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February 20

I had a fair night¹s sleep at the Ramada Limited in Flagstaff. I arrived at the Amtrak station where the Grand Canyon Coaches shuttle van would arrive at 09:00 to take me and others to the Grand Canyon with plenty of time to spare. The morning was sunny, clear, and crisp. A fine weather omen for what was to come.

The drive to the canyon takes about two hours. It can be done in less time than that but the shuttle goes to Williams, AZ. Where the Grand Canyon Railway is located and that is out of the way. There were about half a dozen people in the shuttle including the driver. One of them was an employee at El Tovar just returning from his own vacation. The others were hikers, foreign nationals of some sort, who were out to check out the canyon for the first time. I don¹t think they had much of a plan for the day since they didn¹t realize what it would cost to stay overnight (they were shocked at the $65-70 price the driver suggested) and were even a bit confused, it seemed, about how much the shuttle would cost. However, I bet they had fun once they dis-embarked. The driver, hotel employee, and I chatted a bit as we drove to the South Rim so the two hour drive went pretty quickly. We arrived at the Maswyk Lodge just after 11:00. I had the bulk of the day in front of me and I was ready to enjoy myself.

The walk from Maswyk lodge to Bright Angel Lodge takes five to ten minutes. I took a bit longer since I lingered a bit here and there as I ended up taking the "back way" along the Rim Trail. I passed by Kolb¹s former studio (now an art gallery) on my way to the Bright Angel Lodge. I did not realize it at the time but I also passed by the oldest remaining building in the canyon. I dropped my stuff off in my cabin and prepared for the rest of the day. I had a quick lunch in the restaurant of the lodge (not bad, but not great) before heading down into the main village area to do some shopping.

Bright Angel Lodge has had a long history. It started out as a cabin-office surrounded by tents that visitors could rent in 1896. In 1905 when the 100-room El Tovar opened its door that proved too much initial competition for Bright Angel Hotel as it was then known. However, visitor traffic steadily increased and soon Fred Harvey opened Bright Angel Camp on the same site with new guest cabins. Eventually he commissioned Mary Jane Colter, a noted architect of the day especially in the southwest, to build a lodge. She did so using native materials including rocks quarried from the canyon itself and lain down from foundation to roof in the same manner they would have been found in the Grand Canyon (though I don¹t see it). That lodge is what we see and use today.

The community of hotels, shops, restaurants, Shrine of the Ages, park headquarters, employee housing, and much more is quite substantial. There are free buses that run visitors around to the places they are most likely to want to go and I took advantage of them to go to the Market Plaza where I found a rather sizeable grocery store to get the few groceries I still needed for this trip. There were plenty of people in the store and I got the impression that the majority of them were people that lived and worked in the park rather than people like myself. I also saw my first large wildlife while at the plaza. A raven, in all its blue-black large stature was walking around a planter in front of the grocery store. The bird didn¹t seem to care that I was there trying to get a good picture of it. It just went about its business.

I finished my shopping and returned to my cabin to drop the stuff off before setting out for a stroll along the Rim Trail. It was about 15:00 and the day had warmed up into the mid-upper 50s. There were just a smattering of high clouds floating over the North Rim. A slight breeze cooled off the intense sun too. When you are at around 7,000 feet elevation a high 50s degree day just feels warmer than it would near sea level. It was a fine day for exploring the rim and I clearly wasn¹t the only person to think so. As I stood on the patio in back of the Bright Angel Lodge I looked out upon the great expanse of the Grand Canyon. I am no good at identifying which rock formations are which even with the pictorial maps the park provides. But, I can still see the differences in the rocks as they descend deeper into the earth. I can also see some of the green that represents the life that is growing within the canyon from my high vantage point. If I turn my gaze to my immediate surroundings I can spy on the populace of the park. People of all ages were milling about. Singles, couples, families. Old and young. A broad cross-section of humanity meaning a wide array of races and ethnic backgrounds. Grand Canyon National Park receives well over five million visitors each year I believe. While most probably stay very near the South Rim some obviously hike into the canyon to backpack (like me), stay a few days at Phantom Ranch (most who were there when I was). There are others who ride the mules to some point within the complex of canyons and some of those people may stay overnight at Phantom Ranch too. The Grand Canyon is a magnet for all people. The sheer size and grandeur of the place is what draws them too it. I wonder how many get far enough away from the crowds to really soak in the visual and audible beauty that makes this place so intriguing.

I began to wander along the Rim Trail in an easterly direction. This trail is a paved pathway that is accessible to anyone. It is not a simple straight path along the rim. The Grand Canyon is far more than a deep gash in the land. It is comprised of side canyons that twist and turn. Rock promontories stick up thousands of feet from the inner gorge floor. The only straight lines you see are illusions of distance. Canyon walls twist and turn and therefore the Rim Trail twists and turns as it follows the South Rim.

Even in the more crowded area around what I think of as the "hotel complex" between El Tovar and Bright Angel Lodge you can¹t help but feel a sense of the majesty of the place. All you have to do is stare out across the canyon and see the different colored and textured rocks descend away from you and you know this is an old and powerful place. It is also a hard place and you can see that in the trees growing along the rim. They¹re tough old trees that have survived hard weather (I believe somewhere out there is a pinion or juniper that is reputed to be the oldest around ­ I think I saw it in its gnarly glory 20 years ago on a Teen Adventures trip). But, they survive. But, it is a place of life. There are many plants to prove that. Many animals too from the infrequent (most are probably hibernating still) squirrel to the many birds flying and singing. It¹s no wonder people have lived here for millennia.

As I moved away from the hotel complex the trail seemed to enter a more forested area. I¹m not sure what type of trees I was seeing. I think there may have been some ponderosa pine but I believe those prefer higher elevations than are typically found at the South Rim. That means most were likely juniper and pinion. There were shrubs and grasses too. Within this low lying spread out forest there were birds aplenty. I actually saw ravens soaring above me. I heard Canyon chickadees and other birds sing and trill (what birds makes the lovely rapid descending scale song?). I even think I heard the whoosh of the fast moving aerobatics swifts or swallows that frequent the park. All I had to do was be in a single place and absorb its pleasures. I did that many times as I wondered along the Rim Trail.

I saw fewer and fewer people as I moved along the trail. I don¹t think I actually traveled that far since I spent considerable time just ambling along, taking pictures, and getting a sense of the place. But, clearly most people stick near the places they stay. It is also clear that there is a lot more to see if you move away from the rim itself. Perhaps sometime I will be able to explore further "inland." In time I did decide to turn around. The sun was descending and the wind had been picking up. Once the intense rays of the sun stop hitting you and the wind picks up you quickly realize that it is getting chilly outside. I headed back at this point. I chatted briefly with a fellow from England who graciously tried to take a picture of me (not sure if any of them came out) and I briefly checked out the wares at Hopi House but I was ready to head back to my "rustic cabin" and get set for dinner. I had spent a good two hours just enjoying a small segment of the Rim Trail.

I had dinner at the Arizona Steakhouse and found it quite tasty and not overly pricey. I had given some thought to attending a story telling session at the Shrine of the Ages but I decided that my day had been full enough and so I am instead writing this journal entry as I sit on my bed paying casual attention to whatever is happening with the Winter Olympics. I have really enjoyed this first day at the Grand Canyon. Tomorrow I begin my trek through history of many types. There is, of course, the natural history of the canyon itself etched in the rocks that I will pass. There is also a history of life in the fossils that I doubt I will see. Finally, there is a human history here since people have lived in the Grand Canyon for a very long time. Maybe, if I look at just the right time I may spot a petroglyph. I will also get to enjoy the changes in the ecology as I descend from my lofty 7,200 feet elevation here at Bright Angel Lodge to the mere 2,400 feet elevation of the Colorado River.