It had been over 15 years since we last visited the Grand Canyon. I hardly remember all of it, but I do remember peering downing at the great opening of mother Earth, the queasy air plane ride and little else. Another thing I remember is that at that time I had no camera which had prompted me to visit a local Best Buy or a Costco and had picked up a Pentax point and shoot. The photos from the trip were awful – overexposed ruled the roost and I had returned the camera after the trip, my first of very few returns since then.
We checked out of our Kingman hotel and headed to the South rim, which was about a 170 minute drive on route 40 East and 64 North. Anytime you drive up to the canyon, it is a good idea to fill the gas before you start. The three and a half hour ride was easy enough in bright sunlight. Just a month before the Canyon had an unusual occurrence – it was filled fully with clouds and fog, something that doesn’t happen often. We were aware that out west, California was experiencing bad weather and that weather would move east to the canyon in a matter of days. But only good weather prevailed for us. We reached the city of Tusayan, the city next to the entrance, around noon. A smart Mexican entrepreneur had advertised vegetarian food at his Mexican restaurant (Sophie’s) right on the street close to the entrance. It is inevitable now-a-days to see a majority of visitors at major tourist attractions to be Asians and a good chunk of them don’t mind vegetarian food. Anyway, the restaurant was well set with a lively interior reflecting the holidays and there was no rush yet. The food was good and reasonable.
After lunch, we entered the park. The four booths to let the travelers in seemed insufficient and it took us about 20-25 minutes to get through 7-8 cars ahead of us. Once in, we first headed to the visitor center. We decided to take the desert view drive which is about a 25 mile drive one way. Before then we visit Mather’s point for a breath-taking view of the canyon. The temperate was hovering around 32 degrees and I could see snow on the sides. The wind was pretty strong and that made it worse. It was an effort to get out of the car and walk to the view points and stay there for anytime longer than 10 minutes. The cold kept me from really enjoying the occasion. My brain wasn’t working at all – else I would have compared this visit to my past visit and let my mind come up with the differences. But that was not to be. I rushed through the stops, clicking away. The camera also is a distraction when it comes to enjoying the surroundings. I would take a picture, review the same and see if I needed to adjust exposure and go at it again. When I would see decent colors on my LCD, I would feel satisfied. There were a lot of visitors to the canyon that day given it was a Sunday. In such a crowded place, taking clean photographs is a challenge with a lot of hogging the prime locations.
The desert view drive is a must for anyone visiting the canyon. During summer and up to November, the park operates buses so you cannot drive yourself. This was a blessing in disguise for us and driving is more convenient than waiting for a bus at the many view points along the trail. The maps that were supplied along with the tickets were very helpful. You can take a moderate 600 feet hike down from the top that would take a couple of hours. It would have been awesome to hike down the canyon. It is nice to push yourself away from the crowds and enjoy the beauty as unhindered as possible. The cold wasn’t going to let us do the hike anyway. So, maybe another visit is in the making.
When we reached the end of the drive, the weather was extremely cold and windy. The coffee shop was out of coffee and it was nearing 4:30 PM and the staff wasn’t up to refilling the containers. There is a nice tower structure built so you can have a good overview of the ‘desert’. I walked up to it fighting the wind and the cold. I was glad to get inside the tower and scroll through the gift shop, but enough was enough as I walked back to the car. Once inside, I felt cosy and waited for the family to rejoin. We started driving back but knew it was a bit early to catch the glorious sunset that is advertised. However, we were in no rush so we drove back and stopped at a few points on the way – Navajo and Moran. Then we settled down to watch the sunset at Grandview point. The skies were clear and it was nice to watch the sun shine through the haze over the canyon as the bottom filled up with darkness. The sky takes on different hues as the sun goes down. It was wonderful to watch all this in the comfort of the car but there were many venturesome folks who were arriving all the time and climbing down the path for some of their own time. The sun never took the huge orange ball that is shown in pictures, but it took its time to keep bouncing off the canyon rim and finally merged on the horizon. When he had all gone down, the day was over.
We drove back right away to beat the rush and were out of the park and onto Rt. 64. There was a steady stream of cars behind me – almost endless. When we were in Yosemite, I remember one of the greatest wow moments of all our vacations – the milky-way filled, star-studded skies in full glory like I had never seen before. With all the darkness around there is certainly something you can take advantage of and that is viewing the night skies. It was a 40 mile drive on Rt. 64 and I was hoping the traffic behind will ease up, but people were in a rush to get past. I stopped once to ease this up. As we continued, we could see steady red lights that were slowly appearing and disappearing from out view. There were many of these – we counted about 50. This continued to fascinate us and even gave fodder to alien theory. We couldn’t figure out what they were. Only on reaching back home, we googled and found out that there was a windmill farm and others having noted seeing similar ‘farm of lights’ in the dark.
I pulled off onto an unknown path on the right and a few 100 feet into the darkness and let the cars pass by. Soon enough, the skies started to open up. We could see the Milky Way but nowhere close to the glory that I had in mind. As you start looking up in the darkness in the midst of nowhere, you inevitably feel vulnerable. After a 10 minute stop and making sure we were away from any bushes and vegetation, we started back to a new destination – Flagstaff.