(Yes, this post took forever to actually assemble. Mostly because we took well over 200 photos, and I was simply overwhelmed when it came time to sort through them select a few of them, then rename them, resize them, and upload them where appropriate in the story.)
Monday, May 9
Let me say how cool it is that the Jedi snagged us rooms inside Grand Canyon National Park. No, we weren't in the famous hotel that is right on the edge of the canyon and that books up a year or two in advance and costs an arm and leg, but still, we were inside the park, and that was really cool.
We got in after dark the night before. It was only 9:30, so it wasn't too late, but still, the winding park roads were pitch dark through a pine forest. Our Tom-Tom couldn't figure out where we were, and we nearly didn't either. We eventually found the little building where we checked in, and then drove to our room in Yavapai Lodge.
The morning turned out to be much chillier than we had anticipated, 42 degrees, overcast, and a little windy. The Jedi brought in the "extra" bin which had extra long pants for each of us. We layered our clothes and wore some windbreakers and headed out. In the parking lot, we encountered more of that weird, round, pellet snow like we had seen at Colorado National Monument.
Our first stop was the visitor's center to talk with a ranger and come up with a game plan. We wanted to do a little bit of hiking, but we wanted to make sure we were on a short, kid-friendly trail. There was a rim trail, but our experience with a rim trail in Hocking Hills turned out to be rather scary, and we didn't want a repeat of that, especially at the Grand Canyon.
We had read about the number of people that need to be rescued from the depths of the Grand Canyon. Two hundred and fifty a year, in fact. Most of them are young, healthy men who attempt to hike down to the river and back in one day. There were warnings and cautions everywhere about NOT attempting that. "Do not underestimate the Grand Canyon," was even in the little info binder in our hotel room. And of course, everywhere were also cautions about making sure to drink water and to carry water with you. So, in addition to layering our clothes, we each had a large, full water bottle and carried a few snacks. The kids carried their waterbottles and their snacks in small backpacks they had received just for this hike. I also threw a little first aid kit in Toa's backpack. Between that and checking with the ranger, we felt ready for the Canyon.
While we were at the visitor center, I asked the ranger about the weird, round pellet snow. The ranger said the snow was called gropple, and also affectionately referred to as "styrofoam snow". He said it's only noticeable at higher elevations. What happens is that in the upper level of a cloud, a perfectly normal 6-pointed snowflake forms. As it falls, it passes through a slightly warmer pocket of air and it partially melts, just enough for the points of the snowflake to dissolve in on itself. Then it hits another cold pocket of air and refreezes. It falls then as this tiny little round pellet of snow. The same phenomena might also happen at lower elevations, but at lower elevations, the gropple melts and turns into rain before it can fall all the way to the ground.
At the ranger's suggestion, we took the shuttle bus to the South Kaibab Trail. A few pictures were taken at the top, on a little outcropping, but the cloud cover was so low that most of the view of the canyon was obscured. The Jedi and I were really worried that if the weather stayed like it was, we wouldn't really get a chance to see the Canyon.
Our intention was to hike down to the first lookout point on the trail, called "Ooh Ahh Point", and then turn around and hike back. The top of the trail had a sign warning about ice on the trail and recommending the use of crampons. We decided if we got to an icy point, we would turn around and come back. Near us was a couple speaking French having a similar discussion about the possibility of ice on the trail.
All suited up, we headed down.
At the first switch back on the trail was a sign instructing hikers to stay to the inside of the trail if a mule train was coming through.
We could see our destination from this point as well.
Sadly, the obscuring cloud cover made "Ooh Aah" Point rather underwhelming.
So we decided to hike down a few more switchbacks just for fun.
....and, the morning sun began to break through the cloud cover, lighting up the rock ridge we were hiking along.
And of course, if there was a flower, which there was, you know I had to photograph it, which I did.
We think, based off the map we saw in the visitors' center, we were hiking along a stretch of trail called Cedar Ridge. It seemed like each piece of the trail might reveal something new if we just kept going a little bit further. We had left the steep series of switchbacks, and were now hiking along a genle, nearly level, downhill slope. The Jedi wisely pointed out that we could really fool ourselves at this point and get into some real danger. Since it was so easy and pleasant to hike along this trail, the temptation was to just continue hiking for a while. We could have easily hiked much further into the canyon without realizing how far from the edge we had really gone. Even though we had snacks and a large, full water bottle for each person, we knew hiking too deep in the canyon would make for a potentially dangerous and certainly exhausting ordeal to hike back out of the canyon. Since we wanted this experience to be memorable in a good way, we picked a spot we could see on the trail ahead and agreed that no matter what we could almost see when we got there, that would be our turn around point.
But, can you agree with me that scenes like this were very difficult to turn our back on and walk away?
We hiked to our turn around point and had a short water and snack break. Look at what good sports my children are about having their picture taken on the trail. I, of course, couldn't see their faces in the little view screen of my camera, so I'm treated to this after we get all the pictures downloaded. I love their sense of humor.
Then we turned around and hiked back. Let me tell you how glad I am that we did so. I was sucking some serious air as we huffed back up all those switchbacks. We stopped periodically to catch our (ok, just mine really) breaths as we got to a bend that was wide enough to step off the trail for a moment.
And we made it back to the top, where we had a restroom stop and a snack and drink break while we sat on the rocks waiting for the next shuttle bus to come by. The shuttles ran every 15 minutes or so, so we didn't have to wait long.
Because the shuttles came by so frequently we could get off whenever we wanted and check out some of the other overlooks before we went back to the visitors' center where our van was parked.
We drove out of the park for lunch, and got some fast food so that we could eat lunch in the car on the hour long drive over to the watchtower. Surprisingly, we saw two other Ohio license plates in the Wendy's parking lot...some of the only other Ohio plates we have seen on the trip. Sweetling said, "What, is Wendy's some sort of Mecca for Ohioans?"
As we drove up to the Watchtower, we were reminded that we were indeed in mountain lion territory.
And, as we drove, we made stops at the overlooks. It was just awesome to stand there, hold the Jedi's hand, and marvel at what was before us.
We got our first glimpse of the Colorado River.
The Jedi said he'd be very tempted to try an overnight hike, just to get down there and back, if it weren't for the thought of spending the night outdoors in mountain lion country. I have to agree with him on that point.
Sweetling took several pictures on her new 3DS. She had saved her money, and sold her old DSi just so she could bring the 3DS on the trip with her to take some 3D pictures of the Grand Canyon. They turned out really cool, but of course, I can't share them here. If you see her, you have to ask her to share them with you.
This is our destination in the distance.
The Watchtower was designed by Mary Colter, and has a remarkable story behind its construction. I was delighted in its design and attention to detail in the rocks chosen.
We went out to the point of the lookout....
....before going inside to explore the gift shop.
The interior of the Watchtower was beautifully painted...
...and we spent a good deal of time climbing up through the levels.
Our visit to the Watchtower was a nice end cap to our day. We headed back to our rooms for snacks and showers and a little bit of downtime. It was our intention to then take the shuttles out to the western edges of the park to see the sunset. We did, but the clouds had come back, and there was no sunset to be seen.
There were however, many elk.
We were much closer to some of the elk than this, since a group of about 9-15 were strolling and grazing calm as you please along both sides of the road. It was, in my opinion, far too close to comfort, especially after our buffalo encounter on Antelope Island. So, we refrained from taking any pictures when we were nearer the elk.
After spending some time, cold and miserable, on a western lookout waiting for a sunset that didn't happen, we headed out of the park hoping to find a reasonably priced dinner option at a restaurant in the nearby town. Strangely, the selection was rather limited. We wound up at We Cook Pizza and Pasta, whose name pretty much sums up the dining experience.
Back in our room, we played a few rounds of Space Munchkin before turning in for the night.
Read from Day 1
Back to Day 13
On to Day 15