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(Previously: Death Valley and Zion National Park)

Our next objective, after Zion, was the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.


To get there, we drove through a lot of very empty country, that looked like this, complete with dust devils. (This one was particularly impressive, as it lasted a long time, and had a visible funnel. I believe it was V. who got this pic from the car.)


Then we had a long drive through some lovely dense Ponderosa and aspen forests in the Kaibab National Forest, interspersed with big meadows, that really didn't look like what you think of as the southwest at all. That was due to the climbing elevation -- the North Rim sits at around 8,000 feet. The aspen were industriously colonizing the gaps created by forest fires. There were signs at every meadow telling you not to drive on the meadows. (As K. remarked, "Well, I didn't want to until you told me not to!") Also, there were cattle crossing signs everywhere, which struck us as weird in a national forest, and we definitely didn't see any cows or anything. (More on this later.)

And then there was the canyon, finally!



It is a mighty big and impressive hole.

The North Rim is much less developed than the South Rim, with fewer people visiting it (as we would discover), and fewer facilities. It's nice -- it feels more intimate, I think. On the first night there, I fulfilled one of the goals I had for the trip. Ever since K first suggested the trip, I had a vivid image in my mind of "sitting on the rim and watching the sunset with a nice beer". I was definitely bound and determined to make this happen. Well, the Roughrider Saloon (Teddy Roosevelt memorabilia everywhere) provided some good Grand Canyon Brewing Co. stout, and the canyon provided, on that first night we were there, the most scenic sunset of the trip. Forgive me while I spam you with sunset:








Because how can you not take a billion pictures of it when the light is changing EVERY MOMENT?

Below (in a pic by D, I believe) is not us, but illustrates how the park service knows what you're there for, and thoughtfully provides rim-side adirondack chairs and tables for your beverages (adult and otherwise):


The next day, we made the drive out along the Walhalla Plateau, just east of the main development on the North Rim, which has a bunch of points and short hikes and stuff. First stop was Point Imperial, the highest point (that you could get to easily) at 8,803 feet. Here, a view of Mount Hayden (the spiky thing):


Roosevelt Point:


Angel's Window, with a first peek at the Colorado River:



Prickly-pear cactus in flower, pink version:


Cliffrose shrub (the "tassels" growing up from the flowers were used by the Ancient Puebloan inhabitants of the area for weaving):


So these yellow butterflies (Anise swallowtail) were EVERYWHERE, and too fluttery to photograph. I saw this one fluttering and said, "oh please, mister butterfly, land so I can take your picture", whereupon it did land on the gravel right there, and I said, "No way! *click click click*"


There are USUALLY guardrails at the lookout points... but not always.


Far in the background of the shot above is the South Rim, and I was just able to make out some features, which I verified with binoculars, and then was able to take a photo. Here, from 6 miles (approx) away on the North Rim, is the Desert View Watchtower on the South. (More on this later.)


Then we decided to do this 2-mile (one way) hike out to another point, called "Cape Final", which sounds ominous when you think about it. The guide we had said it was "easy" with "not much elevation gain" (not enough to even list). This was another little "white lie" of the park service, because there sure as HELL was elevation gain (at several points), and also, it was more than 2 miles. And also, when you got to the very end, there wasn't really a view unless you scrambled up some fairly steep rocks and stood on their distinctly un-guard-railed tops. (Which was disappointing in the sense that after the long walk, what I really wanted was a nice bench from which to contemplate the canyon.) It was not an end-goal, we agreed, that we would have wanted to reach after towing small children down the length of that trail (as one family group we passed on the way back was doing.

However, it was actually really lovely to see all this open, expansive Ponderosa pine forest, with extensive blooming lupine (which of course is not as vivid in the photos as it was in real life). I only occasionally thought about how it was mountain lion habitat (at points where I happened to lose sight of the people in front of me and the people behind me).


More prickly-pear cactus, the red-blooming variety:



There is this subspecies of squirrel called the Kaibab squirrel that they only have in the Ponderosa forests of the Kaibab plateau (North Rim and environs), which is largish, and has a blackish body (well, very dark), and tufty ears, and a bright white tail (theorized as helpful camouflage in winter?). And we saw TWO!



We were only at the North Rim for two nights. Driving back out the next day, we finally passed one of these signs, which made a lot more sense than the "cattle" signs we'd seen on the way in.


And as we passed it, I said, in my most sarcastic voice, "We're not going to get to see any bison, what a tease."

Whereupon, we rounded a bend, and...



Note: it is really not recommended that you get out of your car around bison (or even "beefalos", cattle-bison hybrids; but these sure looked like pure bison), because they are BIG, and they are irritable, and especially when they have calves to protect, it's just not a good idea. We were way, way further back, where we would not have to, say, explain to the rental-car company why our car had bison-damage. Thank goodness for a good zoom lens.






(This is also some lovely shots of the broad meadows and the pine and spruce and aspen forest of the North Rim.)

Then we drove and drove and drove and DROVE, until we got to Page, AZ, where we wanted to see Antelope Canyon, which is Very Scenic and you have seen it in A Thousand Photos, so what's a few more here or there?

First, the country around-abouts Page:


(This is from later, during our brief stop where we thought we would go see Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado river, which on the map seemed like a very easy pull-off from the highway. But which in fact involved like a nearly 2-mile hike. Four of us attempted to start it, when we still didn't realize how long the trail to the overlook was, but it was 100 degrees and we were tired, so we abandoned it. You can Google it and see it, it's really spectacular. Instead, I took a picture of the landscape.)

To see Antelope Canyon, which is on Navajo land, you have to pay a guide, and they load you into open seats on the back of a pickup truck, and drive you at breakneck speeds over pure sand for 3 miles to get to the canyon opening (and you are grateful to not have had to either drive that or worse, walk it, yourself). Then your guide shepherds you and his other 12 people through the canyon, briskly, because there are literally hundreds of other people there who all want to see it and photograph it.

It's a very narrow (but tall) slot canyon that gets regular flash floods, so they apparently monitor the rainstorms about 50 miles up-canyon of it VERY CLOSELY. Because like 12 people died in the Lower Canyon (across the road) not that many years ago.

The Navajo guides are very, very practiced at this. At the start he (or she) takes you aside and gives you the whole spiel, and is like, "okay, and if you have X brand of camera, you want to set it on this-this-this... oh, just give it here", whereupon he sets your camera in like 2 seconds. So you start with this (more or less):


And then you get this:


(To be completely fair, I think that shots of the canyon in just about any setting would be gorgeous, whether it's the pinkish-purples that it kind of looks like in real life, or the vivid red-oranges with the settings the guide suggested. I was just happy to follow his advice, since in fact I don't know that much about setting my camera for different light levels. I know more now than I did!)

It's not that it's not possible to take a bad photo in Antelope Canyon; I had a lot that came out blurry. Also, there was sand. Oh my god, we were there on such a windy day, we were covered in sand grit, and we kept having to duck our cameras under our shirts to keep the sand out, which was falling steadily from above. Yet, even as hurried and frantic and hot and gritty as the whole thing was, I kind of loved it, and it was totally worth it.







(It's the profile of a bear, standing up! Can you see the bear??? Our guide was very pleased to be able to show us the bear.)


Next! The South Rim!


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 21st, 2013 05:39 pm (UTC)
Holy bat dren, these are exquisite. Especially the Antelope Canyon shots...just. Plain. Wow.
Jul. 21st, 2013 07:09 pm (UTC)
That sunset on the north rim that first night there was just PERFECT in every way. I am feeling all zen just thinking about it again.
Jul. 21st, 2013 07:30 pm (UTC)
So, so beautiful. I especially appreciate you posting those pics of the sunset. Amazing.
Jul. 21st, 2013 08:06 pm (UTC)
So how does one get from the north rim to the south rim easily? Is there a bridge across the canyon somewhere?

Those Antelope photos, hnnng, so beautiful. I will go there some day, I will I will.

The bison photos remind me of when I was in Chile. Our tourist van stopped to look at some wild guanacos, and all the fucking tourists jumped out of the van and ran towards the guanacos, which then took off up the hill out of sight. -_- I guess bison are more confident.

KAIBIB SQUIRREL! They are so cute!
Jul. 22nd, 2013 01:07 am (UTC)
So how does one get from the north rim to the south rim easily? Is there a bridge across the canyon somewhere?


In normal times, you drive from the North Rim back north and then east, 3 hours, to just south of Page AZ. This takes you upstream on the Colorado, past the wide part of the Grand Canyon, to just downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam (with Lake Powell upstream), where there is a bridge and you can cross. West of this, there is not another bridge across the Colorado until you get all the way to the Hoover Dam downstream, near Las Vegas; about 200 miles as the crow files? But more like 250 river-miles. Anyway, from Page AZ, you head south for about another 2.5 hours until you can make a turn and drive into the eastern edge of Grand Canyon NP.

However, in late April, there was a big landslide on route 89 south of Page, which took out the highway. Who knows when it will get fixed -- I mean, they're working on it, it's an important road, but it will take a bit. So to get TO Page, from the North Rim, we had to go back west and pick up a different highway, and that took longer than it was supposed to. We went across another bridge just upstream of the normal one (on 89A), right by the Glen Canyon Dam. While from Page (where Antelope Canyon is, so we stopped there), it was more like, hmm, a 4-hour detour drive east and then back south-west to rt. 89 so we could get to where we turned in to the NP.

It was a long, long day of driving. And there were also some really crazy people on the roads doing a few really dangerous things that day. Maybe because they were used to having the little back highways to themselves, and suddenly all us detour people were on it.

The bison, man -- they did not care about the people. They didn't care about the cars. They didn't actually move off the road until a guy in a giant trash truck got tired of waiting and pulled out around the stopped cars coming the other way, and inched his way through them. Like, he went really slowly and didn't try to hit them, but tried to "encourage" them to move -- and they did. They galloped away from that, and then we could all leave.

Edited at 2013-07-22 01:10 am (UTC)
Jul. 22nd, 2013 01:50 am (UTC)
Haha I've been wondering about that South Rim/North Rim question for YEARS! My mom helped drive me out to Los Angeles back in 1993, and of course we did all the tourist things along the way. We visited the South Rim of the GC and at the time I heard of people visiting the North Rim and wondered how they got over there, because as we were driving along Interstate 40 I never saw any bridge or "this way to the North Rim" signs. And the Canyon starts well east of where most of the scenic photos are taken. I mean just driving along the gorge before it widens out into the enormous canyon was impressive enough.

I do remember Hoover Dam, so yeah we never got near the North Rim I guess. Actually, are there helicopter rides across the canyon or are the winds to unsteady?

I have a friend who lives in Arizona who has taken photos from the glass walkway that extends out over the canyon. Were you near that? Oh wait, I guess you haven't done the South Rim report yet. :D
Jul. 22nd, 2013 01:09 am (UTC)
I do wonder if Antelope Canyon is genuinely redder at midday.
Jul. 22nd, 2013 01:13 am (UTC)
You know, I'm betting not. Because we got there near 1pm, or 1:30 pm, IIRC. We weren't THAT far off midday. I think the famous red-orange-ness of all the photos is because to shoot in the low-light of the canyon, and to make it so that you actually get the shafts of light, instead of everything being really washed out, you have to put cameras on low-light-level settings (and as I understand it, the best shots are taken with even longer-exposure settings). Like, you can see in my before/after above that in the first shot, I don't get as much of the depth of the background, because that setting couldn't capture enough light. So I kind of bet that with those low-light settings, it somehow results in the reddish tones.

He didn't have me set it on anything that specified warmer tones. He was just giving me settings that compensated for low light.
Jul. 22nd, 2013 11:19 am (UTC)
These are GLORIOUS, thank you so much! I love the canyon photos particularly and thank you for including one with a person in it to set the scale :-) Absolutely mind-bogglingly beautiful!
Jul. 22nd, 2013 09:02 pm (UTC)
The wild animals sure are cooperating with you, aren't they? LOL! Looks like the bison even put on a fight for you.
Jul. 24th, 2013 08:34 am (UTC)
Looks like an amazing trip, Holly. :)
Such awesome surroundings, sure look even better IRL than on photo!

And the bisons; yes, people are stupid that way. Looks like you've got a good view on them anyway, and at a SAFE distance. Aww, look at the baby's. :D

That bear profile is amazing. :o
Oooh, and camera's white balance properties can change so much in a photo (I assume that's what the guide changed, by the looks of it). Did you bring a tripod of some kind?
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )