Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Grand Canyon: Last Sunset of 2008 at Desert View

This was our last stop at the South Rim today. Desert View is located 4 miles from the eastern entrance to the park. From this overlook if you look to the east you can see the flat plains of the Painted Desert. Looking north you see the Colorado River.

Standing in front of the Desert View Watchtower

The main feature of this scenic overlook is the Desert View Watchtower which was constructed in 1932. It’s built as a replica of a prehistoric Indian tower. This seventy-foot tower is the highest point on the South Rim.

Desert View Watchtower, looking west

As the sun hovered on the horizon and the temperatures dropped, people gathered at the Desert View overlook. The actual sunset wasn’t that spectacular. What was amazing were the colors that started to appear in the eastern sky. The sky started to glow in shades of pink, blue and purple, the rocks turned orange-red. This wasn’t just any sunset, this was the last sunset of 2008.

Looking North from Desert View

The Colorado River

Bundled up, it got cold really quick

Pink sky to the North

Looking West

Looking East

By the time we arrived in Cameron at the intersection of 64 and 89 it was already dark. But before we headed back to Sedona being a huge fan of bread, I had to try the Navajo flat bread from the Cameron Trading Post. It was definitely yummy and I can‘t compare it to anything else, it was very unique. I guess it might have tasted a little like funnel cake especially with the powdered sugar. It came with powdered sugar, cinnamon, butter and honey.

Navajo flat bread

Navajo flat bread with powdered sugar, cinnamon, honey and butter

Grand Canyon, AZ - Views from the South Rim

This was my third time to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Although I have never been to the North Rim, I have read a few times that the views from the South Rim are much better. This time around I would have preferred to visit the North Rim, but again I’m here in Northern Arizona during winter and the North Rim closes between October and May.

The Colorado River down below in the Grand Canyon

The guardrails at the scenic overlooks were helpful with all the ice on the ground

But for pictures I much prefer those places that had no guardrails and allowed me to get really close to the edge of canyon

On the edge of the Grand Canyon

I'd say that for pictures, the late afternoon sun was best, especially on the east side of the South Rim

Colorado River in the distance at sun set

The typical view from the South Rim

The North Rim is covered in pine forests and it’s a thousand feet higher then the South Rim. The climate on the North Rim is much wetter, it receives on the average 28 inches of rain and 140 inches of snow per year.

I still have to get out to the North Rim one of these days. I rode past the North Rim on my motorcycle in 2006 but didn’t have enough time to enter the park. If you don’t like crowds, the North Rim is isolated, so it has less visitors and you can still drive your own vehicle through the North Rim. Unlike the South Rim where you have to park your vehicle and use the park's shuttle to get around the park in the summer months. Even though the two rims are only 10 miles apart by air, it takes a few hours to drive from one rim to the other because by pavement it’s about 215 miles.

The South Rim is beautiful, I took hundreds of pictures. I can only post a few here.

Colorado River and a unique rock formation in the canyon

The Watch Tower in the distance at Desert View Point

A helicopter over the Colorado River

A helicopter flying over the Grand Canyon

A monument to John Powell

In the morning and early afternoon the sun at the Grand Canyon was strong, the temps felt warm, having already gotten a slight sun burn two days earlier I decided to keep the sun off my face with a nice cowboy hat

In the late afternoon the temps started to drop, the cowboy hat was replaced with a warm wool hat and more layers were added

The weather at the Grand Canyon can be unpredictable in the winter time, it's good to be prepared and bring many layers as the temperatures can warm up quickly throughout the day, but also fall quickly when the sun starts to set. I’m still surprised how strong the sun is here, even at the end of December. Since I moved to Colorado, sun protection is no longer something I only think about during summer months. And brimmed hats are an ideal way to keep your head in the shade -plus, cowboy hats look cool!

South Rim of the Grand Canyon and Snow

Today was another early start. By the time the sun came up we were already north of Flagstaff on to the way to the South Rim of the grand Canyon. There are two ways of getting to the south rim from Sedona. One is to drive to Flagstaff, then take 89 North to 64 west and enter the park through the east entrance.

Highway 180 North of Flagstaff

Another way is to drive to Flagstaff then take 180 west then 64 north and enter though the west entrance. This was the way we were going to go. According to the National Geographic book I have on National Parks, go west first, since that part of the park gets very crowded later in the day. Also, the west side of the Grand Canyon looks good in the early morning sun.

Our 260 Mile route from Sedona to the South Rim and back

The grand plan for the day was to drive all the way to the west end of the park, then turn around and drive east through the park, toward the afternoon do a hike. Then after dark drive back to Sedona via 89.

Weather info at the visitor center

More park info outside the visitor center

This was cool

There was information posted about the most popular hikes, this one is for the Bright Angel Trail

I did not see an official “welcome to Grand Canyon National Park” type of sign when we entered the park, so this one had to do

Cool icicles

We arrived at the park just before 8AM and headed to the visitor center. The ranger recommended the South Kaibab Trail as the best hike this time of the year, and one of his favorites. The South Kaibab trail is a good half-day hike that descends some 1150 feet in to the canyon with some spectacular panoramic views below the rim. Then the ranger said there was no way anyone would be doing any hiking at the park without some instep crampons. All the trails were iced over and very slippery near the top of the rim. Darn!

With so much snow at the park, each time we parked at an overlook, we had to climb a mound of snow to get out of the parking area

Then hike a snow and ice covered trail to the overlook

Some parts of the road in the park were slippery, especially in the morning

Ice on the West Rim Drive in the late morning

Some parts of the road were clear especially in the afternoon

And we almost went to pick up some instead crampons before leaving for this trip to Sedona after checking the Grand Canyon website and reading about winter the hiking conditions. But we really didn’t want to spend the extra money, not knowing if we would ever need to use instep crampons again. Had there been more time I could have gone to REI and JAX, the two big outdoor recreation stores, and shopped around. I saw a few types of instep crampons being sold on-line for about $30-40. I guess we hoped that at least one trail would be clear of ice when we got here.

I counted at least 5 or 6 snowmen at the park, this one was the nicest

We were told the store at the park sold many types of crampons, so we went to check them out. The selection was slim to say the least and the prices steep. Cheapest model was $75 and there were a few models that were selling for over $100. It also seemed the prices were a bit inflated, so not sure how much these would cost at a regular store, but I’m sure you can get them for at least $10-20 less.

The selection of crampons at the store was bad right now because they were sold out of many models and they were still waiting for a new shipment but with the bad weather and all the snow, the delivery was delayed. There would be no hiking for us today.

These guys could care less that there were people around

We drove to the west side of the park via The West Rim Drive stopping by pretty much every scenic lookout. There was actually more scenic overlooks on this road then the map showed. The cool thing about the winter season is that you can drive the West Rim Drive in your own vehicle. From late May through September the 8 miles of West Rim Drive is closed to private automobiles. A free shuttle bus is provided.

The 26 miles of East Rim Drive (Highway 64) is always open to private vehicles throughout the year. The rumor has it that in the future the whole South Rim of the park will be switching to a mass transit system, you will no longer be allowed to drive your own vehicle - so do it while you can I guess. This is because of the huge number of visitors to the park, the parking lots fill up quick and the overlooks don‘t have much room for parking. I’ve been to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in the summer of 1991, and I remember how crowded the park and roads were. There was an actual traffic jam through the park. I was also at the park in winter of 1999, there was noticeably less visitors then. I never made it tot eh west side of the park neither of those visits. And today, on the last day of the year, this park was jumping. I thought it would be less crowded on New Years Eve but I guess everyone else had the same idea as us.

Ice covered scenic overlook, hold on to the railing

On the west side of the park the scenic overlooks are located near one another, from an overlook you can see other scenic overlooks - that doesn’t happen as often on the east side of the park, where the overlooks are further apart from one another

It was a clear day today. The morning temps were cold but the forecast was telling us it would warm up to 48 degrees. The sun was bright and warm, by noon it felt like it was in the upper 50 or low 60’s. Driving and stopping at each overlook actually is very time consuming, especially since some of the overlooks are further from the road, walking the icy trails to the overlooks took a lot longer, as we tried not to fall, slipping so many times on the ice. We could have used the instep crampons just to get out to the overlooks. And, seriously. The Grand Canyon looked very similar from each and every overlook. Some overlooks had a slightly better views, but not by much.

We brought some sandwiches to eat for lunch. By the time we arrived at Hermits Rest on the west side of the park, turned around to head east, it was already after 1PM. From there we drove straight through to the first overlook east of the west park entrance and started the process again of driving, and walking to each scenic overlook.

Most of the scenic overlooks were totally covered by snow and ice

Some of scenic overlooks were clear of snow and ice

By the afternoon we started to skip some of the scenic overlooks. The view wasn’t changing enough to justify a stop and parking the car and getting out to walk to the overlook was just taking too long. At the rate we were going, there would have been no way to drive to each scenic overlook and do a hike, not in the winter time with the short amount of daylight. And honestly, the vistas from the east side of the park I think is better then the vistas from the west side of the park. On the east side there are more unique rock formations and you can actually see the Colorado river down below in the canyon, you can‘t see the river from the west side.

We stopped at the last scenic overlook, the Desert View Point, to watch the sunset. The couple of overlooks west of this one were supposedly be better for watching the sunset, but we wanted to be as close to the eastern park entrance, for the drive back to Sedona.