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October 13, 2005

Roadtrip '05 - Day Three - Grand Canyon

So! We enjoyed a restful night's sleep in the Days Inn Route 66 in Flagstaff. I didn't even hear the trains during the night like I feared I would.

As we were checking out, I asked the desk clerk what was the best (i.e. most scenic) way of getting to the Grand Canyon. She whipped out a map and proceeded to diagram a route, which I only somewhat paid attention to. Trina finished checking out, so I skipped over to the continental breakfast setup and pocketed a container of Frosted Flakes. Just in case.

We stopped for gas, then stopped at McDonalds, then we were on our way on ROUTE 66 (*squeal*) through ... well I don't remember if it was "downtown" Flagstaff, but it was right alongside the railroad tracks, and the visitor center was on the road too. I was even startled by a train that appeared to come out of nowhere and had approximately 1.67 million cars attached to it.

We were squarely caught in morning rush hour traffic, so I whipped out the trusty Rand McNally Road Atlas to check the route I had been given.

As it turns out, the chick was directing us about 20 miles out of the way. She had us driving east, the north, then west. Once I realized that was going to eat up too much time, we backtracked a few miles and took 180 north, then picked up 64 into the canyon itself.

Mike, we didn't stop at the Flintstone thing because even though I begged and begged and begged to stop, Trina was driving and having none of it. We were on a mission, and that mission sadly did not involve Fred or Barney.

However, an interesting thing happened in Valle, Arizona - we were driving behind a slow-moving, dilapidated pickup truck, following at a safe distance. For no reason at all, the man thrusts his left arm out the window and flips us off. It was completely inexplicable, and mostly very weird.

We made sure the doors were locked. Of course, the top was down on the convertible, so ...

Driving, driving, driving, and ... we reach the Grand Canyon entrance. We slap a crisp new $20 into the park ranger's hand, and she gives us two copies of The Guide (the official Grand Canyon publication that lists ranger programs, parking rules, etc.). I had done a lot of online research before the trip and knew the best place to park was at Market Plaza, so we headed there.

At this point, the Grand Canyon looked like any state park you've ever been in. No canyon yet to be seen.

We park, grab our stuff, make a pit stop at the restroom and a pay phone (so I could call La Posada in Winslow to book a room for that night), then catch the free shuttle bus that takes us to the Information Center. The trip takes about eight minutes due to frequent stopping, and we STILL haven't seen anything that even remotely looks canyon-esque. Or even canyon-ish. It was all paved roads and pine trees and people scurrying everywhere.

The Information Center is just that - the place you go for your introduction to the Grand Canyon. We checked out the times for the ranger programs - there was a "Geology of the Grand Canyon" program that started in about 20 minutes (at 10 a.m.) that we wanted to check out. I knew that one of the overlooks, Mather Point, was about 300 yards from the Information Center, so we decided to run down to it - we really needed to SEE the Grand Canyon before we learned about its geology.

And see it we did:

My very first glimpse of the Grand Canyon, from the Mather Point overlookAnother view from Mather Point, this one looking towards the north (and a secondary overlook)
Mouseover the photo for a description; click for full version

Let me see if I can recapture what I was thinking as I walked up to the Mather Point overlook – Vast. Muted. Big. Vast. Wide. IfIfalloffthisbitofrockIamstandingonIamsoSOdead. Vast.

The canyon really screws with your sense of perspective. When you look off into the distance, it seems two-dimensional. It also doesn't feel like you're looking at something real, or in real time – it seems like you're looking at a painting, or a colored pencil drawing of a scene.

I was also quite struck by the fact that there were clouds in the distance that were at eye level. I found myself thinking about this a lot during this trip, because it's so unlike anything I've ever experienced. Having spent most of my life at sea level, clouds are things that are way, WAY up in the sky. But at the Grand Canyon (and especially at Sandia Peak in Albuquerque), it felt like I could reach out and touch one.

If my arms were 800 feet long.

We hoofed it back to the Info Center to listen to Park Ranger Jeff give a talk about geology. It was a 45 minute program that should have been about 30. Trina and I were both wishing for it to end, and when it finally did we bailed for the shuttle bus so that we could make our way out to the stops along the Hermit Road View drive.

We spent about two hours on the Hermit Road stops, and the highlight for me – beyond the sheer magnificence of seeing the Grand Canyon from several different perspectives – was the cute little squirrel at Powell's Point.

Mo' photos!

Macro shot of a tree at Maricopa Point.  There are both dead trees and pine trees up on the South Rim.Close up of Billy, who is fluffier and has different markings than his Southern squirrel cousinsThe view off the Maricopa Point overlook
The canyon shot from between two pine trees at the Hermit's Rest overlookThe end of the line at Hermit's RestThe sheer drop from the cliffs at The Abyss
I don't have any idea what a triangulation station is, but this one was found embedded in the rocks at the Hopi Point overlookWe're not at sea level anymore!Educate yourself on the geology of the canyon, would ya?
Mouseover the photo for a description; click for full version

I'm a sucker for squirrels, what can I say? And let's not ever mention again that I totally faceplanted at the Maricopa Point overlook while coming down the stairs. Fortunately my camera was in my right hand and I put out my left arm to catch myself.

On the ride back to the parking lot from Hermit's Rest, I had the honor of sitting in what we called the "jiggle seat" - the seat over the wheel well in the trailer that the shuttle bus was, uh, trailing. I was very happy to be wearing high-quality foundation garments during that bumpy 20 minute ride.

A Good Samaritan also saved me from decapitation by fixing the nameplate of the driver, which was about to fall off its place hanging directly above my head.

Next up was a park ranger talk at Yavapai Observation Point. The topic was the "Changing Geology of the Canyon" (again with the geology!) but THIS TIME we had a wonderful ranger, Ranger Matt. Or "Matty," as I referred to him in my head.

Matty was of the *swoon*.

Ranger Matthew was in his mid-20s, and he had long blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail and he was wearing the most adorable park ranger hat. It was LOVE, I tell you. He was demonstrative and fun and excitable. Everything I like in a man.


Matty taught us quite a bit about the Canyon, and I actually retained the knowledge for at least two weeks. Had I written about this day (October 3) sooner than October 26, I'd have been able to quote chapter and verse about the water quality of the Colorado River, endangered birds and shrubs, dump trucks, dams and plate tectonics.

As it is, I can tell you that the canyon's breadth is a factor of water erosion (rainfall) over g'billions of years, and rivers are often strong enough to move big huge boulders (another factor in the canyon's formation).

From there we walked back to Market Plaza. We got the car, stopped for a late lunch at the cafeteria, wrote out and mailed postcards, then drove ourselves out on Desert View Trail. We were trying to make it to Lipan Point for the sunset. Which we did:

A lovely rock out on the Desert View driveJust about sunset time at the Yavapai Observation StationAaaaand, sunset.  Notice the person standing WAY out there off the trail.  That is one brave soul.
Mouseover the photo for a description; click for full version

Again, I was a bit underwhelmed by the sunset. It wasn't quite as brilliant as I was expecting.

And then we left the Grand Canyon, driving east on 64. It was a gorgeous night; we really loved having the convertible at this point. We listened to Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, and the Beatles "red" album on our drive down to Winslow.

Winslow is where we ran into a bit of difficulty. It was about 9:30 or so by the time we got there. We were following the directions on the AAA guidebook to find La Posada. We were on 2nd Street, which was supposed to be Route 66, but it looked a little ... rustic ... right off the interstate.

Me: "I don't think we're in downtown."
Trina: "I think we're in SKETCHVILLE."

I don't know why, but that comment made me laugh so hard that tears were streaming down my face. Probably because it was the end of a long, satisfying day, but ... yeah. Very funny in the moment.

So, just like in Sedona, we turned around and headed back from whence we came. And ran straight into Mike's Pike (or rather, "Mikes's Pike" - I can't decide if the person meant it to read that way, or if they were just illiterate).

But eventually we found La Posada - we just hadn't driven far enough on 2nd Street - and after wrestling with the car lights for 20 minutes (more on that in Day Four), we collapsed into bed.

Posted by Highwaygirl on October 13, 2005 04:38 PM to the category Travel

Completely awe-inspiring pics, Heewig!

Posted by: Mandy at October 14, 2005 01:38 PM

Jules, great pictures...but did you stand on a corner in Winslow, Arizona...I hear its such a fine sight to see...

Posted by: brendon at October 14, 2005 03:13 PM

Wonderful pictures, heewig! I look forward to reading and seeing photos from the rest of the trip.

Posted by: lifeonhold at October 15, 2005 09:49 PM
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