Thursday, May 31, 2012

Day Six: Into the Canyon and Beyond...

Today I arise shortly before the dawn and make my way down to the El Tover lodge, alledgedly the best place to watch the sunrise if you do not have the time to shuttle out to either of the two other points. I converse for a time with an Asian woman, who despite being short on breath due to the altitude and having a randomly bleeding nose (due to the altitude) informs me that she walked across the bottom of the canyon yesterday - from North Rim to South Rim. Impressive! It is a seventeen hour walk, I believe, which would mean she would have to do it in the heat of the day. Elks graze on the irrigated lawns outside the lodge, they are large and slightly menacing, showing no fear at all of us small humans.

The sun rises, as it is prone to do.

We check out early, our intention to take in the Ranger Tour down to Cedar Ridge. It is a delightfully warm morning, not hot but a comfortable level where short sleeves do not make you shiver. Parking in the Visitor Centre car park, we catch the shuttle the short distance to the Trailhead and fill up our water bottles at the water station. A dark-eyed junco flutters about and a squirrel watches us, hopeful for handouts. He goes disappointed.

And then we descend into the depths of the canyon. We are not going very deep, just a couple of hours down to a ridge that is approximately one third of the depth into the canyon. Signs proclaim "going down is option, coming up is compulsory" to warn trampers not to take on more than they can manage. The Guide tells us of a donkey that fell two days before and whose carcass now feeds the condors. The first part is steep, with eight switchbacks leading us down through the first layer back into time. The Guide tells us of the different layers, of what they mean and how old they are.


We made it!
It takes us almost two hours to reach the ridge, and then of course we have to walk all the way back up again! The heat is now starting to ramp up and the shady patches on the path have decreased, but with our waterbottles at the ready, we make the climb back up again - in about half the time it took us to get down. Which shows that when you're not stopping regularly to look at the scenary and listen to a guide, and when you are not limited by how fast you can go, it's not so bad!

We then take the road east and out towards the park exit on that side. It is quite a long way and we stop for lunch at the Watchtower.

The Watchtower itself is odd as it does not watch anything and was build entirely to attract tourists. It was constructed in 1904 and has historic murals on the inside, painted by a Hopi Indian artist, Fred Kabotie.

The view is excellent, apparently you can see people on the river - if you have binoculars, I guess!

Leaving the Canyon behind, we head north-east towards Lake Powell. This route takes us through what I believe is Navajo country. It is barren and arid, split with great canyons and studded with stone buttes. Foliage is short bushes no more than knee height and the song of cicadas fills the air with a rattling drone. Flat rocks litter the soil. The arid and desolate nature of it reminds me of Madagascar's wastelands of eroded land, but the colours are different, the land more barren. Roadside stalls are scattered along the highway, their paint peeling and many are empty. It feels rather like we have stepped into a third world country. It strikes me as a ahrsh and unforgiving landscape, and not one where you can easily keep stock, although we do see a paddock of horses. I also see my first identifiable roadkill, a coyote stretched out by the side of the road, jaws gaping in a final, rictus snarl.


As we travel further north the landscape becomes no less barren but the colours become more dramatic. Red rocky ridges rise from the desert of stubby grey-green bushes. The golden soil contrasts sharply with the red cliffs, which in turn are striated in shades of pink, white, red-pink and red. Power pylons march across the plains. Houses feel isolated, even when they are clustered next to one another. Out here, noone has a garden and the buildings are low and long. Around them the land rises in lumps, like sand dunes.


Further into the Painted Desert, more dunes rise and the hardy shrubs have grown taller. There is even a ridge - also called the Cedar Ridge, that is covered in trees which make it quite beautiful, albeit still rather stark and barren.

We detour to the Vermillion Cliffs in the hope of finding condors. Of all the places, this is the most likely in which you will see them - for it is here that the Californian Condor has been re-released in Arizona. We cannot reach the actual release site, but there is a Visitor's Centre beside the bridge, a low red building designed to blend in with the environment. We have seen that a lot - where the buildings try and capture the natural colours and design of the environment. The Colorado river is a rich and inviting shade of blue as it cuts through the steep canyon walls and the cliffs are dramatic and sheer, a rich russett red. There are no condors and the air is still and bakingly hot. Shade and air-conditioning come as a welcome relief.

We double back and continue on our way to Page. Page is a small desert town that sprung up around the Glen River dam. Our accommodation is Debbies Hide-away which comes recommended by the Lonely Planet.  Located in the actual town, upon a little street labelled "The Historic Street of Little Motels." It is a garish, flamingo pink colour and the garden is an array of various ornaments - flamingoes, a fountain, fake flower pots - and of cause real flowers that must be watered regularly. There are also a number of bird feeders and the garden is alive with avian life - sparrows, house finches and doves flap and fluttered, jostling with one another for the food as ravens soar over, cawing. I believe that at one time this - and the other historic motels of this little street, were once small flats. For we had a kitchen, a lounge, a separate bedroom and bathroom, with a short hallway and a bookcase. Everything was set out rather like it was intended to be comfortable quarters for someone staying for a week or so - possibly with children and there were magazines, books and possibly a few boardgames as well as couches, a separate table and chairs, fully equipped kitchenware (if a little worn) and a selection of various seasonings - along with the compulsory coffee machine and a microwave. It would be an absolutely charming home-away-from-home and made me kind of wish that we had planned on staying here for a week or two at least! It is the one and only place that I can adequately prepare a meal and I fry up some mushrooms and toast some bread to go with the leftover spaghetti from the night before. There is a Safeway within (short) walking distance. 

After dinner, we head down to first the dam, and then to a place called Sunrise hill, where we intend to well, you can guess! By daming the river, they flooded the Glen Canyon, and its beauty was said to rival that of the Grand Canyon - and those that dive under the water would agree. The lake that formed is Lake Powell, AKA, Lake Silencio. It is a popular recreational spot for watersports and there is also the largest natural rock bridge, the Rainbow Bridge. That is reachable only by boat. From Sunrise Hill we have panaromic views across the lake and the vivid blue of the water and the sky contrast sharply with the red of the rock. To the north lies the desert plains of Utah, and back south the flat plateau on which perches Page, complete with a large factory that pumps smoke into the air. Far off to the east, the first buttes can be seen towards Monument Valley and the route that we shall follow tomorrow.

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