Grand Canyon

Trip Start Mar 26, 2006
1
9
26
Trip End Oct 20, 2006


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Flag of United States  , Arizona
Sunday, April 23, 2006

It's one of the seven wonders of the world. It's also the Disneyland of national parks, complete with park-themed lodges, restaurants, grocery store, soda fountain, mass transit, and lots of lines. But considering the breathtaking canyon and the more than 5 million people a year who visit, the Park Service does a great job with this Perfect Storm of tourism.

It really is awe-inspiring and grand. But with this many other people around, it's as much about humanity for me as it is about the scenery. One moment I'm taking delight in the sounds of spoken languages I don't know and can't even recognize, the next I'm standing with nothing between me and a 3,000-foot drop-off. Next I'm discovering how much food we humans consume every day, then I'm pondering the impermanence of "solid" rock.

Overall, it's a whirlwind of people and views and colors and sights and languages and cultures and I do my best to just let myself relax and take it all in.

In particular, we enjoy a hike along the Rim Trail. This gets us a little off of the beaten path and up close - really close - with the edge. So close that we really don't want to slip, since there's no railing here. No wonder we don't see the hordes of parents with their children here. Getting out of the buses and onto the trail makes the canyon feel more personal and less like a vast painted backdrop - we feel the wind on our faces, the dirt under our shoes, and hear the birds calling in the canyon walls below.

Since on this trip we won't make it all the way down to the canyon floor 5,000 feet below, we take a quick detour to the National Geographic Grand Canyon Imax. I've always been an Imax fan - huge screen, booming sound, low earthy narration. We ride the rapids on the canyon floor, fly over craggy peaks and drop-offs in a helicopter, and see perfectly sunset-lit canyon walls, all vicariously through the Imax lens, none of which we would actually have had time (or money!) for on our own.

On canyon day two, we wake early for a hike down the Bright Angel Trail to Overview Point. On our way down, we're sandwiched between two groups of pack mules. The rising dust, hollow clomping hoof sounds, and earthy poop smell make it feel enough like we're part of the trail ride that we don't feel like we've missed out. At lunchtime, we all stop at Overview Point - a great destination to take in the highest canyon points all the way down to the turquoise-colored Colorado River below. The parents get very nervous with their children here and start getting cranky and in return the kids have fun pushing the limit with the parents by scootching out near the edge every few minutes.

Less than five minutes after the mule trains leave, we hear a whooshing sound above our heads and look up to see condors with their bald turkey vulture heads and enormous 6-foot wingspans gliding 30 feet about our heads. As I'm looking at the drop-off below, one of the condors plops to the ground 5 feet away from me. With rubbery skin and a bald head surrounded by a jet black boa of fluttery feathers, and big red eyes, they're so remarkably hideous that you can't help but love them. They're so majestically ugly that I forget they're probably wishing they could pick the meat off a couple of us tired hikers.

Later in the day, we score a window table for dinner at the Arizona Room and 5 or 6 condors are swooping by the canyon ledge, entertaining everyone. They look big enough to carry away a small child.
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