Wild West vacation (#66, etc.)

Dear Jessica,

#66.  I was really keen on Andrew attending this ranger program the night that Dad and Jo were down in the canyon at Phantom Ranch.  He finally decided he’d like to go.

#67.  You can take the blue route (shuttle bus) from Maswik Lodge to a spot rather near to the amphitheater where the ranger program would be held.

#68.  Despite that, it’s not easy to find the amphitheater.  In the dark.  Without a flashlight.

#69.  Having by this time ridden the blue bus back and forth many times, and having noted a certain stop at which the driver always announced the ranger program at the amphitheater that night, I knew just where we should get off.  Get off we did.

#70.  The amphitheater was “just a short walk up over the hill.”

#71.  I think it was 7:50 PM when we got off the bus, and the program would be at 8:00 PM.

#72.  If you get off the blue bus at the amphitheater stop and take a short walk up the hill, you will end up between two large buildings (one with some Catholic verbiage on it).  You will be crunching through the woods on no path at all.

#73.  It will get darker and you will rue the fact that your brain completely zoned out on bringing a flashlight.

#74.  Another man with two young boys will follow you.  You will hope that he is also trying to find the amphitheater, but you will also be forced to fight off the fear that he is out to attack you.

#75.  Once that fear has been allayed – probably by his asking you if this is the way to the amphitheater, which it most obviously is not – you can return to the bus stop.  At this point (time for the ranger program to start) another elderly man will have joined the expedition.  Being the only female in the group, you can act blonde and approach yet another man – foul-mouthed and cocky – who is walking toward you.

#76.  This is what I did, and when I asked him if HE knew how to get to the amphitheater, he cursed once and said he figured he could find it.  Whereupon, Andrew and I, the man with his two sons, and the elderly man all followed the cocky man, who led us UP the sidewalk (we had initially trekked DOWN the sidewalk), turned to the left and followed another rather broken-up sidewalk up over the hill, around a couple curves, and, lo and behold, there we were at the back of the amphitheater.

#77.  It was a standard national park amphitheater.  You know, wooden benches staggered down toward a stage with a projector and screen.

#78.  Ranger Lori was OUTSTANDING!  She was very outgoing and animated – would’ve made a great children’s church leader.  = )  She drew us in and captivated us with her interesting and humorous presentation.

#79.  We were there nearly an hour, and for the first 45 minutes coyotes were howling more or less continuously, very nearby.  Ranger Lori estimated they were closer than 1/4 mile away.  Wow!

#80.  We both totally enjoyed that ranger program and were so very glad we went.  We learned all kinds of neat things about how animals in the canyon adapt in order to live there.  Amazing stuff.

#80 a.  After the program, Ranger Lori had several kids there who had completed the junior ranger program (you remember that from Yellowstone and Ranger Holly?) and she had to review their paperwork, have them answer some oral questions, and officially swear them in.

#80 b.  One of the girls, maybe 10 years old, was from France and did not speak English.  As her Dad tried to translate what Ranger Lori was saying, the girl was having trouble understanding and was getting confused.  Ranger Lori asked (in French!) to please wait a moment (I could understand that much) while she put the other kids through their paces.  Then, she did the whole question and answer /ceremony / swearing in thing IN FRENCH with that one girl.  I could never do that, but I could understand enough French to catch the gist of most of what she was saying.  I was SO impressed.

#80 c.  Afterwards, I thanked Ranger Lori for her great presentation that evening and I asked her (joking) if she could do the Junior Ranger interview in ALL languages or just in English and French.  “Well,” she replied, “my Spanish is much better.”  What a woman, and what a selling point for learning and gaining fluency in a second language!

#81.  After an evening ranger program, it is darker than it is before the ranger program.

#82.  The darkness and the broken sidewalk can make it difficult-to-impossible for one with poor night vision to see.  Basically, I could’ve seen about as well with my eyes closed.

#83.  Thankfully, I had Andrew, who offered me his arm and guided me back to the blue bus stop.

#84.  We successfully navigated our way home to Maswik Lodge, where our room was small and very hot.

#85.  My plans for the next day involved breakfast in the room (Pop-Tarts, grapes, plus the cute little bottle of milk and a pre-sealed bowl of cereal for Andrew that we had purchased along with some other minor groceries on an earlier blue bus jaunt), followed by a short walk to the red/blue bus stop, and a ride out to Hermit’s Rest to the west.

#86.  The rim trail, along which we had walked the previous day (east to west, ending at the red/blue bus stop) continues on for some seven miles more to the west, ending at a place called Hermit’s Rest, which, in the old days, was the trailhead for the only public trail down into the canyon.  Some famous person had built a little stone house out there at the trailhead, and there was now a winding two-lane (a.k.a. Hwy 160) road that went out there.  However, that section of highway is open only to the official Grand Canyon shuttle buses (red route), horses, bikes, and pedestrians.  You can’t drive out there in your private car.  The rim trail parallels the road, and I wanted to see the canyon from a different perspective than the “standard” views we’d had so many of already; that is, the section of rim trail we had walked with some 17,255 people the day before.

#87.  Breakfast over, we faced the challenge of checking out of Maswik Lodge.  You might think this would be simple, but no.  You see, we had the van, which was full of all the stuff Andrew and I didn’t need (Dad and Jo’s suitcases, the library box, the audio box, the laundry basket, etc.), and all of that had to be unpacked and organized, in order to put into the van all the additional stuff we had been using:  Andrew’s and my suitcases, the train case, the dry foods box, the cooler, the games bag, the dirty clothes bags, and a myriad of other odds and ends.

#88.  Furthermore, because our room fronted a natural area with another lodge building across the way, there was no way to park near our door.  This meant that, no matter how hard I tried, the van was always down the length of our building and around the corner.  THIS meant that one couldn’t leave the van unsecured and out of sight, lest someone steal one’s stuff.  Or one’s van.  And THAT meant that we were forever loading, unloading, moving, driving, parking, locking and unlocking the van.

#89.  That morning – I believe (but am not positive that) it was Monday morning – Andrew and I began the great haul.  He took everything out of the van.  This was made more difficult by the back rack.  It does provide a nice surface, but it also has a nasty habit of jumping up and wanging you in the shins.  Thankfully, it was yet another clear, hot, sunny day, so he could just unload everything into the parking lot.

#90.  Meanwhile, I began packing containers in the room and steadily carrying, hauling, or otherwise dragging them down the sidewalk to the van.  We actually made a great team.

#91.  We also had to make sandwiches and pack a lunch that we could carry in my beltbag and his drawstring backpack.

#92.  We also had to drain the cooler and re-ice it.

#93.  These are normally tasks for adult males, but as we had none of those handy, Andrew stepped up and did the lion’s share of the work.  I was very impressed with his unpacking, organizing, and repacking abilities.  In addition, he uttered not one word of complaint.  AMAZING!

#94.  We started on all this work fairly early, because Dad’s final words to me as he boarded the green bus with Josiah to head to the South Kaibab trailhead had been, “1:30 at Bright Angel Lodge!”  This meant that if we wanted to take a morning journey to the west on the red bus, we’d need to be back at the Bright Angel Lodge by 1:30 PM, and frankly, since that plan had been based on their tentative departure from Phantom Ranch (at the bottom of the Grand Canyon) at 6:00 AM, and since the day before (the day they hiked down) we had heard that it had been over 100 degrees at Phantom Ranch, and since the main goal for Grand Canyon hiking in the worst of the summer heat was to be off the trail by noon or sooner (to hopefully avoid heat exhaustion), MY opinion was that Dad would choose to start earlier than 6:00 AM and could be up as early as noon.  Because we had no cell phone or way to contact him or monitor their progress, and since Dad had never been to Bright Angel Lodge and didn’t even know where it was located, I decided that we needed to be back there waiting for him by noon.  Hence the early attack-the-van project.

#95.  I scanned the now-empty lodge room yet again for the ever-elusive cell phone and watch, then locked the door behind me.

#96.  We walked over to the main building where the front desk, mailbox, and gift shop are located, and mailed our postcards, paid our room balance and checked out, then bought me a souvenir book about the south rim in the gift shop.

#97.  At that point, we had a choice.  We could A) walk the few blocks to the red/blue bus stop, B) ride the blue bus for some 30-45 minutes till it wound around to the final stop on its loop (the red/blue stop), or C) drive to the red/blue stop and try to park the van somewhere in that vicinity.

#98.  The bus routes’ logic can be explained thusly.  Picture a clock.  The blue route runs around its face in only one direction – always counterclockwise.  Maswik Lodge is at 9.  The only place to board the red bus is at the red/blue stop, which is at 10, and the red route takes off from there, heading totally off the clock face.

#99.  There are 20,489 private vehicles on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon (that is to say, basically along the blue route) at any given time.  There are several widely spaced parking lots along the blue route, including those at the various lodges.  Altogether, a total of 749 parking spaces -spread over an area of several miles – have been provided.  Any time you can spot a vacant one and then get your car into it, you have accomplished something of major significance.

#100.  Maswik Lodge (“9”) is only a couple short blocks from the red/blue (“10”) bus stop.  The odds on finding a parking space AT the red/blue stop or nearer to the red/blue stop than Maswik Lodge were roughly the same as the odds that Josiah will remember to do his laundry on any given Friday.

#101.  I opted to leave the van where it was and walk to the red/blue stop.  The only bad thing about that was that once we retrieved our menfolk at 1:30 PM or noon, we might all have to walk back the slight uphill to the van at Maswik Lodge; however, I figured that if you’ve just climbed up from the bottom of the Grand Canyon, a couple more blocks on a slight uphill in cooler temps couldn’t be all that bad.

#102.  With our various packs hanging off us, we walked to the red/blue stop and boarded the red bus westbound, but not till after I enjoyed a very nice conversation with a young man from Switzerland, who just that morning, in the previous fifteen minutes (it was about 9:30 AM at the time) had completed a solo rim-to-rim hike.  He had started on the north rim, hiked partway down his first day and camped.  The second day he hiked the rest of the way down (North Rim down to Phantom Ranch is 14 miles), rested during the heat of the day at Phantom Ranch, and in the early evening, started up the Bright Angel Trail (Phantom Ranch up to South Rim is 8 miles), camping at the midway point at Indian Gardens.  Then, on the third day, he finished his climb up to the South Rim.  He lives in the Alps and said that the Grand Canyon was really a nice stroll.  He was not at all cocky, but when I inquired, he said it was really nothing compared to all his mountaineering in the Alps.  Wow!  He was going to take the red bus along the rim for some sightseeing, and then later in the day a shuttle ($50?) would take him the three hours’ drive back around to his car on the North Rim.

To be continued. . .

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