Caught the 6am “Hiker’s Express” to the South Kaibab Trailhead. About half the riders were American and the other half European (primarily French and German from the rudimentary knowledge I have of continental languages). There is also a 4am and 5am express, but I suspected for the “warm up” hike I was doing it wasn’t necessary to get up that early…yet. The recommendation is that you are either at your day’s destination or out of the canyon by 10am. We were dropped off about 6:30 and I got out of there at something like 8:40. There’s the alternative of hiking on the other end of the day—evening—which I may end up doing if and when I do an overnight trip. I saw at least seven more little lizards on the hike, along with various birds, chipmunks and squirrels.
Going down is deceptively easy; it was hard to stop at the recommended day trip turn-around at Cedar Ridge. I ended up going just below that to a saddle between monoliths. A guy from Rhode Island and I hop scotched for awhile on the trek back up. People on the way down looked breezy (as I suppose I did), almost in disbelief at all of us headed the opposite direction with out tongues hanging out. Their perspective will change!
It’s only 10 miles as the crow flies across the canyon, and about six to the river, but by the time you splash in the Colorado and turn around to go back the heat has settled and going up is NOT the easy part. There are signs, almost humorous in nature, at every trailhead, “What goes down must come back up.”
On the shuttle back I spotted a senior citizen at one of the stops wearing socks pulled up halfway his shins and a shirt that read “Tough Men Wear Pink.” Tough men also built the trail I had just walked upon, tough men were doing some nasty job at the pit toilets at Cedar Ridge, tough men were using shovels and a jack hammer at an archaeology dig along the trail. My lingering question is this, what do tough women wear?
Rode my bike through a herd of juvenile elk and Russian tourists on the Greenway as I made my way to the South Rim for a read in the shade. The trick is to find a ledge that goes off the Rim trail for a ways since most people will not diverge from the trail. I had a few folks wander in (one on his cell phone talking real estate) but they were respectful of my space and view.
Returned to the trailer for more reading and fell asleep in the “easy chair.” If only it had a foot rest. It is rather small as far as easy chairs go so one gets somewhat folded up in the thing. Finished Desert Solitaire. Abbey had me riveted through several accounts including the story about Charles Graham and Albert Husk—uranium prospecting and murder, where Abbey and a companion explore Glen Canyon (prior to it becoming flooded by the Dam), Abbey and yet another buddy do “The Maze,” his attempt to capture the moon-eyed horse, and when Abbey goes a little bit nuts during his stay in Havasu Canyon.
I drove out Desert View Rd to the Watchtower, (cautiously circumventing poorly parked tourists out capturing more elk with their telephoto lenses) which was still partially under renovation, but afforded spectacular architecture and views nonetheless. It was the furthest east I had been and offered an opportunity to see some of the same buttes and plateaus from different angles. The inside of the Watchtower is magical. Mary Colter had Hopi artists recreate petroglyphs and murals on the walls using colored sand and traditional dyes.
While watching the sunset at Lipan Point I saw my first lizard (a small one—no Gila monsters) and endured a large family from India capturing the moment on camcorder while the children squabbled over the prettiest pebbles, some of them lobbed over the side of the canyon. I kept hoping this rather forward raven would swoop in and scare them (the children) back to the car, but no such luck. Ahh, sharing primitive moments with the masses, nothing like it.
Tucked out of sight of tourists is a beige building off Albright Avenue which houses over 200,000 museum artifacts. It is not routinely open or advertised to the public but is available for toursupon request in reasonably sized groups. Opening the door you are greeted by a tinny tune announcing your presence to museum staff. I was joined by a grandmotherly volunteer, archaeology intern, two from the fire crew, and a group from the SCA (Student Conservation Association). Standing in what serves as their lobby, a large display case houses a 50lb+ clay pot found in the Park by human types who thought they could sell it to an art dealer, they in turn, being honest folk, notified NPS who went and retrieved it. The curator who led the tour stated that the current trend in collection development was to leave artifacts in situ unless they are threatened by human disruption and theft. Accompanying the pot were a variety of items including a chuckwalla, preserved agave plant, and a species of skunk smaller than your average Pepe Le Peu, with spots arranged in several parallel stripes running the length of its body. On the wall facing the entrance were a sampling of dust jackets announcing Grand Canyon’s affair with high and lowbrow literature including Brighty, Ten Who Dared, and my favorite, a kitschy romance, The Nurse from Grand Canyon, featuring your usual light-skinned variety female and a swarthy man standing behind her with a protective hand on her arm.
Further in we found the natural history collection, which began with the shellacked skull of a giant ground sloth. We proceeded to a patch of dirty hair, and finally a generous mound of dung…which led to a story I had read about in The Incredible Grand Canyon: Cliffhangers and Curiosities. This entails a human explorer in Rampart Cave who threw aside his flaming torch when his examination of the area was complete. Being the ignorant type who would probably flick a burning cigarette out the window in high fire season, or leave his campfire burning, neither did he recognize that a burning torch in a cave was not impervious to disaster, especially when that particular cave was filled with thousands of pounds of 40,000 year old ground sloth poo.
Apparently, even at a ripe old age, it holds its smell, which is perhaps why the explorer abruptly left the cave to begin with. Well, that desiccated dung smoldered for a year, and attempts by the Park Service to put it out was met with public outcry. To an equally ignorant public, it doesn’t make sense to spend thousands of dollars and manpower on putting out flaming turds, but what they didn’t have an appreciation for was that the cave was a treasure trove of artifacts offering clues to our much pondered past. Sadly, many of these clues were destroyed.
There was an arsenic laced cabinet of taxidermy, and a variety of fossils which I can’t recall the names of—hollow shells and imprints of creatures that lived in an aquatic environment. One of those things to ponder as you walk within the canyon, dying of thirst, you collapse upon a layer of limestone to find the tunnels of sea worms and ancestral barnacles staring you in the face, the suggestion of water haunting your swollen tongue. It was revealed that the squirrel bodies were often used in still photography since the real fluff balls—like birds in constant motion—were not interested in posing for their picture. Later, at the Yavapai Observatory in gift shop #27 I thought the image of a tufted eared Kaibab Squirrel on a magnet looked suspiciously glassy eyed.
On to bent twig figures thought to date back 9,000 some years. It is somewhat of a debate whether these animal shaped effigies made of willow were toys or mystical charms meant to bring a successful hunt. Folsom and Clovis among the projectile points, a stone axe, wooden ladles painstakingly repaired with agave fiber when threatened to split, bowls, a man’s fiber shoe, and a colander of sorts meant for keeping stored seeds from getting mildew—one of six known to exist. Toward the end of the cultural history lecture the lights went out and the back-up system (significantly dimmer) went on. I expected the ghosts of miners and Ancestral Puebloans to rise from the objects still heavy with their essence. A thunderstorm passed overhead.
I ventured out, past the mural on the wall representing the nine foot wingspan of a condor, past the delicate nurse, and the petrified lizards. Into the rain I went. Nothing is delicate in the desert. These rain drops were the size of satellite dishes.
Next stop was The Shrine of the Ages, a building under remodel with unique architecture (the only mundane architecture in the Park being tourist restroom facilities, and every last structure in Market Plaza adjacent to Mather Campground), housing offices and a chapel. A cemetery abuts this building where old and new settlers to the area are laid side by side. A blacksmith, a ranger, an artist, a mother.
At the Yavapai Observatory I found a cluster of tourists both marveling and cursing at the mist filled chasm. Points of light shone on plateau and butte, a fork of lightning jolted my sensibilities. No one oohed or aahed so I felt that mine were the only human eyes that saw it. My camera batteries ran low as I tried to capture what no lens can—the feeling of presence. Ancient stories entombed in rock.
I wondered if the gallon of milk I purchased on my way home would some day be documented in accounts written by future humanoids. I now sit in front of a glowing screen, paling in comparison to the round glowing rock orbiting the pines outside my trailer window.
Adventure Hike with EE Ranger Amala this morning at Hermit’s Rest. We had about 18 people, parents and kids put together. The family program is geared toward 9-14 year olds, but we had some young ‘uns out there, one possibly as young as 6. They were troopers, crowding Amala up front with the parents trailing behind calling out warnings and reminders to, “let the Ranger go first!” Hermit’s Rest is only accessible by shuttle bus, being an employee on official business in an official vehicle, by foot, or by bike. It’s about eight miles from the Village. Mary Colter built Hermit’s Rest which has a stunning stone fireplace. It is named after a guy who lived on the west end of south rim, and yes he enjoyed his solitude. Amala lectured the group about hiking safely, drinking water, stopping to rest.
To the delight of the children she had a spray bottle filled with water which she periodically sprayed on anyone who asked. Delicious. At every trailhead I’ve been to there’s been an article about a Boston Marathon finisher who died in the canyon because she didn’t take enough food and water and tried to bite off more trail than they could do in current conditions. Her friend made it out alive. I like that they posted this (at the request of the deceased’s family) because it personalizes the concept of what may happen to you if you don’t go prepared. Just from the tiny section of trail we hiked today I decided that one cannot carry enough water below the rim. When they say it’s hot they mean that for every 1,000 feet you drop in elevation it gets 4 degrees warmer. If it’s already 85 on the rim at 7,000 feet and the river lies at something like 1,200…Well, there’s a story problem for you kids.
I submitted paperwork to stay in the employee bunkhouse at Indian Gardens (about 3,500 feet) in early July. There’s a regular kitchen with all the amenities so this is a huge weight off the sweaty ol’ back, or more room to haul additional water.
Back to the hike. Amala had us examine, pinyon pine, juniper, prickly pear, yucca, and agave. We also took a break at a fossil bed where the kids used wet sponges to highlight the ancient sea creatures, since it made them show up better in the piercing sunlight. It was the first time I officially went “below the rim,” so that was exciting. I was heartened by not seeing or hearing a single deadly creature. When I hike though, I’ll be starting at like 5am or before when it’s still cool. Scorpions and rattlesnakes like cool too…
Second half of my day I was back in the cool envelope of the library where I learned a few more new tasks, and reviewed how to handle ILL materials through the OCLC service. I guy came in asking about hiking by moonlight and wanting to know if we had a photocopy machine because he was too cheap to buy a map. There’s a full moon tomorrow night. He printed one off the NPS site for free, so that satisfied him.
I checked my PO box after work, USPS hasn’t come through for me yet. I visited the General Store for the first time and see why Betty doesn’t bother to drive to Williams or Flagstaff every week. It’s like a regular supermarket, granted, a higher priced supermarket, but with my magic green bag (just for locals) I got a 10% discount. I balanced hamburger meat for burritos, grapes, plums, apples on my cycle home, lamenting only that they were out of vanilla extract. I am fixed on making an orange julius with my borrowed blender. For now, water is gourmet. Ours comes from Roaring Springs on the North Rim piped across the canyon to the Village, where they keep a week’s worth at a time in supply tanks.
Now to some entertaining literature for the evening. Last night is was a tale about the first and last time anyone ever tried to herd deer. The famed western author, Zane Grey, wrote a book about it prior to the event, a film crew was on hand, and various authority figures were convinced that herding wild deer was possible. Why were they herding them? Well, men had killed off all their natural predators and so they were trying to “manage them.” Wildlife management. What a joke. Needless to say, the newspaper headline read, “Kaibab Deer Refuse to Herd Animals Become Wild and Stampede Riders’ Lines.” Really? They became wild all of a sudden? Yes indeed, the Great Kaibab Deer Drive was an astounding flop. In my next post I’ll tell you what really happened to Brighty, the famed burro of Grand Canyon.
I opened the library all by my lonesome this morning as Betty was showing some relatives the sights.
Steady trickle of users all day. The department head of Environmental Education came in and introduced his Teacher-Ranger-Teacher, her name is Jen and teaches here at the GC Village School. Two law enforcement Rangers came in to register vehicles for the bypass gate at the entrances. One was in training from the Canyon de Chelly, and the other, a beautiful (blonde) woman, helped me put my flat hat together, as the straps and bands had me completely befuddled. There were at least four different sun-browned couples in their 20s and 30s that came in to use the computers, some from Europe, some from the US. I was momentarily jealous of their intent planning until I reminded myself that I had no desire to see the inside of an automobile for a very long time, that I in fact had arrived at my destination…unless I may soon venture to Navajo Nation, Flagstaff or Sedona.
A gentleman from the UK spent most of the afternoon in the library trying to figure out car rentals, as in what was the cheapest. I convinced him that he needed to visit Portland during the course of his travels as he was ultimately bound as far north as Vancouver, B.C. I advised he take in the Rose Garden, Saturday Market on the Park Blocks, Powell’s, and either Alberta, Mississippi, or Hawthorne on the east side. He said he was into music so I told him about Storm Large, Dante’s and all the hip indie venues.
I made headway on my storytime lesson plan, fact checking and utilizing the stellar collection of resources we have on local and regional history, flora and fauna, wildlife, ecology, and modern First Nations perspectives. I helped two NPS folks with searches, one on native plants and their uses, the other on the history of the Hermit Trail.
Avoided the crowds today. From the trailer to the greenway (elk infested bike trail) to headquarters and back again. Fell asleep reading Desert Solitaire.
I rode my bike to work this morning and saw three elk on the way. Those that remain tourists (running as they came from their hastily parked vehicles on the shoulder) asked me (apparently I looked like I knew where I was going this morning) a question like a bad pick-up line in a bar: “Do they come here often?” I replied merrily, “They’re always here!” I contemplated the truth of that statement for the rest of my ride and decided that it was in fact entirely true. Elk live here, this is their habitat, they’re always here…just not when being charged by men with expensive DSLR cameras. I can’t wait for the commute tomorrow morning to see if the lens men have set up a stakeout.
Attended a brief meeting in the courtyard this morning where Betty introduced me to a hodgepodge of people who work at HQ. IT straightened out my govt. computer log-in, apparently it is commonplace to have snafus when transferring from one park to another. Somehow my info coming from Grand Teton got a kink in it so I’m still waiting on my govt. e-mail access, “so you can see who died” Betty said. In the Tetons they would e-mail a daily digest of the precious day’s incident reports, which was highly entertaining…and sometimes tragic. They don’t do that here in Grand Canyon but I get the impression that e-mail still gives you the insider’s knowledge about what really goes on around here, besides the Italians spilling ice cream on their shoes.
Research Library lesson of the day: While the last few hundred books are waiting to be barcoded Betty still uses an old school system of circulation. Old school means cards in pockets with the name of the person borrowing it, card goes in file according to call number, then you enter the borrower’s name, call number, and title into an Excel spreadsheet entitled “loaned.” To check in, the card is found, placed back in the pocket, then the patron info cut from the loaned spreadsheet and pasted into a “returned 2010” sheet. Clunky, but when your collection isn’t on the same page you don’t have a whole lot of choices. Growing up in electronic libraries there was even something weirdly exciting about this manual process.
Every NPS employee I’ve talked to raves about Betty’s service, efficiency, and knack for finding the obscurest of information. One of her marketing strategies is to send a monthly e-mail to everyone in the park with a list of periodicals that have arrived along with an index of their contents. This pathfinder either includes featured stories or those pertinent to the Southwest and GCNP. It is not always as simple as copying the table of contents, because often items of interest are not included there and the feature titles are often ambiguous. So, it’s my dream task, browsing magazines like National Parks, Scientific American, High Country News, and summarizing in a pithy sentence what exactly the nature of the information is.
I observed Ranger Graci’s storytime today, she read a book on condors, passed around replica realia and even had one brave dad dress up as a condor. I then moved on to Ron Brown’s fabulous Condor Talk at Lookout Studio. He was riveting, had the audience laughing, clapping, and held the kids’ attention to even though this was more geared toward adults. NPS makes a distinction between the Interpretive Programs and the Environmental Education programs, the latter being more family friendly and engaging for kids, and if your kid starts screaming during the former the Germans are going to give you dirty looks. I also met the Ranger responsible for doing all the multimedia on the GCNP webpage, such as Ranger Minutes and podcasts. I applauded him for having the most media rich website of any in NPS.
Oh my, a rust colored cat is digging a, er, cat hole right outside my kitchen window as I type this. Apparently the wildlife around here is also domestic. The cat hole of my day was smelling cigarettes. I think I might go on a campaign to convince NPS that they need to ban this practice. There’s a big forest fire near Flagstaff, at least ban it in the summer months when most of the millions are here visiting and when the land is at its driest. Good excuse.
Embarrassingly I drove to Park Headquarters this morning with my bike still attached to the top of my car. Will my status as a helpless tourist never end? Not that I forgot about it (as one is apt to do about bikes on top of cars) but rather I could not get the latch off the back tire. Thankfully Betty hooked me up with a Ranger who had probably helped many a tourist get out of jams, and together we got the thing off. My carbon footprint should be significantly lighter on my commute tomorrow morning! Betty started off by giving me a driving tour of Canyon Village, describing useful shortcuts in the woods, revealing the location of the employee rec center, laundry, and the like. She also related an amusing incident while near the Grand Canyon School (which boasts a graduating class of about 12 per year) pointing out that the high fence around the soccer field does not keep out the elk and that many a game has been called due to the wapiti’s attempt to start cutting the grass at the most inopportune moment.
I got a refresher course on the Library of Congress call number system—ridiculous—Dewey, for all his faults, has a much more logical, understandable system (misogyny and ethnocentrism aside). The Research Library boasts the largest collection I’ve seen yet of NPS libraries. Betty approximates there are about 12,000 titles. Bigger than my school library. Okay so I’ve only been privy to collections at Rocky Mountain and Grand Teton, but neither of them had the capacity to ILL materials all over the country for free. They are several hundred more titles away from having all materials entered and searchable in OCLC’s WorldCat. If you didn’t know, this is an online database of library collections from all over the world. One stop shopping for those in need of that elusive title needed for research. GCNP subscribes to an impressive amount of periodicals, some of which date back to the 1800s. All environmental impact statements and research reports are also catalogued, which is something my previous supervisor, Alice Hart, at Grand Teton, was trying to get her co-workers on board with. Located in a far corner of Park Headquarters, far from the madding crowd on the rim, wayward travelers come to use two public access computers and the wifi, which is also accessible in the zen-like courtyard, the heart of the headquarters space. Unfortunately, the library position is on a four-year contract, which for Betty, is up this September. If she wishes to continue working she was to reapply and compete with 400+ applicants, many of whom have more federal GS points than she due to service in the military and other federal job experience. The position is also on a contract rotation due to the fragile nature of funding. As one who was recently a laid-off librarian, I can identify with that peril. Who will greet the couple from England, Germany, or South Africa? Who will care for the collection and preserve our heritage? Having an MLS is not required for the position, a minimum of one term in a library graduate program is. The problem lies in cutting corners, bringing in people with dubious skills or none at all with no direction from someone who is highly trained and certified in the art and science of librarianship. When someone does come along that knows what’s up in library world they’re often stuck cleaning up nightmares, messes, and huge backlogs of work. Then, just as some headway is being made, the funding is pulled or drastically reduced again and the vicious cycle continues. Millions of people flock to this place from all over the globe. GCNP would not be what it is today without a body of work, documenting its complex history, cultivated and cared for.
I was browsing through Hopi House today and came across some rare pottery, rare in that the art of making it was lost in the 1970s; presumably because the oral librarians of its craft passed on without having successfully passed the torch. These ancient and modern storytellers and culture-keepers are in jeopardy of being dishonored if subsequent generations do not do their part. Some knowledge is sacred and is passed only to other qualified individuals. I see an almost eerie parallel here between oral and written culture. Both types of cultural librarians must be encouraged, celebrated, and in some cases marketed. To a degree it saddens me, and its even a little bit scandalous the degree to which the parks sell themselves; but then, I’m from the John Muir train of thought in that conservation and preservation trump terms like: use, resource (in an economic sense), and renewable (a misleading term if there ever was one).
After lunch Betty sent me out to observe the 1:00pm Ranger Storytime on the front lawn of El Tovar Hotel. I will eventually be doing these at least once a week. After that I was delighted with Mary Colter’s Hopi House, designed for the Hopi people to live, sell, and demonstrate their art. It is my favorite building by far. I then made it to the former Verkamp’s Curio Shop, now part memorabilia and interp displays, part Grand Canyon Association run bookstore and gift shop. Come to think of it, I don’t think there is a major building I have been in yet (besides my own trailer and Park HQ) that wasn’t selling something. Oh the horror. But who am I to judge? The GCA are the ones paying my salary while I’m here. From the porch of Verkamp’s I heard a Ranger talk on the Park’s human history—the Reader’s Digest version. On our walk and talk we also passed by the poor soul whose glamorous job it was to be the elk pooper scooper on the hotel lawns. We also learned that several years ago, when there was even less precipitation than usual, some desert bighorn sheep came up on a regular basis to eat the hotel grass and drink from the sprinkler heads.
I ended my day by going through the Research Library’s juvenile collection, feeling like the proverbial kid in a candy store stacking up potential candidates to create a program around for my upcoming storytimes on the lawn…hopefully after the pooper scooper has been there.
Ahh, where to begin on this day? The man in the hotel elevator this morning with gin blossoms on his nose sadly failed at making small talk. Making jokes about your wife to another lady is always going to end awkwardly. We of the female species tend to stick together unless we’re vying for a certain specimen of the male species. They were returning from a weekend in the giant water drain, otherwise known as Las Vegas.
Successful trip to Safeway included slamming a bag of “crushed” ice onto the parking lot since it had apparently morphed into a stubborn block while in the freezer. This solicited amused looks from the locals, probably dreaming about the iced smoothie they were purchasing ingredients for. I unfortunately, did not bring my blender with me on this trip. I then proceeded to backtrack on Hwy 93 in search of a Wells Fargo I had spotted the evening before. Everything is cheaper with cash. Note to self: explore city streets thoroughly before committing to a highway that only has periodic “cross overs” for lost tourists. Granted I drove right to it after re-entering town the same way I had the previous night. Now being on historic Route 66 with a 2000 Subaru Outback should not warrant strangers talking to you about your car, if I were driving my Mom’s ’71 Plymouth Duster, it would. As the small world turns however, the man waiting for his wife at the ATM asked me what year my very dusty, bug spattered green machine was. Their other car was an ’02 model of mine.
The storied road is popular with Harleys, but I’ve found that any destination in the West, be it a swap meet or the big convention in North Dakota, is a perfect excuse to ride. I’ve been on a motorcycle, and I have to say that there is something attractive, romantic even, about riding in the open air. I passed up a photo-op in Hackberry where one such pod—what do you call a posse of Harley riders?—was posing in front of the General Store there.
The section I drove between Kingman and Seligman was scenic and mostly empty of other vehicles. I was surprised there wasn’t more traffic. It was a nice break from the rat race of Escalades on Interstate 40. For some reason I think that traveling solo negatively influences my tendency to make pit stops. I get into this zone of pushing on through with the anticipation of another opportunity for discovery (and photography) around the next corner. Although, looking through a lens alters your experience of a place. Just as observing the countryside from the back of a “Hog” is (mostly) limitless. and looking out a car windshield limiting.
The singular highlight along Route 66 besides the land itself were the Burma Shave signs. Some of the signs in a series were missing so filling in the blanks was a great way to pass the time. One stand out series I recall was, “Slow down Pa, sakes alive! Ma missed signs, four and five!” The majority of the signs were about speeding, like this one, or drunk driving. They aim to put the fun back in obeying the law!
I knew gas would be more expensive as I drew closer to Grand Canyon so I’m glad I stopped when it was $3.19 versus $3.43 in Tusayan. For comparison, it was $2.79 back in Kingman. I also expected this huge lineup at the GCNP entrance station, but it was no longer than entering Grand Teton on a weekend. I picked up my trailer key at Park Headquarters, met Betty, my supervisor and headed over to the Pinyon Park residence area. My living accommodation for the next eight weeks is a white single-wide trailer with a fake rock skirt. Very classy. A kitchen and dining area separates two bedroom and bath units on opposite ends of the structure. It’s way more posh than the mouse-ridden cabin I stayed in last summer. But while that was rustic and quaint, this is basic and well-worn. I must say that the kitchen counter-top is in better shape than the one in my apartment back home and is a novelty to cook on a gas range. I made it through most of my unpacking when a wave of exhaustion made up of a whirlwind end to the school-year, just having driven 1500 miles, and altitude caught up with me. I promptly abandoned sorting my socks and crashed on my new bed, dead to the world for an hour and twenty minutes. A barking dog awoke me, or was it…wait! I arrived and I haven’t even seen the canyon yet! I was glad for the kitchen items I did bring since the cupboards were basically bare on arrival. (Betty had warned me of this)
After an angel hair pasta dinner I ventured forth to the Bright Angel Lodge, trailhead, Kolb Studio, Lookout Studio and the Rim Trail. On my way I passed near the train depot and the mule corral. Trains? Mule rides? Is this Disneyland? No, in the National Park Service’s defense, they seek to accommodate one and all. Without the support of one and all these spectacular places would not have the degree of protection they do. Ironically, without the unfortunate amount of development and accessibility I am willing to place a bet that there would be less support for their protection. Educating the public is often a slow and painful process (I should know), but once armed with knowledge, the average citizen can cause an uproar when exploitation runs rampant—as was beginning to occur in the early history of white men encountering the canyon. I do believe in the democratic process. These Parks belong to all of us and none of us.
For you free market types there was plenty of commerce going on. I couldn’t walk 25 yards without being ushered into another gift shop. I paid my dues to the economy and added to my personal library: Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey (I’ve been meaning to read this for ages, and now I can at the Shrine of the Ages; I am the Grand Canyon: The story of the Havasupai People, by Stephen Hirst; The Incredible Grand Canyon: Cliffhangers and Curiosities from America’s Greatest Canyon, by Scott Thybony; and Carving Grand Canyon: Evidence, Theories, and Mystery, by Wayne Ranney.
I have to share this bit I just read in The Incredible Grand Canyon about a park naturalist identifying the pink rattler for the first time in 1929:
“He spotted a rattler with an unusual pink color suggesting it might be n unnamed variety. Being a highly trained professional, he grabbed it with his bare hand and hiked out. And by the way, that is how most people get bit.” (Side note—while browsing in the bookstore I also discovered that most people who get bit by rattlesnakes are male, ages 18-35, and intoxicated. I was somewhat relieved to discover this) “Back at his car, Eddie couldn’t find a box or sack to put the snake in, so he held it out the window with his left hand and steered with his right. Unable to shift, he rattled up the dirt road in low gear until he reached the ranger station. The snake proved to be the first specimen collected of a type found only in the Grand Canyon.” Amazing.
So what was it like? Seeing it for the first time? The usual adjectives come to mind: awe, solemnity, reverence. The wind seemed to mute itself and even the tourists spoke in hushed tones. The vastness of it causes you to blink once or twice, waiting for the brain to register and comprehend what you are really seeing. The real. There it is.
On my walk back to the single-wide a woman walking her black lab looked apologetically at me for her dog’s obnoxious barking. The dog was in awe. A cow and bull elk stood quietly in the pines. We surround them, and they surround us.
If today had a theme billboard it would be the Virgin Rivers Hotel/Casino/Bingo establishment in Mesquite, Nevada. In addition to their claims of $25/night rooms, $5 steak dinner, and $2 black jack table, the biggest impression they made was with their intense marketing campaign flitting past with the tumbleweeds as regularly as the Cadillac SUVs with California plates. The climax came in the traverse down the mountains outside Las Vegas where I crossed the namesake Virgin River itself a number of times as to determine that subsequent crossings were not so, er, virgin.
Other memorable signs: Freedom Legal—“Just Sue ‘Em,” “A colonoscopy would’ve saved my Dad,” and one too many real estate broker images with names like Jay, Suzy, and the mother of them all, Tim Tennis. Perhaps my tittering over the latter’s name was due to the long hours of my own company and the desperation for anything to break the monotony. An antelope broke the monotony. I thought it was a dun-colored cow at first, but it was all alone out there, which warranted further looking, and cows, well, um, they usually hang out in herds. Who knows, this even-toed ungulate looked a bit forlorn, maybe it missed the bus.
So Ogden seemed like a happenin’ place, being a backdoor community of SLC. Everyone was out biking and jogging on my departure from town. After Salt Lake however I wondered if anyone else lived in the state beside that particular valley. One must be aware of the misconceptions driving on an interstate can bring. That’s what makes the signs so enticing. Who lives in Ephraim, Manderfield, and Panguitch? Panguitch sounds like the noise your shoes make when they get water in them.
The 80mph “test zone” was all very well, but with a car loaded down and a bike up top creating wind drag there wasn’t much point. Cruise control at 75 is the sweet spot. The section between Cedar City and St. George was particularly scenic, but that’s a no brainer when 5 major National Parks lay just east of there.
Las Vegas is soulless. When I was there for a half marathon a couple of years ago it struck me as such, and while standing in line for the women’s restroom key I had the same revelation. The characters in the Sinclair’s mini mart seemed like caricatures of themselves. Really? You smell like an ashtray, b.o., and you’re carrying a case of Coors under your arm? Every bathroom I had visited prior to then, involved keyless entries. Apparently even the bathrooms have a nefarious reputation in Sin City. It’s like connecting the dots. Billboards around the city broadcast the opportunity to fire a “real live fully auto” weapon; driving out of the city I saw a truck with the following sticker: “my other auto is a .45”
Hoover Dam was a zoo. I embraced my touron tendencies and tried parking in the tour bus section much to the chagrin of a harried polo-shirted employee. I was obsessed with the signs about clearance due to a scrape I got into up in Yellowstone. Embarrassment is only avoided with more embarrassment, although I was briefly vindicated when another touron in a Honda Element followed me. My obsession was for naught, because, besides the fact that the Hoover Dam is one of the Wonders of the Modern World, its cliff-side parking structure also boasts the highest ceilings of any I’ve been in. So, my first big photo-op of the trip and I look into the screen to find finger-like shadows covering the image. Drat! The Germans and the Japanese will be posting theirs to Facebook and I won’t because the pressure of being a tourist in a human zoo gawking at a ridiculous amount of concrete prevented me from noticing that my shutter/lens covering thingy (highly technical term) had simply become flustered in the den of turbidity which is my car. I figured this out after touring the facilities and fixed it with a sheepish poke of a finger.
Hmm, you know you’re on the Rez when you see decrepit trailers scattered among the cacti, and street signs can’t be anything but tongue in cheek when you see that First Street looks to be more wash than road a no one could be living in that trailer anyway because there are so many windows boarded up—could there? Welcome to the least talked about poverty demographic in America. Invisible nations within our borders.
I found Chloride, touted as a ghost/historical mining town in my guide book. The only ghost I encountered was one who told me I had to make a $15 minimum purchase to use a debit card. Mom, you’re getting an impromptu jar of prickly pear jelly when I get home. Refreshingly, there was no roadkill on the way to Chloride. A very live jackrabbit crossed my path as well as a family of quail. Getting off the beaten path is well worth it, even if it means four extra postcards and a box of cornbread mix.