|Bright Angel Traihead, just before sunrise|
Remember in my last post I mentioned that snow was forecast the following day? Well I spent a extremely cold night in my unheated van (although equipped with a plug-in heater, I mistakenly chose a campsite without electrical hookups - doh!). The only bedding provided by the rental company was a thin sheet and cotton comforter. Although dressed in long johns, wool socks, and knit beanie, the temps dropped low enough that I donned my down vest during the night. I could have really used a warm sleeping bag!
|Nice light in the canyon|
I survived my frigid night in the van, finally tucking myself into a (mostly) cozy ball and drifting off to sleep. Unlike the previous day, I was able to rouse myself before first light. But on such a cold morning, it was hard to leave my now-warm bed.
|Colors are getting brigher|
For today's sunrise, I'd originally planned to catch a bus back to Mather Point. But after waiting a few long minutes, none were showing themselves. So I trekked over to the westbound stop and hopped a shuttle heading to Bright Angel Lodge.
|Interesting rock formations|
Best decision ever! Disembarking at the Bright Angel Trailhead, I gaped in amazement at the colorful panorama spread out below, bathed in soft predawn light.
|First golden rays|
Although cloudy skies hid the sunrise, a few golden rays were able to escape and illuminated the upper rim in beautiful golden hues.
I stood in the chilly morning air and watched in amazement as this light spread into the canyon below.
|Beginning of Bright Angel Trail|
After spending several minutes taking in this fantastic light show, I tore myself away and headed towards the Bright Angel Trail. I didn't originally intend to hike it, but an interesting tunnel on the trail piqued my curiosity.
I could at least go check out the tunnel - it didn't look very far away. So down I traipsed.
|Bright Angel Trail|
Luckily this time of the morning, hardly anybody was around. I met a couple hikers burdened with huge backpacks, who I assumed were heading towards the bottom. But other than that, I pretty much had the place to myself.
|Hiker tunnel on Bright Angel Trail|
The hiker tunnel was really cool. A worthy destination, that's as far as I traveled. I would have liked to hike further down the Bright Angel Trail, but today's time was limited. So back up I went.
|Only in the Grand Canyon do you see signs like these!|
This National Park sports many unique signs. Returning up the Bright Angel, I found one explaining mule etiquette. Only in the Grand Canyon!
|This mule's ready for another trip|
Speaking of mule trains, guess who I met at the top of Bright Angel Trail? Another group of mules, saddled up and ready for their downhill trek. A new batch of riders were also preparing for the journey, bundled up heavily against the cold wind. Didn't look like the best day for such a trip.
|Light and shadow|
I headed east along the rim trail. Although crammed with tourists the previous afternoon, this morning I was delighted to find the place deserted. (Linda's tip for visiting National Parks - get up early to avoid the crowds)
I passed by the Kolb Studio. This historic structure was built by the Kolb brothers as a photography studio and family home. (Can you imagine having your house on the Grand Canyon's rim? How cool is that?) Of course, it's no longer used as a residence, and now functions as a bookstore and art gallery.
|Lookout Studio perched on a cliff|
I also got a great view of the Lookout Studio. Perched on a rocky cliff overlooking the canyon, this structure was built by the Santa Fe Railway as a photography studio to compete with the Kolbs. Designed by Mary Colter, the famous Grand Canyon architect, it's now part of the Grand Canyon Village National Historic Landmark District.
It was great to be able to wander the rim path, taking photos whenever I wanted, and not have to wait for people to get out of the way.
|The canyon colors come out|
Knowing I had to vacate my campsite by 11 am, I opted for a short excursion. I decided to walk the rim trail back to the campground connector trail.
|Patterns on the canyon floor|
A portion of the trail I'd yet to see, there was more spectacular scenery for my camera's lens to feast on.
|Stormy weather is coming in|
About that snowy forecast.....although I was relieved to find bare ground in the morning, the canyon wasn't out of the woods yet. Making my way back on the Rim Trail, I started to notice tiny white flakes swirling in the wind.
The snow started falling heavier. Although the flurries appeared to be melting as soon as they hit the ground, I began to get nervous. Although I love snow, I didn't relish the thought of driving my rented van, with unknown tire conditions and snow-handling abilities, through icy roads.
|Interesting rock layers|
So I headed back to my campsite, packed up and took a quick shower. The snow seemed to slack off while I was completing my chores. But I decided it would be best to start heading to lower elevations. Besides, I was due to meet up with my blogging buddies, Hans and Lisa, in Camp Verde late that afternoon.
|Desert View Watchtower|
I pondered which route to take back to I-17. Via nail-biting Highway 64 to Williams, or east on Desert View Drive to Cameron?
I really wanted to see more of the Park, so Desert View Drive won. This scenic road wound 22 miles past the Visitor Center along more of the canyon's rim.
|Another tower doorway|
Another good choice. This road meandered past more stunning viewpoints. I stopped at a couple, where parking spaces were wide and plentiful (my big van wasn't the easiest to maneuver!).
|The tower without people!|
Sadly, the weather took another turn for the worse. The wind began blowing and snowfall picked up in intensity. The canyon became cloaked in a wispy white fog, restricting visibility at all the viewpoints.
|Foggy canyon views|
I'd read the Desert View Watchtower, at the park's eastern entrance, was worth seeing. So I bypassed the final three overlooks and pulled into the Desert View Visitor Center parking lot. Exiting my vehicle, I noticed two large tour buses had just finished unloading. The place was packed with tourists from these buses.
The Desert View Watchtower was another structure designed by Grand Canyon architect Mary Colter. Created to resemble an ancient Pueblo watchtower, it was an impressive building. I really wanted to explore the place, but it was so packed with people, I ended up walking out. Even the overlooks were busy with tourists. But the weather was so lousy, with fog shortening visibility, there wasn't as much to see. I tried a few photos but was mostly disappointed. Time to head south!
|Lone gnarly tree|
I thought once I left the Grand Canyon and descended in elevation, I'd leave the snow behind. But I forgot one thing - I had to pass through Flagstaff, a city that sits at an elevation of 7000 feet. Snow began to fall thicker and thicker as I started the climb into town. By the time I reached the city limits, this storm had morphed into a full-on blizzard, with 3-4 inches of accumulation already on the ground and barely any visibility. Oh...this wasn't good!
The roads started to look slippery.....my windshield began to ice over. I blasted the defroster and slowed down. I reminded myself I'd driven on snowy roads many times this winter, and could handle this. And then, just south of Flagstaff, traffic came to a standstill. Google maps showed an accident (a large gravel truck had slid into the median taking a car with it). Although the next 10 miles was a slow crawl, I was happy for the reduced speed. Not only did I not want to wreck the rental van, I didn't want anyone to hit me (about this time I was really thankful I'd purchased that additional insurance on the van!)
|Snowstorm in Flagstaff|
Finally cresting over the last big hill, I-17 began to lose elevation, and the snow transitioned to rain (can't begin to tell you how relieved I was!) By the time I pulled into Camp Verde, the weather was back to warm, dry, typical Arizona desert weather.
It was so good to see Hans and Lisa! They welcomed me with cold beer and a delicious meal. Tomorrow would begin the second part of my Arizona adventure, hiking the jaw-dropping scenic trails of Sedona.