CHAPTER ONE ~ GAWKING THE CANYON
It amazes me when I discover most people are not aware there is more than one Grand Canyon in our nation. I’ve been to the three underlined others. The other Grand Canyons are found in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Texas, New York, Hawaii, and Illinois.
Certainly, the most famous and the largest is the so-called Inner Gorge, known as Grand Canyon National Park. The gorge is a two hundred seventy seven mile gash in the Earth, located in Arizona. Miles of inter-connected canyons of every size are found north and south of it, and are part of the national park.
These many canyons carry varying volumes of waters which feed the Colorado River, the watercourse at the bottom of the chasm. As seen from the air, these interconnected canyons form a mind-boggling network. My cousin commented, upon seeing it from the air, “The formations and canyons are reminiscent of an ancient multiple-legged monster.”
Several acquaintances, who are National Park Rangers enjoy hearing the tourists gasp when, with a deadpan face, the guides say, “Incidentally, the Colorado River is actually more than fourteen hundred miles long and originates in Rocky Mountain National Park. This mighty river travels rapidly downstream through Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California, and New Mexico. Along the way, forms Lake Mead, the reservoir made by Hoover Dam, and finally trickles into the Gulf of California. Lake Mead is only one reservoir in the chain. So much water is entrapped in man-made reservoirs that the Colorado has become a salty, sometime brook at its outlet.”
Since my first visit in 1973 (See Bolt From Above), I have visited the Big One well over one hundred times. And, in these explorations, I only scratched the surface, so to speak, of its wonders. The Grand Canyon developed between two billion and two hundred millions years ago. It was discovered by Spanish Explorers in the early 1500’s, and is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt designated it as the 17th national park.
Despite what people think, the Colorado River didn’t carve out the Grand Canyon; rather, the igneous (volcanic) , sedimentary (layered/fossils), and metamorphic (totally changed) rock layers were pushed upward from within the depths in and beneath the Earth’s crust, leaving the river far below. Igneous and metamorphic rocks often contain valuable minerals. Indeed, the GC and its surrounding areas have been the centers of mining activity since prehistoric times. A great deal of mining still is active in the areas adjacent to, but not part of the park.
During my fifteen years’ sojourn in Phoenix, this national park was an easy three hours auto travel north of the city. Interstate 17 climbed from Phoenixat nine hundred feet elevation, to the North Rim, at seven thousand feet. The Canyon areas are somewhat cooler than Phoenix, differing over fifty to sixty degrees (F) between the two areas.
Going downhill to home was an hour shorter and was quite easy on the gasoline consumption. With time, we frequent travelers learned not to ride the brakes on the way home. With a legal speed of 75 mph, it was an easy skill to learn. Often on my own, and sometimes with my friends or out of state visitors, I spent the day there and was easily able to return home to my own bed within sixteen hours.
In April of 2004, cousin Judy came from Australia to celebrate our joint birthday at the park and adjacent natural areas over a period of three days. It was quite an adventure, and we happily luxuriated in one of several dozen resort hotels just outside the park boundary along the North Rim. Temperatures were low up North. We saw a great deal of deep snow lying on roadsides and inner areas of the canyon, whilst the temperature in Phoenix hovered around ninety. Judy was impressed by the temperature difference.
In my lifetime, one of the greatest pleasures I have experienced after moving to Arizona became a delightful annual event. A close friend lived only two hours south of the park. So, began a tradition when she first lived in Phoenix for a few years after moving from Massachusetts. On her day after Thanksgiving, she and I travelled up to the North Rim and happily consumed our Thanksgiving leftovers sitting with our feet dangling into space. That day after the Big Feast was unique! The photograph was taken at one of our leftovers’ feast after she moves an hour further north. Unlike the summer mobs of millions of people, very few ~ perhaps barely a thousand, and mostly foreigners at that, were there on this off-season day. Interestingly enough, something like eighty per cent of native Arizonans have never visited the Grand Canyon. “It’s been there a long time. I don’t expect it will go away,” is the most common comment.
Inside the Canyon itself are indescribable geologic wonders colored by the most exotic of hues, colors and / or shapes which beggar description. These unique creations were formed through time as rocks and minerals were crushed, torn apart, or thrust upward and possibly covered with lava flows. They were further refined by erosive forces. In these rocks and minerals you will find nooks and crannies varying in size from a coat closet to the size of Burlington County here in New Jersey. Buttes, peaks, mesas, side canyons, hiking trails! And geologic wonders from dinosaur fossils through invertebrates abound. Ancient lava flows of every hue are plentiful, still frozen in the midst of ancient flows and eruptions. Erosion can do little to alter their bizarre beauty.
The distances in the GC are so grand, it actually does look dusty when viewed from the rims. No, it’s not dust! One sees distant forests, their clustered trees towering up to ninety feet high. My beloved mother-in-law was stunned the first time she visited. Holding up her hand, she tried to touch the distant formations. Confused by the size, she stammered, “But it’s so dusty!” Later I took her on some forest trails onto the gorge areas, and she finally was convinced there were indeed trees and forests on those distant monuments of time.
Plant and animal life in the GC is inconceivably varied. The birds – native and migratory – are everywhere, and include condors and eagles. Mammals from wolves through wolverines are bountiful, as are stray dogs which have been tossed over the edge by uncaring owners and have managed to survive. Many are rescued by native Indians and become pets in the villages in and around the area.
Attached to heights of between two thousand and six thousand feet, outside or adjacent to the National Park, are active Indian tribal villages tucked in parts of the formations dozens of miles up and downstream from the National Park. Official Indian Reservations, separated by ancient tribal history, surround the park. When I worked for the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum, I was an annual presenter in many of these places. Unfortunately, even though I had an invitation, I never made it to the village at the bottom of the canyon. The mules would not carry boxes of heavy rocks up or down, and the Park Service said the selfsame boxes were not “critical cargo”. Nor, after application, was I considered as such.
“And you’ll never make it alive coming up that seven thousand foot high trail,” laughed Sue, my boss. “With the twists and turns and deep sand, it’s not for you.” She was right. Then she added, “Four hours down on foot. Six coming up the next day.”
In addition, human history has left mines, bridge skeletons, marked and unmarked gravesites, as well as ghost towns, and the remains of scatte4red cabins built of rock. Fugitives and the tales of their peccadilloes are intriguing and both skeletal or mummified remains. On occasion, the law officers find a living fugitive one holed up in a cave or a canyon and cart them off to trial and prison. Hermits and other misanthropes find holes and shelters in which they survive. As long as they don’t bother anyone, however, the law only checks them out at regular intervals.
Potable water is plentiful through out, ranging is size from miniature to overwhelming: there is a plethora of falls, lakes, rivers, streams, rapids; as well as salt, chemical, and hot springs. Roads are not common, but most of the Grand Canyon could be seen on foot, canoe, raft, river boat, and motorized craft. RV, horse or mule, helicopter, and plane are common, although sightseeing by the latter two is now prohibited. The list of outdoor recreational activities though out the four seasons is endless.
An old friend of mine still pays four visits a year to the resort hotels on the northern and southern rims, and drinks himself unconscious over a five day visit. “I have to be sober by Sunday, ‘cause that’s when I drive home to Phoenix,” he sighed to me. “My brother, now, he works there at the general store, and can get drunk every night.” He paused, then said thoughtfully, “I don’t think he ever sobers up all the way. My cousin, now works at the IMAX on the North Rim and is trying to get them to build one of them on the South Rim.” Again, he pauses thoughtfully. “Doesn’t drink, though.”
CHAPTER TWO ~ FLYING THE CANYON
In the early 1980’s, co-worker and friend, Hattie ~ who was also the principal of our school ~ and I, went out on our first of many trips to the American West over Easter Break. My own first trip there had been in 1973, when our family was knocked down by lightning. Bolt From Above is all about that particular adventure. It will be added to the blog in July. That, being said, is another story. She, as have so many Easterners, who had flown over it on the way to California, knew nothing about the GC or the natural wonders of the western states. When I told her the Canyon was a resort “hot spot” she was skeptical, but her sense of adventure dictated we book our trip.
To this day, she speaks with wonder of the sights we saw. Although, as with me, she says, “Names and faces are now somewhat vague in my head, however, every single sight and adventure still remains fresh!”
After we arrived, we checked into the hotel on the North Rim and checked out some of the souvenir shops, we went to the rim trail. The Canyon stunned her senses. The souvenir shops no longer intrigued her. The IMAX meant nothing. We decided to forgo a mule ride to the bottom, as well as the white water rafting adventure in favor of a plane ride through the Canyon. A Park Ranger friend of mine recommended a dependable tour company near Hoover Dam, so we set out one morning with high anticipation. The Colorado River flows toward the Gulf of Mexico out of the Grand Canyon and fills the reservoir behind this majestic dam on theArizona–Nevadaborder.
We therefore made the next day’s first reservations for 7:30 am.. We drove off at sunrise and within an hour, we arrived at the small airport, with Hoover Dam gleaming in the distance. While waiting to be called for the flight, we wandered delightedly through their museum. After the flight, our next stop was to be Hoover Dam and the elevator ride to the turbines at the bottom.
Right on time, our flight was announced, and we given a jeep ride onto the tarmac, where our seven passenger, single-winged Piper Cub waiting.
As soon as I saw it, I started giggling, and my girlfriend asked why. “When I lived on the farm, we called these planes a Rubber Bander,” I told her. “They were used for crop dusting. I hope this one has seats.” The jeep driver roared with laughter and agreed. Hattie was used to flying all over the world, and this little toy did NOT appeal to her at first. He introduced his daughter, Patsy, who was industriously cleaning the plane inside and out. She appeared to be about twelve years old. This girl was skinny; about a woman’s size three. A long, braided ponytail on her back reached below her waist. As we talked, she continued vacuuming, then began checking out the tires and other parts of the plane. Her dad went back for some unexpected passengers.
Hattie asked her if her father owned the business. “Yes.” smiled Patsy. “And even though I have my pilot’s license for this Rubber Bander, he still makes me do the dirty work.”
Hattie and I gasped. “Pilot’s license? How old are you, child?” we chorused.
“Twenty-nine. I flew cargo planes in the Air Force before my ten year discharge.”
“Well, you’re a woman. That means you’re competent,” said Hattie in her best principal’s voice. “You GO, girl. I’m ready.” We all roared with laughter and gave each other a group hug, then continued chatting amicably.
The jeep came roaring up with three overweight men who were smoking cigars, and an equally overweight woman who inhaled the smoke from hers. The four were loud, obnoxious, and arrogant. The men made crude remarks to Patsy and then to me. She ignored them, reached into the plane, pulled out and strapped on her brace of six-shooters. They gasped.
“How the **** old are you girlie?” said one. I walked up to them and gave them my sternest Teacher Look. They quietly retreated back to the jeep. Dad kept grinning as he collected the cigars and told the four they were not allowed to smoke nor carry cigars on the airplane..
The woman companion screamed in redneck laughter and addressed me. “You gotta tell them. They’re mean.”
Hattie and I silently stared at her, and she grew bright red, then waddled off in retreat, reluctantly surrendering her cigar to the boss.
Patsy came over to us, and asked in a low voice, “Do you ladies get air sick?”
“Naw. ” We chorused.
”Are you in the mood for some wild flying?”
“Yaw.” We giggled.
“We both like roller coasters and carnival rides,” I giggled.
“I’m gonna make these creeps s-i-c-k with stunts.” Patty grinned. And we grinned back.
“Well, when we land, do not remove your seat belts, girls, because we’ll have another forty minutes in the flight for quiet sightseeing.”
Patty walked to the plane, strapped on her helmet, and pointed out our seats. Hattie sat in the front seat next to the pilot and quickly strapped herself in. Patty nodded in approval. She placed me in the middle row seat behind Hattie. I also strapped myself in and received a smile and a thumbs up from Patty. Blubber Lady sat in the left seat next to me.
The three male chauvinists were scrunched in the last row, barely fitting. Patty would not touch them, and it took a long time for them to be hooked up. Blubber Lady got the seat next to me and I strapped her in.
After telling us the rules, and warning she would cut the flight short if they didn’t listen, Patsy revved the motors, then took off vertically, slamming the four against their seats. She then headed straight for Hoover Dam, about two miles away. With a glance at Hattie, she did a vertical climb up the wall and then skimmed the highway crossing it. Then she turned around over the reservoir, zipped back over the two lane highway on top and went nose first almost to the water. Silence in the back.
Without further ado, she flew along the Colorado River to a wide spot, then returned toward Hoover. Up and over! Without a word, she headed further straight up, said “three thousand feet.” and did a loop over the lake, turned right, and into the Canyon. What a ride! We were having fun. The other passengers screamed, panted, and became green. They needed several sets of sea-sickness bags.
Patty flew straight at buttes and peaks with last minute ups or downs. Sometimes she flew sideways between numerous squeezes. drawdowns and dropdawns with sharp turns brought screams from the four other passengers. Skipping low enough on the waters of the river to leave a wake brought more screams. Sideways. Side climbs. Drop downs. Whirls.
The four gasped, actually turned greener, and desperately tried to survive. Hattie and I had a wonderful time.
It made any roller coaster seem tame.
As soon as the others were quiet, Patsy gave us a delightful history of the places we were seeing. The four others clutched their seatbelts and mouths and remained silent. On occasion, one would start to say something, and Patsy went back to creative flying.
There was not another sound. Nada.
Then one of men began to berate our pilot. She said, “We’re going back.”
Twenty five minutes after takeoff, we returned to base, ending in a three-bump-long-squeaky-skid-slid- landing. We were told to sit still.
The jeep was waiting. Our four passengers got out, lost their breakfast on the tarmac, then waddled rapidly toward the waiting jeep. Without a word, dad offered to return their cigars. The offer was declined with head shakes, which caused more nausea. The jeep drove off, hitting potholes as it went. We heard faint screams.
Without further ado, Patty hosed down the tarmac, then stepped back into the pilot’s seat. She was grinning. So were we.
Patsy’ dad soon came back, laughing uproariously. “We know how to teach people manners, teacher ladies.”
She told him we were going up for another twenty minutes, and we took off again. It was a much quieter ride, and we saw many incredibly stunning sights.
When the flight ended, we and our pilot hugged. With giggles and skips, we approached the jeep, waved goodbye as the next set of passengers were loaded on, and then skipped back to Hoover Dam and into the American West.