Thursday, September 15, 2016

Summary of the 2016 Western Trip - Part Seven - Grand Canyon North Rim & the Horseshoe Bend

Okay, so, I took a bit of time to focus on other kinds of blog entries over the last three days. After all, it was the 15th anniversary of September 11th several days ago, and this past weekend proved to be a very busy weekend in sports, as well as for my son and I, who enjoyed a trip to the beach when we went to Sandy Hook on the Jersey Shore for one final swim of the warm weather season. Besides, it is still officially summer anyway, right? 

However, I do want to return back to documenting the recent trip out west again. So, here goes with the day where we got to visit the other side of the Grand Canyon then what we did last year, when we went to the . This year, we instead went to the more remote and generally less visited North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Here is how that day went:

Saturday, August 20 - Our stay in St. George was great. We enjoyed it immensely. Everyone at the hotel, guests and management alike, seemed incredibly friendly. Trust me, coming from New Jersey, which by comparisons, feels like the rudeness capital of the world, it was hard not to notice. Not for the first or second or fifth or tenth time, I wondered what we were still doing living in New Jersey. We got a nice continental breakfast, which refreshed us. We got a decent swim in, and then showered and went on our way. Then, we drove out of town and through southwestern Utah, climbing in elevation before long. Gone were the palm trees and cactus and, at some point, there were green pine forests and cowboy ranches. Again, not what we expected from Utah. We drove for a while, and suddenly, we entered Arizona again. Before long, we took our turn to reach the Grand Canyon North Ridge. First, we had to reach a little place called Jacob's Lake, which from what I could gather from what was online about it, was not even a real town. Indeed, when we finally arrived there, it seemed like little more than an all-purpose souvenir shop, restaurant and inn, where you could also obtain some gas. Not surprisingly, the gas was quite a bit more expensive than anywhere else, although having anticipated this, I had made a point of filling up on gas beforehand. We arrived at the Grand Canyon's North Ridge was not much later on, although the gates (where you have to pay the entrance fee, which was $30 in both 2015 and 2016) were there well before you could actually see the canyon. In fact, on the North Ridge, it was quite a bit before you could really see much of anything, whereas on the South Ridge the year before, it seemed like just a few minutes later that we got to see the Grand Canyon for the first time. Of course, the North Ridge Grand Canyon was amazing as well, offering some spectacular views. The one thing that surprised me, however, was that the North Ridge seemed so much smaller, at least in terms of the areas that you could access by car, where there were paved roads and parking lots. So, this is why it was considered far more remote! Now, it was a lot more obvious. The visit was still nice, although last summer, we had driving maybe forty-five minutes to an hour into the South Rim part, and there were still many, many miles to go, and there had been numerous spots to view the Grand Canyon from. The North Rim felt a lot smaller, and with significantly less spots from which to view the Grand Canyon, although it was nonetheless quite spectacular. The fact that there were notably fewer cars and people served as actually an advantage of many levels. We took some pictures, naturally, and we soaked it all in. However, after it got to be fairly late in the afternoon, and knowing that there was a full drive ahead of us (we were going to try to reach Durango, Colorado by that evening), it was time to go, and I was happy to reach the final point. Some of the points were very spectacular, although personally, my favorite was Cape Royal, which was really just spectacular! That was pretty much right at the end of the road for the Grand Canyon North Ridge, although it was a great way to end it! We then drove back towards the entrance to the park and then to Jacob's Lake, although we took a different way out. Along the way, we saw the Vermilion Cliffs, and drove through a region known as Marble Canyon, where we traversed over the Colorado River on the Navajo Bridge, which to my understanding, is viewed as really the beginning of the Grand Canyon, and which some recognize as the East Rim. Just for anyone's personal information, there is also Grand Canyon West, which we did not visit either last year or this year, and this offers a  glass horseshoe, if you will, that must offer some incredible views, although it has also received criticism for being an unnatural and not entirely welcome addition to the Grand Canyon, which of course needs nothing in terms of improvement. In any case, the drive around the cliffs was longer than it might seem. We could see, only a few miles distant, where we had passed not long before, although you have to drive the lengths of the cliffs on both sides, before you make a turn and finally begin to climb in order to go in the direction of Page. As the bird flies, it is not particularly long, and perhaps twenty miles out, I thought I could still make out the area not far outside of Grand Canyon North Ridge where we had stopped, and I had gotten my son an arrow, and my girlfriend some jewelry for when we returned home. Once we reached the top of the cliffs, however, all of that basically disappeared, and you might never know we were anywhere near cliffs or mountains. But then, as we were fast approaching Page, I noticed off to the side a parking lot jam packed with cars, and people - a lot of people! - going up and down an adjacent hill. Initially, I passed it, but turned around and went, suspecting that this would be the famous Horseshoe Bend that I had wanted to see for a long time! Indeed, that was exactly what it was, and it was spectacular! We had come at the right time, too, as the day was growing short. We had daylight, but also happened to be there while it was getting dark, allowing us some nice desert sunset shots. However, having taken more time than expected at the Grand Canyon, and then taking this unexpected (but very welcome) excursion, we were now far behind schedule! However, it was already getting dark, and we had not prepared enough for things, which meant that we had not really eaten prior to our visit to the Grand Canyon. Page was the biggest town anywhere nearby, so we basically had to choose that as the place to eat dinner, and it felt necessary to couple that with a stop to fill up on gas, just in case we needed it. I had filled up just outside of the Vermilion Cliffs, but knowing how far we still needed to travel, and the late hour and lack of any really notable places on the map, I did not want to chance anything. The rest of the drive was indeed long and very, very dark. There were hardly any lights of any sorts, except by highway intersections and the few communities that we reached. Still, the miles needed to get done, and we got them done. We drove and drove, until we reached closer to Colorado. As we reached close to the border, something very strange and most unexpected happened - we almost hit two wild horses! It was dark, and there were two small buttes on the side of the road, but I saw some vague, dark shapes moving, and recognized them as two huge bodies. At first, I thought that they were buffalo, although as we got closer, it was clear that they were horses. What they were doing there, right in the middle of a road, is anyone's guess. We had not seen much traffic on the road, but suddenly, there seemed to be a lot of cars going in the other direction shortly after this incident, so I flashed my lights to warn them ahead of time. The first guy was close, and he slammed on his brakes, as the horses probably were still on the road. That was a big scare, and it slowed me down pretty much for the rest of the evening. This was just around midnight. We arrived outside of Durango as it was approaching two in the morning, and I found a quiet spot on the side of the road (it is not hard to do in that area), and tried to catch some shut eye for a few hours, before the dawn of a new day. All I can say from that long drive is just how thankful I was, and still am, that we did not actually hit those horses. That likely would have ended the trip prematurely, and on a sour note. Thank God I did not hit those horses!

Vermillion Cliffs, Marble Canyon and the Grand Canyon East

The Colorado River

The Horshoe Bend, Page, Arizona

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