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Posts Tagged ‘Wild West 2015’

— 1 —

Here’s a link to my interview with  Diana von Glahn, aka The Faithful Traveler, on her daily radio show on Real Life Radio. 

The link to listen is right here!

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— 2 —

Our town, perhaps like your town, has what many towns used to have: an ornate downtown theater, A “Showplace of [insert state or geographic region here]” 

 And like many of those ornate, state-monikered theaters, it occasionally shows films – during December and the summer, to be exact.

When I was growing up in Knoxville, the Tennessee Theater revived itself and began showing classic films and oh, it was glorious. I think for a time, they did it year-round, not just during the summer, and in those mostly pre-cable and pre-VHS days, this was my introduction, in real life, to the films I yearned to see, from the Marx Brothers to Casablanca. My most vivid memory was a showing of Gaslight in a packed theater – packed because Gaslight was on a double bill with Casablanca, and everyone had come to see Bogart and Bergman (although I had come to see Rains…more my type).  Gaslight ended up surprising everyone, and the thrill of  that collective gasp from the audience at various points in the film taught me all I needed to know about the difference between solitary and communal experiences.

We’ve been able to hit only a couple of showings at the Alabama this summer, and both in the last couple of weeks – the first was Singin’ in the Rain, and the second, last Saturday, was The General with a score composed by the organist.

As per usual, the mostly older volunteers at the door marveled over the presence of anyone younger than 25, and asked of the boys, “Have you ever seen a silent movie before?” They nodded – they’ve seen Chaplin, and a few weeks ago the ten-year old and I watched Keaton’s The Camerman when his brother was off somewhere else.

What a great film – (I’d never seen it either) – very funny, astonishing physical dexterity, and some visual humor that is a subtle as you can get without sound – the opposite of Kathy Selden’s accusation of  “dumb show” in Singin’ in the Rain, of course!

And yes, the boys liked it. Kids learn to appreciate culture in whatever context their sensibilities are formed in, which is why it’s careless and irresponsible to just let them watch anything and everything. If they grow up exposed to increasing level of complexity and subtlety, a well as just  quality – they’ll ultimately be bored by stupidity and (hopefully) turn from it, not out of outrage or offense, but simply because they have better things to do with their short time on earth, and they know it.

— 3—

…or they could be the group of no older than 10-year old girls at the pool this week talking about how great Dumb and Dumber II was…sigh….

— 4 —

I FINALLY finished the trip report of our late May trip out West.  You can find all the post by clicking on this, which takes you to all posts in the category, “Wild West 2015.”

Ended with Las Vegas.  Hated it.  Boys weren’t impressed either.

— 5 —

We started watching the Amazon series Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street.  One episode in, and I like it very much. It’s funny, a little magical and quite humane, knowing rather than know-it-all. It looks as if it might be a win.

.— 6—

New high school son has Fahrenheit 451  as his summer reading, so since I’d never actually read it – as much as I liked Bradbury as a teen, I never got to this novel – I decided to read it, too.

It’s quite different from what I expected, based on the use of the books by contemporary “anti-censorship” activists. (I put that it quotes because most READ BANNED BOOKS movements are pretty happy to ban Bibles and religious materials, so I find it difficult to take them seriously)

Have you read it? If you haven’t you should, and if you last read it 30 years ago, give it another look, because it might strike you a little more powerfully in this Internet Age.  It’s not as much about “book burning” for specific ideas, but more about the differences between the act of reading, period and the state induced by visual and audio stimulation. 

Basically? The act of reading and the time and space we live in when we read encourages and enables actual thought, contemplation and an individual, unique relationship to ideas and reality.  The culture which Bradbury creates that stands opposed to that is instantly recognizable: people plugged in all the time. All the time. Living room walls turned into screens peopled by characters whose lives consume the public’s attention. Walking and sleeping plugged into earbuds.  The reader, the thinker, the wanderer, the dreamer, suspect and exiled.

Written sixty years ago, the book is eerily prophetic.  The modern reality of the plugged in world is a little different from what Bradbury creates in that it’s missing the communication aspect – his vision is that the power of technology is even more damaging because it emanates from a central source that uses it to keep the public uncritical, unaware and stupid. One could argue that our modern scene is the opposite – we don’t have a centralized source of technology, and in fact our lives are marked by a cacophony of voices that rain upon us from our screens and earbuds.

But somehow, even in that is uniformity. Because it’s still noise, it’s still a distraction, it still distorts our perspective and pulls us away from silence, contemplation, stillness and our purely individual encounter with words, ideas and images in the midst of that stillness, a stillness that affords us the mental space to relate, mull over, decide and, if we choose, close the book and walk away.

— 7 —

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Insert Metaphor Here

Pinball Hall of Fame or Whatever. Las Vegas.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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Well, here we are.  It’s Friday, May 29, and it’s time to go back to Las Vegas, and then the next day, home.

As I mentioned in the earlier post, we got up early to try to see some things in Death Valley before it got too hot – so it was at this point we went to the Devil’s Golf Course and found the spot where my son posed in the steps of R2Ds, and then, on the way out, the Harmony Borax Works and Zabriskie Point.

Back in Las Vegas I stopped at a car wash.  See, I had this little incident..at the Grand Canyon…

It happened on that drive along Cape Royal Road, when we had parked and hiked a bit. We got in the car to continue on, I backed up and BAM.  Panicked that I’d hit another car, and I was very relieved to see that it was only a very skinny tree that had snuck up into a blind spot. About a two inch irregular patch of paint had come off, and of course there was a good bit of tar on the bumper.  I had gotten a lot of the tar off with some stuff I’d purchased earlier, but I still wanted to spiff the whole machine up before I turned it in and walked away, whistling, No, no problems, everything’s fine! 

As it was, there were already some scratch on that back bumper, although my damage did stand out a bit, even  in that context.  So I washed the car, just to be safe. I guess. I don’t know. It probably all stood out even more on a clean car.  But no matter.  The guy inspecting the car when I turned it in didn’t blink twice at anything, and no one’s demanded damages.  Honestly, I imagine that the volume of cars rented in Las Vegas is so great, with a good many of them taken out into the desert and to the parks, the loss of two inches of a paint job is probably nothing.

Okay. So, car washed, one more In n’ Out lunch consumed, and then to the Strip to the hotel.

This would be our last night, so I’d thought, well…might as well stay on the Strip. Let’s have that experience…

Preface that: Las Vegas has always been one of those places – one of the few places – I’ve had no interest in visiting.  Sure, I’ve been curious…what is it like??? But I could have died, fully content, without ever having been to Vegas.

But here we were.  We stayed at Excalibur – the castle-themed hotel, across from New York, New York and the MGM and near Luxor, the Egyptian themed hotel.  I figured it would have the most interest for the boys, Because Knights,  plus it was one of the cheapest.  Now, let me add that it wasn’t super cheap  because it was a Friday.  If we’d stayed during the week, I could have gotten a room there for under fifty bucks, but, of course, this was the weekend, so it was more.  Not exorbitant, but not cheap, either.

But since we got to Vegas before check-in time, we made a stop:

The Pinball Hall of Fame.  I had misunderstood what I’d read about it, and went into it thinking that all the games were just a quarter, but not so. The games that were originally a quarter were still that, but everything else was what you’d expect to pay for pinball and a few vintage video games.  It was a decent way to spend an hour. Nostalgic, for sure.

DSCN4942But this was the game that they played the most…..

Then to check in.  Oh, I don’t want to give an hour-by-hour account.  Because you all want to know why I’m so judgy about Vegas, right?

Here’s the thing. Well, here are the things.

  • I’m not a prude or puritanical.  I’m super protective of my kids – more so, in fact, than some parents I know who are more personally prudish than I am.  Weird. But in terms of myself, it takes a lot to offend me or upset my equilibrium.  I tend to view life from a human interest perspective, not as someone who think she’s ( or would like to be) the Deity on the Judgment Seat.
  • I had told the boys before we got to Vegas, “In Las Vegas, you are probably going to see adults at their worst.”  Wasting time, wasting money, drunk, hooking up (in so many words), just Randomly Satisfying Hungers. Prepped. Ready. Realistic.
  • I was curious about the Strip – the architecture, the themed casinos, and so on.  And although I’ve been to NYC, Paris & Venice for real, and we’ve stayed in an actual castle, I was determined not to be snobby about all of that.  I was interested to see how the experience would be compressed for the Vegas clientele. Like Epcot, right? Even though I don’t like Epcot either. But still! Have fun! Look at the cool things creative and inventive humans do!

Ooooh, boy.

The plan was to check in, the walk up the Strip.  I wanted us to see the various casinos, and then end up at the Bellagio fountains, and see all that.

Here’s what happened:

We checked in, then walked down to the Luxor, saw that.  Walked back up to New York, New York.  Saw that. There’s a roller coaster that goes in and out of the casino, and inside the shops and restaurants are arranged in faux NYC neighborhoods.

I was so weirded out, this was the only exterior photo we took.

Walked across the street, went to the M & M Store. Got back out on the street. Walked half a block north toward the rest of the stuff…I paused. We paused.

My ten-year old looked up at me. He said, “I don’t like this. It’s creepy.”

Exactly.

Back to the room. Screw the Bellagio fountains. Get ready to go back home.

What was it? A combination of things.

  • The general depression that results any time you’re one of thousands of people milling around  noisy, brightly colored structures built solely for the purpose of manipulating you into spending mo money.
  • The slot machines, everywhere, powered by slouching humans in turn fueled by cigs and drinks.
  • Energy fueled by consumption of lots of cheap booze being consumed everywhere, sitting, standing, lying down.  It’s a different, distinct kind of energy.
  • Folks chugging in the middle of the M & M store.
  • Young women strolling down the strip in string bikinis. Young women in micro-minis with tops falling open to expose almost everything.
  • Bros in packs. Enough said.

And then there were the porn slappers. I had heard about the porn slappers, and stressed about the porn slappers, and posted questions about the porn slappers on a travel discussion board that I frequent. This was of great concern to me.

“Porn slapper” is a term for people who stand on the trip with small cards advertising escort services. They hold the stack of cards and slap them against their skin, making a bit of noise, getting attention.  I had wondered how pervasive this was, how obvious the message of the cards were.  I got lots of answers which clarified nothing and led me to believe either that these escort service cards would constantly rain upon our heads or that it was an overblown problem and not an issue, and your kids see Victoria’s Secret in the mall, right? No difference.

The reality was somewhere in between.

The “porn slappers” were definitely out and about.  And since I was obviously not a potential client, when we approached, they held the cards still and looked another way.  But…here’s the thing…the cards littered the ground.  Everywhere.

And here’s what really made me sad.  These “porn slappers?”  All, without exception, middle-aged Latino men and women of indigenous stock.  Shorter than I am, stocky, Spanish speaking.  Probably illegal immigrants.  I was probably making a lot of assumptions here, but all I could think when I saw them was, “Okay, Catholic Church, defender of the immigrant…where are you? Do something to find these people are truly dignified means of work…somewhere.”

Oh, the whole scene was just so weird. It was such an odd vibe of wandering, waste and loss. It made me want to pull everyone together, close, and talk about what we all really yearn for, and if I couldn’t do that, to run away and shake it off, hard.

Vegas was terrible. But in that revelation, maybe Vegas was not so bad.

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Insert Metaphor Here.

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I’m going to try to finish this up today, with a post on Death Valley, and then one on Vegas, baby.

(Which I hated. /spoileralert)

(Keep up with all the posts on this trip here.)

Death Valley is about two hours northish and west of Las Vegas. When Thursday began, we were in Saint George, which is about two hours east of Las Vegas. So this was going to be a big driving day, but also remember that because of the time change, it would, in the space-time continuum, be only three, not four hours between here and there.

There were times in the run-up to the trip I had regretted casually mentioned Death Valley, even though I wanted to see it.  Once I brought it up, the other two had decided that the trip wouldn’t be complete without it, but it was on the opposite side of all of the rest of the trip.  I wondered if we would have been better off with another day in Zion instead.  And that would have been great, but that said, in the end, despite the slight hassle, I’m glad we went.

Even though…it was…hot. 

Duh.  Of course it was.  It was late May in one of the hottest places on the planet! And I do like hot, and would not be too sad if I never spent time in frigid climes again.  But still…this was something else.

So that’ my first recommendation – if you do go to Death Valley, don’t go during the summer. Take everyone’s advice. They know what they’re talking about. If you go during the winter, you can probably stay outside and actually do some hiking, which is really almost impossible and not advisable in the summer.

Once we got to Las Vegas, I believe we hit an In n’ Out for lunch, and then drove on.  I took the northern route in on 95 instead of the more southerly route through Pahrump, mostly because I wanted to hit the ghost town called Rhyolite.\

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Really interesting, and a valuable lesson in the reality of ghost towns. Rhyolite existed for less than ten years, but during its existence, it was quite a busy place after gold was discovered nearby….

The town immediately boomed with buildings springing up everywhere. One building was 3 stories tall and cost $90,000 to build. A stock exchange and Board of Trade were formed. The red light district drew women from as far away as San Francisco. There were hotels, stores, a school for 250 children, an ice plant, two electric plants, foundries and machine shops and even a miner’s union hospital.

The town citizens had an active social life including baseball games, dances, basket socials, whist parties, tennis, a symphony, Sunday school picnics, basketball games, Saturday night variety shows at the opera house and pool tournaments. In 1906 Countess Morajeski opened the Alaska Glacier Ice Cream Parlor to the delight of the local citizenry. That same year an enterprising miner, Tom T. Kelly, built a Bottle House out of 50,000 beer and liquor bottles.

And then…bust.  The San Francisco Earthquake and  the 1907 financial panic brought everything down, and by 1917, the town was basically abandoned. A really good lesson in the transitory nature of life and achievement and….stuff….

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Below are photos of the Bottle House

Around 1905, during the Gold Rush, Tom Kelly built this famous house in Rhyolite, NV. It was built with 51,000 beer bottles and adobe mud. Bottles were also used in the walkway to the house. Kelly chose bottles because “it’s very difficult to build a house with lumber from a Joshua tree.” It took him about a year and a half to build the three room, L-shaped building with gingerbread trim. He spent about $2,500 on the building with most the money for wood and fixtures. Some of the bottles were medicine bottles but most were Busch beer bottles donated from the 50 bars in town.

Rhyolite Bottle House

Rhyolite Bottle House Rhyolite Bottle House

(Where did the town building go? People were frugal..they wouldn’t just leave the structures..they dismantled them and used the materials elsewhere.)

There’s an outdoor sculpture installation nearby and a tiny little museum staffed, the day we were there, by a retired history teacher.

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I don’t remember in which town his school was located, but…BUT..he told us something quite exciting…while he was teaching in the 1970’s, several of the children from his school were used as extras in STAR WARS, which was filming in Death Valley.

Okay, now, we were all definitely on board for Death Valley. The search for filming locations was on.

First, the entrance.

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And then you drive….down, down…down.  I saw a lot of fascinating sites on this trip, but this drive down into Death Valley was, oddly enough, near the top of the list, partly because went into this with no expectations other than “hot.”  I had never seen the television show “Death Valley,” and had never thought much about the place.  I had never considered that it is an actual, well, valley, and what that means.  From that north entrance, you head down into this vast, shallow basin surrounded by mountains, and it really is like you are driving into another world.

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First stop was Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes, which are the only dunes in Death Valley, and where some Star Wars stuff was filmed.  It was..hot.

Then on to Stovepipe Wells, which is a tiny settlement and the location of one of the few accommodations in Death Valley. Stopped at the little store, looked around, saw a tiny bird outside on the sidewalk, wings spread, panting, got back in the car to drive to our accommodations in the Furnace Creek area. 

This is the most historically developed area of the park – it’s where the Borax mining operations were centered. (And yes, this is where your “20 Mule Team Borax” got its start.

We stayed at the Furnace Creek Ranch – the less expensive and more available of the two lodgings in that area.  I had absolutely no problems getting a room, and I don’t think I even booked it until a couple of days before we got there.  To Death Valley.  The Furnace Creek Inn is the fancier, more expensive, and more historic lodging – an interesting history is here. The borax had been mined out, but the railroad company didn’t want to waste the investment in had made in the transportation into the valley, so they decided to try to make it a tourist attraction.

As I said, the Inn is pricier and was always booked up when I checked, so we settled for the Ranch, which was fine – us an the Europeans – mostly Italians this time, which was unusual. For most of the trip, we’d been following Germans and Asians. I don’t know why Italians suddenly popped up at Death Valley.

The Furnace Creek Ranch is on NPS property, but of course it is privately managed, and I do want to talk about this for a bit. As I had mentioned before, we had stayed at the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge, also on NPS property, and managed by Forever Resorts.  It was fine, and you can’t beat the Grand Canyon, but there were certain aspects of the experience – mostly the value-to-quality ratio of the food that you are forced to pay for because you are a captive audience. It was overpriced and not that good (in the restaurant, at least).

The Furnace Creek Ranch is run by a different company – Xanterra – and it was a different experience.  Just as the case at GCNP, there are no other options for dining other than what’s at the hotel, but here, the food was pretty good and reasonably priced.  In other words, I didn’t feel taken advantage of or ripped off, and yes, I made a point of mentioning this on checkout.  So thumbs up for the Furnace Creek Ranch. (Very nice pool, too…in Death Valley, anything cool and wet is a nice pool, though)

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After we checked in and once it had cooled off a bit, but before it got dark, we set off to see a few things.  We also so a few things the next morning – as early as I could possibly rouse them, so we could try to beat the heat.  I won’t go moment by moment, but just offer some photos:

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History of Borax and Death Valley

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Badwater Basin, lowest point in North America. In the photo above, he’s pointing to a sign marking sea level.

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Star Wars Death Valley

In the steps of R2D2

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The Devil’s Golf Course.  It’s all salt.  Hardened, dried salt. Would be very painful to fall on this!

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Zabriskie Point.

Death Valley was fascinating, quite beautiful and haunting, and I would love to go back and hike in canyons and so on…in December.

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Okay, I need to finish this!

For those of you not keeping up, or who have forgotten because this trip report is taking me weeks to complete, let’s recap:

Over all plan described here  (For all posts related to this trip, click here.)

Left Birmingham on 5/19, flew to Vegas.

5/20 – Hoover Dam and then on to Saint George, Utah.

5/21 – Snow Canyon and then on to Bryce Canyon

5/22-23 – Bryce Canyon (here and here)

5/23 – drive down to Kanab, UtahRed Rock Canyon and Coral Pink Sand Dunes on the way.

5/24-26 Grand Canyon North Rim (Here and here)

5/27-28 – Zion National Park

(Still to come, Death Valley & Vegas)

***

Zion National Park

I enjoyed every single spot we visited, had my breath regularly taken away, and was impressed by the national and state park infrastructure at every turn.

However, I’d say that Zion National Park is the one to which I’d return. We barely scratched the surface on our visit, and there is much more to do and see than we were able to even begin to try.

There are two main entrances to Zion National Park – one to the west, and one to the east, north of Kanab.  We were coming from the Grand Canyon, so toggling west would be out of the way and take longer, but I was given pause by guidebooks’ descriptions of the SCARY WINDY CLIFF-HANGING nature of the east entrance.  I mean, I’ve driven some windy places before – Sicily and the Pyrenees, for example, but still.  This sounded treacherous!

Well..it wasn’t.

(I eventually went for the east entrance because, I usually do end up choosing speed over everything else.)

The one thing I would say, however, is that going this way requires you to go through a narrow tunnel, and the line of cars can get backed up for that.  We didn’t have to wait too long, but I imagine that during the height of summer, the wait is considerable.

But windy roads…you don’t scare us!

And more than that, the prize for going in that east entrance?

Mountain goats.

Zion National Park

Much delight.

After surviving the not-scary drive, we made our way to Springdale, which is the little town at the west entrance of the park and where the closest accomodations are located. We found lunch at a Mexican restaurant, then checked into the hotel, which was Flanigan’s Inn, which I liked very much – it had an eastern, spa-like vibe, but the price was decent for the area, and the employees were probably the nicest of the trip – and on a trip through Utah, that’s saying something – because everyone is nice there.

Zion National Park

Not our hotel, but iconic.  This is how close Springdale is to Zion. Basically in it. 

Springdale is right at the entrance to Zion, so what’s great is that you can walk everywhere, including to the park, and there’s a shuttle system that runs up and down the main drag of Springdale itself and to the park entrance.

(The shuttle within the park itself is mandatory during the summer months – traffic would be crazy if it weren’t.)

Please go to Zion.  Well, go (almost) everywhere we went on our trip, but Zion – yes. It’s beautiful and well-managed and rather varied in landscape. In case you’re wondering about the origins of the name:

When Nephi Johnson arrived in what would become Zion National Park in 1858, the Paiute Indians occupied the canyon. Isaac Behunin became the first permanent European-American settler in the canyon when he built a one-room log cabin near the present location of Zion Lodge in 1861. Behunin named his new home Zion, remarking, “A man can worship God among these great cathedrals as well as in any man-made church – this is Zion.”

After we had eaten and settled in, we walked to the park entrance, flashed that membership card, and entered. We took the shuttle up to the Zion Lodge, got off, and then hiked for a couple of hours – it was a great loop up the Emerald Falls trail, then over to the Grotto and back.  It’s all paved, it’s easy, I imagine it’s super crowded at high season, but it was gorgeous at every turn, and at the highest pool, we found friends:

Then back down to the shuttle which we then took to the end to the Riverside Walk and The Narrows.  On the way, we looked at Angels Landing – one of the most famed hikes in the country, and one which I will never do – and saw several rock climbers ascending sheer cliffs, along with their cliff-tents thumbtacked into the cliff face.  Sheesh.

(The Narrows is also famous – it’s a hike basically through water to get to some great scenery. It’s recommended that you rent special shoes and pants for the hike, and a lot of people of every shape and size were doing it.  It wasn’t anything we were going to do this time, and I was also given pause by the stories I overheard from hikers who had cut their hike short that day because of the presence of a dead, decaying deer in the water.)

Zion National Park Zion National Park Zion National Park

Zion National Park

So we did our exploring, had a great time, and went back on the shuttle. Ate dinner, etc.

The next day was going to be biking.

Since there is no car traffic on the Canyon road, only the shuttles that come by every few minutes, the road is open to bikers during the summer, and considered safe.

We first did the Pa’rus trail, which is just that – a walking and biking trail that runs along the Virgin River.  It also runs along the campgrounds, and although I’m not a camper, I’d say that if you are, camping at Zion, with that scenery, would be gorgeous.

Then we hit the road!

Biking at Zion National Park

I didn’t have a plan. We would just go as far as we could – I was hoping we could make it to the end of the road (the Narrows.) What I hadn’t counted on, however, and really hadn’t considered, was that the road into the canyon is mostly uphill.  It was a bit more challenging than I had expected, so we stopped at The Court of the Patriarchs, waited for a shuttle, loaded our bikes on it (you can do that) and took the bus down to the end – it would be downhill all the way back, and that might be fun, right?

It was!

(No more photos, because it’s not safe to take photos WHILE BIKING on a road with even occasional buses coming by.)

We made one stop – at Big Bend, where we parked the bikes and walked down to the river, then coasted all the way back.

It’s very safe – I wouldn’t do it with a five year old, but if a kid is steady on a bike and understands that the minute you see or hear a shuttle bus, you are to pull over and stop, it’s fine.  We really enjoyed it!

But then…it was time to move on.  See? Not enough time.  We’d definitely return and explore more.

The next stop would be back to Saint George, explore a bit around there, and then on to Death Valley – a pretty long drive – the next day….

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One of the many things I learned on this trip was that if you are really in the know, you leave out the “the” – which makes sense, you know, since it’s called “Grand” not because it’s big, but because the Colorado River used to be called the Grand River.  And you don’t say “The Bryce Canyon” or “The Cloudland Canyon.”

So we’re all cool now, because we say “Yes, we went to Grand Canyon.”

(Not really)

As I think I said before, it really is Grand, no matter why it’s named.  All of my anticipatory cynicism was blown away by the real thing.  But because this series has gone on just too ridiculously long, I’m going to finish up the Grand Canyon portion – Sunday, May 24 to the morning of Tuesday, May 26 – as succinctly as I can.

Bullet points!

  • Our Sunday route, as I explained before, was a rather convoluted one from our AirBnB near Fredonia, Arizona, back up to Kanab, Utah for Mass, and then back down to the Grand Canyon. We stopped at the Jacob Lake Inn, which has a famous bakery, bought some baked goods, saw snow (the North Rim Lodge had opened on the 15th..in the midst of snowfall)  and at that point, it was still a little early.  As I recall, it was before noon, and we couldn’t count on getting in our rooms until four, and we would have a full day tomorrow and as much time as we wanted on Tuesday for the Canyon, I decided to take a little detour – to the Vermillion Cliffs.
  • All we did was drive (I had bought the boys sandwiched at the Jacob Lake Bakery, so they had sustenance..after having risen at, um, 6:30 AM or whatever it was. But it was a stunning drive.  There’s a point at which you pull around a curve on 89A, having just driven through woods – you see an overlook, and beyond you, to the north, you see them. 
  • We drove down and around a bit, but there was really nothing to “do” in the area in which we drove except be amazed, and I’m the only one who can sustain that for longer periods of time, so early afternoon, we turned around and headed back.
  • Remember, we were at the North Rim. The entrance to the park is about 12 miles or so from the Lodge. You drive and drive – hoping to see the famed bison and deer in the meadows (we didn’t – they are probably active at night) – and finally you’re there.
  • We checked in, got into our room even though it was a little early, took in that first amazing view from the lounge in the Lodge, and then got into our cabin, which I liked a lot. (See this entry for more on the accomodations a lot )
  • Then our first “hike” – the ritual Bright Angel Trail hike. This begins at the Lodge, is paved, and follows a short portion of the rim out to Bright Angel Point, which juts into the Canyon.  Along the way are various other jutting points, unguarded, on which people like to stand and do daring things.  I was nervous just watching people I didn’t know pull these stunts.

  • After a dinner of pretty good pizza from the café, we settled in for the night. I went to do laundry at the campsite, the boys took a screen break.
  • The next day, we drove and walked. You can see a lot of the North Rim via driving to various points, and considering the North Rim is less visited, and it was quite early in the season, it was very easy to do – efficient!
  • We first drove down the Cape Royal Road – this is a great outline of the drive, giving you all the stopping points. When we stopped at the Cape Final parking lot, I’d thought we might do that hike, which is pretty long – but then my 14-year old said, “Why don’t we just walk up that hill over there?”

So we did:

They spent a lot of time searching the rocks.  The older boy found a geode early on, so the competition was on….

This was also the parking lot where I backed into a small pine tree that jump behind my car. I took a bit of paint off and left some tar.  I worked hard to get that tar off before I dropped car off and waited for several weeks for some demand for restitution, but apparently either there were enough other scratches on the bumper or those car rental agencies in Las Vegas are used to cars being returned in much, much worse shape than with a quarter-sized patch of paint missing….

  • It’s a great drive, and the odd thing is that even though you think, “Why do I want to stop and see the Grand Canyon from different viewpoints? I mean…is it really that different every time?” Answer: yes.
  • As I recall, after all of that, we returned to the Lodge for lunch. Sandwiches, which were good and not outrageously priced.  After that, a bit of a rest, then back on the road.  We drove to the parking lot for the North Kaibab Trailhead – this is one of the trails that goes into the canyon and by gosh, we were going to do it!  We wouldn’t, of course, go all the way to the canyon bottom, but I wanted to attempt to get to the Supai Tunnel (are you laughing yet?) – four mile round trip.  It would be our only activity for the rest of the day…..
  • I’ll add at this point that I was annoyed that the visitor information in the Ranger station didn’t tell us much about this trail. The information was certainly there for the asking, but it wasn’t being suggested – but why? Why were they holding back? What did they think we were? Wimps from East of the Mississippi?
  • It didn’t take long for me to figure out why, in fact, this trail wasn’t pushed on the casual hiker. It’s hard for a couple of reasons. First, and most importantly, it’s really hard coming back up. Because, of course, you’re coming up the canyon walls. As it turned out, we got to Coconino Overlook (.7 mile down) and that was enough. We all agreed that the hike back up was going to be challenging enough at that point, and we had no need to triple the distance. We couldn’t even.
  • The second reason is that this trail is also used by the mules. You also share trails with mules and horses at Bryce, but there’s a difference:  Bryce is dry and deserty, and the trails are wider, sandy and gravel-y.  The North Kaibab trail is narrow, is in forest and is mostly dirt, which means in the spring it is muddy and also that the animals have no room to do their business (which they do frequently on the trail rides) except on the trail.  It was kind of a mess. It was a pretty gross mess at times, with no way to avoid it all except by stepping into Grand Canyon.
  • Despite the relative difficulty and the mess, I’m glad we did what we did – I would hate to have gone without hiked even just a bit down into the canyon.
  • Finally, we headed up to Imperial point. You could see so much of the canyon, plus so much of what lay to the north, including the Vermillion Cliffs.

And that was it….you can see that even if you’re not a big hiker, you can easily see what the North Rim has to offer in a (long) day.  I suppose it’s a copout for the backcountry folks, but that’s not us, and I although I harbor thoughts of someday, if I stay healthy and in shape, attempting a Rim-to-Rim, I was very satisfied with what we experienced in a day and a half.

Next up: Ranger Jake!

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It’s iconic. Emblematic.

Is it even possible to visit the Grand Canyon non-ironically?

Can you even say “I’m going to the Grand Canyon” non-ironically?

Well, it’s Grand.

Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge

But first, I want to backtrack and talk a bit about my planning for this part of the trip in detail.  Perhaps it will be useful to someone.

When you visit the Grand Canyon, you have two main choices: South Rim or North Rim. (There is also a Grand Canyon West,  where the Haulapai glass walkway is, but it not actually in the National Park. )

The South Rim is the more heavily visited section: about five million people a year visit the South Rim.  It’s closer to Phoenix, obviously, and closer to Las Vegas.  It’s very developed – there are many choices for accommodations and eating, and more nearby communities.

The North Rim gets a tenth of the South Rim’s traffic – about half a million people a year visit.

It’s more challenging to get to, with a tiny fraction of the tourist infrastructure as you find in the South.

But if your visit is oriented to the north – that is, you’re doing some iteration of the “Grand Circle” – it makes no sense to do the South Rim, which may be ten miles across the Canyon, but is a four hour drive from the North Rim.

And since we were doing Zion and Bryce, North Rim It was.

(Also good to note that if you want to see the Grand Canyon at any time other than between May and October, you must do the South Rim.  The North Rim is only open during the summer and early fall because of snow.)

Accommodations are a challenge.  Unless you are camping, there are only three even sort-of nearby choices for the North Rim.

About 45 minutes from the actual Grand Canyon is the Jacob Lake Inn, which also features a café, a small store, a well-known bakery and a gas station.  It would not be a bad choice, if you were just looking to spend one day at the park – and as I learned, while I was glad we spent two days, I think you can get a good sense of the Grand Canyon in one day – if the weather is good, you can actually do all of the driveable and walkable vistas and viewpoints in a day, easily.

Closer in, about 5 miles from the Park entrance (which would then put you still about 17 miles from the Rim), is the Kaibab Lodge.

Finally, in the park itself, is the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge, operated by Forever Resorts (which operates several other NPS accommodations, including the Bryce Canyon Lodge.)

It is much larger than the other two, of course, with a variety of types of rooms, including regular motel rooms and cabins with various layouts. Because I didn’t want to drive 45 minutes back and forth, and because I just wanted the experience of being right there at the Grand Canyon, this was my choice.

So of course, given the distance of the other two accommodations from the actual park, you can see what’s most popular.  Which means it has a reputation of being devilishly hard to get – A YEAR IN ADVANCE YOU MUST.

Well…not so sure about that.

No, I wouldn’t wait until the week before I left, having purchased airfare and rented a car to finally get around to trying to get a room at the GCNR Lodge, and if you definitely know when you are going to be there, sure…go ahead and grab the rooms that far in advance.

But if you have flexibility and if you decide, for example, today, that you’re going to try to hit the North Rim next week…yes, you might be able to get a room, and if you’re thinking…maybe next month?  Sure.  You can do it.

Check the availability calendar (screenshot taken today –  6/24)  and see.

gcnp

And here’s the thing: at this point, you can make and cancel reservations at the Lodge with no penalty.  Yes, they charge your card with a deposit when you make the reservation, but I found that after making and cancelling a few times, they reversed the charges very quickly without having to be asked. And this is what people do – you grab something when it comes free, and then if you really would like something different, you wait, check many times a day, and when what you want comes free, you make that reservation and cancel the last one.

Availabilty changes constantly. Part of the reason, I think is that tour companies reserve blocks of rooms many months in advance, and as they change plans and group sizes, rooms become available.

So when I first started planning, I reserved a couple of days in the first rooms that came up, near the end of our trip. But then I started wondering if I really wanted us to do the Grand Canyon at the very end, and then have a fairly long drive back to Vegas, made even longer by everyone’s interest in seeing Death Valley, which is two hours beyond Vegas.  So I started looking at the middle of the trip, which was, unfortunately, Memorial Day.  The type of cabin I wanted finally came available for Monday the 25th, so it was up to me now to watch and wait to see if anything would come open either the 24th or 26th.  A few days later, the 24th came open for the same type of cabin, I booked it online, then called the reservations center to consolidate the bookings – they are super nice, and used to people doing this reserve/cancel/consolidate dance.

What did we finally get?

A “rim-side Pioneer Cabin.”

Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge

Described here.

Some of the cabins are duplex style, this was not.  There were two bedrooms, one with a double bed, the other with bunks and a futon.  The bathroom was modern and clean, both rooms had space heaters, and there was a small fridge.  Yes it was, “rim-side” but unfortunately, ours didn’t exactly have a view. From the cabin.

Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge

That’s our cabin on the right.   That’s how far I had to walk to get the view in the second photo.  Not bad!

There are “nicer” cabins with front porches, and that are larger, but those are all located closer to the actual Lodge (which might be nice for you if you don’t want to have to walk far to eat)…but that means they are also right in the thick of foot traffic – I mean, you get a front porch, but what you get to see (and hear) from your front porch is mostly other people walking around.

Some points, addressing complaints and comments about the Lodge one finds online:

  • I can’t speak to the non-cabin accommodations – the complaints are that they are small and cheaply done.  But the cabin we stayed in was just fine.  It was very clean, warm and not-buggy.  The linens were clean, the bathroom was modern.  I have no complaints.  Yes, it was a little expensive, but you are paying TO STAY AT THE GRAND CANYON.
  • There is walking involved.  You can’t pull right up to your cabin and unload your luggage at the door.  You may have to walk forty feet.  Oh dear. GRAND CANYON.
  • Noise? We didn’t experience any.  We weren’t, as I said, in a duplex cabin or motel room, so that wasn’t an issue.  I found the park very quiet and peaceful at night. You would hope so, right?
  • Note: NO WI-FI at the Lodge or any of those rooms.   There is a General Store at the campground, about a mile down the road, with Wi-Fi.  There was a part of me that thought they should have Wi-Fi at the Lodge, in the lobby area at least, but then I had a vision of dozens of people sitting there in front of the picture window, Grand Canyon spread out in front of them, their noses up against their phone screens.  So…probably not. We can live without it.
  • Also at the campground is a laundromat, which I used.
  • They don’t sell bottled water at any of these National Parks, which is a good thing, but be prepared – have your own refillable bottle, or be ready to buy one there.
  • The food at the main restaurant is expensive and not very good.  We didn’t do the restaurant for dinner – I had made reservations, but then I looked at the menu and the prices and cancelled.  We did the breakfast buffet one morning, and it was mediocre at best.  Turkey bacon like leather, cold biscuits, that sort of thing. Nice waitress, though.  All of the employees were courteous and friendly. No complaints there.
  • There is a “deli” like place right next to the Lodge which has good sandwiches and pizza at decent prices.  The boys said the pizza was really good.  There’s also a “saloon” that sells alcoholic beverages and has a few food menu items.
  • And that’s it for food.  So really, take as much food as you can in with you (although it would need to be the kind you don’t have to , you know, cook…since the rooms don’t have anything but fridges – sandwiches that will keep for a day, milk, cereal, bars, fruit, carrots, crackers, cheese, bread).  You will probably want to avoid the restaurant, especially if you have a family.
  • (For contrast…the Death Valley accommodations are also isolated and also function as a monopoly, but they are operated by a different vendor –Xanterra (which also operates the South Rim lodge)   – and the food was much better and more fairly priced.)
  • I was curious about the employees. They are seasonal, obviously, since the place is only open a few months a year.  They all live on site, and many, it seems, are foreign students – I heard a lot of Eastern European accents while I was there.

Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge

This is the view of the main Lodge from one of the little hiking trails that goes out from it.  

The Lodge building itself is wonderful – historic and classic “National Park” style, with a fabulous glass-enclosed viewing lounge as well as patios with chairs.  The dining room also has that great view (those are the windows on the left) but again, the food isn’t good, and you can walk ten feet and sit on a couch and enjoy the same view. I thought I had photos of that lounge, but I can’t seem to find them.  You can get a good sense of it just from this search.  

Okay!

Well, I had intended to make this post about our first day at the Grand Canyon, but time is running out, so this will have to do.  But maybe it will help you out if you’re planning a trip…add your own insights if you like!

Tomorrow….

Grand….

"grand canyon"

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When we last spoke (about this, anyway), it was Saturday evening, and we were snug in our bunkhouses somewhere west of Fredonia,Arizona.

The next day we’d make our way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, but first things first: Mass.

Kanab, Utah was really our only choice in the area. Yes, there would be backtracking from our Saturday night space, but we would have to go almost all the way back to Kanab anyway to get to the road south, and it’s gorgeous country, so I won’t complain.

Mass was at 9.

Now, those of you who are familiar with the area are probably already thinking….uh-oh….

I’ll try to explain to the rest of you. And I may still get it wrong, so feel free to correct the details.  But I’m pretty sure this is what happened:

We were sleeping in Arizona. Arizona, like Utah, is in the Mountain Standard Time Zone, but does not observe Daylight Savings Time, so at the time we were there (late May), when we were in Arizona, we were in the same time zone as we had been in Las Vegas, the origin of our trip, and where the rental car was obtained. Vegas is in the Pacific Time Zone.

We would be going to Mass over the border in Utah, which is in the Mountain Standard Time Zone, but does observe Daylight Savings Time.

So, Mass was at 9am, but that would be 8 am according to where we were sleeping.

No problem.  I mean, going between time zones is a given when you’re traveling, and being that where we live (Alabama) is in a different time zone from places we go often on day trips (Georgia, South Carolina and Florida), this is not rocket science.

So.  Church was about 30 minutes away.  Just to be safe, I said, let’s leave at 7. Which would be 8 Church Standard Time and would get us there, if we drove at a leisurely pace, about 20 minutes early.

Yay.

So, I set my phone – which functions as my alarm clock, as I’m sure it does for many of you – for 6:30 am.

In the morning, it went off, I got up, got myself ready, then awakened the boys.  We packed up, I called the owner to check out, as instructed, we piled in the car, I turned the ignition, the dashboard lit up, and the clock – set to Las Vegas/Arizona time – blinked on.

6 AM.

(Translation: 7 AM Utah time. 2 hours before Mass. We could have slept another hour.)

So…..how did this happen?

It didn’t take me long to figure it out.

The day before, I had not used my phone from the time we drove out of Utah to the time we arrived at the bunkhouses.  Most of that drive was through an sparsely populated Native American reservation, and there, as here at the bunkhouse itself was….NO SERVICE.

My phone had never connected to Arizona cel service, so the clock was still on Utah time.

That time when your Mom apologizes a zillion times for getting us up at 5:30 for no reason? Yeah, that.

There was no sense in unloading and going back in the bunkhouses for just an hour.  I wasn’t tired, so I told them I was just going to drive around and see more of the country around Kanab.  Eating wasn’t an option because by the time we actually got to Kanab, we’d be hitting close to the 1-hour pre-Communion fast, and that cuts it close for me – I prefer the three-hour fast anyway.

So…I drove around.  The 14-year old fell back asleep pretty quickly, but the ten-year old stayed awake, and got to see a huge jackrabbit for his trouble.

Live, as they say, and learn.  Sheesh.

The Catholic church in Kanab is called St. Christopher’s, and I was very impressed with how they welcomed visitors.  Friendly greeters were at the door, and they had this as well:

St. Christopher medals and a prayer card for travelers.  It’s a great idea for any parish in a heavily-touristed area.

They did do the “raise your hand and tell us where you’re from” thing at the beginning of Mass, but I will say that it was actually before Mass started, so I guess I can accept that.  (I didn’t raise my hand, though, and the boys knew better…not that they’d want to enter that fray, either.)  They had donuts, etc., after Mass, but we didn’t go because, hey, I wanted to drive even more before noon.

So… today’s lesson: welcome your travelers. And don’t assume your phone is always telling you the truth. That’s trouble.

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