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Red Rock Road Trip

 Sunday, 9/7/97 

Grand Canyon: Yavapai Point & The West Rim

"Ours has been the first, and and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality " ---Lt. Ives (1857)

Sunrise from Yavapai Point (11kb)

Five million people annually visit this "profitless locality," by car, foot, air, and on the Colorado River itself. And judging by the crowds at sunrise, they *all* get up early. I was up at 5am, which was made easier by the fact my body still thought it was 8am EDT. It may seem insane to go on vacation, and arise long before the sun, but in the Grand Canyon the show starts promptly at sunrise, and will be delayed for no one. To miss it seems equally insane.

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visitors enjoying the view (13kb)

When I arise at such an hour, caffeine is my immediate priority. There was a Mickey D's a few miles from the South Entrance that wisely opens at 5am. Over several visits chatting with the shift manager, I found out he's got an entire room decorated in Atlanta Braves souvenirs, including a $140 authentic jersey. He said he's always dreamed of traveling to Atlanta to see the Braves play, something I take for granted. Armed with a jug o' java, I headed to someplace he likely takes for granted, Yavapai Point.

"Once I traveled about in an old bakery wagon, double-doored rattler with a mattress on the floor, I stopped where people stopped or gathered, I listened and looked and felt, and in the process had a picture of my country the accuracy of which was impaired only by my own shortcomings"
---John Steinbeck, "Travels with Charley"

Morning light from Yavapai (14kb)

It was quite crowded, even at 6am, and the portion of the rim trail that heads west was closed (the direction of many of the better sunrise views from that point). So, I headed east away from the crowds, and found little to disappoint. The shot at the left was taken in the same direction as the first one on this page. A mere 45 minutes or so is the only difference between them. Time is a required ingredient to truly appreciate this place.

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Grand Canyon imitating the Smokies (11kb)

At about 3:30 that afternoon, I got on the shuttle bus to see the West Rim. The drivers have a microphone and deliver a running commentary. Ours sounded like he was from somewhere deep in south Georgia. As was true on my visit to Yosemite, fully 50% (a conservative estimate) of the conversations you hear are not in English (or at least "American"). The driver's accent, which I could mostly decode, made for some interesting exchanges. Driver: "Y'all don't wanna git off heyuh, honey, it's the next stop." French woman: "Honey? (struggling with map) Honey Point?" Driver: "Naw, sugar, this is Hopi Point." She looked at me in total questioning confusion. After briefly deliberating about replying "Wie geht's" to throw a 3rd language into the mix, I merely replied "Next Stop" to her obvious relief.

"Guns have metamorphosed into cameras in this earnest comedy, the ecology safari, because nature has ceased to be what it always had been—what people needed protection from. Now nature tamed, endangered, mortal—needs to be protected from people." --- Susan Sontag

View from The Abyss (11kb)

I got off at Mohave Point, and while waiting for the sun to get lower in the sky, I hiked west on the rim trail along The Abyss, a horseshoe shaped canyon with 3000 foot sheer walls. Even here, the valley walls feature much more wildlife than I had imagined. During my 3 days here, I saw squirrels, *tiny* chipmunks, a *tiny* hummingbird with a body no larger than and inch and a quarter, and even a mountain goat nimbly negotiating a 60 degree slope.

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Bird in flight 1 (11kb) Bird in flight, 2 (7kb)

But most obvious and impressive were the dozens of large birds: hawks, falcons, eagles, huge crows....

"The day, water, sun, moon, night -- I do not have to purchase these things with money" ---Plautus

View from Mohave Point (14kb)

I'm no bird watcher, but I spent an hour marveling at these creatures, engaging in an aerial ballet/battle on the thermals rising up the walls of The Abyss. Their power was amazing, as you could actually hear the air displaced by their flight and powerful wingspans approaching 6 feet. When one curls in its wings and dives at 90 m.p.h, the sound is incredible.

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Sunset light from Mojave Point (12kb)

Smaller birds abound as well (although not as photogenic). In the Abyss, there were some unidentified birds (later diagnosed as probably a type of swallow) that flew with speed I've never seen before, and the ability to turn on a dime. It was like watching some biological UFO, as two of them played "tag" on the thermals.

"The attitude that nature is chaotic and that the artist puts order into it is a very absurd point of view, I think. All that we can hope for is to put some order into ourselves" ---Willem de Kooning

last rasy of sunset (9kb)

For sunset, Mohave Point is an excellent choice. With my telephoto lens, I could see that it was wall-to-wall people along the rails at Hopi Point next door. You'll find a similar view, and less people. Oh, and if you happen to find a 52mm lens cap about 3000 feet below Mohave Point, it's mine.

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