Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A sunrise in the Grand Canyon....

After getting to bed around 12am the night before, we dragged ourselves up at 3:30 am to see the Grand Canyon at sunrise. We were on the road before 4am. I watched the horizon getting lighter and lighter, with colour appearing along the rim, while Brendan snoozed beside me.

On the side of the road, barely visible in the dark, some female elk bounded back onto the grass verge. There were no fences between the road and the Kaibob forest. It extended as far as you could see, on each side. "Forest" was really a misnomer, as it was more like "grass with scattered trees". Signs warned to watch for elk. There were actually two different signs, depending on which part of the park/ forest you were in and hence which kind of deer lived there - mule or elk.

Cruising along the road which meanders along the edge of the Grand Canyon inside the park, on the way to Grandview Point, I saw a male elk with huge antlers. He lifted his head from the side of the road where he was grazing, and stared at the car as we went past.

Signs in this part of the canyon warned "(mountain lions) next 10 miles"! I wanted to see one, but I didn't. And we were running out of time to see the sunrise begin. Already, at 5am, it was substantially lighter, and the sun would soon be up.

The sunrise was totally worth driving over an hour each way for. A few people were already there when we arrived, sitting down on the rocks overlooking the canyon in the early morning stillness. We felt like such intruders, setting up our tripod and disturbing their quietness with whispered conversation and camera clicks. The only other sounds were a few birds, and the lazy hum of a large fly nearby.

We watched the sun climb slowly over the horizon, and the colours change on the canyon walls. It was beautiful. Gradually more people came and took photos, too.

Driving back to the hotel, I saw an elk lying dead on the road! It was huge - it looked like a horse. I have to wonder about the state of the car which hit it - the woman in the Circle K convenience store told us that people have been killed hitting elks in the early morning on that road. About three seconds after I saw the dead elk, I almost hit two gophers (I kid you not) which were attempting to cross the road. I swerved around them into the other lane. Luckily it was a deserted road, so it was OK! I woke Brendan up and made him take a photo of the road (no dead elks included, sorry! Wish I'd stopped, now.)

We arrived back at our hotel and slept for a few hours. When we woke up, we found the Safeway supermarket, and stocked up on food and more ice for the chilly bin.

We stopped off at the Dairy Queen "milkbar" - we'd heard of it but never seen an actual shop. The town was based around the old historic Route 66 freeway, and there were lots of truckers and motorbikers visiting and getting sundaes. I don't think they even had fish sandwiches on the menu anymore!

We drove to Flagstaff, which was a small, cute town with a historic downtown area. It had this fantastic road sign: (I made Brendan drive around the block back to it so I could get a photo!)

Finally, we drove back to Phoenix. On the way, we stopped in the Sonoran Desert, at this little deserted petrol station (the sign said "Jack Ass Acres"). It was hot outside - the car meter said 112*F which is probably around 45*C! Even with SPF70 sunscreen, I could feel the heat rising from the baked ground and burning my legs! I don't know how they survived out here before a.) sunscreen and b.) air conditioning! If you didn't have enough water, you'd be toast in a few hours.

A giant Sonoran cactus. I liked them a lot. They had red fleshy flowers which apparently Indian tribes competed with animals and birds to eat. Since there were lots of flowers on the ground, I don't think there was much competition at that spot! A brown dove flew around and poked its head out of a nest in a hole in the cactus, peeking around the corner at us.

We had an hour or so to kill in Phoenix, so we found (fashionable) Scottsdale's fashionable downtown area, which was very touristy in a cowboy style, and almost deserted because of the heat. It was hotter in Phoenix than in the Sonoran desert - 115*F! It was fun to wander around, but eventually we got too hot and had to jump back into our air-conditioned car.

Finally, we flew home to San Francisco. We circled a bit, waiting for the plane to be able to come into SF airspace again, so I think we took a detour over San Rafael and Richmond while the pilot waited for the runway to clear. We did lots of turns. I like taking off and landing, but the rest of flying is not my favourite thing.

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