Monday, July 30, 2007

Day 62

Today was a 'grand' day.

We woke up, had breakie, bought some provisions, fuelled up the Avenger and set off for the Grand Canyon. Leaving from St George, we were much closer to the North Rim, which offers very different views than the more popular South Rim. The North Rim offers three viewpoints including Cape Royal, Point Imperial and Bright Angel Point. The walls of the North Rim are more eroded than the South Rim, making the Colorado River visible from some of the overlooks. It is also a much higher elevation - an average of 8000 feet with a maximum of 8803 feet at Point Imperial. The higher elevation and cooler temperatures have enabled large sections of forest to flourish. It's a lot more remote and less visited than the South Rim. And I'm glad it is the one that we chose to see.

The Grand Canyon is obviously big but I couldn't fathom just how big it is until I saw it with my own eyes. I still found it hard to comprehend. The crevice that runs through it is over 275 miles long. The entire park is more than 1,200,000 acres and can be ten miles wide in some sections. The canyon itself (as it appears today) is about six million years old and consists of buttes, plateaus and mesas. But these all cover igneous and metamorphic rock that is almost two billion years old!

The amazing thing is that the entire formation was created by water. I read that the goal of every raindrop, rock and grain of sand is to return to sea. Water draining off the Rocky Mountains and across the Colorado Plateau carried sand, gravel and rocks and over millions of years cut and eroded the layers of the canyon. Water freezing in cracks of rocks also forced them apart, causing erosion and eventually collapse of large sections of earth.

The drive to the canyon through Fredonia was quite scenic and surprisingly green just before we reached the Canyon.

We stopped at a patch of forest and learned that fires are sometimes started purposely and allowed to burn for the benefit of resources. Patterns are created by the fires that allow for a greater diversity in wildlife.

The first place we stopped to view the Canyon was Roosevelt Point named after the 26th president Teddy and his efforts to preserve the Grand Canyon. In 1903 he called the Canyon "one great sight which every American should see."

The next stop was Walhalla Overlook, which offers more dramatic views and a path to Angels Window.

Angels Window refers to a hole in a rock that provides views of the Colorado River from the Walhalla Plateau. During the uplift of the plateau, stress caused the rock to fracture forming joints that intersect the planes. Water activity (rain, freezing and thawing) along the joints and planes created a hole and time has enlarged it to a 'window'.

We walked out to the edge of the rock to have a look around (and down).

The next viewpoint that we went to was Cape Royal. This vantage point provides amazing views down and across the canyon. Most of the places that we stopped are better for viewing the unbelievable expanse of the canyon as opposed to the depth which is more apparent from the South Rim.

The last place we went to was Point Imperial, the highest point on the North Rim at 8,803 feet. This viewpoint is unusual for several reasons. First, the South Rim drops abruptly to the Colorado River directly opposite and is only 3/4 of a mile away. Whereas, the North Rim at this point is over ten miles away. Secondly, the canyon begins to transform and the narrow walls start to open up dramatically, creating a layered effect and offering a stark contrast to the layers of red rocks. The large rock in the forefront of this view is called Mt Hayden. Since it was late afternoon and some clouds had formed it was even more atmospheric. I can only imagine how amazing it must be at sunset.

Unfortunately, we had to leave and make our way back to the hotel. I ended up driving home because Paulo had gotten sun burned, actually more like scorched and he was exhausted. The sun was starting to set and the views of the forested area leaving the canyon were excellent.

There were a few thunderstorms along the way but it was a brilliant drive back as the scenery and landscapes were unbelievable the entire way.

Back at the hotel, Paulo hit the scratcher straight away. I went to Goodbye for a bite to eat. Ruby Tuesday on a Monday night - there was nahbody there. It was so quiet that it was a bit creepy. I kept my head down, ate my salad and legged it as quick as I could.

I drove back to the hotel and went straight to bed as well, thinking about a truly amazing day.

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