The Grand, Grand Canyon

If you want to stay at the RV campground in Grand Canyon Village, you book six months to a year in advance. But, in true FindingOurWay fashion, we were able to book a three-day stay by calling one day ahead and were happy we did.

Staying in the Trailer Village of the Grand Canyon National Park is so convenient. The entire park has been beautifully planned: rustic, yet designed with sophistication and care. Their small newsprint guide contains a map of the canyon and the three different shuttle loops, which provide access to all the viewing points along the south rim from 4 a.m. until 10 p.m.

After we set up, we strolled over to the comfortable bus-stop at Trailer Village and a large-windowed, natural gas powered, shuttle arrived in minutes. It lumbered along the road through flat terrain covered in juniper forests, until remarkable purple and red glimpses of canyon appeared, and we were deposited a Kaibab point. That first look over the edge leaves one in total awe.

We’ve all seen the pictures, but they just can’t take it all in. Our own photos don’t begin to express the feeling of standing on the edge of the rim and trying to comprehend what you’re seeing. Even those of the pros fail, because scale, light, atmospheric perspective, and sheer distance are beyond comprehension. And no picture has ever moved me to sob with joy. This place is what the word ‘grandeur’ was made for. Millions of years in stone, exposed by the cutting force of water, wind and gravity, stand to catch the ever-changing light, the cloud-shadows, and the soaring shadows of a raven or condor in flight.

We spotted a young woman at the rim of the canyon, with headphones, swinging an antenna around her head, tracking California condors. Several nesting pairs have been released in an effort to repopulate the canyon and she was trying to keep tabs on them. We were fortunate enough to spot three of them over the canyon, near the rim, riding the thermals.

She told us how to distinguish them from turkey vultures, (the triangular white area under their wings, and the steadier, almost motionless flight).

We tracked one to a pinnacle around the point where it joined another, basking in the sun’s rays, and then a third arrived. The size of the canyon makes even these ten-foot wing-spanned creatures seem small, but the significance of their successful comeback from near extinction is enormous.

The beauty of this place seems to bring out the best in people, and the photo-etiquette is almost universal. People halt so as not to interrupt a photo moment and offer to photograph others with their own cameras. Though we don’t usually stand in front of tourist spots for photos, several people offered to shoot us after we’d obliged them. Tourists had come from everywhere to see this enchanted place. Germans, French, Pakistanis, Indians, Australians, Japanese, Mexicans, and Amish, were just a few of the people we rode with or passed on the paths along the rim. At times it felt like we were in an international city!

The paths along the rim are safe, but foolhardiness isn’t forbidden and many of us stepped down from the rock-lined paths, from one layer of rock to the next, closer to the edge, for better glimpses of the depths below. The draw of the canyon is magnetic and irresistible.

The photogenic junipers and piñon pines along the rim made graceful hand-holds and foreground frames for the distant vistas. Those with merely a couple inches’ diameter are at least fifty years old, so every tree here is cherished living history, history that has twisted toward the sun, bent to the winds and storms, and held firm wherever its seed had first taken root. Many have roots that snake back into the flat top of the rim to guarantee survival even if their overhang crumbles.

On our last day, we visited the El Tovar, a magnificent log-built hotel complete with rocking chairs on large porches, moose, deer, and elk-head trophies high on the log walls, fireplaces, including one using all the layers of stone found in the canyon from the Colorado River up. Lots of history here, documenting the Canyon’s ‘discovery’, Fred Harvey’s development of it into an attraction, and ultimately its becoming a national park.

Across from El Tovar, on a stone dais between the Hopi house, and the canyon rim path, we watched an excellent performance by the Pollen Dancers, three Native American dancers and a singer/narrator/drummer, who conveyed the spiritual depths and significance of their dances. It was as moving as the Gathering of Nations we’d seen in Albuquerque, and especially fine in the outdoors, in the sunlight among the junipers.

On our last night, we ventured outside the park to the National Geographic IMAX theater to see their Grand Canyon film. It provided a brilliant reenactment of the prehistory and expeditions of the canyon, interspersed with giddy terrific fly-through shots along the Colorado River. It gave us a chance to vicariously experience the depths of the canyon, which time, temperature, and energy had made impossible.

In three days we only touched the surface of what’s there to see.

A trip down into the canyon on foot or by mule would be the experience of a lifetime, but one must be in better shape and better accustomed to the heat and altitude than we were. (Mule trips also must be booked 6 months in advance, and we didn’t press our FindingOurWay luck.) A trip to the North Rim would be spectacular, but that will have to wait for another time.

Te following photos are random shots of our three days at the South Rim of the Canyon in no particular order. Hope you enjoy them!


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