Mary Branscombe (marypcb) wrote,
Mary Branscombe

It's grand and it's a canyon of canyons

Breakfast at Dennys watching the jacknifed lorry straighten out on the snow, but the snow had stopped by the time we headed out of town and over the Arizona high plains. Utterly flat with distant peaks and snow lying between the bushes and the yellow grass. It's around 28 and the windscreen washer jets freeze up. Past the Flintstones rv park where the parking markers are fake mastodon bones. Past the aircraft museum in the middle of nowhere, with a cruise missile parked outside; very Dr Strangelove. The clouds clear and the trees close in as we arrive at the south rim and we head for Mather Point for my first view of the canyon.

It's magnificent; cliffs and cirques and spires and stacks of stone in cream and red and pink and grey, edged in thick snow, dappled by a dusting of snow, carved through by the odd glimpse of the grey green river in the depths. The sun lights up a side canyon as a snow storm drifts silent and magnificent through the canyon. We walk through a young blizzard to the visitor centre and see warning signs about heat in the summer and ice in winter, promising that hardly anone falls off but that if you do fall off hardly anyone survives! Simon avoids the edges assiduously while I crane over to get photos.

There are two ways to go along the rim from here; we pick the longer route to Desert View first, which turns in through the forest for the first few miles, which means the snow on the road is compacted to ice by the gritter and doesn't get enough sun to melt. The road down to Grandview Point is about as scary but the view is grand and the snow beautiful and thick. There used to be a small hotel here but there's no trace. More wonderful views from Moran Point and the road is much better by now. Desert View has a distant view of the painted desert and the Colorado River snaking away into the distance in one direction; in the other the canyon turns back on itself and the peaks and slopes double and repeat. The sky is clear and blue and the warm yellow stones of the watchtower glow in the late afternoon light. This is one of the best pieces of architecture I've seen; designed by Mary Coulter to fit into the landscape, which it does perfectly and to combine Hopi and modern references, which it does with respect for both cultures (having a Hopi artist helped). You don't feel you're in a Disney imitation and you don't feel you're intruding into a sacred space either. The Hopi wall paintings, the sand painting, the glorious roof pictures, the snake dance, the pottery, the rawhide twisted around the stair rail are intriguing rather than mysterious. It uses the wood from the remains of the Grandview hotel. And the lantern at the top with large and small picture windows is a lovely space with glorious views. It reminded me of the way Nepenthe fits into the cliffs and bush, reaching up without towering over anything. The watchtower is the highest thing in the park but you can't see it from more than a few yards away. We did see it in silhouette from a distance looking like part of the landscape.

Cool giftshop too ;)

The afternoon light was beautiful as we stopped at Lipan Point. We saw a raven so big we wondered if it could actually fly until we saw another equally huge on top of a bush. Straight through Grand Canyon Village and out to Hopi Point for the sunset. The sun hovered on the edge of the rim turning the clouds to gold then slipped away, leaving them pink and purple. It was colder than ever and we couldn't manage without gloves, two layers of fleece and coats and hats. Brrrrrr.

Back to the village in the last of the light; we stayed in Maswick Lodge which is a series of two story buildings that look anonymous but are very pleasant inside. The rooms upstairs (second floor in American) have vaulted beamed ceilings and ceiling fans for the summer; downstairs has normal aircon. The décor is simple but stylish though stone tiles in the shower are one thing and another on the floor in winter! The bedside lamp had a mule outline and the shade was painted on the inside; rough cream until you turn it on when cowboys and trekkers ride against a green and rocky backdrop. I want one!

Dinner at Bright Angel Lodge - the posher Arizona room was closed and I want to go back to see the fireplace in the history room - also designed by Coulter - which replicates the strata of the canyon. The Bright Angel restaurant is nice; not too fancy, serves Deschutes Black Butte and Mirror Pond pale ale and good hearty food in enormous portions. The quesadilla starter could be a main course, the chicken and onion rings starter has the best part of three chicken breasts, the steak is a slab and the southwestern creamy chicken is another two breast fillets. We retired defeated to look at the stars over the canyon rim and off to bed (after polishing off a buying guide on gps for me).

The one benefit of UK to US jetlag is waking up early. That's the only way I see dawn. We didn't make sunrise but we were out a few minutes after, driving up to Hopi Point and on to Hermits Rest, with a stop at the Powell Memorial on the way back. We passed a stag and a handful of elk - looking like slouching teenagers in need of a haircut. The early light is beautiful and you feel you have the canyon to yourself except for the mass of ravens wheeling in the sky overhead (a murder of crows, a parliament of rooks - a tower of ravens?). A pair of ravens fly together, tapping wings and playing tag.

Powell is a one way cut along the rim and a footpath out onto a spur, with steps at the end to give you even more view; I think it's the furthest any point goes out into the canyon.

Breakfast at the rather grand El Tovah hotel where the big picture windows make the wooden dining room look dark. The tables by the window have the best view. The food and coffee are excellent but the waitstaff say 'I hope you found it delicious' in a very practiced way; I suppose it's very English to find that offputting!

On the way back we take the route 66 detour at Seligman through Peach Springs to see Cars country - we spotted the Cosy Corner motel, the military surplus hut, the curio stores and the mountains shaped not quite like radiators. Oddest mountains were slopes with buttes sticking out the top of them, waiting for the slopes to erode away.

Over the Hoover Dam; the supports for the new road and bridge are feats of engineering too, towering up from the slopes. And down into Vegas with the GPS battery running out just before the unmarked turn for our hotel, when we discover there's no power to the cigarette sockets in the car ;(
Tags: food, grand canyon, travel

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