Monday, August 27, 2007

Your Grand Canyon Adventure

Standing on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, staring out into the gaping chasm, the only audible sound is that of the wind, spiraling up off of canyon walls, rushing past your face, before continuing its journey southwards - to the neighboring Kaibab Forest.

Some of America's first explorers, first the Natives, then the Europeans, felt this tepid wind brush their faces. They too, stood in awe, wanting so badly venture forward, that they might feel the depths of the canyon as it surrounded them. And yet, most did, and will, not dare descend, particularly in this August heat. If the descent doesn't kill you, the heat very well might. And so you vow to come back in Spring or Fall, today settling for a walk along the rim and some spectacular photos.

Starting at Parking lot “D”, you check out the view point next to The Bright Angel Lodge, before beginning your 2-mile walk. The canyon is simply incredible, and the fat squirrel, sunning himself on the nearby rock, seems to think so too. You walk for a few minutes, before spotting a children’s story time at the El Tovar Lodge. And then you stop, not for you, but for your little one, to prevent any guilty feelings from arising regarding your overly-ambitious travel arrangements. He seems to enjoy the half hour break, but seems ready to go when story-time has ended. And so the hike continues.

It's not long before you spot more wildlife... it's a deer just off in the distance, and you excitedly bring it to the attention of your fellow hikers. She’s lying under a tree, silently mocking you as you irreverently hike beneath the midday sun.

A moment later, a large, carnivorous California condor soars overhead – and as you continue to exert yourself, you wonder how hungry he would have to be to resort to a human meal.

Stopping at a couple of additional points, you pause for some photos, and a cautious look downwards. There are no guardrails here… one false move and you’ll soon know what it’s like to lie at the bottom of the canyon. Despite the danger, standing on the edge isn’t actually exhilarating. It’s simply refreshing. The lack of man-made restraints leaves you feeling one with the canyon, and it’s various inhabitants.

As the trail continues, and your water supply grows ever smaller (why didn’t you remember that “camel back”?), you silently hope for water and some form of transportation (i.e. the free shuttle) at the next bend.

Your wishes have been granted. A fellow hiker tells you that the Visitors Center is just a hundred meters further.

And what luck! Inside, a park ranger has just begun a presentation on the canyon, explaining how it was formed. Best of all, he’s not boring you to death… he’s actually using terms you understand, and making you laugh. What a perfect end to the hike!

To top it all off, you spot some water in the gift shop, and just outside is the free shuttle. Hooray!

The shuttle carries you back to Lot D, where the Grand Canyon train prepares for departure. It’s part steam engine, part diesel, driving the kids nuts with its steaming chimney and stoic conductors.

But the train doesn’t seem to be going anywhere at all, and you’re all exhausted from the hike. You pile into the car, drive a few miles, and stop just outside the park for some Caravel ice cream before heading back to your motel in the charming town of Williams. (You’ve decided to stay there because of the astronomical rates at hotels and motels bordering the actual Grand Canyon. You’re getting a lot more bang for your buck in this charming little town on the old Route 66).

Returning the motel, you laugh out loud at a marquis, which boasts “American Hospitality”. An oxymoron? Apparently not in these parts. Just as you pull into your “Downtown Motel”, the motel manager calls you over, inviting you to join he and his wife for dinner. They’ve got the grill and the smoker going, and it smells simply divine. Dinner includes steak, chicken, sausage, and grilled veggies. Suddenly, you’re not sure which you enjoy more, the dinner with your hosts, or the fantastic beef brisket you had at the town’s Western restaurant (complete with Western music, cowboys, and a shoot-out) the night before.

But one thing is certain. The town of Williams, aka “Gateway to the Grand Canyon”, has a permanent place in your heart, and your belly.

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