Days 47 - 48
We woke up in Tuba City feeling quite fuzzy from the amount of driving we had completed in the last 48 hours but we knew we only had a couple of hours to go before arriving at the Grand Canyon, where we would be staying for a couple of nights. After a good hearty native breakfast we set off. We drove alongside some truly spectacular storm clouds, convinced we would have to turn into them but amazing we bypassed the worst of it and admired the lighting from afar.
Before getting to the Park Boundary there were a couple of much smaller canyons next to the highway and we stopped at one for a taster. We parked up and walked down a track which had the usual signs warning about steep drops but one caught our eye, it said "Watch out for snakes and lizards". And that wasn't the only thing we had to keep an eye out for! The track became a platform next to the edge and a canyon opened up before us, with the river carving it's way through. It is quite an amazing sight although you do start to wonder how safe you are stood at the top!
Onwards we drove to the entrance and we bought the usual seven day entry ticket. We entered the Park at the East gate and spent an hour or so driving alongside the Southern Rim to the main Visitor Centre. Beforehand we stopped at the Watchtower, which was undergoing some renovation work (yes, even the Grand Canyon was under construction!) The tower itself was built in 1933 at the Desert View rest area and provided the highest view point in the whole Park. The tower was three stories high and all of the walls and ceilings were painted with native pictures and symbols. There were also some historical chairs, and other furniture pieces, which had been created for the original opening and were now display pieces.
Once we had been tot he stop and had a look we drove along the rim, stopping at each view point to take in the vistas. The weather was not great and it rained a few times. This, coupled with our tiredness really affected the wow factor and we weren't as blown away by the scenery as we thought we would be. It was quite fun watching the lighting in the Canyon and the mist and rain move in and out again quite quickly.
We visited the Tusayan Museum and Ruin, which was the remains of a village from more than 800 years ago. The ruin was excavated in 1930 but only partially and no attempt was made to reconstruct the site which made it unique. Approximately 30 people live here for around 25 - 30 years back in the 1100's. We saw the main "house" which was a room where everyone lived together. There was a large Kiva, which was a ceremonial room, where ceremonies and festivals took place. The "supermarket" was a loop around the village where herbs and food were grown, and plants were used to weave bowls.
We continued driving round the rim and gradually the clouds began to break and the sun shone through. We eventually came to the main village area, just North of the Western Gate where we stopped and visited the Visitor Centre for ideas on walks. There was a ranger led walks on one of the most popular trails that commenced at 7am. having decided that this would be a safe way to explore the Canyon and maximise the experience, we left the Park to go and check in to our hotel in the town of Tusayan, five miles down the road. We saw a couple of Elk on the roadside on our way, enjoying the cooler temperatures as the evening arrived.
An early start the next day meant that we were the first ones in to breakfast at 6am, and they weren't quite ready for us. We had bought supplies for the walk before turning in the night before so we set off back for the main car park where we caught the shuttle to the trail head. We were quite surprised to see over twenty people participating on the hike at such an early hour but in the Grand Canyon it is too dangerous to walk below the rim in the middle of the day so hikes have to take place before 10am or after 4pm. There were plenty of posters displayed all over telling horror tragic stories of how some of the fittest people had lost their lives walking in the intense heat because they ran out of water. The Canyon is a desert and there is no source of water until you reach the bottom. Seven miles might not seem very far but in 40 degree heat it feels much further. People forget that you're also walking in reverse, You start off in the cool temperatures and you're walking down hill. By the time you turn round and come back you're tired and it's much hotter and that's when you have to start climbing your way out.
Peg was our ranger and she was very good. It took us ninety minutes to walk one and a half miles down the South Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge, but this was with half an hour of stops in order for her to tell us about the geological formation of the canyon, the different types of wildlife within the area and the plant life. I was absolutely ecstatic to learn that the Black Widow spider is a resident here and there was a WHOLE wall named after them, where they nested and had produced eggs that were due to hatch fairly soon. If I could have run a million miles away I would have done! But I was a very brave girl and I had a look at a look at a couple of nests without screaming. She also informed us that only 1% of visitors actually venture below the rim, which seemed like a crime. We felt really lucky to be doing something as exciting as walking into the Canyon we couldn't understand why more people didn't want to do the same.
We spent about 40 minutes at our half way point and took some silly photos before starting the climb back to the top at our own pace. We walked past some idiots, who were venturing down in inappropriate clothing and footwear with no supplies and very little water. It's not surprising there are quite a few tragedies in this area.
We were very pleased with our time. We had completed the three mile trip in three hours, over an hour of which was spent stationary and listening to Peg's words of wisdom. The hike back up took fifty minutes and wasn't as difficult as we were expecting but it was starting to get very hot and we were grateful for the little shade that was still provided, which was disappearing quickly by the minute as the sun rose higher in the sky.
Once we got to the top we were bursting with energy and keen to keep walking. Our enthusiasm, which was lacking the day before had returned. We caught the shuttle back to the village and decided to go on and see the only part of the South Rim we hadn't yet seen. This was also only accessible by shuttle so after two attempts (it was very busy) we finally boarded a bus and made our way to Hermits Rest. The bus stopped every so often at vista points but we decided to go right to the end and walk as far a we wanted back towards the village (a total distance of seven miles) and jump back on the bus when we got tired. This was the Rim Trail and it was a fantastic path. As you left each shuttle stop a signpost would tell you how far along the trail you had walked and it would list the distance to the next shuttle stop so you knew how far you would have to walk. Hermits Rest is a piece of headland that juts out into the Canyon and faces to the East so we could see where we had walked from when we had walked a couple of miles. The scenery never really changed but the light did and this is what made this Park so unique. After three miles or so of walking in the intense midday sun with very little shade I was ready to call it quits so we decided to stop at the next shuttle stop and catch the bus back to the main village. When we got to the bus pick up point we discovered the return shuttle did not stop at this stop and we would have to walk another mile to the next one. So onwards we went to the next stop, dragging our feet and really feeling the sun to discover that the shuttle didn't collect Eastbound either. Grrrrrrrrrrr!! So reluctantly we walked one last mile before finally resting our weary feet after a total of nine miles through the day.
We drove back to the hotel and chilled for a little while. We took advantage of the pool and had a quick swim before having a shower and heading back to the Park to watch the sun set. We walked along the rim from the main car park and found the perfect spot to watch the sun go down. It was amazing to see the Canyon change colour so many times in such a short space of time. It was a very pretty sunset.