, with the Grand Canyon in the background

The South Kaibab hike did test my fear of heights in some sections, because the trail is cut right into the edge of the cliff, and there is no railing or berm to keep you from going over the edge if you were to lose your footing.  Seems like another reason not to try the entire hike in one day, because fatigue could certainly cause some missteps.  There were some areas where the scree beneath our feet was pretty loose, and made our feet slip a little bit before finding our footing again.

But all that said, I enjoyed the hike, and in fact it was one of my favorite hikes during the trip.  I think we only passed about a half dozen hikers on our entire two mile hike!  It was very peaceful.

Back at the top of the Canyon again, we walked the half mile back to the car, seeing that the elk had multiplied since we last went through.  As it was getting close to sunset, it made sense that they were out looking for their evening meal.  We still tried to give them their space, but it was difficult as they were literally all around us!  Fortunately, they showed no aggression towards us at all, and we were able to get back to the car without a mishap.

This guy wasn’t bothered by the elk – too close for my comfort!

This guy wasn’t bothered by the elk – too close for my comfort!

Our very full day at the Grand Canyon was coming to a close.  We got into the car, and after navigating the car through dozens of elk walking in and near the road, we headed back to Williams.  Our time in the car was spent recapping the day and all the amazing experiences that we had.  Jon had originally not been that excited about the Grand Canyon, because of the high numbers of visitors, but it ended up being one of his favorite places.  Amazing geology, historic buildings, stunning views, California Condors, crazy squirrels, stupid humans, elk, and the hike of a lifetime.  We packed a lot into one day, and I can’t wait until we have the opportunity to return!

Back on the Rim Trail, as the sun starts to sink low on the horizon

Back on the Rim Trail, as the sun starts to sink low on the horizon

What was your favorite part of the Grand Canyon?  What do you still want to see and do there?

 

SW National Parks Trip: The Grand Canyon’s Desert View

We had already seen a ton in our first couple of hours at the Grand Canyon.  We saw the view from Mather Point, hiked a couple of miles of the Rim Trail, looked around the Grand Canyon Village, and hiked about a quarter of a mile down into the Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail.  But now, it was time to see something different.  I wanted to check out the Desert View Watchtower.

From the Grand Canyon Village, we took the shuttle bus back to the main Visitor’s Center where our car was parked, and we drove 26 miles to the east in the park, to where the Desert View Watchtower is located.  Along the drive, you are met with views of the Pinyon Pine forest, along with signs announcing that this is elk country.  And there is even a sign announcing that there are cougars crossing the road!  Sadly, we didn’t see any cougars, and the only elk we saw was a dead one by the side of the road.  Please people!  Slow down – what’s your hurry!?

In short order, we got to the Desert View Watchtower, went to the Visitor’s Center for this section of the park to get my stamp and made our way over to the tower.  The Watchtower was another of the Grand Canyon’s historic structures that was designed by Mary Colter and built in 1932.  Colter spent six months researching Puebloan ruins to try to emulate the style.  It is believed that the ruins at Hovenweep National Monument were a major influence of the final design.  Although the Watchtower is much taller, at 70 feet, than any Puebloan architecture, she created a structure that contains some similar stylistic elements.

The Desert View Watchtower – Built 1932

The Desert View Watchtower – Built 1932

The Desert View Watchtower is four stories, with a gift shop on the first floor and a series of narrow stairways leading to successive floors.  There are windows of various sizes throughout the tower, giving visitors impressive views of the canyon.  There are also murals painted on the walls inside by Fred Kabotie, a Hopi artist who also served as the caretaker for the Desert View Watchtower for a period of time.  The furniture inside the tower is original to the structure, and has held up well over time, given the millions of tourists who have visited.

Some of the furniture and interior painting in the Watchtower

Some of the furniture and interior painting in the Watchtower

When viewing the Watchtower from the outside, you notice that Colter did not do any shaping of the stones used to build the tower.  She believed that marks from the mason’s tools would detract from the visual appeal of the structure, so stones were chosen and placed without any shaping.  It gives the tower a very natural look.  You can also tell that she created and filled in T-shaped doorways, to replicate the structures at Mesa Verde National Park and Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

The detail of the historic Watchtower was intended to make it look more authentic. Notice the blocked over T-shaped doorway in the lower left.

The detail of the historic Watchtower was intended to make it look more authentic. Notice the blocked over T-shaped doorway in the lower left.

There is a patio in front of the Watchtower that gives visitors panoramic views of the Canyon.  The Grand Canyon Village, Cape Royal on the North Rim, and a cinder cone to the east are all visible from the Desert View Watchtower’s patio.  We enjoyed just looking at the view for awhile.

A view of one of the Grand Canyon’s Cinder Cones from the Watchtower

A view of one of the Grand Canyon’s Cinder Cones from the Watchtower

But we couldn’t linger too long, because we were going hiking next!

 

 

SW National Parks Trip: The Rare and the Regular

No blog post on the Grand Canyon Village would be complete without a nod to the wildlife that also make their home here.

In the village, we saw one of the most rare Grand Canyon residents; the California Condor.  I have blogged about the California Condor before, after our visit last year to the World Center for Birds of Prey, in Boise, Idaho.  The center is one of only a few California Condor breeding facilities, where these magnificent birds are hatched and reared for release into the wild.  The Grand Canyon is one of the locations where the condors are released, and there are currently 73 California Condors known to be making their home in Northern Arizona and Southern Utah.

A California Condor standing on the ledge beneath Lookout Studio

A California Condor standing on the ledge beneath Lookout Studio

But knowing that there are a small number of condors in the Grand Canyon is different than actually seeing one, and I didn’t dare to dream that I would be one of the lucky ones!  He (or she) was sunning himself on a ledge just below Lookout Studio.  Just hanging out, unaware of what the fuss was all about.  I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to see him.  Jon would say I’m being sappy, but it was a very special moment.

A California Condor resting on the ledge beneath Lookout Studio

A California Condor resting on the ledge beneath Lookout Studio

Also, in the village, we saw one of the most prolific Canyon residents, and also probably the most diabetic.  No, I’m not talking about the people, I’m referring to the Abert’s Squirrel.

Immediately upon entering the Grand Canyon Village, you see signs warning you to not feed the wildlife.  In particular, the squirrels.  Why not?  Well, because feeding animals makes them dependent on humans and unlikely to survive on their own, which is a prerequisite for being wild…  Not to mention that human food isn’t good for digestive systems that haven’t adapted to it.  And squirrels carry fleas, which carry the plague – not something I want to mess around with, thank you very much.  Additionally, habituating squirrels to people means that you are now encouraging super-aggro squirrels, which leads to approximately 250 reported squirrel bites in the Grand Canyon each year.  And if all that weren’t enough, by the way, it is illegal under federal law.

I think he figures this might be the best place to score some food!

I think he figures this might be the best place to score some food!

But despite all the reasons not to, we only had to wait about 0.2493 seconds before we saw people feeding the squirrels.  Right next to the sign that said not to.  People are stupid.

This is a tame version of what happens when you feed the squirrels

This is a tame version of what happens when you feed the squirrels

We stepped into one of the dining establishments, an ice cream shop that also sold sandwiches and brats, to get a quick lunch to enjoy while sitting out in the open air of the village.  I got a brat and some Cheetos; Jon got some Greek yogurt and fruit.  Within seconds of sitting down, a squirrel ran up and stole my bag of Cheetos!  Jon managed to grab them back, and in an instant, the squirrel grabbed one end of the foil bag that my brat came in!  I experienced a brief but terrifying Tug’O’War with this pipsqueak of a beast, before emerging victorious when the end of the bag tore and squirrel was left with just a chunk of foil paper.

Shaking… we moved to another section further away from the aggro squirrel.  We sat down and I repositioned my meal tightly in between me and Jon.  It wasn’t enough…  In another instant Cheeto the Squirrel had hold of my Cheetos bag once again – it wasn’t even open yet!  I had been defeated.  Cheeto the Squirrel tore into that bag and was munching to his heart’s content within a few seconds, complete with bright orange fake powdered cheese coating his paws.  I do feel fortunate that I wasn’t bitten, and didn’t have a plague infected flea jump on me in the melee.  The other tourists were highly entertained at my misfortune, so I adopted an “if you can beat ’em, join ’em” mentality and took a couple of photos of my victor enjoying his spoils.  I was pretty disappointed though, as I hardly ever eat Cheetos and was really looking forward to them.

I present to you, Cheeto the Squirrel.

This is what happens when other people feed the squirrels – you get crazy, aggro squirrel bandits!

This is what happens when other people feed the squirrels – you get crazy, aggro squirrel bandits!

 

I should point out that the squirrels had absolutely no interest in Jon’s healthy snacks; they have clearly developed a hankering for junk food.  And to the feds, if you are reading this…  I really, really tried to NOT feed the wildlife.  It was not my intent, but ultimately I felt that if I didn’t release the Cheetos, I would not be alive to tell the story…

And so dear readers, have you ever been a victim of National Park wildlife gone rogue?

SW National Parks Trip: Grand Canyon Village

In my last post, I told you about our hike along the Grand Canyon’s Rim Trail, which ended up in the Grand Canyon Village.  The Village is a village that sprung up at the northern terminus of the Grand Canyon Railroad, which goes from Williams, AZ, to the south rim.  It was completed by the Santa Fe Railroad in 1901.  Technically the village is a census-designated place (CDP) with a population of 2,004 people.  A CDP is a community where people live that resembles a city or town, but lacks an incorporated government.

Grand Canyon Village is also a National Historic Landmark District, so designated because of the historical significance of many of the buildings that are in the core village area.  To be designated as a National Historic Landmark District, it must have historical significance on a national level.  Here are a few of the historic buildings that we visited on our trip:

El Tovar Hotel – The El Tovar Hotel was a Harvey House hotel (remember a few posts back when I told you about Harvey girls at the Painted Desert?)  Yep, the Fred Harvey Company owned this place too; it opened in January 1905.  It was built in an architectural style that became known as National Park Service Rustic, similar to the Swiss Chalet style – it was made from local limestone and Oregon pine trees.  The hotel originally had 103 rooms and 21 bathrooms, which have now been remodeled into 78 guestrooms, all with a private bath.  The hotel also has a dining room that serves lunch and dinner, and a breakfast room.  The views from the rooms must be stunning, as it sits only 20 feet from the rim.

El Tovar Hotel – Built 1903-1903 – National Park Service Rustic style.

El Tovar Hotel – Built 1903-1903 – National Park Service Rustic style.

You can stay there, but you have to book well in advance.  And it isn’t cheap, with a standard queen room setting you back $228.  But you just might rub elbows with the rich and famous – Theodore Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Zane Grey, Bill Clinton and Sir Paul McCartney have all stayed there.  I was a bit put off by the decor though, the log walls are stained a very dark brown, black really, and adorned with all variety of animal heads.  YUCK.

Dead Heads Inside the El Tovar Hotel

Dead Heads Inside the El Tovar Hotel

Kolb Studio – If 20 feet from the edge of the canyon isn’t close enough for you, you can visit the Kolb Studio, which is built hanging over the edge at the head of the Bright Angel Trail.  The Kolb Brothers, Emery and Ellsworth, built a modest cabin to serve as a home and photographic studio.  In an agreement with the owner of a mining claim who owned the property, they set up a tollbooth and charged $1 per head for livestock traveling down into the canyon.  And they made a living photographing the tourists who were riding those mules.

Kolb Studio – Built 1904 – Perched above the Bright Angel Trail

Kolb Studio – Built 1904 – Perched above the Bright Angel Trail

Over the years they grew the business, pioneered new photography techniques and became known for their stunning landscapes of the canyon.  They even made a movie of their trip down the Colorado River in the winter of 1911-1912.  This movie holds the record for the longest continually running movie in history, because after its tour around the United States, Emery Kolb showed the movie at the studio every day from 1915 to 1972.

The National Park Service acquired Kolb Studio after Emery’s death in 1976; it now operates the five story, 23 room studio as a bookstore and gallery.

Verkamp’s Curios – John George Verkamp came out from Ohio in 1898, and went to work for the Babbitt brothers, owners of a cattle ranch and mercantile store, selling curios and Native America crafts to tourists visiting the canyon.  However, he found that at the time, there weren’t enough tourists to make a living, so he closed up his tent within a couple of weeks.  He realized however, that after the railroad to the south rim and the hotel were built, there would be plenty of tourists itching to part with some cash.  And he was right.  The building that exists today was built in 1906, and Verkamp sold not only high priced Native American crafts, but also postcards and trinkets for the common man.  The building is a modified Mission architectural style.

Verkamps Curio Shop – Built 1906 – Modified Mission Style

Verkamps Curio Shop – Built 1906 – Modified Mission Style

John Verkamp died in 1944, and the concession contract was almost not renewed; the Fred Harvey Company was eying the plot of land for a hotel and casino.  John’s wife and children did manage to get a renewal of the contract, although sadly, talk of demolishing the structure continued into the 1970s.  In 2006, the curio shop celebrated its 100th anniversary.  Although the family had hired managers to run the business, they still oversaw it through a Board, making it the oldest family owned concessionaire in the park.  In 2008, they finally decided to close the business, and the Park Service, thankfully no longer wanting to demolish the building, turned it into a museum and gift shop.

I’ll tell you about a few more historic structures in the Grand Canyon Village in my next post – I enjoyed seeing them and imagining what it would have been like to be a tourist there 100 years ago!

 

SW National Parks Trip: Grand Canyon History

I know that everybody knows what the Grand Canyon is. But have you ever thought about the history of the park and how it came to be?

Grand Canyon National Park consists of 1,217,262 acres in Arizona, that protects a gorge that the Colorado River runs through. It was designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1979, and is considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

Estimates vary widely, but a recent study places canyon’s beginnings at about 17 million years ago. Another study concluded that the canyon could be as old as 70 million years. Older studies typically placed the age of the canyon at between 5 and 6 million years old.

What is known is that the oldest layer of the Grand Canyon’s stones is approximately 2 billion years old. The most recent stone is the Kaibab Limestone on the rim of the Canyon, which dates to about 230 million years old. When many of the layers were being deposited, the area was covered by warm shallow seas.

After millions of years of deposits, the Colorado River began cutting through the area and creating a deeper and wider canyon over the years. The Grand Canyon currently averages about a mile deep, and the maximum depth of the canyon varies from 7,000 feet at the South Rim to 8,100 feet on the North Rim. The width varies from its most narrow point of 600 yards at Marble Canyon to 18 miles at its widest point.

Native Americans began living in and near the Grand Canyon beginning about 500 CE. Cultures that are known to have lived there are the Cohonina, the Sinagua and the Puebloan people. The Puebloan people built granaries in the walls of the canyon, and thousands of artifacts have been found in and near the canyon.  When you consider that archaeologists have only studied about 5% of the total area that is encompassed by the park, that is pretty amazing how many artifacts have been found.

Spanish explorers arrived at the Grand Canyon in 1540, along with Hopi guides; they went into the canyon but didn’t go all the way to the canyon floor because they didn’t have enough water. There is speculation that the Hopi guides must not have wanted to led them to the canyon floor and the river, because they must have known routes to the bottom of the canyon. After that, it was another 200 years before the next Europeans saw the canyon in 1776.

In the 1850s, the first formal explorations by Americans began to occur. An 1857 exploration surveyed a wagon road, and another 1857 expedition attempted to determine whether it was feasible to navigate up the Colorado River. The name Grand Canyon was coined during John Wesley Powell’s 10 month expedition from Green River, Wyoming, through the confluence of the Green River and the Colorado River in Moab, Utah, and through the Grand Canyon. Powell first called it the Grand Canyon in 1871 – it had previously been known as Big Canyon.

The weather in the Grand Canyon varies quite a bit from the North Rim to the South Rim. The South Rim averages 16 inches of rain per year and 60 inches of snow. The North Rim, with its higher elevation, receives an average of 27 inches of rain, and 144 inches of snow each year.  Phantom Ranch, in the bottom of the canyon with an elevation of only 2,500 feet, receives only 8 inches of rain annually and snow is very rare.

It is interesting to think how different the climates are in areas that are so close to one another. Temperatures on the South Rim vary from a record high of 105 degrees Fahrenheit, to a record low of -20 degrees.

Despite its awesomeness, the Grand Canyon didn’t have an easy time making it to National Park status. The first bill to create Grand Canyon National Park was proposed by Benjamin Harrison in 1882, but it didn’t pass. He reintroduced the bill between 1883 and 1886 but it didn’t pass then either. Finally Harrison designated it a Grand Canyon National Forest Preserve in 1893.

A view of one of the Grand Canyon’s Cinder Cones from the Watchtower

A view of one of the Grand Canyon’s Cinder Cones from the Watchtower

Theodore Roosevelt continued the protection of the area by making it the Grand Canyon Game Preserve in 1906 and changing it to Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908. But even that didn’t pave the way for National Park status. Bills were introduced in the Senate in 1910 and 1911 and were defeated. It finally passed in 1919 and Grand Canyon National Park was signed into being on February 26, 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson. Even though it had a relatively long road to get to National Park status, once it made it, it really took off from there. In 2011, 4,298,178 people visited the Grand Canyon!

In upcoming posts, I’ll tell you all about what we saw and did on our trip to the Grand Canyon!

Note: I apologize for having only one photo – the internet is not cooperating tonight.  I hope to get some more posted soon!

Back from our Adventure in the Southwest!

So, did you miss me?

Jon and I arrived home early this week from our action packed road trip through the Southwest!  We took two planes, set foot in 6 states, stayed in 9 hotels, and put just over 2,300 miles on the rental car.  We visited six National Parks – Zion, Canyonlands, Arches, Mesa Verde, Petrified Forest, and the Grand Canyon.  We visited one National Monument – Petroglyph, and one National Historical Park – Chaco Culture.

We saw lots of rocks – in all different shapes and sizes and textures, and hiked through all kinds of spectacular country.  We saw amazing stars and the heavens through a telescope.  We saw lots of wildlife, and lots of people, and enjoyed every second of it.  We visited several new cities, sampled lots of beer, a little wine and had some great food.  And we wrapped it all up with a family wedding – where we got to spend lots of time and celebrate new beginnings with family.

Stay tuned for my posts about the trip – I can’t wait to share it all with you!

I would have put a few more places on here, but Google Maps limits you to 10...

I would have put a few more places on here, but Google Maps limits you to 10…