Sunday, July 17, 2016

Arizona - Grand Canyon



The Grand Canyon is a well known national park.  Everybody has seen pictures, but there is no picture that can describe what it feels like to be standing on the edge of a cliff that is 7,000 feet high.  In fact, it's difficult to realize the scale of the Grand Canyon until you spend some time walking the rim and observing people at distant lookouts or on trails below.  I have been to the Grand Canyon below in the late 90's.  This park has been completely redesigned to handle the increased number of visitors.  After spending a day there with my wife, I was impressed with what changes have been made.  The park is still packed with people, but they have a lot of walkways and lookouts to accommodate the number of visitors without being too crowded.  

The first place we stopped was the first overlook, which is the watchtower overlook.

You can go into the watchtower and look out the windows and get a good view of the canyon, but I knew a one day visit was going to be limiting, so my wife and I chose to walk around the rim and continue our tour.  Here are pictures of the canyon from the watchtower rim:

 Watchtower entrance:

Around the other side of the watchtower is an open area with no railings.  Fewer visitors.  They even put benches around the edge.

As you can tell, it's a bit hot out.  It was around 85 when we arrived at the park, but there are no real trees along the rim.

 We drove up the road to the next lookout.

Here's an example of a lookout:

Next was Grandview point:

This had a trail:

We went down this trail a little ways.  It was rugged:

Michelle leads the way:

OK, enough of this crazy trail for now:

From here we drove to the visitor center, which is where the main parking lot is located.  After that, visitors can walk the rim or take a bus.  We parked our car in parking lot 4 (because 1 through 3 were already full) and we walked.

The visitor center village is huge:

We stopped at the "amphitheater", which is a large stone arrangement allowing visitors to see over each other:

From this lookout you can clearly see the South Kaibab Trail:

We continued on to the Mather overlook, which is a mad-house of tourists:

Almost all the lookouts can see other lookouts.  This can give some scale as to how large the Grand Canyon is:

Here's a wider view of the same picture as above:

You can see the Bright Angel trail.  This is the part of the trail that is near the bottom of the canyon.

Zoom out view of the same trail:

Crazy people at non-sanctioned lookout:

Some canyon pictures:

This is where the South Kaibab trail is located:

If you zoom in, you can see some hikers in this picture:

The South Kaibab trail was the trail Michelle and I wanted to hike down to the first ohh-ahh point, but you have to catch the bus to get there.  By the time we walked around the rim trail, it was getting late in the day and we were worn out.  So we decided to hike 1/2 mile down the Bright Angel trail (since the trail head is right on the rim walkway).

Here is another trail at the bottom of the canyon:

More canyon photos:

The rim walk/trail is just a black-top paved path that goes around the rim of the canyon.  It is set back about 5 or 6 feet from the ledge and there is no railing.  So people step off the pavement and onto the rocky rim for pictures.  We ran into a family that was trying to decide who would be in their pictures.  We offered to take their picture with their camera and they posted on the ledge for a family picture.  So they took our photo with my camera, as we posed on the ledge:

More canyon photos of this area:

Here's a picture of the walkway:

A rare thing on this walkway.. a tree:

There are a lot of signs that point out interesting things to see in the canyon.  They do a good job of making people more observant of their surroundings.  The canyon view is spectacular and you're so close to it that you become saturated with the view after a while and don't really pay attention to what is around you.  

Just want to hang your feet over the rim?

The park has setup timeline interactive trail markings that try to give scale as to how old different layers of the rock are that we're looking at.  It was setup to educate and entertain at the same time.  It starts here with this sign:

On the back-side of this sign is the end of the timeline for those who walked the other direction:

Then there's a detailed description of what is on the walkway:

What they did is embed these medallions in the pavement:

Oh yeah, this goes on for the rest of the trail.  First they count by years, then tens of years, then hundreds, etc.

Then there are some interesting displays that point out details in the Grand Canyon:

You basically look through the tube to direct your eye exactly where the detail is located.  Assuming you can't just spot it with the naked eye.  Some of the objects they point out are very difficult to find without the sight tubes.  Each display has two tubes, one for adults and one mounted lower to the ground for kids.


At this point we felt like we walked for a million years.  Walking on hot black-top is draining.  Fortunately, we wore our back-packs.  I would recommend getting a small back-pack water system before walking this rim trail.  There are no concession stands near the rim.  You need to walk quite a distance to get something to drink.  There are a few water fountains and restrooms along the way, but it's best to have something to drink while you are on the walkway.

There are displays of the type of rock that each layer of the Grand Canyon is made from:

Here's a nice sitting area:

Here's a view of the Bright Angel trail:

Some hikers on the trail:

I'm smiling, because we're going to hike some of that trail:

Here's a zoom-out of the trail:

Back on the walkway:

The Bright Angel trail near the bottom of the canyon:

The base camp:

We're getting closer to the Bright Angel trail head.  You can see the trail straight down:

Another lookout:

Almost to the trail head:

Here's the start of the trail:

Yo Frank!  We're going down there!

It appears that people climb around the back of the doorway so they can stick their head through the small round window and get their picture taken, but this dust covered rocky area is what they were climbing on.  Which is not a very fabulous idea.

We decided to go down 1/2 mile.  If this were early morning and we were well rested, we probably would have gone down about 3 miles.  Some day we hope to go down the entire Kaibab trail and up this trail (because the Bright Angel trail has water).  A hike of that nature is not for novices or even medium level experienced people like us.  We plan to prepare for such a hike before we actually attempt it.  We'll need to acquire and use light-weight camping equipment and we'll need to test our endurance on longer hikes.  So far our longest hike has been an 8-mile hike spanning an altitude rise of about 1000 feet.  We've also done 6 miles at an altitude of about 2,100 feet (old rag).  The Kaibab trail is about 6 miles and 4,780 feet and the Bright Angel trail is 9 miles and about 4,380 feet.

You might notice in these pictures that there are a lot of people on this trail and there were.  That's because the trail head is right at the top near a lookout where a lot of people are walking around.  They are walking down this trail like it's just another fancy lookout and they are walking down with young kids.  I even saw an elderly lady carefully making her way down the path.  The path is wide (made for mules) and it's not too steep.  Don't let that fool you.  It's easy to walk down.  You have to be aware of how hard it is to walk back up.  We only descended 1/2 mile down the path and we were down 700 feet.  It's also very hot out here and it gets hotter as you descend.  The base of the Grand Canyon can be 110 degrees, while the rim is only 85.  Also, the air is thin.  Take lots of water (and something salty) and take breaks often.  It's probably best to bring a sports drink since your salt levels might drop and your body will struggle to balance it all back out.  We have first-hand experience with heat stress and it's not fun.  Heat stress on this trail can be deadly.

If you plan to hike in the Grand Canyon, be sure to read through this page: Summer Hiking - Hike Smart.  We learned a lot of this information the hard way.

On with the pictures (where you can sit in the safety of your air-conditioned home and enjoy the view):

That trail is about the limit of where we were headed:

Looking back up the trail:

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