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March 31: The Grand Canyon

The (Cyber) Bag of Weasels

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"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

March 31: The Grand Canyon

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yavanna earth
Saturday, March 30, we picked up Bobby from the drop-off spot after he was done snowboarding and then had supper at a California Pizza Kitchen that was right across the street. The next day was an early one--our Grand Canyon trip!--so we kept it low-key that night and went to a neighboring casino, Mandalay Bay, to walk through their Shark Reef Aquarium.

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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.

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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.

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The Felagund family.

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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.)

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The more-often-seen front of the dam.

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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.

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The inspiration for Mater from Cars.

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The historic Snow Cap drive-thru (which was closed when we came through because it was Easter Sunday).

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Then it was back in the van and off on the final leg of the journey to ...

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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.

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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.

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The Grand Canyon provided ample opportunities to play with my favorite camera feature: the panoramic view!

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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.

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How gneiss! Elves in the canyon!

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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.

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Juniper pines are one of the trees native to the area. The berries are used to make gin.

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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.

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Pinyon jay.

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Sunset is coming! Look at how long the shadows are getting.

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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.

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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!

  • *beams* You've made it to my favorite place in the world. The Canyon is so special to me, when I see others enjoy it and revel in its beauty, it makes me feel like standing in a patch of warm sunshine.

    Park rangers hold a wonderful talk about the Condors at the Lookout Studio. When I was there in 2008, we were lucky enough to attend one, and it was completely fascinating! We saw quite a few birds, maybe 5 or 6, but then they're easier to see around the South Rim in the summertime.

    Elves Chasm is one of those places that looks magical, like it could belong in Middle-earth. Another for my endless Grand Canyon bucket list! q

    Naturally, I have a long recommended reading list on this subject, if you or anyone else are interested. :)

    Edited at 2013-04-06 06:28 pm (UTC)
    • Your favorite place is spectacular! :D

      I would love a reading list if it's not too much a pita to post it here. (Because I'm mid-semester, so if it ain't ancient or Renaissance literature, it has to wait till June, so it's not like I'm in a hurry. :)

      Our guide told us a story about a group she took along the canyon. There was a California condor perched in the tree along the path. One of the guys in the group couldn't see it. They kept trying to direct him to where it was perched using landmarks and, finally, frustrated, he said, "All I see is a guy in black standing next to the trail!" I would love to see one up close; we periodically see bald eagles around here, and of course our turkey vultures, so to imagine a bird bigger than those? Is pretty incredible.

      Elves Chasm! Wow! Our guide mentioned the waterfalls but not the name. The name totally fits the place. I'd love to visit it in-person too.
  • More fabulous pictures! I love the desert trees. Alex would love the Cars town.

    Condors! I adore Condors. I saw giant Condors in the Andes half a lifetime ago. They are really big. Not sure how big because I only saw them in full flight among those incredible peaks. Took my breath away is not an exaggeration.
    • The desert is so weird and wonderful. Bobby wants to move there. He might convince me (no more cold winters! my hands are like ice even as I type this!) once we get the house paid off.

      I thought of Alex and also of Rhapsody's kids in Seligman, wondering if they liked that movie and would recognize the characters among the cars there. I saw Cars ages ago. I had to look up Mater's name for this post!

      The condors were numbered, apparently; I could make out where the numbers were on their wings, even from the ground--they're that big!--but couldn't quite read the number itself.
      • I adore Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I went at least twice a year for ages before my ex- and split up. His mother lives there. But there are no jobs. But I know that is not the only place to live in the desert; just the most expensive. It's so lovely though, if you can handle the preciousness of it--when I first starting going there it was not quite as precious as it is now.

        Edited at 2013-04-07 02:13 am (UTC)
        • The preciousness of where we live now is part of it! The cost of living in B'more is insane, for one of the most violent cities in the country and one with some of the worst traffic. It's not as bad up in Carroll County, but it's still expensive (not violent, but the traffic is getting awful even up here because so many people commute from southern PA into Baltimore for work, and we have only one road in the county that isn't a one-lane road, so it don't take much to get clogged up). If I could get a teaching position in Carroll County, I'd be fine--but then I'd be wrangling with my conscience because privileged kids aren't the ones I want to teach. (We do have a public alternative school, and Bobby and I laugh sometimes that I might be the only teacher in the county who would get into a cushy gig like where I student-taught with an eye toward transferring to ... the alternative school. O.O)

          I wouldn't want to live near a major city. I feel too close right now, an hour outside B'more. I'd be happy out in the sticks, just like I am now. :)

          Edited at 2013-04-07 02:38 am (UTC)
          • New Mexico does not have much population overall--I think the entire state has about two million people compared to 8.5 or so in NYC. Santa Fe one of the larger cities in the state with 60,000 people. But it is surrounded by vast nothingness and one can walk just about anywhere. Well, I did when I was younger. But don't move there, I will want to move in with you. Lots of writers live there though and always have--off the top of my head George R.R. Martin and Tony Hillerman come to mind. There are lots more.
  • I love the Canyon. I noticed that you and Bobby are staying a sensible distance from the edge - I've spend too much time on mesa tops and am too familiar with the feeling of crumbling rock below my feet to want to be anywhere close to that rim. But it is amazing and fantastic and so close to home that I'm totally homesick. I'm so pleased you had the chance to experience one of the truly phenomenal places of the world.

    - Erulisse (one L)
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