Thursday, April 21, 2011

Phoenix Day five

The Grand Canyon....
The drive starts out in the Sonorhan Desert, with prickly pear cactus, Sedona upright cactus, yellow broom in bloom and a host of inhospitable looking plants. The land is flat and the air is hot. We are in a 12 person van driving north. The van is loaded with 10 people and a huge assortment of computer bags, luggage and water. By the time we reached the first view of the Grand Canyon, we have passed through 3 different kinds of forests, two different kinds of mountains and foothills and mini canyons that pale in comparison to the final Grand one.

We are on a mission. We have several pitstops along the way but the bathroom breaks and the grocery store stop (because soon we will be feeding ourselves instead of waiting obediently in line for a box of food) have taken too long and we are behind. The field trip leader isn't gonna stop. We drive past several lookoffs and the groaning from the group is huge. Our first look-off has a large tower-esque building that overlooks the Canyon.

This is one of only 3 spots where the Colorado River can be seen from the top. There is this narrow little look off with hardly any railings that allows the view, or it can be seen up top in the look off room. I have an unfortunate problem with heights, so I hung back. When everyone went up the tower, I went to the gift shop and had a little shopping fun. I bought a tourist-y flute, made of cedar. I know, I know, but it has the most mellow, lovely tone and I am pretty sure my recorder group will be excited by it because one of us showed us hers. She received hers from a musical craftsman. That's how I knew to overlook the fringes and listen to the sound.

There are several amazing things about this “Grand Ditch” as one of the historians on the bus called it. The first is that as you drive along to the Canyon, there really isn't any clue that you are coming up to it. All of a sudden, this massive interruption in the land is just there.

On the one side of the road is the San Fransisco Mountain, one of the four sacred mountains defining the Hopi and Navajo traditional lands. This lets you know, along with a bit of shortness of breath, that we have climbed to 7000 feet above sea level. The Colorado itself is at 2400 feet above sea level, but its uppermost banks (the rim of the canyon) are 5000 feet up the side. Aside from this trivia, you don't know the canyon is just over yonder. It is massive. There is no way you can jump across it, walk down and then up in under 2 days or not notice how much driving you have to do to go around it.

The second amazing thing are the formations. The photos and paintings you see in books or in art just do not do it justice.

If you stand at one point and look right, you can't begin to see the end. The curves of walls and the variables in the heights make any horizon impossible to sort out. If you look out straight ahead of you, you can see the opposite side, it isn't like not seeing the other side of Lake Ontario. But the distance is so great that the striations of colour and rock changes are hazy. The haze is a little bit from dust in the air, a little bit from cloud cover and a lot from sheer distance. Look to your left and more of what you saw to the right. Look to the bottom, which I couldn't do because it made me feel ookie, and you won't see the bottom. There are too many rock formations in the way.

There is one trail, that has over 120 switchbacks before the first mile is walked. It takes at least a day to reach the bottom and if you walked down, you now have to go up an incline that is nearly sheer for 5000 feet. Think of that the next time you have to walk up a few flights of stairs!

Our next stop was the Tunyson (probably spelled wrong, I can't find my brochure) Ruins. This is a family village site of the Ancient People. In the lore that we are familiar with, there are the missing tribes legends. In fact, they were the Hopi Indians who abandoned sites to move where the water was either more plentiful or less difficult to transport. There were so many different kinds of historians and environmental experts on our tour that there was almost no moment when I wasn't learning something about something. Our van driver is one of the pre-eminent experts on the western tribes, so he knew a thing or two. This particular ruin is on the rim of the canyon where farming was possible. The winds can be fierce, there is plenty of snow in the winter and the water resource is rainfall. Yet it was a good quality of life with plenty to eat, lots to do, good housing and strong cultural definitions.

Our lunch stop was at the Main Interpretive Centre where Steve Pyn, another brilliant expert on deserts, fires and the Canyon gave a quick over view of what we were looking at.

There is a “Trail of Time” that attempts to put into context how long it took for the canyon to develop.

In this sculpture, the black bottom rock is called basement rock (granite) that lifted up to form the mountains eons ago. Each successive layer is a younger and younger rock formation until the top, which is lime. On the trail, each meter represents a span of time, from one year to 1 million years. It was a long walk! Every so often a beautiful specimen of the rocks formed at that moment in history is on display. This rock shows water erosion over granite, after several million years. Thankfully, I was walking behind Ranger Jane, who knew where the community room was and the pizza. Another panel discussion (I confess I was a bit tired of the talking by this time, but again, the information was so interesting, it was hard to sneak under the table for a nap.)

We finally found our night time accommodations, had a snort of scotch and hit the hay. Because we had to be up and at 'em for another full day.

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