Other Worldly

Grand Canyon and Sunset Crater under Moon and Snow - March 2007

Hot Fudge Sundae with Cinders
Sunset Crater National Monument is an old volcanic field north of Flagstaff that was last active about a thousand years ago. A brief snow storm had dusted the Flagstaff area a couple days before my visit leaving scattered patches of bright white snow that stood out against the dark black lava and cinder cones.

Snow Bowl
Right on the verge of disappearing entirely, it was interesting to see where the thin sheets of snow had survived and where it was already gone. Some times a slight depression would provide just enough extra shade during the day to make the difference.

Skunk Ridge
The Bonita Lava flow, just north of the Sunset Crater cinder cone, is a sea of uniformly black cinder with a few scattered plants or larger rocks. Walking across it is like walking on a beach of black crunchy sand.

By late afternoon, a nearly full moon was starting to rise over the lava flows. It felt like being on another plant.

Colorado Butte from the New Hance Trail
I had not been on the New Hance trail before and decided to give it a shot. It has the reputation of being one of the roughest trails on the South Rim and I was not disappointed. Frequent patches of snow, slush and wet rocks made the scary spots all the more thrilling and resulted in several bruises and a couple of bleeding scrapes. I only went as far as the rock saddle connecting Colorado Butte to the rim (lower left of photo).

Little Lost Sheep
As I was sitting on the ridge connecting the butte to the rim, I could hear an odd forlorn bleating sound far below in the next side canyon. Eventually, a small lone bighorn sheep appeared, perhaps separated from its larger herd. I expected it to run away when it saw me, but instead it came a little bit closer and sat down on a small rock outcrop about 150 feet below me. For over 30 minutes, we both sat there in plain view of each other - the sheep doing nothing more than occasionally getting up and shifting position. When I finally got up and grabbed by pack to leave, it scampered off down the slope again.

End of the Trail
I did not see a single other person during my time on the New Hance trail, but back at the lodges that afternoon, plenty of people were working their way up the popular Bright Angel trail. The large shadow-filled side canyon in the background is Bright Angel Canyon where Phantom Ranch is located.

The Night Watch
Perched on the edge of the rim, Lookout Studio at night reminded me of a lighthouse on the edge of a dark sea.

Shadow Rim
I went for a hike down the South Kaibab trail in the dark of night to take long-exposure photographs. The long 15-30 second exposures capture color and details that I could not see at the time with my own eye. When I took this photo it was several hours after sunset and I needed a headlamp to see the settings on my camera, but the opposite cliff face looks like late afternoon. Only the stars give it away.

Orion visits the Canyon
I stopped at Cedar Ridge, a nice rest stop about 1.4 miles and a thousand feet below the rim. The constellation of Orion is kneeling on the rim between the branches of the left tree. On the far left is the bright star, Sirius, while the planet Venus sets into the canyon on the right.

Ghosts of Cedar Ridge
The oddest thing about hiking down the canyon at night was stillness. Nothing moved and nothing made a noise. No wind, no crickets, nothing. In the pale moonlight, it felt like I was walking inside an old black-and-white photograph. Here the bright full moon reflects off the mule posts and roof of the outhouses at Cedar Ridge. As I was photographing on Cedar Ridge, the sudden appearance of another lone hiker made me jump. He was on his way to the top after hiking all the way over to the North Rim and back in one day (over 40 miles!!). He was 58 years old.

Ferry Me No More
Pearce Ferry was a historic Mormon crossing and the first place you could get a wagon across the Colorado River below Lee's Ferry over 250 miles up stream. The area was flooded by Lake Mead and became a popular boat dock and recreation site in the 1930s and 40s. But silting filled up the bay and then drought drained it out leading to a dry abandoned shoreline now several miles from the river.

A Bridge Too Far
The 'Sky Walk' is a new glass-floored viewing platform on the Hualapai Indian Reservation near Lake Mead (it is NOT at the national park or anywhere near it) that extends out over the rim. Contrary to the promotions, it is NOT directly over the river in the main gorge - but rather over a side canyon and it is not a 4000 foot straight drop (though it is a long way).
Looking past your own feet to see empty space and then ground far below IS a weird sensation, but the same effect could be had if they built it on the side of a skyscraper or a high cliff just about anywhere. You don't come away with any deeper experience or better view of the canyon. It is really just a quick cheap thrill (though at $75 per person, not real cheap). They don't allow cameras on it.
The Sky Walk was designed and financed by a Las Vegas promoter who hoped to tap into both the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas crowds by combining elements of both. But the Sky Walk experience is not exciting enough to compare to Vegas attractions and not really focused on the landscape enough to appeal to outdoor enthusiasts. With all the money made on tourism and recreation in the southwest, I do hope that the Hualapai are able to find some way to tap into their incredible landscape resources and improve their situation, but I can't strongly recommend the Sky Walk to anyone.

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