Tusayan, AZ – The Grand Canyon South Rim: April 13-17, 2012

Reminders: 1. Posts are in chronological order with most recent on top. 2. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them and then using the back button (not close) to return to the text.

After multiple postponements, we were finally on our way to the Jewel of the Southwest. Having originally planned to arrive here on March 24, we were a full three weeks later and sure to have much better weather.

Or so we thought. The weather report when we left Page, AZ was a bit ominous – clouds increasing during the day, temperatures dropping and chance of snow late afternoon and overnight.

Oh crap.

We pushed on. The trip wasn’t terribly long, but true to the forecast, the temperature was around 40o by our 2 PM arrival, and the sky was already spitting white stuff.

Unable to get a reservation within the Park, we found space at a private campground in Tusayan, just a couple of miles from the south entrance. Actually, Tusayan was quite the little community for a few hundred yards: campground, market, two motels, a McDonalds, and an IMAX Theater with an NPS center within it. But a word about prices in this captive market. A gallon of milk was $7; Ben & Jerry’s pints went for $6; the traditional five dollar 20-pack of McDonald chicken nuggets was $9; propane refills at the RV Park were $5 a gallon (cf $3); and diesel fuel, running about $4.09 elsewhere at that point, was $4.69.

We got our space assignment and settled in as the flakes gradually got larger, so we took in the IMAX show across the street in the afternoon. Then we appealed to the NPS folks about my current back and leg debilitation. In the Park, when the shuttles are running, private cars aren’t allowed on their routes. But these guys provided me with a bright yellow pass that gave us access to all roads. Incidentally, the movie was wonderful, and the DVD was on sale along with every other tchotchke you could possibly imagine.

We came back and brushed two inches off our steps and windshield, raising the wipers to keep them from freezing to the glass. I shut down the water and, disconnecting our hoses, switched to our internal insulated water tank. By the 5 AM walk, an additional five inches had fallen. I put on sox for the first time this year.

But we were undaunted. As the morning cleared, we motored into the Park and landed as close as possible to the Visitor’s Center. It was a zoo; the parking space lines were covered and people were higgledy and figgledy. But we found a spot, and we first viewed another great film on the venue. The Center was also filled with maps, history geology and other exhibits. From there, we hiked out to Mather Point on the South Rim and took a long walk along the Rim Trail, getting spectacular views and watching an ultra-tame squirrel convince some visitors that the no-feeding regulation wasn’t all that rigid.

This is one of the most popular and scenic regions on the south rim. On the way up there, we passed through The Village, with its amphitheater, market, post office, campground and even a clinic. Further along are the hiking center, dorms for workers, and even a kennel for folks to stash their pets while touring. On the right are roads that take you to famous landmarks, including four lodges; we visited them another day and cover them below. We then headed west along the Hermit’s Rest Loop, which takes you as far west along the rim as you can go by vehicle. Of course, hiking trails along the rim and down into The Canyon give the hearty a much more comprehensive view. We took in the first three stops, taking full advantage of the differing views they provided and saving the rest for another day.

We made additional visits in the next couple of days, visiting all of the auto-accessible areas on the South Rim. That was accompanied by a long trail walk along the section that features major installations, which I’ll enumerate below. At the junction of the access road to the lodges and the loop to Hermit’s Rest, there is a major train depot. The Grand Canyon Railway offers tours from Williams, AZ, about two hours south, that include overnight accommodations at either or both ends. Other trains connect in Williams from all over the West. On both of our passages by the depot, a “mule train” was passing and required us to stop at the crossing. Mule-back rides are available in the Park; rides from one hour to overnight are available.

It’s time for some pictures. As you might imagine, the 70 pictures I took at Antelope Slot Canyon was clearly eclipsed here. I’ve been judicious, however, and have broken them down into categories. First, here are a dozen or so shots displaying the basic beauty of The Canyon.

And here are a few specialty sets. First, snow in The Canyon from the storm that accompanied us here.

Moving right along, a few shots of hiking trails across The Canyon, over 3500 feet down, along with glimpses of the mighty river that helped create it.

Then a few shots of other wildlife encountered, including that very friendly squirrel being illegally fed and a few of the many mule deer that wandered along the roadways.

Here are some signs. You can enlarge the links and actually read them. They cover, in order: Grand Canyon Vistas (and Bright Angel Trail in particular); The Rim Trail, The San Francisco Peaks, the lesser known uranium mining that took place in The Canyon during WW II, a marker memorializing both boat treks through The Canyon by John Wesley Powell in 1869 and 1872; and, finally, a geology lesson on how The Canyon was formed

Closing out are a series of pictures of signs and buildings that dot the South Rim in a cluster. The El Tovar Hotel (first two) was built and managed by the Fred Harvey Company when the Santa Fe Railroad reached here. Harvey and the Harvey Girls are synonymous with hospitality on all the railroad expansion of the west.

Next, The Lookout Studio (next two). Also built by Harvey Corporation, it attempted to rival the artistic monopoly on the Canyon held by the Kolb Brothers (below).

The Kolb Brothers were daredevils and photographic geniuses who went to great lengths to display The Canyon on silver haloid plates while showing off their prowess by scaling impenetrable places, hanging upside down to get the right shot, pioneering photo techniques, and fearlessly risking their necks. The interior of their studio is now a museum to their popular and financial success.

We could not leave The Canyon without heralding the work of Mary Colter. Born in 1869, she became an architectural sensation when women were not even acknowledged in the profession. She earned a contract form the Fred Harvey Company to design their hotels and restaurants all along the Santa Fe line. She became, in effect the architect of record for the Grand Canyon and other NPS properties. Her unique combination of rustic construction and Hopi, Zuni, Navajo and Mexican motifs endures in history today.

An early prospector and Canyon promoter, Bucky O’Neil, built a cabin (left two above) along this trail in 1890; he was killed in combat 8 years later. When Mary Colter later designed the Bright Angel Lodge, she incorporated Bucky’s cabin and other prospector installations into its construction. In addition, she was responsible for the Visitors’ Center, Hermit’s Rest (a tourist waystation) and the unique Hopi Building (right above), still today a gallery for indigenous work of all types.

Our visits to The South Rim were all grand. While some suggested we go to the less commercial North Rim instead, it was still closed for the winter. The West Rim includes the Skywalk, which is more than us wusses had any interest in trying.

And our route changes weren’t over. We intended to go back up through Page and visit both Bryce and Zion. But the lousy weather was scheduled to continue up there. So instead of heading back north, we headed for Las Vegas and Hoover Dam.

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