Condors galore

Before we left Moab to head southwest we had breakfast and bought ice for the cooler in Moab. Along the way we discussed what Tina wanted to see on the way to Grand Canyon. It soon became clear that there wasn't that much she was interested in, apart from things that we were passing on the way - and she only needed was to watch those from the car. For example, she opted out a visit to the Four Corners Monument, which was closed due to renovation when Tim and I were here in 2012, and also she was not interested in driving on the Moki Dugway in the southern part of the state. The two exclusions saved us quite a few miles, which would prove to be a great advantage later, when we ran into a series of roadworks.

She got to see the Mexican Hat rock near the settlement of the same name in southern Utah, but we didn't stop here without that we stopped, and neither did we visit Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. At both places she felt that she could see enough from the car and she couldn't simply take in anymore rocks at the time. Just before the road that leads into Monument Valley we passed the Arizona state line and a few miles before we had entered America's largest Indian Reservation, the Navajo Nation, which itself has Hopi Indian Reservation inside it's borders. Near the main town of Colorado River in the bottom of Grand Canyonthe Navajo Nation, Kayenta, we met with U.S. Route 160, which we took heading west. Hardly had we left Kayenta before the  traffic came to a standstill. This proved to be due to road construction works, where there was only one lane open, so only one direction was open at a time. There was no flag man, but a instead traffic was controlled by a traffic light. As the roadwork proved to go on for almost 10 miles, we waited quite a while and when the light finally turned green, and we were allowed to go on, traffic was very slow. Shortly getting through the roadwork, a new one started - this time with a flagman and somewhat shorter, and so it continued for the next 20 miles. I think we spent about 1.5 hours driving around 30 miles. Eventually, however, we were through it all, and could continue to Tuba City, where we filled up the car once more.

From Tuba City there are about 10 miles to U.S. Route 89, and at this time we began to see signs telling that US 89 was blocked, but as it appeared only if you were heading north and we had to go south. It later turned out that a large chunk of the road had been destroyed by an earthquake a week earlier and it would take many months before the road would be opened again. Many tourists are going from the Grand Canyon to Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks in Utah or vice versa along U.S. 89, and they must now embark on a very long detour. 14 miles later we stopped at Cameron Trading Post, where Navajos are selling beautiful but expensive crafts, and less expensive tourist souvenirs. I bought a few gifts to bring home, and then we continued a few more miles south until we came to the road leading into the east entrance of Grand Canyon National Park. From US 89 there are about 50 miles to the entrance where we once again had the benefit of our annual pass, as we had in Arches and Canyonlands.

We made our first canyon-stop at the first rest area from where you can actually see the canyon. The place is called Dessert View, because in addition to the canyon, you also have an excellent view over the desert of the Colorado Plateau. Here we went for a short walk to an overlook. It was extremely hot, more than 105 in the sun, so we would wait to take a longer walk until the next morning. We therefore went back to the car and drove the remaining 40 miles to Grand Canyon Village. At the market we bought fruit and other goodies to have in the room, and then we proceeded to the hotel where we were so lucky that just when we arrived, a car left the car park at Kachina Lodge. This meant that there was room for us right next to the entrance door. Tim, who was a driving at this time drove into this space, and then the car was not moved more until we left again. While Tim and Tina emptied the car, I went up to the hotel El Tovar and checked in. Kachina Lodge has only rooms, there is no reception desk, so you check in at El Tovar next door. I got the keys, and when I came back, we carried the luggage to the room. Although this was not particularly large, we got space for our air mattress, so none of us would have to share a bed.

The evening meal was consumed at the restaurant at the Bright Angel Lodge, about 300 yards from our own hotel. On the walk down there we spotted a condor sitting on a rock below Lookout Studio, a former photo studio, now information center. It was the first time Tim and I (and of course also Tina) saw a condor in the wild, since they appeared to have taken a vacation when we were on site in 2010. We should, however, get to see many more the next day.

Show-off condors

If it was great to be in Yellowstone outside a weekend, it was even better to be in the Grand Canyon on a weekday. When we arrived, we could as mentioned get a parking space at the hotel and not a mile from it as three years ealier, and it turned out that although there were still many people there, there were after all, far fewer than in 2010. When it seems worse with many people in the Grand Canyon than in Yellowstone it's due to the fact that people in the Grand Canyon is stowed together in much less space than in Yellowstone. Grand Canyon is primarily only a little more than half the size of Yellowstone, and at the same time the things people want to see are concentrated near the rim, while in Yellowstone the sights are distributed over larger parts of the park. And nearly one million more people visit Grand Canyon each year than do Yellowstone. In fact, Grand Canyon is USA's second most visited national park, only surpassed by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina.

Navajo dance performance at Hopi HouseThis Tuesday we had the alarm clock set to six am - the earliest on the entire trip. The reason was that we wanted to get on the first bus west along the canyon, and we thought that it left at 8 am. We managed to get on the bus allright, but it turned out that the buses had been running every 15 minutes since 4.30, so it was definitely not the first one! There are four bus routes on the south rim of Grand Canyon and they are all free to use. The blue route runs around the Grand Canyon Village. Tuscyan Route runs to the village of Tuscyan outside the park. Green line runs to the east entrance while the red route runs west along the rim, and it was this we took, after having walked the half a mile from the hotel to the bus stop. There are 9 stops on the way out, and the bus stops on four of these on the way back. We decided to ride to the terminus at Hermits Rest (we actually already decided on this the day before). Here is a small shop where Tina and I got a sandwich for breakfast. Water we had brought from the hotel. We enjoyed the view a bit and then walked along the canyon to the next inbound stop at Pima Point. Here you could really enjoy the view of both the beautiful rock formations in the canyon and the Colorado River far below in the canyon bottom. The path we walked along, is approx. 1.1 mile and in several places are less than 2 feet from the edge of an almost one mile free fall without railings, something that Tina hated. She doesn't feel comfortable with anyone getting to close to a steep edge. She felt much better when the trail went a little further from the edge.

From Pima Point we took the bus to the next stop inbound, Mohave Point, where we again got out to enjoy the view. The Mohave Point is a good place to view the river and we enjoyed it awhile before we walked on to the last inbound stop at Powell Monument. The trip from Mohave to Powell is about 1.2 mile long and also gets very close to the edge in some places. When we reached Powell, the last stop before the village, we discussed whether we should walk back from there as Tim and I had done the last time. As the temperature was now above 95, and we had no more water, we agreed to take the bus the rest of the way. When we got back to the terminus, there were still half a mile uphill to the hotel, so we stopped at Bright Angel Lodge, where Tina and I got an ice cream. Back at the hotel we relaxed for about an hour until one o'clock.

At 2.30 pm a park ranger program began at Verkamp Visitor Center, located right next to the El Tovar hotel, so we went up there. The program was called Critter Chat and should be a lecture about the animals that live in and around the Grand Canyon. It turned out to be mainly for children, so Tina and I gave it up, while Tim heard the lecture to the end. Instead, Tina and I went back to the culture center Hopi House, opposite El Tovar, where some navajoes gave performances in various tribal dances. On the way we saw several condors that flew over the canyon, but close to the road. We looked at the Native American performance for about 20 minutes, but then we had enough. The music that consists of drumming and singing quickly becomes somewhat monotonous when you are not Navajo I think. At one time, Tim walked past us on his way back to the room. Tina and I went into the Hopi House, which sells Navajo and Hopi crafts, but there was nothing we couldn't do without, so we also returned to the hotel.

The flying door - An impressive sightWe stayed in the room until 4.15 when Tim took the bus to the Marketplace to buy some food and get some cash from the ATM, while Tina and I went down to Lookout Studio, to hear a lecture on condors. Tim and I had heard the same lecture three years earlier, so he thought that he could do without it. It was very interesting to hear about the condors, of which there were only 22 left in the United States some years ago. They were all captured, and then raised in captivity for a number of years, until the number had grown so large, that some could be released into the wild in southern California, southern Utah and northern Arizona. Today the number of Californian Condors are about 460, of which about half still live in captivity, while the other half is already released. New birds
are still bred  in captivity, and the birds in the wild has recently started to breed again, but bringing up the population takes it's time. A condor lays only one egg every second year, and many of the chickens die before they become adults. In 2012, only 3 eggs  hatched, and these three chickens all died. Simultaneously some of the adult birds also die, primarily of lead poisoning. Hunters shoot animals with lead shot. The animals do not die, and the hunters can't find them, but the condors can. They eat animals with shots and everything, and like mammals, or even more so, birds, including condors are sensitive to lead, so lead poisoning is the leading cause of death for adult condors in Arizona. For some reason that I have forgot, it is not possible to ban hunting with lead shot in Arizona as it has already been done in California.

While the ranger gave her lecture, and among other things said that she hoped that we would get to see a condor during the lecture, the condors themselves decided that they would like to show off, so a formation of five came out above the trees. The ranger was very impressed, as they usually only saw one or two birds at a time, if they saw any at all. These birds, however, would give us a little more for our money, so they decided to fly low, so we could get some  pretty good pictures (and granted, some that was so good - they won't, stay still those monsters). Anyhow a condor with a wingspan of ten feet is incredibly impressive when it floats through the air less than 50 feet above you, without flapping it's wings. In fact, condors are not good at flapping. They flap 5 or 6 times when they have to take off from the ground after having eaten, and then they drift on air currents for hours. Are they sitting at the edge of a cliff, they do not actually flap at all, but toss themselves from the cliff and float away. The condors above us made such a fine display that the ranger had difficulties  completing her lecture as nobody listened but stared at the birds instead, but eventually succeeded, and we could return to the hotel.

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