Sunday, November 21, 2010

11/11/10 Day 39

     When I woke up the next morning, I told Virginia all about my strange experience.  We debated possible causes, but couldn’t think of any that were very convincing.  We quickly put the mystery to the back of our minds though as we began formulating plans for our day at the Grand Canyon.  We were very excited because the 11th of November is Veterans Day and all the National Parks were celebrating with free admission!
     We rolled into the park and after quickly orienting ourselves at the visitor’s center; we decided that the best way to get around the park was by using the free shuttle service.  There are three loops:  Blue, which goes to the park village; the red loop connecting the village and Hermit’s Rest; and in the opposite direction of the visitor’s center, the green loop to the Kaibab trailhead.  We started with the blue and red loops since they had the most stops at scenic overlooks.  The driver of the first bus we got on was very talkative and told us lots of interesting tidbits about the canyon and upcoming overlooks. 
     We hadn’t had a real opportunity to look into the canyon yet and we were getting very excited and anxious to see it!  We stepped off the bus and towards the vast chasm.  It was breathtaking.  The thousand-year-old gorge stretched before us, and dropped thousands of feet below us.  We could see tiny specks walking along the Bright Angel Trail, headed for the bottom of the canyon.  Each stop offered something new and something familiar.  At some spots you could see rapids of the Colorado River or an old mineshaft, but the craggy red and orange rocks were always jutting around enclosing it all.   
     Since we were stopping at every look out along the way, our trip down the Red Loop took almost three hours, and we were wearing down when we finally made it to Hermit’s Rest.  
     This is a really cool building.  It was built in the early days of tourism to the canyon and served as a rest stop and place to take refreshments at the end of scenic carriage rides along the rim.  It still serves this purpose with a small snack bar and now also houses a giftshop and bookstore, but it has retained all of its old charm.  Hermit’s Rest would be hard to find if it weren’t for the rock archway with the bell marking its location.  From the outside, the building just looks like a pile of rocks. 
     The inside is stunning though.  The north wall is almost entirely windows, which look out onto a small porch with full-timber beams sitting right on the edge of the canyon.  There are small rooms adjoining on the east and west of the main chamber, housing the aforementioned bookstore and snack bar respectively.  The south wall of the building forms a half vault.  It resembles a massive igloo build of stone and has a grand fireplace in the middle.  Virginia and I sat here to take our lunch on rustic furniture that, judging by several photographs, has been in the building almost since its construction. 
     After cooling our heels and warming our bones by the fire as well as regaining energy from our nourishment, we caught a return bus.  We stopped at a few lookouts we had not yet seen and at the end of the ride, we set out to explore the Grand Canyon Village.  We looked in whatever Hotels and shops we could, of which my favorite were the El Tovar and Lookout Studio.  El Tovar was built in the early 1900’s and was designed to mimic a Swiss hunting chalet.  Lookout Studio was a multistory structure built out of native rock.  It was designed by Mary Colter, who also designed Hermit’s Rest as well as several other structures in the park, and it was situated similarly close to the cliff face.  Virginia fancied the Hopi House, also designed by Miss Colter, which was built as a traditional adobe pueblo and is used as a shop for Native American artwork.
     Although we were starting to feel worn out, we still wanted to hike at least part way into the canyon, so we headed back to the visitor’s center and caught the green loop towards Kaibab Trail.  The sun was close to setting and we didn’t have much in the way of supplies, so we decided to only go a short distance down the path.  The first bit of our journey was in icy shadows, but the steep grade and many switchbacks we followed helped us get quickly into the sunshine.  One gains a new appreciation of the canyon descending into it, as the sheer towering walls and the slow speed of one’s progress to the floor bring its gigantism into real palpable perspective.  The going was so easy and the scenery so beautiful that we wanted to continue all the way down.  Virginia and I knew, however, that between the steep switchbacks and the thin air, it was going to be a real struggle back up and it would only be worse the further we went, so we reluctantly turned around. 
     We began huffing and puffing almost immediately and hauling ourselves all the way back to the rim began to seem an impossible goal.  To remedy this, I began looking ahead and choosing nearer landmarks to which we would trek; once there, we would catch our breath and choose the next check point.  Once, while resting at one of our break targets, a pair passed by us at a fast clip, not even gasping and, in fact, carrying on a full conversation.  Virginia and I found this rather confounding, but we never the less pushed on.  Finally, wheezing and weary, we hove up over the top ledge.  We had made it!  But we hardly had time to catch our breath or celebrate before the rumbling of a bus sent us scurrying toward it.
     We rode the short distance to the next stop, where we finally caught our breath and then watched the sun set over one of the ridges of the Grand Canyon.  We headed back to the hostel in the dimming light, thoroughly exhausted, but in exceedingly good spirits.  We stopped at McDonalds on the way and had what seemed like the best hamburgers we had ever tasted because we were so hungry!  Once we got back to the room, memories of the previous night’s strange occurrence began to creep into my head, but I was too pleasantly exhausted to give it a second thought before I passed out for the night.  The last thing I remember thinking was if it did happen again, we should ask the manager for a discount in the morning.
-       Eric

11/12/10  Day 40

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