The Grand Canyon
April 4, Grand Canyon, Arizona. The grim weather we had in Flagstaff the day before, gave way to sunshine yesterday as we rode northwest. We went up over 8,000 feet, and could really notice the cold thin air when we went into the shade, but were toasty in the sun. We rode between columns of tall ponderosas, a carpet of needles smelling of turpentine, a reminder of Rocky Mountains from nine months ago eastbound.
Just off the northwest shoulder of the San Francisco Peaks, in an open meadow spattered with pines, sat a tiny hand built chapel, glass end framing the snow-covered San Francisco Peaks. Dirt floor covered with carpet remnants, benches of scrap fiberboard and a large 4”x4” cross, it seemed built more with serendipity and love than money and nails.
A notice written on the back of a pizza restaurant menu announced a wedding to take place in the chapel in May, and asked for blessings for the couple. It was push-pined to a wall. Others had carved their professions of various faiths into the walls.
In the entry sat a book of prayers and supplications; they asked for love and peace, protection and prosperity. We added our own: “Hear the prayers of those who write here. We have all we need, we are ever thankful.” We left more mindful of the sun and blue sky and more accepting of the building wind.
After 66 miles, 20 or so from Grand Canyon, I was ready to rest my arms from the side-wind. We found a side road into the Kaibab National Forest and after a quarter mile, pushed deep into the juniper and set up camp. Before dinner, we walked all around our camp at 100 yards or so to see how we blended in. Deep in the night we were to be glad we’d done such a good job of hiding. At moonrise, coyotes sang nearby, very nearby, and I felt they knew where we were.
Around 4 am, Claire heard a vehicle pull off the road somewhere near us. A truck-door slammed, and for about a half hour or more, thumping, or digging sounds came from the area, quite nearby. We decided to stay quiet, since we knew we were well hidden. We finally went to sleep and slept late, and so did our new neighbors. I wonder if they got the body buried before they went to sleep?
The short ride into the park today was discouraging. Traffic was constant, and airplanes and helicopters seemed to fill the air as we neared the park. We saw eight helicopter pads in one area and two in another; they were busy cycling through bus loads of tourists, one load after another.
We found a campground by noon and spent the afternoon exploring the overlooks and the lodges. Except for some traffic, it was a pleasant experience with fabulous views.
We saw the Grand Canyon railroad train loading at the station. We had tried to get a one-way ticket to the park, but they do not have a baggage car, so we couldn’t bring Zippy. I think a lot of people would come here with bicycles if that were an option. Something will have to be done about the traffic here soon. The Park Service knows it has a problem, but putting limits on motor vehicles is politically challenging.
Tonight we walked to the rim for sunset, and then back to a program by Lee Stetson, a portrayal of John Muir, in which he makes the audience squirm a few times about how they bring their pollution to the wilderness. The air pollution is quite visible from the rim; the colors are not what I expected because of it.
I suspect we were the only ones at the program who came here on muscle power. I wonder if more people would consider alternative means of transportation if they just knew how much more they could experience by going slower. I’d like to see everyone come by train and then move around the rim by bicycle, foot, stagecoach, or perhaps small electric cars.
Our second day there, we rode the east rim of the Canyon, the less visited area. Naturally it was the more beautiful. But there was no Imax, there were no hotels or restaurants or curio shops. There was only wind in the pines and ravens cutting arcs, folding wings and plummeting over the unfathomable depths and indescribable colors of the best canyon views. Oh well, we didn’t miss those who stayed in Canyon Village.
At a small ruins of the ancient ones, we met Leslie R. Colitt, a correspondent for the Financial Times in Berlin. He is an expatriate American, traveling here for six weeks and writing about his travels for the Times. He was quite taken by our method of travel and very interested in our views on America today. We could have talked for days. He promised to send me a book he has written about the cold war years, in exchange for the one many have suggested we write about our travels. I guess we’ll have to now.