Monday, October 22, 2007

Day 50 -- Improvisation

The plan was to get going early so I could "do" the Grand Canyon in a day. But first I set out on foot to find a coffee shop I'd picked out of the phone book. It was just about two blocks away but by the time I got there, my eyes were all teared up from the cold and wind. I figured if it was this bad down in Flagstaff, it would be much worse up at the Grand Canyon. So I decided to take my time. I wouldn't be able to see much of anything through watery eyes, so why rush?

While I dawdled in my warm room I watched the morning news. Uh, oh. Wild fires in California north and south of my brother's home. The area immediately around his home looks okay, but how about the roads I need to travel to get there? And how about the roads to get from his place up to Big Sur? I'd thought I might drive through Malibu, but it's in flames. All of a sudden, all my plans were up in the air again.

It was about two hours to the Grand Canyon. As I drove through Flagstaff to get to US180, I spied out motels I might want to stay at if I decided to stay in the area another night. Then it was a pretty drive through a scenic ski area to US64, which goes up to the Grand Canyon -- and clear through it to the east. At the intersection of US180 and US64 -- an area not covered in any of my lodging guides -- there were several motels. More options.

Then I arrived in Tusayan, just 2 miles from the entrance to the national park. By this time I'd decided that I'd probably want to return to the park on Tuesday. I knew that I'd have to pay more than I usually do for a night's lodging, but I figured I would would mostly make up for it in drive time and gas saved. Around noon I finally entered the Grand Canyon National Park.

The place is overwhelming. And I don't mean just the size of it. There are so many options for what to do, what to see and how to get around, you could spend a half-day visit just trying to make up your mind. Then I started to feel a little woozy and mildly dispeptic. Figured it was the altitude, but it might have been the over-priced BLT I'd had in Tusayan. Or a combination of the two. I decided to spend today driving around the east side of the park -- 28 miles each direction -- and stopping at the various view points. I decided to hang around until sunset so I could see the changing colors of the canyon.

Good news is that it was not nearly as cold and windy as it had been down in Flagstaff. I never even had to put on my heavier coat, but the new warm hat was handy. And it's supposed to be a bit warmer Tuesday.

I'm glad I made the trip to the Grand Canyon, but it's probably not a place I'd go out of my way to visit again. Like the San Diego Zoo or Disney World, it's big and busy. Not restful. It was nowhere near as crowded as it would be in season, but there were plenty of visitors everywhere. At least half from other countries. And almost everywhere I stopped to take in the scenery, there were bunches of people talking -- loudly -- and always the smell of cigarette smoke. A ranger said that the real way to see the Grand Canyon is to hike into it but that only 5% of visitors ever get past the rim. But she also said that some of those trails get crowded.

I did see some wildlife. Lots of ravens in the air and on the ground. Toward the end of the day at each view point there was a raven strolling around the parking lot. I wondered if it might be the same one following me. There are also tufted-eared squirrels called Abert squirrels scampering about. Unfortunately, I think I ran over one. They don't seem to be too bright. The critter sat by the side of the road then ran out in front of my car. I heard a little "thunk" and when I looked in my rear-view mirror, I saw gray and white fur in the middle of the road. (I thought I hit a little rabbit one night in Alamogordo, but since I didn't hear or feel anything, maybe I missed it.) Oh well, at least the raven who was flying around nearby got dinner.

I was thinking about getting back to the park in time to see sunrise tomorrow, but I've changed my mind. I'll get there in time for the fossil talk at 9AM. Then I'll spend some time on the west side of the park. Maybe do part of the rim walk. Take the shuttle if the altitude gets to me. There are also some geology talks. Figure I will probably leave around noon, although I don't know where to.

Interestingly, Grand Canyon National Park is open 24 hours a day. You can come and go any time. There are even some evening programs. Also, there are no guard rails at many of the view points. There is nothing to stop someone from walking or falling over the edge. Happens several times a year. In fact, it happened earlier this month.

I'm glad I found a motel with internet access. I'm not getting a cell phone signal up here. And when I got to my room tonight I discovered there is no phone. I've looked at online maps of the California fires, and it looks like I may be doing some more improvising in the days ahead. Wildfires are nothing to be blase about.

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