Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Hole In One

What’s the saying? “Getting there is half the fun”? We’d have to agree. We’ve sure had a lot of fun during all the years Carol has tried to get me to the Grand Canyon. Way more than just half.
We left Page headed south on Hwy 89 through more of the scenic Navajo Nation. Coming from northern Arizona, it made more sense for us to visit the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. And because the North Rim is more out of the way, it would be less “touristy” (1/10th the number of visitors than the South Rim). And, gentle reader, you know how we prefer less visited stops.
Even after Labor Day Weekend, the Grand Canyon remained a very popular tourist destination. Following repeated failed attempts to make reservations at the North Rim's campground, we settled on the Kaibab CampeRVillage at Jacob Lake.

Navajo Bridge (left)
Hwy 89A toward the Grand Canyon turned out to be a great experience. First there was the Navajo Bridge (still part of the Glen Canyon Recreation Area). We felt it was more accurate to say “Navajo Bridges”. One is historic and the other is new but they look nearly identical as they span the Colorado River side by side. The newer (safer) bridge was constructed to accommodate wider and heavier vehicular traffic. The historic bridge was now pedestrian only traffic and linked the remodeled interpretive center (west side) to an area for Native American craft vendors on the Navajo Nation side (east side).

California Condor "02"
The day we stopped turned out to be a bird lucky experience. We had hoped we might spot a California Condor when we visited the North Rim but as we stood on the historic bridge, right in plain view, were four California Condors. Apparently the bridges are popular evening/day roosts. We met a young field biologist who worked/volunteered for The Peregrine Fund, an organization partnered with the California Condor Project and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. She was there to keep an eye on the condors.
The condors sported large and easily identifiable wing tags. We set up our spotting scope so that folks without optics could enjoy closeup views. Many were non-birders but all seemed to be aware of the species critically endangered status. How exciting to be in such close proximity! At one point, the "02" condor flew from the new bridge and then landed on a bridge beam directly below where we stood, barely 12 feet away.

view of the new bridge
Colorado River from the Navajo Bridge
The woman explained that part of her job was to "encourage" the birds not to roost so close to where people might - on purpose or accidentally - cause the birds stress. Her method for getting birds to move along was to drop tiny pebbles on their backs. (which she didn’t do while so many people were enjoying the views).
Noting wing tag numbers, one can easily find out more information about a particular condor by going to The Peregrine Fund detailed release information page, or by downloading a current condor population data table (PDF file) using the link found at the California Condor Restoration web page.

road to Lee's Ferry
loading rafts at Lee's Ferry landing
motorized rafting
Just west of the Hwy 89A Navajo Bridge rest area/ interpretive center, was the turn off to Lee’s Ferry and Marble Canyon. Lee’s Ferry is the only direct access point by vehicle in this 700 mile stretch of the Colorado River. The landing played a prominent role in the exploration and settlement of northern Arizona. It’s here that river runners and outfitters launch boats/rafts for trips down the Grand Canyon. For years, my former Geology prof, Len “Doc Rock” Weiss, used Lee’s Ferry landing as a launch point for his Geology class trips into the Grand Canyon. Every year that he ran a trip he invited me to come along. As much as I wanted to go, work conflicts at Lawrence University always got in the way. Standing at the landing watching a large group getting ready to launch, I was reminded that on one of Len’s trips, the Colorado River levels had dropped so low that water from Glen Canyon Dam had to be released to “flush” his group, along with several rafting groups, out of the canyon.
Back on Hwy 89A and aimed toward Jacob Lake, we viewed the Vermillion Cliffs. They extended west from Page and are referred to as the second “step” in the Colorado Plateau. No doubt that the intensely red hue of the cliff was due to the heavy concentration of red iron oxide deposits.

view from Lee's Ferry landing
Vermillion Clifs
The drive from Page to the Kaibab CampeRVillage, though less than a 100 miles, took the better part of the day after we factored in our detours. While the park was still over 40 miles from the North Rim Grand Canyon Lodge, it was the only RV park, private or public, that had full hookups. And forget any TV or Internet - it was pretty remote. On the other hand, it was also very quiet nestled in to a large stand of Ponderosa pine with an occasional sighting of the rare tassal-eared Kaibab squirrel and entertainment by flocks of Pygmy Nuthatches.

site at Kaibab
Since leaving Montrose we had formulated a plan to arrive at an RV park outside Tucson by October 1. It was now only September 9, but we also had planned for more stops before reaching Tucson. Perhaps had we been able to park at the North Rim campground we might have stayed a day or too longer. There sure were a lot of options of things to do and see beyond just one day. But the prospect of commuting over 40 miles to and from Jacob Lake over two or three days plus the cost and scarcity of diesel fuel limited us to only one full day on the North Rim.

lodge dinning area
Grand Canyon Lodge - North Rim
finally - Carol got Tom to the Grand Canyon
We had hoped that the warm sunny weather from the day before would last. It didn’t. The morning started out cool and overcast. Driving the 43 miles through forests and meadows to higher elevations of the North Rim, the temperature dropped even lower into the 50's. For most of the day it remained mostly overcast, alternating between thunderstorms and only a few breaks in the clouds.

Bright Angel
Bright Angel Point trail
Our first stop was to have breakfast at the North Rim Grand Canyon Lodge. Located on the easternmost of the four plateaus, the lodge offered immediate access and views of Bright Angel Point. Our table fronted a massive window overlooking the canyon and offered me my first view of “that really big hole in the ground”. I have to say that it wasn’t just a very big hole. It was a very, VERY big hole.

Cape Royal
Point Imperial
Roosevelt Point
The lodge, constructed of native Kaibab limestone and timber in 1928, was designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood. Underwood also designed several other National Park Lodges. Just outside the lodge was a trail that lead to various overlooks and trails. A nice place to start the day.

Wahalla Overlook
thunderstorm Vista Cantada
The rest of our time was spent exploring trails and plateaus of the North Rim. Point Imperial, Cape Royal, Roosevelt Point, Vista Encantada, Walhalla Overlook, Transcept Trail, Cliff Spring Trail. We dodged a massive thunderstorm at Angels Window. Even managed to pickup a few new annual birds: American Three-toed Woodpecker, Western Bluebird (finally!) and a migrating Cassin’s Vireo. The vireo was especially exciting...we had now seen all the vireos in the ABA area in a single year!

Cliff Spring Trail - arrow is where Carol is standing
view at Angel's Window
Cape Royal thunderstorm
The Paiutes called the North Rim plateau Kaibab, or “mountain lying down”. So what did I think of this “very big hole in the ground” with an average width of ten miles across and an average depth of one mile? Yep, it is a very big hole. Bigger than I had imagined.Pictures don't do it justice. Its array of sights, geologic features and expansive vistas were extraordinarily beautiful and quite stirring. It would have been nicer to see it with a lot more sunlight but yes, I had to admit it was well worth Carol’s constant effort to get me there. Of course now people are telling me that I have to see the South Rim. Well, I DID see the South Rim. From the North Rim. Sometime if we ever get back this way perhaps we'll traipse down to the Colorado River on one of those smelly donkeys. Take a rafting tour. Try to wear out a pair of hiking shoes.
You know Edward Abbey once said, “A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.” We couldn’t agree more.

1 comment:

  1. I especially like the Wahalla Overlook shot. I was way excited to see my first ever Condor by the Navajo Bridge .. who knew there were folks trying to keep them from roosting close to the people!

    (BTW - figured out the commenting problem was a cookie thing!)