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[personal profile] eregyrn
(Previously: The North Rim and Antelope Canyon.)

Because of the long day (with stops at Antelope Canyon, the abortive attempt to see Horseshoe Bend, lunch, etc.), we ended up driving into the eastern edge of the South Rim as sunset was happening.

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Our first stop was at the Desert View Watchtower (remember the photo taken from the North Rim?). It was designed in the 1930s by an architect named Mary Colter, who was responsible for a bunch of very rustic and scenic buildings along the South Rim (including Hermit's Rest and Lookout Studio). We didn't do much except look at it, look at the sunset and the canyon, and then get back in the car, as it was still miles and miles before we'd get to our hotel.

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We stayed at Yavapai Lodge, which was good. Clearly designed in the early 60s, it had been updated pretty recently, but they stuck with as 60s-ish an aesthetic as they possibly could.

The next morning, two of our party, J and V, got up at like 5am to do a hike part-way down the famous Bright Angel trail. We wished them well and told them not to die, and got up in a much more leisurely fashion, making our way towards the trailhead to hopefully meet them coming up, around noon. They in fact made it back up shortly before we got there.

So here is the canyon, and -- see that point way out there with the thin trail leading to it? Backtrack from that a little to the patch of green, which is Indian Gardens. That's where they hiked to -- 5 miles of trail, 3000 feet down.

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And here is what they hiked it ON (you might want to click through to the larger size to see this):

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You can't really go that much further than that on a day-hike. I mean, you can, but it's not recommended. It's ANTI-recommended by the park service, which posts helpful signs with slogans like "DOWN is OPTIONAL, but UP is MANDATORY", and signs telling you how much water to drink (all of it) and how much hotter it will get the further down into the canyon you go (86 at the rim = 106 at the bottom), and what will happen if you don't heed all the advice and warnings (featuring line drawings of hikers vomiting, etc.). If you go to the bottom, you should be prepared to camp there for the night, or else stay at Phantom Ranch (which I'm sure fills up quickly on reservations). They don't even make the MULES go down and back in one day.

It doesn't even really look that far down, does it? We found, as had countless others before us, that the canyon really plays tricks on your ability to judge perspective and distances. It's difficult to grasp how big it really is. It's BIG, obviously, but you are also constantly underestimating it. If you look at the pics above -- from the patch of green that is Indian Gardens, out to that point, doesn't look that far, does it? But it's 3 miles. Everything is much farther away and much bigger than you think.

The first Spanish explorers made this mistake, too. Lopez de Cardenas got to the rim and looked down at the Colorado river, and confidently announced that the river was obviously a creek of about 6 feet wide. (The local Native Americans with him said, "Um...") He sent a party of guys down to scout the route and bring back some water. They finally straggled back 3 days later, without having reached the river or in fact found any other water sources.

Anywya... The rest of us decided on a far more modest goal of getting below the rim...

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... 60 feet below the rim. But it was BELOW THE RIM, okay?

(Please note the lack of any guardrails or anything. Of course. This ties into what appears to be the new National Park motto: "YOUR safety is YOUR responsibility", which we quoted a lot.)

I took a moment for another wildlife pic -- this, a western tanager; they were all over the place.

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So, the views from the South Rim are definitely more expansive than from the North.

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We grabbed some snacks and, most importantly, a box of wine I'd bought at the North Rim, and set out for one of the points to watch the sunset.

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... Along with several dozen other people.

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On the shuttle-bus ride back afterwards, we got a great look at some elk -- two females and two babies, who walked onto the road in front of the bus. It was way too dark to get a picture, but it was fun to see. Also hilarious to listen to the wave of "Awwww!" that went through the bus, from front to back, as successive rows of people finally got a look at the babies.

The next day, we did an easy (actually easy, this time) trail along the rim called The Trail of Time, which was a sort of geology exhibit. We started off in a group with a ranger, who gave a great talk about how the canyon was formed, and all. As the trail wound along, it passed a bunch of samples of the different types of rock found in the various layers, talking about their age and what formed them.

The canyon, still there, still scenic:

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There was a lot of juniper growing on the South Rim, all of it fantastically old. Then we came upon one dead juniper tree that was so huge (seriously, the trunk had to have been 4 feet in diameter) that I can't even imagine how old it must have been. Here is part of the trunk, polished from countless hands touching it and feet climbing it:

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We had lunch in El Tovar, the big historic hotel on the rim (because we thought it would be easier to get seating at lunch). It was great, and not as expensive as we feared, and they gave us a great table at a big window with a view. From it, we finally got to see some flying condors!

At the North Rim, we had attended a ranger talk about the California condor reintroduction program. These are basically one of the rarest and most endangered species of birds -- they were down to 22 individuals, period, in the wild in the 70s. All of them were caught and brought in, and a breeding program started. We are now up to 300 or so condors total, of which about 80 live at the Grand Canyon. We had been told it was easier to see them from the South Rim.

So we were super excited to have seen two of them flying, while we were eating lunch. Afterwards, as we walked along the rim heading for other stuff to see, we spotted another, who came in for a landing on a ledge not that far below the rim.

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We hurried around to Lookout Studio, as the condor's ledge was directly below it; so that's where I got all of the really good shots of her.

Every single condor individual wears those wing tags, which fold over the wing edge so they're visible from above and below, on both wings. (It's one of the ways you can tell if you're looking at a California condor, as opposed to one of the skillions of turkey vultures gliding around.) Once you see the number, you can look the bird up on the database. Thus, we discovered that J7 is a female, hatched in 2009, released in 2010, still technically a juvenile.

She sat on that ledge, ignoring the turkey vultures soaring around below her, and preened, and preened, and preened.

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Every once in a while, I looked up -- yeah, incredibly scenic canyon, still there!

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Then at one point, she turned around, and completely spread her 9-foot wings.

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... And then she went back to preening, at which activity we left her, an hour later.

For our third and last night there, we decided to go to a different point for the sunset, Mather Point. We took a picnic dinner, a couple of bottles of wine that we needed to finish off, and staked out a place along a wall, with good views. A whole lot of people had the same idea.

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The next day, four of us headed down to Phoenix to fly home, while K and I pressed onward for a few more days. On our drive out of the park, the way we'd come in, we stopped again at the Desert View Watchtower (I refer you to the photos above), to look inside. You can climb to an observation room at the top. And it has some pretty murals on the inside, by a Hopi artist (Fred Kabotie, whose name we would encounter later, at Petrified Forest); motifs from which are used on the plates in the El Tovar dining room.

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Also on the way out, we passed this sign:

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At which, I tried saying, "We're not going to see any cougars! What a tease!" But it didn't work, this time. Alas!


Next! Monument Valley, Mesa Verde, and Petrified Forest!

Date: 2013-07-22 08:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] betacandy.livejournal.com
WOW@the gorgeous!!! What a beautiful trip! You take excellent photos, too. I can't get over the condor spreading her wings for you - how cool is that photo?? Wow, just wow! :)

Date: 2013-07-22 09:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jenlev.livejournal.com
SImply gorgeous. The first one and the juniper are especially fine. But a huge huge yay for the condor!!!!!!!

Date: 2013-07-23 02:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] raqs.livejournal.com
Some of us need a LOT of preening!

See, that first one is clearly a drawing. You don't fool me.

I love the polished juniper, though. It's like one of the pillars in the Hagia Sophia. So many people there before you.

Date: 2013-07-23 03:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] par-avion.livejournal.com
These are stunning. Thank you for sharing the photos with us!

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