Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Travel - The Grand Canyon National Park

Neon sign on Route 66.

     It's hard to pick just one place in the continental United States as a must see location. But if I were to recommend a 'you have to see this site in your life time', it would be the Grand Canyon National Park. There is no way to explain how overwhelming the view is from the south rim overlook. Not a picture that I have taken can give you the feeling or dimensions of its vastness or beauty. There are many wonderous places to travel in this country. Personally standing at the edge is a humbling experience and one that will put a person in their place. You realize how incredibly small and insignificant we are when looking at this breathtaking natural wonder of the world.
     We stayed at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel which is a block from Route 66 in Williams, Arizona. Staying there gave us a chance to visit the town and the historic road. I snapped photos of building facades and neon 66 signs. We also stopped in at the locally owned stores.

Passengers board train for the canyon.

     The hotel has a package deal where you can stay a day at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, travel by train the next morning for an overnight stay at one of the Grand Canyon Village hotels, then return to Williams the following afternoon for another night at the railway hotel.
     The railroad station for the Grand Canyon Railway is next door to the hotel and transports tourists by train to the south rim station at the canyon. It's a two hour and fifteen minute ride and travelers are serenaded by fiddlers and cowboys strumming on guitars. In the morning before boarding the train, bandits put on a gunfight to entertain the crowd. Deb and I have always enjoyed the chance to travel by rail. We try to take advantage when there's an opportunity to sit back in classically restored passenger cars.
     On arrival, we had a full day to hike and to tour several of the historic buildings and restaurants. Park rangers gave talks during the afternoon and my wife stopped to hear the history program. I listened for a while but got restless and wanted to explore on my own.

One of the many photos taken of the Grand Canyon.

     Naturally, I popped in to see the Kolb Studio located next to the Bright Angel Trail. In the early 20th century brothers Emery and Elsworth Kolb set up a photography studio on the edge of the canyon. There are displays of their work and also a small theater to watch the historic motion picture of the Colorado River trip they filmed in 1912 of them navigating rapids in the river. The pair were adventurous and seeing their work was time well spent.
     After hiking along the south rim, Deb and I climbed aboard a National Park Service shuttle bus to one of the overlooks and sat out near the edge to watch the sunset. Seeing the colors change to a deep orange with heavy shadows cutting along the eroding gorge and watching the sun fade behind the ridge line was a site to remember.

Sun setting on the canyon.

    We always kept a few feet between us and the wall wherever we sat or walked. During the late afternoon of the first day, rangers were a mile down in the canyon for a body recovery after a visitor fell from the rim. Safety is of the utmost importance and we were cautious.

      On the second day, we decided to skip the sunrise and slept in until about 8 a.m. in our room at the Maswik Lodge. We needed to get some extra rest for the activities ahead. For breakfast we chose the Bright Angel restaurant. By the time we arrived, many guests had already finished and we had the place to ourselves. We ordered a stack of pancakes and the staff pampered us as we were practically the only ones left to eat.

Bright Angel Trail.

     A day of hiking was on our schedule. We took advantage of all the time and started with a trek along the Bright Angel trail into the Grand Canyon. I found that many people had a fear of heights and were content to view from the top. We wanted to walk down the same trail that the mules and riders take to the bottom and were told to take carry enough water to stay hydrated for our hike.

      We walked down into the canyon for about an hour knowing it would take longer to climb back out. We also spent extra time exploring the canyon, sitting on sections of the switchbacks to enjoy the view. Overall we spent about three and a half hours on the trail. We had a quick bite to eat for lunch and then continued walking several more miles along the top of the rim.

Snapshot for the scrapbook at the edge of the South Rim.

     Two full days at the Grand Canyon was enough time for exploring and sightseeing without having to rush around. Back aboard the train sitting comfortably on the plush seat, I looked out of the window and saw a mule deer standing among the Ponderosa Pines. The engineer blew the whistle and we slowly chugged for Williams.


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