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Friday, August 20, 2010 : Grand Canyon, Little Colorado, Page

 

Once again, we have to get up early. We have booked an early-morning overfly of Grand Canyon from Grand Canyon Airport. We are weighed, to better balance the plane, then we are issued boarding passes, much like a real flight ! At about 9am, we take off and head to Grand Canyon. We are not yet 5 minutes into our flight, and we already enjoy a spectacular view.

 

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon, westward view

 

During this flight, about an hour and a half, we are going to see that, as the sun goes up in the sky, rocks are going to show different shades of color. I may have already seen this show, I'm not growing tired of it.

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Grand Canyon, pale green rocks

Grand Canyon, eastward view. Early morning sun gives rocks that pale green shade

The weather is excellent, only a few white clouds with absolutely no chance of rain can be seen in the sky.

 

We now fly over the easternmost part of the park, almost at the edge of the Navajo territory. The pilot flies low enough for us to enjoy the sight as much as we can.

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Grand Canyon, confluence of Colorado and Little Colorado

Confluence of Little Colorado and Colorado

 

We have made a turn around the confluence where the Little Colorado flows into the Colorado. If we believe the picture, the Little Colorado, though much smaller, brings in most of the sediments that give the Colorado its brownish shade downstream.

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Grand Canyon, North Rim overfly

North Rim overfly, southward view

 

The plane has taken a bit more altitude, to overfly North Rim, the northern side of Grand Canyon. Most of the tourist installations, including the airport, are located at South Rim, on the other side. North Rim is about 2,000 ft higher than South Rim, and its forest is thicker.

 

For those who run away from touristic places in high season, North Rim is a very good choice, much less crowded by visitors. It can be reached from the north, by AZ-67. North Rim is about 10 miles away from South Rim in straight line, and about 150 miles away by road.

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Grand Canyon, muddy Colorado

Colorado carries loads of sediments worn off the canyon sides

 

We fly over the river, which carries lots of muddy sediments taken off its edges and its tributary's, the Little Colorado. Those sediments are gradually obstructing the mouth of the river, in the gulf of Baja California in Mexico.

 

On this picture, we can see that the river is frequently cut by narrow and dangerous rapids. A Colorado descent cannot be improvised, and has to be supervised by highly experienced guides. Several companies offer this activity.

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Grand Canyon Airport

Back to Grand Canyon airport

 

We're finally back at the airport. As can be seen on the picture, the plane, a DHC-6 Twin Otter, has been designed for the specific purpose of offering the absolute best view : top wing and huge windows.

 

During the whole trip, our headphones continuously broadcast a comment (in 4 languages, including French !). Smart idea, to mitigate turboprop noise.

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Grand Canyon, South Rim, Yavapai Point

Grand Canyon at ground level, Yavapai Point, South Rim

 

We go on with a thorough visit of most Canyon points of view at South Rim. At Yavapai Point, unobstructed by trees or anything, the view is panoramic.

 

As many other formations in the region, the Canyon is very young, perhaps as little as 6 million years. In geological terms, that's an eyeblink.

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Grand Canyon, El Tovar Hotel

El Tovar Hotel, a remarkable renovation

 

A bit further, along the railway terminal (yes, there are trains in Grand Canyon !), is the El Tovar Hotel, the oldest, and one of the toniest, of the park. It may have been thoroughly renovated in 2005, it still exhibits a delicious turn-of-the-century (the 20th !) style. When they are well inspired, Americans are extremely skilled at  preserving their past.

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Grand Canyon, old hopi settlement

Hopi House

 

Just opposite El Tovar Hotel is Hopi House. The Hopi were a Native American people at the time of our Middle Ages, before the Navajo and other tribes thrived. They were not nomads, but herders.

 

This building is much more recent. it was designed in 1904 by architect Mary Jane Colter.

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Grand Canyon, vintage bench

A vintage bench !

 

This bench purposefully preserved in its vintage state may be the oldest of the park. It's above all the only one and, as such, carefully protected. The other benches in the park are much more recent, and in pristine condition.

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Grand Canyon, Hopi Point

Hopi Point

 

We walk along the trail that lines the rim of the Canyon, close to the cliff which, at times, is really abrupt. At Hopi Point, we visit a small bookstore whose windows open directly above the Canyon ... at an absolute vertical !

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Grand Canyon, Grand View Point

Grand View Point

 

After walking along a good portion of the Rim trail, we go back to the Village using the shuttle. Here, too, a shuttle service mitigates road saturation inside the park, and we will use it extensively during the day. It is the best choice : leave the car in one of the huge parking lots, and hop from point of view to point of view using the shuttle.

 

Then we go for some shopping and drive toward the east of the park, where we came in the day before. Other points of view are waiting for us, including Grand View Point, panoramic and with a vertical cliff as well. Somewhere within this chaos of rocks is a trailhead leading to the bottom of the canyon. Going down to the river is possible, count about 30 hours walk, roundtrip. Bear in mind that the height difference is 5,000 ft, and trails follow a naturally moderate slope along the cliff.

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Grand Canyon, Anasazi kiva

A kiva, a ceremonial house used by the Anasazi

 

Further on the road, we stop at the ruins of an Anasazi village. The Anasazi were another people in the region. They left few traces, and their history is not well known. Their trace gets lost at the time the Hopi became prevalent in the area. It is not known whether they were pushed away, eliminated, or assimilated into the newly arrived people.

 

The large kiva, shown in this picture, was a ceremonial room. Imagine a stone dome, where the population gathered. Each side of the kiva were other rooms, to be used as granaries or dwellings. The Anasazi are supposed to have lived a mostly agricultural existence.

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Grand Canyon, Humphreys Peak

Humphreys Peak, highest summit in Arizona, 12,633 ft

 

At the same stop, a clearing between the trees shows us Humphreys Peak, the highest summit in Arizona, at 12,633 ft. This ancient volcano, whose last eruption dates back about 1,000 years, is 48 miles away from us, straight line !

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Grand Canyon, Moran Point

Grand Canyon, Moran Point

 

We proceed on the eastern park road. Our next stop is Moran point, a very spectacular point of view on a narrower part of the canyon. Here, there are no trailheads, the cliff is really too steep !

 

At our last stop, we can see an ambulance, most likely there to discourage the most adventurous tourists to walk the trails that go to the bottom of the canyon without an adequate preparation. A sign even reminds the story of that very experienced female marathonian, who died anyway for underestimating the difficulties of the canyon and overstating her own skills to overcome them.

 

Little by little, we are getting closer to the east entrance of the park. We have stopped at every point of view. And, with almost 200 pictures in 2 days, the selection for this site has been particularly arduous !

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Little Colorado Canyon

Little Colorado Canyon

 

Shortly after the park exit, we stop at Little Colorado Canyon. It is not a national park, but a site directly managed by the Navajo nation, a community that transcends the limits of the former reservations. We will meet the Navajo nation again the next day at Monument Valley.

 

As seen above, the Little Colorado is a tributary of the Colorado River. It flows through a canyon that is not as deep as Grand Canyon, but even narrower. We cannot certify it but it is possible that sunshine never directly lights the Little Colorado, given such a narrow gorge !

 

Back to the parking lot, we grease the local business by buying a few trinkets from Navajo merchants.

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The Painted Desert and the Petrified Dunes

The Painted Desert and the petrified dunes

 

A little further, we are back on US-89, heading to Page. We cross the beautiful Painted Desert again, with the petrified dunes at the foreground of the picture. These dunes have been formed by sand eroded off the rock by the wind, and pushed into these curious waves.

 

We make it to Page late in the afternoon and check in at the Rodeway Inn. Today, we have a little time for a quick bath in the swimming pool.

 

I spend some time looking for a guided tour of Mounument Valley. Google is my friend and, after 2 or 3 attempts, I find us a friendly guide, with whom I make an appointment for the next day at 1pm, Navajo Nation time. Unlike the rest of Arizona, the Navajo Nation uses daylights saving time.

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