Monday, March 24, 2014

Grand Canyon and Zion: Day 5

By the time I woke up on Day 5, I was feeling pretty well rested. We had been sleeping in until 8 or 9 every morning and were always in bed by 10. I started to question my judgment call on the rim to river hike. But that was all long before we started down Hermit’s Trail.

While Dan was waking up slowly, I decided to head down to Kolb Photo studio and see the exhibit on the infamous Kolb Brothers. This was something I really wanted to see because I had learned so much about them by watching the Ken Burns National Parks series. In 1904 Emery and Ellsworth Kolb set up a photo studio right on the rim of the Grand Canyon. They operated a successful business for many years, taking photos of the tourists riding donkeys to the bottom of the Canyon. The crazy thing is, they would take these photos mid-way down, then run up to their shop, develop the film, create prints and mat them for sale to those very same tourists when they arrived back at the rim. It’s a story worth reading up on. While there wasn't a ton of time for me to see everything, I did view most of the displays and buy a little book about their adventures.

Kolb Brothers Photo Studio
We had breakfast at the Bright Angel Dining room once again. Our selections had become gradually a little unhealthier each day. While I didn't eat 6 or 7 pieces of bacon on Day 5, I certainly didn't opt for the egg whites and turkey sausage. Once we were filled up, we stopped at the gift shop quickly to buy our postcard and shot glass before making our way to the bus stop. It is kind of nice to be able to ride the bus along the rim because it gives you a chance to gaze down without worrying about crashing. Hermit’s Rest was the last stop on the line though, so we sat for quite some time before finally getting off the bus and making our way to the trail head. 

Dan rests up pre-hike

As we approached the rather rocky trail, we passed a woman with a big backpack who asked us if she could take a bus back to the village. Clearly, she had spent a night or two in the Canyon. As I pointed her in the general direction of the bus stop, her husband peaked around the last turn in the trail, out of breath mumbling, “never… again…”

Dan said he could relate, and then launched into another tirade about how I always make him do these terrible things (hikes) that he never wants to do as we descended into the canyon once more.

The Hermit’s Rest Trail will take you all the way to the Colorado River, just like the South Kaibab and the Bright Angel Trail… except with less mileage.  It was described in my guide book as a great hike “off the beaten path” where you might see springs as close as 1.2 miles below the rim, without all those pesky tourists in your way.

Well it was certainly a desolate trail, with very few hikers who weren't fairly serious about hiking, but there weren't any springs in sight. Not to mention the fact that the trail itself is one of the wildest things that I’ve ever seen “maintained”. Unlike the other trails leading to the River, Hermit’s rest is incredibly uneven, rocky and offers very little shade. 

ends of the Earth

As we continued to descend, I started to get nervous about going back up. About a mile and a half down, we came to a junction and decided to turn around. The hike back up was as brutal as anticipated… It’s one thing to hike a nice gravel trail up an elevation of 1,000 feet; it’s another to climb rocks for 1,000 feet over the course of a mile and a half. It felt like we were climbing bleachers for days in the hot AZ sun. We took breaks to rest infrequently since there weren't a ton of shady spots to sit. By the time we made it back to the top, I began to understand why that hiker’s husband was huffing “never again”. The trail is a tough hike, and it doesn't provide the wonderful scenery you can get elsewhere. Not to mention the fact that we didn't catch a glimpse of the River at all, the entire time! If we had the opportunity to pick again, I would have gone for a hike towards the East entrance near the Desert View Watchtower, where the views compensate for the hard work.

We stopped at the Hermit’s rest shop, another Mary Jane Colter designed building. It has a beautiful stone fireplace and hearth room, but no ice cream – which I was VERY disappointed about.

Once we arrived back at the bus stop, we overheard a bunch of older hikers talking about their plans for the week. They had reservations at Phantom Ranch and were going to hike rim-to-rim in 3 days. “Good for them” I thought to myself, before hearing them talk about how the Hermit’s Rest hike had taken them 7 hours. I hope they were able to make it out in their allotted 3 days, but it didn't seem very likely.

Back at the car, we changed out of our soaking wet clothes before hitting the road for the last long stretch of driving down to Phoenix. Yet again we experienced an uneventful trip, except to note that we had to change our dinner plans from “something good” in Sedona to “whatever is close” because the 17 mile side-trip to Sedona would have taken us an hour and a half… and I thought East Coast traffic was bad! Wendy’s happened to be the closest, so we stopped in for a ridiculous amount of food. Let’s just say that 4 people would have been full with our choices… and we were only 2. At least I finally got my ice cream by way of inhaling a root beer float.

When we finally parked at Dan’s Grandmother’s house in Phoenix, we were pretty pumped to get out of the car and see some familiar faces. It’s always nice to end a vacation by recounting your tales and showing off your photos to someone who is curious. We did our best to finish up some of the food that we had toted along with us all week before bed.

So we sat around chatting and eating with Dan’s Grandmother and his Great Aunt Margie. Vacation was over, I realized – and decided at that moment to start thinking about the next great trip.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Grand Canyon and Zion: Day 4

I have learned from Dan when it comes to vacations. Sometimes, it’s ok to just relax a little bit. You don’t have to do ASMUCHASHUMANLYPOSSIBLE all the time. So I let him sleep a bit later on Day 4, and didn’t force him into any hikes – or get up at 6:00 a.m. to go hike the narrows like I wanted to.

Instead I took the car down into Springdale, which is the little town surrounded on 3 sides by the park. From there I mailed the WPA Parks posters that I have been collecting at each of the parks we visit. For a grand total of $3.75, the posters arrived home the same day we did (and for a lot less money!)When I returned to the cabin, Dan was ready for breakfast. You know what I had… lots of bacon. Like maybe 5 pieces… ok, it was 6. I had to fuel up for that long car ride down to Page!

On the way out, we stopped in a few places to take photos once again. Then we got into the cutest traffic jam ever. The tunnel that you must pass through to use the East Park entrance is so tiny, that RVs and double-wheeled trucks need to go through with an escort. So if you get stuck behind an RV, expect to wait for the tunnel to be cleared before you can pass through. Stopped on this mountain, everyone got out of their cars and started wandering around to take pictures – that’s how awesome this place is… even after you have already been there, you feel the need to stop and gawk.

tiny black hole is one of the "windows" in the tunnel"

Dan driving by the "window"

traffic jam

Once out of the tunnel the photos continued through the windshield until we arrived in Page. It’s just amazing how all of these unique areas are clumped together.

We arrived at the Colorado River Discovery Center just in time to go to the bathroom and hop aboard the buses that would take us down yet another tunnel into Glen Canyon, far below the terrifying bridge we crossed 30 minutes earlier. Once out of the tunnel, you are on U.S. Government Land and must obey all safety laws, so we strapped on hard hats for a total of 30 seconds as we walked down to the rafts that were waiting on the Colorado.

The raft trip was one of the first things I booked for this vacation; I thought it would be a great way to really get to see the Canyon. Here’s the thing: if you want to do a half-day trip (meaning, if you don’t want to sleep in a tent down by the River) you don’t really get to go inside the “Grand Canyon”. But I still thought it would be fun - I will say that it was just OK, probably not really worth the $89 each plus tax. We rafted down along the Colorado enjoying the sites and the hot summer sun, which we were certain would burn Dan up. I tried to keep my sunglasses off as much as possible to avoid the dreaded racoon eyes. 

The guide was a nice guy, laid back; but he didn't offer a ton of information about the landscape or history, just little anecdotes here and there. The raft floatilla had one planned stop at which everyone piled out and hiked about 1.4 mile down a little sand path to see some ancient hieroglyphs. Though it was quite hot on the river, it was about 100 times hotter on this path, from which Dan declared it "couldn't be worth it." I took a few pictures so he could see later. The interesting thing about the glyphs is not the artistry, or the fact that they have lasted thousands of years (actually, that is pretty impressive, isn't it?) but it's the fact that with more erosion, we see more glyphs. I thought that was kind of interesting - at one point the River was lower and tribes lived around it, then it got continuously built upon by layers of sand, only to be eroded once more. 

Back at the River, Dan was standing in the scorching hot sand. I could not understand this, and was wondering about his sanity as I rushed to dunk my feet in the river, fearful that the fiery hot sand would actually eat away at my flesh. About 4 seconds after dunking my feet, I could feel them go numb. What a painful place to have feet? Between the hot desert sand and the freezing cold Colorado, we probably should have just stayed in the boat! Our guide told us that the River averages about 48 degrees F, because it comes from the depths of Lake Powell through the dam, and is never warmed by the sun because its always moving. 

I forced Dan to take a few pictures at this stop, which he was not pleased about, but I'm hoping someday he will just accept it. I like photos, we take them a lot... get over it!

Then, the drama ensued when 3 people (old people) slipped and cut themselves badly when trying to get into the raft. Not sure how they didn't realize that having wet feet on a metal and rubber surface might cause them to slip, but they did and then they spent the next 10 minutes drawing attention to themselves and laying down in the boat to avoid passing out, or other very likely scenarios. 

From this point, we continued down river to horseshoe bend, which is not quite as impressive from the inside looking out. Then, due to the landslide, we turned back up river and motor-boated ourselves to the dam. If the landslide on Route 89 hadn't happened, we would have continued on to Lee’s Ferry, pulled out and ridden in a bus back to Page. In the end, it was a unique experience, but I don’t think I would recommend it to others.

The Canyon walls are pretty tall...

inside Horseshoe Bend

When we got back on dry land in Page, I was starting to get hangry so we stopped at a Drive-In that was somewhat sketchy. It didn't matter; the food filled me up so that we could make the rest of the 3 hour journey back to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  At this point in the trip, we were really “over” driving, so nothing exciting happened – we both just wanted to get there and get the drive over with - though the sunset was very pretty.

We finally got back to the Village area around 8:30 and both had separate meltdowns about insignificant things like how close we could park to the cabin and which cabin was actually ours… for some reason, I am completely unable to navigate in these tiny areas. I’m always pointing us in the wrong direction, or going the roundabout way. Meanwhile, Dan is always getting mad about it… makes for some enjoyable scenes. This time however, our scene was ended by an elk that refused to get out of the way. He was in a very public area, where tourists wouldn't move (because they were afraid) and the elk wouldn't move (because he was afraid)… quite the standoff. Needless to say, we went around the long way.

In our cabin (which did not include the rim view as advertised) we opened the windows and wondered why they hadn't bothered to include AC (the Bright Angel Cabins, in case you want to avoid this mistake in your planning). Dan was pleased to find a TV in the room, and tuned it to a horror movie in which a bunch of twenty-somethings go out on a hike, sleep in some cabin and all get killed. Not surprisingly, I demanded that he change the channel immediately.  After whining that there was “nothing else worth watching” I found re-runs of the Big Bang Theory and fell asleep pretty quickly.