Monday, April 02, 2007

Do not underestimate the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is really impressive. There are signs posted around the rim trail warning people not to 'underestimate the Grand Canyon'. They're not joking. Like with any impressive big natural thing in the world - photos just don't do them justice.

On my first day there, I drove into the park and paid the $25 entrance fee. Ouch. This did give me 7 days of access to the park, so I figured I'd stay there for a little longer and skip on hiking in Flagstaff. It was early, and I was keen to hike down to the bottom and check out the Colorado river. San Diego Andy had said I could reach the bottom and then hike back up easily in a day, provided I left early enough. It was 9:30 and I figured I could make it. I parked the car and rode up to the Hermit Trail, which took a little longer than expected, thanks to all the stopping and looking I did on the way. I got to a nearby hut, bought a coffee and considered my options. There were clouds off in the distance, but they didn't look like a threat to the day's plans. It was now 10:20, and my time was looking a little tighter. As I made my way to the rim, the wind began to pick up and there was a fresh chill in the air that was absent in the morning. The sun was still out and I figured it was still cool and I hiked down.

Along the way, I met several people coming the other way with full packs, returning from their adventure in the wilderness. I asked about how to organise the licence to camp in the Canyon. Most of them told me that they had booked in December and that the likelihood of getting a pass for today/tomorrow would be next to none. Bummer. I ran into a couple of families, where the dad was clearly hell bent on providing the best damn holiday he could for the rest of the family. The rest of the family looked tired and not nearly as enthusiastic their fearless leader hiking up ahead. They reminded me a lot of the Griswold's taking their trip to Wally World, or driving around around London. Look kids: Big Ben, Parliament.

I spent a couple of hours getting down to a spot called Santa Maria hut, about a third of the way down. The day was getting on, and the dark clouds I had seen earlier had stealthily crept their way across the sky and were looking a lot more ominous and foreboding. I decided to avoid getting drenched and check out the rest of the Rim Trail instead, then try my luck at reaching the river the following day. As I walked up, I bumped into a few people coming the other way. I got chatting to one of them, and he said he had friends in Adelaide. Turns out this guy had gone to university with Deane Hutton, one half of The Curiosity Show. Small world. I met a few guys down from LA and a couple of girls from Spain. There was this young guy walking in with full pack, obliviously planning to spend the night camping at the bottom. He was from Oregon and had been looking forward to doing this trip for a while. When I got back to the top, the fresh wind from earlier in the day had picked up and become much more icy. The clouds were almost directly above me, the sun was covered over and things looked as if nastiness was on its way.

I get my bike and start riding back to the car, about 2kms away. On the way back I stop off at the lookouts I had missed on the way up and stop to take photos. I get chatting to this woman next to me and it turns out she is the mum of the young guy from Oregon I had passed on the way back out of the Canyon. Again, small world. While we're chatting, it starts to snow. Arizona? Snow? Huh? As we're both going in the same direction (me on my bike and her in her car), we stop at the same lookouts on the way. After about half an hour of stopping at the same places, the low cloud covers over the view and it begins to snow harder. She offers me a lift and we go back to the cafe to chat about all sorts of things. It was really interesting hearing about her (Kathy?) life, spending time in the meditation sanctuary during the 80s and all that stuff. Regardless of whether I totally agree with someone's world view, I'm always keen to listen to their opinions and get a different perspective on life. There's a little ad stuck to the back of a nearby chair featuring a photo of this buff looking mountaineering type, standing all Free and Brave, with the line "We rescue around 1,000 per year from the Grand Canyon. Most of them look like just like him". I reconsider my trip into the now snowy Canyon and opt for the much safer, non-freeze to death option of sight seeing in the park instead. We finish chatting around 5pm and go our separate ways.

I returned to the car to find it all iced up. I clean off the windshield, drive off and try and catch the sunset, but it's obscured by the snow storm. I leave the park and find some food at a town just out of the park. Curious to see that most of the little diners I visited on the road carried a fairly decent, albeit limited vegetarian option on their menus. I found my camp site, and by this stage it was really cold, so I decide to sleep in the car. I get up really early to catch the sunrise, but that too is covered in cloud. There was a cool fog drifting through the huge cracks of the Canyon, and from where I was standing it looked like milk had been spilled on a cracked wooden floor, slowly bleeding into the gaps. After the calmness of dawn, the weather closes in again and I decided not to try and camp at the bottom of the Canyon. I get in the car and start the drive back to California.


Anonymous said...

Keep on telling it like it is, Dr M... Sounds like youre having an awesome time!

Dave B'z

ElmoreGirl said...

Magic !