Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Grand Canyon from top to bottom

Elie Wiesel house
When I was living in San Francisco, a good friend came up to visit for a few days. During that time, I very fondly remember feeling like I was experiencing one of the best days of my life. Nothing incredible happened, that was part of what made it so nice—just living life and having really good feelings about the whole thing. We listened to a lot of music, climbed on top of the roof to watch people, lounged in the park and listened to the hippies play in their drum circle. It was altogether pleasant from sun up ‘til sun down. Since that time I've been slightly more aware of those rare ‘perfect’ days, and when one comes up (usually without any effort or foresight), I always try to write it down in order to keep the memory of it. One recent addition was during our trip to Romania when we started the day by visiting the Elie Wiesel house, then while walking around we stumbled upon a market. I really love markets, especially when they sell food and common household items. We bought some head scarves for me, and a watermelon which we then ate in a nearby park. Lovely. From there we walked ourselves right over the bridge into Ukraine and spent some of the afternoon there.  Very nice indeed.

Well, all of this is leading up to last Sunday, when another fine day made history. On Saturday night Joe and I drove up to the forest land right outside the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We wanted to camp there because it’s free, but an unintended outcome was hearing Elk bugling throughout the night. Their territory/mating call sounds like an antiquated electronic system, like the kind from old movies when they’re searching for a satellite signal. It was cool to be surrounded by that.
Starting things off right with that beautiful view
The next morning we got up early and drove into the Grand Canyon, aiming for the South Kaibab trailhead. Our plan was to do a loop starting from the Bright Angel trailhead, down to the bottom of the canyon, and up the South Kaibab trail, so we had to catch the shuttle from our parking spot. While we waited, Joe spotted a few impressive birds and we both enjoyed those incredible views. The shuttle came and brought us to where we needed to go without any trouble at all. Then we started our hike. The weather was great, the other hikers were friendly, and the whole thing was looking to be downright pleasant.  And so it was. Down the Bright Angel trail we went without an ache or complaint. It’s about 10 miles to the bottom, and we took a brief detour to rest on one of the beaches of the Colorado River. After enjoying the views from there we carried on to the silver bridge which brought us to the Bright Angel campground. We went down to the river, where boulders replaced the smooth beach sand, and stuck our feet in the cold water. It was heavenly. Truly. After all that downhill walking, there was no better feeling in the world at that moment than taking off the boots and cooling off the feet. We stayed like that for a long time, then found some shade and ate lunch. We also filled up on water before starting out again.
Quick stop at the beach

Resting with my feet in the river.

Crossing the bridge over the Colorado.

Rather than backtrack, we took the South Kaibab trail up which is shorter, coming in at 7 miles, but steeper. It actually wasn't bad at all, some of which I contribute to being able to rest our feet in the river. On that trail we only saw four other hikers, and every one of them was happy to take a quick break and chat for a minute. It was shaping up to be a pretty good day, based on the unbeatable scenery that followed us everywhere (turns out there’s not a bad view from anywhere within the Grand Canyon), and the bizarrely painless hike. But this is what moved it from a good day into the realms of greatness:
Look closely, he's there...

When we were about a mile from the top, as we rounded a switchback we both looked up to see turkey vultures and ravens riding the thermals above us. And then… a condor! Coming directly towards us from out of the vulture/raven group. It soared above us, very close, seemingly unaware of its awesomeness. And within seconds it was out of view. We both stood there for a few seconds holding our breath, taking in this spectacular moment. Then, after waiting a few minutes with the hope that it would return, we began walking slowly and quietly, looking all around for this condor. After a few minutes of walking, there he was again. This time soaring quite a bit higher than before, still hanging out with the ravens and turkey vultures. We stood there looking up, feeling pretty good about the whole thing. Then! A second condor! Oh please. It was almost too much. These birds, even to people who aren't married to an ornithologist, will get your attention. They are so big, the largest bird in North America, with a wingspan of just under 10 feet. Not only that, they are endangered, so there are very limited opportunities to see them in the wild. We considered ourselves pretty lucky in that moment. And really, the best way to sum up the overall feeling is that it just didn't seem real. But there we were, there they were—it couldn't have been real-er.
Both of those majestic beasts.

Twenty minutes later, the birds had gone and we started up the last stretch of trail. I felt like I was floating rather than walking, still riding the wave of excitement and awe. We parked almost a mile from the trailhead, but that extra mile was pure delight after experiencing the happiness of seeing condors. We took in more of the views from an overlook at the top, did a quick overall bird count, then drove home. There’s nothing about that day that could have been better, and it will live on as one of the best I've ever had.
Wait a second, HOW big was that bird??

1 comment:

Brenda said...

Wow, I didn't know you were going. You have some wonderful adventures.