Ramble On

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Grand Canyon Day Trip

In 2003 I was on a business trip to Phoenix and ended up with an extra day for sightseeing.  I had planned to catch a Southwest flight up to Albuquerque to visit a colleague who'd been interested in starting a consulting firm with me, but that fell though at the last minute, so I drove up to the Grand Canyon for the day instead.

I had another visit in 2009, taking a helicopter flight there and actually landing on the Canyon floor, but I always wanted to get back and to bring Mary along, too.  That's what we had the opportunity to do a couple of weeks back after my speaking engagement in Las Vegas was finished (in fact, I'd added the helicopter flight to my 2009 trip in the same way).  I hoped she was as inspired by this incredible American landscape as I was - and that's how things turned out.

Pictures can only begin to capture the experience of seeing the Grand Canyon.  There's the scale of the thing, the wonder of the geology, and the full pallet of colors - all elements that a simple photograph cannot transcribe.  Fortunately we have Instagram these days, an application that let's you take the sun blasted image and work with it simply to enhance features you find important.  The photos in this post have all been processed that way.

The Grand Canyon is one of our most popular national parks, and as we left the hotel in Flagstaff that morning I prepared myself for traffic and a parking challenge.  I was right about that, but for most of the drive, as we passed through the pass over the San Francisco peaks north of town, there wasn't much traffic to speak of.  We passed through pine forests and aspen groves, and then a desolate high desert that is carved up ranch land - proof that in our country, we're never far from exurban sprawl.

Soon enough, you realize that you are very close to the sky, at altitudes in the 6,000-7,000 feet range.  Then suddenly you are at the Canyon, and the earth opens up, reaching down 5,000 feet or more to where the river is still hard at work carving out these formations.

Since I was there in 2003, the NPS has really enhanced the visitor experience.  The entrance gate has been moved south a ways so that it does not border directly on the parking lots (I remember this, but I may not have a completely accurate memory).  There's a complex of logistics facilities to handle all the visitors, including a welcome center; there's also a new network of buses that allow you to visit without a whole lot of driving yourself around.

We took all of this in, but my goal was for us to take a walk along the Rim Trail over to the village, where we would have lunch, and then walk back.  There are plenty of park facilities to check out along this 5 mile round trip, including a geology museum, art galleries, and souvenir shops.  For the first half mile or so, you're wading through bus tourists, but after that, the touring crowd thins out into smaller groups enjoying the incredible views in a fairly remote and undisturbed atmosphere.

Since we had arrived just before mid day, we made our trek along the trail immediately, arriving at El Tovar lodge just before 2pm.  We had a great lunch over there, with a window seat that allowed us to enjoy the scenery and incredible Grand Canyon weather - warm but not hot, and wonderfully sunny.

After lunch we began our walk back, and already the sun's changing position began highlighting new formations in the Canyon and emphasizing a new range of colors.  My last photo in the series came out with hues of blue and violet - where the others, taken in full sun, show more yellows and reds.

We had a great time, and Mary told me she'd love to come back some time and try a hike down into the Canyon.  I've dreamed of that myself, so we'll have to plan it.  If I keep up my bi-annual streak of speaking at this conference, perhaps we'll tack that trip on to the 2015 edition!

Because of the government shutdown, I can't post links to the park today - I'd planned to link to the Grand Canyon site and the Rim Trail description.  I'll come back to this post in a few weeks to update it with those links.

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