March 31: The Grand Canyon
The highlight was the two tunnels where the sharks and other fish swim over and around you.
The next morning, the tour van picked us up at 7:30 in front of the hotel. *groan* Bobby and I have had a lot of luck with smaller tour groups like this one--not the huge buses where the guide sits at the front with a microphone!--because they tend to go off the beaten path quite a bit more, and it's nice only being with a handful of other people, whom you generally get to know a little by the end of the tour. This one was no exception; our tour guide, Tracy, was an energetic blond-with-pink-highlights who had seemingly bottomless knowledge about the area and a great sense of humor. The south rim of the Grand Canyon, where we were headed, was a little over four hours outside Vegas. The west rim was closer but is not on National Park land; it is owned by the Hualapai Indian tribe, and not only is it very expensive, but they do not allow cameras or cell phones into the park. They take pictures of you, which you can buy. They do allow helicopter tours, which is apparently very disruptive (and the helicopters for the Grand Canyon tours flew directly over our hotel pool, so I can believe it). The west rim is the site of the famous Skywalk, which is supposed to be pretty awesome, but the consensus still remains that the south rim is the better spot to visit.
We made a couple of stops out to the Grand Canyon. The first was the Hoover Dam, which according to Tracy, is the dam that appears in every movie that has a dam in it. You can tour the dam itself--although not extensively as pre-9/11, since the Hoover Dam was one of the sites on the target list that day (as was the Las Vegas Strip)--but we didn't do that. It's funny because Vegas was the carrot-on-the-stick trip when I was a kid that was promised every year and never manifested, and my parents claimed then that the Hoover Dam tour was so awesome. They were in Vegas six months ago, and now the tour is boring, according to them. Which makes me wonder: Was it always boring and the promise of getting to go on it was just another tease? Who knows!
From the back. That's the Colorado River. Half of the dam (the right half) is in Nevada; the other half is in Arizona. They're in different time zones, so when you cross the dam, the time sometimes changes ... sometimes because--ever-complicated!--Arizona does not recognize daylight savings time, so the time does not change at the moment.
Post-9/11, you can no longer cross the dam to access the highway, so they built the bypass bridge in the background to drive into Arizona.
The Felagund family.
The Colorado River. The white stripe above the water line shows where the river used to reach prior to building the dam. (Yes, it was higher than it is now.)
The more-often-seen front of the dam.
Next, we stopped in a town called Seligman, Arizona, which is most famous because it is the town that inspired the Pixar movie Cars. Seligman was once a thriving town because the first U.S. highway, Route 66, passed through it. When Route 66 was decommissioned and removed from the map following the construction of nearby Interstate-40 (which runs parallel to or over Route 66), Seligman became something of a modern ghost town. A resident named Angel Delgadillo began to work to have what remained of Route 66 recommissioned as a historic highway and was successful. Inspired by his story, the maker of Cars based the fictional town of Radiator Springs around it. Several of the cars in the movie are based on actual cars in the town.
The inspiration for Mater from Cars.
The historic Snow Cap drive-thru (which was closed when we came through because it was Easter Sunday).
Then it was back in the van and off on the final leg of the journey to ...
Well, what to say about the Grand Canyon? It's one of those places on earth that have the power to make people feel small, to realize the relative transience of our lives in comparison to the earth on which we live. I didn't feel that particularly, but then, my spiritual beliefs tend toward that reality all the time anyway. I have no delusions of grandeur about myself. Some Grand Canyon facts: it's 277 miles (446 km) long. It's located entirely in the State of Arizona. Over the course of about two billion years, it was formed by the slow action of the Colorado River, which--where we were--was a mile (1.6 km) below the rim of the canyon. It has been occupied by various Native American tribes throughout the years, and one tribe still lives in it, in a section accessible only by foot or on a mule. A man once claimed that he was responsible for digging it out while pursuing a rabbit that was eating his garden. It's visible from space and apparently one of the earth's features that astronauts are most excited to see.
It's pretty effing grand.
The pale stripe of rock across the way, near the top, is the north rim. It is 13 miles (21 km) away at this point.
The Grand Canyon provided ample opportunities to play with my favorite camera feature: the panoramic view!
If you look at the plateau just to the right of the trees, you will see a squiggly line and a patch of trees along the middle of it. No, this is not the bottom of the canyon--where we were, we only got tiny glimpses of the Colorado River at the bottom--but is the hiking trail that one takes to climb to the bottom of the canyon. One in our group brought binoculars, and with them, we could see people walking on the trail, but it is so far down that, without the binoculars, even with my preternaturally good vision, I could not see the people walking there. Just below the patch of trees are three green-roofed buildings. You can't really see them either, unless you know they're there. That's how high up we were.
How gneiss! Elves in the canyon!
An average of seven people die each year from falling in the canyon or getting caught in flash floods at the bottom. (Hey, that was information I wanted to know, so I assumed you all would too!)
We did see a guy walk out onto a precarious outcropping and pee into the canyon.
Juniper pines are one of the trees native to the area. The berries are used to make gin.
California condors! These birds have a 10-foot (3.3 m) wingspan, making them the largest birds in the U.S. They apparently attack and kill bald eagles that attempt to nest in the canyon. They are endangered species, and we saw four of them at the same time (only two made it into the picture), which Tracy said was very uncommon.
Sunset is coming! Look at how long the shadows are getting.
It was a sunset walking tour, so after our 2-mile (3.2 km) walk along the south rim, we settled in to watch the sun go down.
Then it was almost five hours to drive back to Vegas. We returned to our hotel at 11:30--a long day, but well worth it!
This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!