Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Grand Canyon ...
Beyond Grand!

While or after you're reading, please enjoy a snippet from Ferde Grofé's 
Grand Canyon Suite - III - On The Trail.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

We parked ourselves in a motel in Flagstaff, Arizona, after having left Los Angeles and traversed the Mojave Desert in California. Flagstaff is kind of a gateway to the Grand Canyon. Having said that, it's still a good eighty miles north and west to reach Grand Canyon Village (GCV) inside the national park. There are beautiful hotels inside the park but they were booked and very expensive. GCV is not really a village but a collection of National Park services: inns, hotels, restaurants, gift shops, groceries, etc. From there you can drive east on Desert View Drive (Arizona Route 64) or, using the park's shuttle bus, travel west (see the map below). Both routes run along the south rim of the canyon, with eye-popping, heart-stopping views. We took the Desert View since we had our own car and dogs are not allowed on the shuttle buses.

Nothing can prepare you for that first view as you drive into a rest stop, exit your car and look out over this amazing creation, carved over 20 million years, by the sculpting action of the Colorado River through mile-deep layers of sandstone that comprise the Grand Canyon. You've seen photographs and films, you've heard it described and written about. But until you actually cast eyes on it—a difficult task because of its immense size and scope—and try to take it in in all its splendor and enormity, one can't understand how it could possibly even exist. Indescribable and hard to do any kind of justice to it with a camera, at least with my skill set and for the brief time I was there.

We entered the park below Grand Canyon Village after waiting in
line for half an hour. And this was after Labor Day! But to get here, we
traveled some 80 miles on a lovely road, U.S. Route 180, bordered with
magnificent pine forests.

We started in Flagstaff (bottom) and drove 80 miles to reach Grand
Canyon Village. Then we drove east along the South Rim for
amazing views of the canyon.

This was our first view of the canyon. We got out of our car, turned our faces to it and were speechless.
The Colorado River is not even visible from here and there innumerable side canyons, gulches, other
streams and rivers running into it. It's five miles across from our vantage here on the South Rim, across
the canyon to its North Rim.

When you first look out you don't know where to rest your eye or what to look at, so diverse are the myriad of surfaces and geological carvings and the variety of colors and flora. It's really overwhelming. I also felt like it was so big and so grand that it was inaccessible to me—look but don't touch. Not like Stacey, Biggie and me traipsing around Prospect Park for example. People do hike it and climb it and camp it. But for many, and that included us this time, it's something to look at and take in but not to participate with.

We drove east along the South Rim, stopping at many of the pullouts along the way, each offering a different view of the majestic canyon in front of us and below. As we reached the end of that road, we finally got a glimpse of the mighty river which flowed so tirelessly for eons to produce this masterpiece. There was the Colorado, miles away, but visible, running along and still producing changes to this day as it will for years to come. On second thought, maybe not because, once again, climate change and demands for water are said to be reducing the mighty Colorado to a trickle of its former volume. That thought gave me pause to contemplate the damage that our species (and the greed of our modern economic system) has wreaked on this planet.

Humans look tiny standing in front of the Grand Canyon.

Water sits in hollow pools on weathered rocks - another agent of the erosive
process that continues to shape the canyon today and tomorrow.

I dunno. Many people get way too close to the edge for my comfort level.
And in fact, there are always a few deaths each year as people fall down—
way down. We couldn't even see the Colorado River from large parts of the
South Rim, so channelled and convoluted is the canyoun.
It's five miles across to the North Rim!

We took good care not to let this little doggie get too close to the edge.
We held tight, very tight, to his leash.

Anyone see a duck's face on that rock?
A tour leader, who we eavesdropped on, talked about how people see various objects
in the formations in the Grand Canyon.

One's eye tries to pick out details of this location or that but there's such a myriad of different surfaces, valleys, 
mesas and sub-canyons, that it's hard to focus. Your eye constantly flits from one spot to another.

Love this shot!  People are standing way out on an outcrop. That affords a good perspective to my camera,
demonstrating the massive size of the canyon. 

Come on! Does he really get a better picture by standing on a 3-foot high wall?

Amazing views in every direction! And lots of weathered
wood and trees from severe weather at various times of year—a striking contrast!

It was getting late. The descending sun was beginning to paint the canyon in golden hues. In the distance, out on the surrounding desert, dark clouds were pouring rain . Is that where we were headed, I wondered.

The route that we took along the South Rim was only a 23 mile part of the day's long journey. But it would be 57 miles to reach Cameron, Arizona,  which lay east and outside the park and then another 53 miles to arrive back at our motel in Flagstaff again, completing a triangular circuit of 188 miles for the day. That gives you an idea of just how. great the distances are out west to get from Point A to Pont B and then back again.

Late day sun was beginning to paint the canyon in deep golden hues.
And here we finally spied the agent of change: the Colorado, still cutting
the canyon to this day.

In the distance, dark clouds were pouring their rain onto surrounding prairie.

We made one last stop just before leaving the park at its eastern gate. This was at the  Desert View Watchtower, built by architect Mary Colter in 1932 to recall ancient Pueblo stone viewing towers.

Southwestern architecht, Mary Colter's Desert View Watchtower, built in 1932
and modeled after ancient Pueblo stone viewing towers. It appears to
be constructed, like theirs, with only stone and mortar but it actually
has a steel superstructure. An amazing piece.

The Grand Canyon is one of the most popular visitor attractions of all the National Parks and for good reason.

I suppose that, depending on the time of the day and the angle of light, photoraphers can
depict the canyon with many different moods. That's another aspect that limited time restricted me from.

Late light plays on this tree and the canyon glows beyond it.

I'll leave you with one last shot. These
Selfie Sticks are ubiquitous and, I think, kind of
weird but almost comical. We've renamed them Narcissist Sticks.
(For those of you who have one, no offense intended,
just funny, IMHO.)

We drove out and away from this magical place. The surrounding area to the east was also marked by a canyon-gouging process, but these lesser gorges were being carved by a tributary, the Little Colorado, as it traversed Indian reservation lands.

It's hard to believe but developers are threatening the sanctity and pristine beauty of this amazing piece of wilderness which nature worked to create over a span of twenty million years.  You can read about this insanely stupid and greedy plan here and write your Senator and Representative, demanding they take action to block this desecration.

The light was fading quickly and we continued our long drive in the dark, musing about the grandeur of the sights seen today. Tomorrow we'd continue our inevitable drive east, stopping in beautiful Santa Fe.

Until then. —Matt  


  1. Wow. These photos are amazing. Some of the best I have seen you post. Ever thought of doing this professionally.?

  2. fabulous! Some shots made me dizzy just sitting in my living room! xoxox

  3. Stunning photos of an amazing geological landmark! Have you read about this-