We backtracked our way up to the canyon again, 180 north out of Flagstaff to Valle, through the heavenly San Francisco mountains, where the road undulated between 6 K and 7K feet. We had left early springtime in Virginia, with baby green leaves unfurling on the larger trees and here were snow capped mountains. These beautiful mountains watched over us almost the whole time we were out in Arizona. In the far east and west portions they slipped down below the horizon, but from east of Williams, almost to Winslow, from Sedona to the Grand canyon, they stood somewhere along the skyline – majestic, elegant, reassuring.
The possibility of rain lurked throughout the day but there was plenty of blue sky – and of course – the constant blustery west wind. Our first thought was to park at GC Village, take the red bus out to Maricopa point, where we got on the day before, and finish the walk out to the end of the trail at Hermit point. Wrong. The buses will load only 40 people at the start and end of the trip – as many as there are seats - though they'll accept standing room passengers at any of the other stops. The lines waiting at the GCV were so long we'd have waited in line for almost an hour, even though they run every 15 minutes.
Instead we decided to walk east, the shorter trail, only about 3 miles, with fewer overlook points, way fewer tourists, even a rougher path. About 1/3 of the total 15 mile rim path is paved. The rest of it is a very smooth dirt path with the worst rocks eliminated but definitely not wheel chair accessible.
A word here about just how fit you have to be to visit. While I do a lot of walking, I'm not really in tip top shape. I thought I'd get myself in better shape during the winter, but of course, I didn't. Definitely, I wasn't fit enough to hike all the way down to the bottom and back up on any of the trails – but I wouldn't have been able to do that even if I'd been a marathoner. It was too scary. After a couple hundred feet down, my inner child was crying “take me home, mommy”. I have notoriously bad ankles and I'm delighted to report that I never had any problem covering any of the trails. Sure – I took ibuprofen when I got in the car on the way from the canyon to Flagstaff that first day – just to be sure my flatlander legs wouldn't stiffen up – and they never did. But that was the only thing I had to do to make the adjustment.
As for the thinner air – it's true. Now and then I'd get a sort of shaking sensation in my chest which told me I was breathing too shallowly – and I'd stop, slowly breath in and then let the air out. Once was always enough to adjust the system to this higher altitude.
We hadn't brought water with us today. We were only walking 2 miles and doing a tiny bit of the trail, but we did stuff our pockets with apples. They're juicy enough to quench thrist and sugary enough to give you a little energy boost. As we munched on our treats at the top of the trail, this girl came up on her mule, bringing trash out of the campsite below.
There is very little animal life visible – in part because it is so dry and in part because, of course, wild animals hide from humans. I only saw 2 squirrels, 1 condor, and 3 or 4 ravens in all the time we were at the canyon. Perhaps that's why I couldn't resist snapping this little fella's picture. BD did mention that I could photograph hundreds of squirrels in my own front yard, but it wasn't the same. This was a Grand Canyon squirrel.
As thrilling as the canyon views are, the landscape around the trail is equally impressive. It is all Pinion pines, low growing juniper and the surprise of alpine flowers. These pines are amazing, all twisted and sculpted by the fierce winds and they are ancient. We counted 500 rings on this branch – so we calculated the tree was here when Coronado, himself, bumped into the canyon.
The blustery weather was a dramatic backdrop to the breathtaking vistas. Time and a again we saw a rain shower move over some monumental rock formation, fading it from view, then exposing it once again. Once or twice a few sprinkles fell on us too – and I was really glad I'd brought my jacket with me. Though the temperatures were pleasant – perhaps high 60's – the wind, especially when clouds blocked the sun – had a feel of ice in it. Brrrr.
At Yaki Point, it all ended with 5 minutes spent on the far tip – very windy, spitting showers. Today, with the first crazy flush of excitement expressed, I took a little more time to open myself up to that Something More I was hoping to find out west. The first few days of the trip I had been, not exactly tense, but On Alert. All the Pay Attention sensors were flickering as I made sure to meet other people's deadlines, find my way through unfamiliar territory, follow Other People's Rules. Now I had the time and opportunity to just experience – to open myself to whatever spiritual lessons the earth had to teach me. I would still my racing mind, draw inward, feel my body relax and then let it absorb the essence of this most grand of canyons. Typing these words now I can still feel that sensation of bigness – of open - of being able to trust earth – of belonging. I can smell the last of the winter's snow in the wind. I can feel the heat of the sun on my cheeks. This was what a tiny voice inside had promised I'd find, if I would only make the effort to take this trip. I hope I can keep this with me forever.
|From floor to ceiling Native American symbols inside the Watchtower|
We took the east entrance back to Flagstaff, driving through the Navajo Reservation down through Cameron. I did the driving and I found that western mountain driving is a whole lot more intimidating than our east coast mountain driving. Here, if the road lifts up to a peak, there are always trees and buildings just behind the hill, giving you a hint of what the road will do next. Will it curve to the left – you can tell by what's behind it. Will it go straight? Ditto – you can tell. So an unfamiliar road gives you hints of what's coming. Out west – where there is nothing on the other side of a rise but 20 miles of emptiness and a mountain 100 miles away .... whew! Scared me almost as much as walking down the trails. Who knows what car will be driving towards you at 75 mph around an outside curve? I always slowed down as I neared a rise just in case...
So here's another thing about driving out west. The other drivers are very courteous. Though the speed limit was 75 or 65 almost all the time, the little rental car we were driving really rattled above 60 mph and yet, nobody ever tailgated us or passed us dangerously or revealed the slightest hint of rudeness. Yea Arizona!
We came into Flagstaff on the east end. This gave us an opportunity to drive through the length of the town and, my goodness, it's a welcoming comfortable place. I could imagine getting to know and love it. The old part of town is very attractive and I wish we'd had more opportunity to visit. One could spend a whole vacation in Flagstaff. We never did get to the Lowell Observatory – which I had thought BD would jump on. But he just wasn't feeling all that hot and walking is always easier on him than standing inside museums.
We found a Chinese buffet a few blocks from our motel and loaded up on their vegetable dishes. Then it was collapse into bed for a long hard sleep.