eregyrn: (-wolf curled)
[personal profile] eregyrn
(Previously: Death Valley and Zion National Park)

Our next objective, after Zion, was the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.


To get there, we drove through a lot of very empty country, that looked like this, complete with dust devils. (This one was particularly impressive, as it lasted a long time, and had a visible funnel. I believe it was V. who got this pic from the car.)


Then we had a long drive through some lovely dense Ponderosa and aspen forests in the Kaibab National Forest, interspersed with big meadows, that really didn't look like what you think of as the southwest at all. That was due to the climbing elevation -- the North Rim sits at around 8,000 feet. The aspen were industriously colonizing the gaps created by forest fires. There were signs at every meadow telling you not to drive on the meadows. (As K. remarked, "Well, I didn't want to until you told me not to!") Also, there were cattle crossing signs everywhere, which struck us as weird in a national forest, and we definitely didn't see any cows or anything. (More on this later.)

And then there was the canyon, finally!



It is a mighty big and impressive hole.

The North Rim is much less developed than the South Rim, with fewer people visiting it (as we would discover), and fewer facilities. It's nice -- it feels more intimate, I think. On the first night there, I fulfilled one of the goals I had for the trip. Ever since K first suggested the trip, I had a vivid image in my mind of "sitting on the rim and watching the sunset with a nice beer". I was definitely bound and determined to make this happen. Well, the Roughrider Saloon (Teddy Roosevelt memorabilia everywhere) provided some good Grand Canyon Brewing Co. stout, and the canyon provided, on that first night we were there, the most scenic sunset of the trip. Forgive me while I spam you with sunset:








Because how can you not take a billion pictures of it when the light is changing EVERY MOMENT?

Below (in a pic by D, I believe) is not us, but illustrates how the park service knows what you're there for, and thoughtfully provides rim-side adirondack chairs and tables for your beverages (adult and otherwise):


The next day, we made the drive out along the Walhalla Plateau, just east of the main development on the North Rim, which has a bunch of points and short hikes and stuff. First stop was Point Imperial, the highest point (that you could get to easily) at 8,803 feet. Here, a view of Mount Hayden (the spiky thing):


Roosevelt Point:


Angel's Window, with a first peek at the Colorado River:



Prickly-pear cactus in flower, pink version:


Cliffrose shrub (the "tassels" growing up from the flowers were used by the Ancient Puebloan inhabitants of the area for weaving):


So these yellow butterflies (Anise swallowtail) were EVERYWHERE, and too fluttery to photograph. I saw this one fluttering and said, "oh please, mister butterfly, land so I can take your picture", whereupon it did land on the gravel right there, and I said, "No way! *click click click*"


There are USUALLY guardrails at the lookout points... but not always.


Far in the background of the shot above is the South Rim, and I was just able to make out some features, which I verified with binoculars, and then was able to take a photo. Here, from 6 miles (approx) away on the North Rim, is the Desert View Watchtower on the South. (More on this later.)


Then we decided to do this 2-mile (one way) hike out to another point, called "Cape Final", which sounds ominous when you think about it. The guide we had said it was "easy" with "not much elevation gain" (not enough to even list). This was another little "white lie" of the park service, because there sure as HELL was elevation gain (at several points), and also, it was more than 2 miles. And also, when you got to the very end, there wasn't really a view unless you scrambled up some fairly steep rocks and stood on their distinctly un-guard-railed tops. (Which was disappointing in the sense that after the long walk, what I really wanted was a nice bench from which to contemplate the canyon.) It was not an end-goal, we agreed, that we would have wanted to reach after towing small children down the length of that trail (as one family group we passed on the way back was doing.

However, it was actually really lovely to see all this open, expansive Ponderosa pine forest, with extensive blooming lupine (which of course is not as vivid in the photos as it was in real life). I only occasionally thought about how it was mountain lion habitat (at points where I happened to lose sight of the people in front of me and the people behind me).


More prickly-pear cactus, the red-blooming variety:



There is this subspecies of squirrel called the Kaibab squirrel that they only have in the Ponderosa forests of the Kaibab plateau (North Rim and environs), which is largish, and has a blackish body (well, very dark), and tufty ears, and a bright white tail (theorized as helpful camouflage in winter?). And we saw TWO!



We were only at the North Rim for two nights. Driving back out the next day, we finally passed one of these signs, which made a lot more sense than the "cattle" signs we'd seen on the way in.


And as we passed it, I said, in my most sarcastic voice, "We're not going to get to see any bison, what a tease."

Whereupon, we rounded a bend, and...



Note: it is really not recommended that you get out of your car around bison (or even "beefalos", cattle-bison hybrids; but these sure looked like pure bison), because they are BIG, and they are irritable, and especially when they have calves to protect, it's just not a good idea. We were way, way further back, where we would not have to, say, explain to the rental-car company why our car had bison-damage. Thank goodness for a good zoom lens.






(This is also some lovely shots of the broad meadows and the pine and spruce and aspen forest of the North Rim.)

Then we drove and drove and drove and DROVE, until we got to Page, AZ, where we wanted to see Antelope Canyon, which is Very Scenic and you have seen it in A Thousand Photos, so what's a few more here or there?

First, the country around-abouts Page:


(This is from later, during our brief stop where we thought we would go see Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado river, which on the map seemed like a very easy pull-off from the highway. But which in fact involved like a nearly 2-mile hike. Four of us attempted to start it, when we still didn't realize how long the trail to the overlook was, but it was 100 degrees and we were tired, so we abandoned it. You can Google it and see it, it's really spectacular. Instead, I took a picture of the landscape.)

To see Antelope Canyon, which is on Navajo land, you have to pay a guide, and they load you into open seats on the back of a pickup truck, and drive you at breakneck speeds over pure sand for 3 miles to get to the canyon opening (and you are grateful to not have had to either drive that or worse, walk it, yourself). Then your guide shepherds you and his other 12 people through the canyon, briskly, because there are literally hundreds of other people there who all want to see it and photograph it.

It's a very narrow (but tall) slot canyon that gets regular flash floods, so they apparently monitor the rainstorms about 50 miles up-canyon of it VERY CLOSELY. Because like 12 people died in the Lower Canyon (across the road) not that many years ago.

The Navajo guides are very, very practiced at this. At the start he (or she) takes you aside and gives you the whole spiel, and is like, "okay, and if you have X brand of camera, you want to set it on this-this-this... oh, just give it here", whereupon he sets your camera in like 2 seconds. So you start with this (more or less):


And then you get this:


(To be completely fair, I think that shots of the canyon in just about any setting would be gorgeous, whether it's the pinkish-purples that it kind of looks like in real life, or the vivid red-oranges with the settings the guide suggested. I was just happy to follow his advice, since in fact I don't know that much about setting my camera for different light levels. I know more now than I did!)

It's not that it's not possible to take a bad photo in Antelope Canyon; I had a lot that came out blurry. Also, there was sand. Oh my god, we were there on such a windy day, we were covered in sand grit, and we kept having to duck our cameras under our shirts to keep the sand out, which was falling steadily from above. Yet, even as hurried and frantic and hot and gritty as the whole thing was, I kind of loved it, and it was totally worth it.







(It's the profile of a bear, standing up! Can you see the bear??? Our guide was very pleased to be able to show us the bear.)


Next! The South Rim!
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