Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The GRAND Canyon

WOW!! What a beautiful, grand day we had on Monday.

But, first - how we got there - which was NOT easy.

After that wonderful (not) snow storm we had in Sedona, which blanketed all of Northern Arizona in inches to feet of snow, we headed to Williams and the Grand Canyon a day late. The delay was to allow roads to be cleared of all snow - and to be sure that the National Parks would NOT be closed due to our diligent Congress people’s inability to determine a budget;-( We won on one count - the park was open - but lost on the second. As we approached the first exit west of Flagstaff on I40 at about noon (our destination was 30 miles west of Flagstaff!), we were directed off the freeway and told I40 was closed! Yes - closed. Seems that several semis - followed by several passenger trucks - hit black ice early in the day and it took until almost 3:30 in the afternoon to get things cleared. So - we just kicked back in Magic, fixed lunch and watched the final round of the Masters;-) Timing is everything. Just as the Masters finished, I40 was opened and we were on our way again.

Williams, Arizona, on historic Route 66, is billed as the ‘gateway’ to the Grand Canyon. It has that stereotypical Route 66 look - don’t ya think?

Get your kicks on Route 66..Williams, AZ style.

Monday morning was bitter cold - but the sky was clear and the sun would surely warm things up quickly. So - the car was loaded with all the camera gear, fanny backs full of power bars and snacks and all the travel books we had with even a mention of the Grand Canyon. We were on our way to that immense gorge a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide. As we drove north on highway 64, crossing a gently rolling plateau, there was no hint at what was about to unfold.

The Grand Canyon. Nearly 5 million people travel here each year - most were here on this Monday morning in the middle of April after a snow storm!!!!

Monday, after an April snowstorm and there are so many people we can hardly move.

The draw of Grand Canyon is not just the size, but also in the beauty of its landscape. In this respect, Grand Canyon shares many characteristics with its neighbors - Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, Arches, and Capitol Reef National Parks. All of these NP’s lie within the geologic province known as the Colorado Plateau, a region characterized by mostly flat-lying sedimentary rocks that have been raised thousands of feet above sea level, then carved by erosion. In fact, the canyon floor is 2,400 feet above sea level - and the elevation of the south rim is approximately 7,000 feet!

How did this happen?? Beginning about 70 million years ago, heat and pressure generated by two colliding tectonic plates induced mountain building in western North America. The Colorado Plateau was raised more than 10,000 feet. Then - in the last 5-6 million years the Colorado River (Colorado is derived from the Spanish for ‘reddish’) did its work of carving the canyon. Water draining off the western slopes of the southern Rocky Mountains carried sand and gravel, cutting down through the layers of rock. Without the uplift of the Colorado Plateau, there would not have been the thousands of feet of topography for the river to sculpt!!

While the ‘uplift’ occurred approximately 70 million years ago, the rocks exposed within Grand Canyon range from the Kaibab limestone, the caprock on the rims of the canyon, at 270 million years to the oldest rocks at the bottom of Grand Canyon, which are 1.84 BILLION years old!! The National Park service has done a wonderful job of providing a physical ‘picture’ of this age by creating a “Trail of Time” - an interpretive walking trail in which every meter (one large step) of the path represents one million years of Grand Canyon geology. We walked all 1.84 billion years!!


More beauty

Endless views.

Don't slip!

Gary managed a rare picture of a condor over the canyon. Northern Arizona is one of four release sites in the California condor recovery program, which for the past 25 years has sought to bring these large scavenger birds back from the brink of extinction. Their world population had dwindled to only 22 by 1982 - and now more than 60 condors fly in the skies over Arizona! Their grace and wing span of nine to 11 feet are awe inspiring.

Lucky shot of a condor in flight.

Our 4 mile walk, including the 1.84 billion years, brought us to the Grand Canyon Village Historical District. Now - those of you who have read our blog in the past may remember all the discussions of the RRs building all the wonderful lodges in both the US and Canadian NP’s. The lodges at the Grand Canyon are no exception. On September 17, 1901 the first steam-driven train rolled into Grand Canyon Village after a relatively smooth 3-hour trip from Williams (cost was $3.95!!). Shortly after, the El Tovar, once described as ‘the most expensively constructed and appointed log house in America’, was commissioned by the Santa Fe Railroad in 1902. It cost $250,000 to construct and was considered by many to be the most elegant hotel west of the Mississippi. Many years later - 1932 - there was a need for additional accommodations and the Bright Angel Lodge was started. Designed by Mary Colter - the ten foot high geologic fireplace was her ‘star’ component. It represented the rocks and order of strata inside the canyon. The top of the fireplace is constructed of Kaibab Limestone found on the rim and the base of the fireplace has smooth river stones from the bottom of the canyon. Our NP guide said to be sure and have dinner in the Arizona room at the Bright Angel - so that is how we completed our picture perfect day;-)

Still climbing trees.

Just a few more canyon shots.

Much wonder to you all - Elizabeth & Gary

PS - I knew there was a picture of the Birthday Boy celebrating - just had to find it on the iPhone -

Birthday boy and the Barking Frog in Sedona.

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