Saturday, July 30, 2011

Monsoon season in Arizona? Really?

Hi everyone,

We woke up in the Grand Canyon to two different yet equally fascinating events.  The first event was the discovery of elk wandering through the campgrounds. Obviously they are quite used to humans since they just hung out, eating whatever scrungy food they could find.  In fact, they’re obviously used to stupid, moronic humans since every last one of us who saw this band of wild animals traipsing around grabbed our cameras and started snapping photo after photo of them. Carol reminded us that while elk are herbivores, they had big nasty antlers and could turn and charge at you whenever the mood struck them. It was at this point that we ushered the kids away and hoped the elk would leave and bother someone else.  But we still got lots of great pictures!!!

Shortly after that the rain started.  And not just some sweet little rain.  I’m talking about driving rain that sent us into our tent and had me cursing that I ran out of time last night to apply the tent sealer.  Apparently, it’s monsoon season in the Arizona desert.  What?! Monsoons?!  I thought those happened in SE Asia not in Arizona and not during my perfectly planned vacation!

We hunkered down in the tent for about 30 minutes.  When it became clear that we might be stuck with this all day, it being monsoon season and all, we decided to go into Tusayan and see the IMAX movie we ran out of time for the previous night.  The movie was kind of campy but the scenes of the canyon were beautiful and so were the times when the film made you feel like you were flying through or over the canyon itself.  This was a good thing to do during the rain and it had significantly lightened by the time we got out.

We hit the Bright Angel Trail as scheduled for the day.  We hadn’t even seen the canyon in person yet so you can imagine how excited we were when we pulled up to the rim to begin our hike……and we couldn’t see a darn thing.  The fog/clouds were so thick you could barely see two feet into the canyon.  I thought I would cry.  Instead we put on our backpacks and began the hike. We must have gone about 1/10 of mile when the whining began.  “We can’t see anything, let’s go back.  I might fall off the edge of the trail.”  My son’s diatribe lasted for another ¾ of a mile before we couldn’t take it anymore.  We decided to eat our packed lunch along the trail.  We found a nice spot with some good sitting rocks.  We watched hikers go by in both directions and even saw a few good views of the canyon as the fog would thin out here and there.  One thing I will say about trips like these is you have to know your families’ limitations.  Apparently ¾ of a mile was my son’s for that day.  We turned around and walked up the canyon.  The walk wasn’t bad.  One thing about hiking in bad weather was that it was cool and cloudy.  We barely needed water and no one broke a sweat.  If my son had been more willing, we could have done the 3-mile round trip hike easily.

We made it back up and had the obligatory ice cream that was promised at the end of the hike.  Carol, our campsite neighbor, had innocently mentioned this to my kids and my son had fixated upon this.  We tried to use this as incentive to hike further with no success.

Once we finished our ice cream, I suggested we take the Hermit Trail Shuttle to see the different sights.  The weather was clearing up and we hoped we might get some better views.  The shuttle was one of those things I had scheduled for the previous day that we ran out of time for.  It turned out to be an excellent idea.  We stopped at various points along the way and were treated to some amazing views.  The shuttles came regularly enough that we moved easily from one stop to the next.  When everyone had enough, we caught a shuttle going in the opposite direction and ended back at the lodge where we parked the car.

We decided to go to the restaurant we had missed from the night before – The Coronado Room.  My daughter and I had the elk and it was really good.  Tender and perfectly made, we were treated to a great dinner. My husband, on the other hand, had the prime rib which wasn’t very good.  That great roasty part was salty and ruined.  However, we all had the mashed potatoes made with smoked gouda and green chiles. That was really good.  I couldn’t taste the smoked gouda but the green chiles were flavorful and added an interesting dimension to the potatoes.  My son was relegated to the Kids menu which was typical and boring.  I wanted him to share with us but he said he was fine with spaghetti and sauce.  Geez, this was a meat place, they should have had some interesting elk or buffalo meatballs at least.

We came back to our campsite and spent some time chatting with our friend Carol and then went to bed.  The clouds had mostly parted and we got to see an incredible view of the night sky that we never get to see in our light polluted town. It was a great day.

Tomorrow: Off to Zion and with some good luck and some bad luck and some frozen yogurt.

Still alive and at the Grand Canyon

Hi everyone,

I know you haven’t heard from me in days and probably believe my husband’s post that I was eaten by an elk.  No worries – I’m alive!  We haven’t had internet for days and I’ve been too tired at night to even write anything.

So I don’t overwhelm you all, I’ll still break down the posts into each day and make them separate posts.

Where did I leave off?  Oh yes, we’re about to leave our air conditioned hotel for the ruggedness of the wild…..

The drive to the Grand Canyon was long but okay.  We stopped at the Hoover Dam for a quick look.  With the ongoing drought in the Southwest, there wasn’t much to see.  In fact, my husband mentioned that on two separate occasions he saw women crying – supposedly due to the tragedy of the drought.  I think it was the lack of good parking.  Most spots require you to walk up or down a staircase which means you have to walk it the other way at some point.  There’s a new bridge that routes the highway away from the Dam in case you don’t want to see it. What this means is that you take the old road from Nevada into the Dam and then instead of continuing on through to Arizona, you have to go back the way you came and then go over the big new bridge.  It’s stupid but I guess they want everyone to experience the new bridge.

One thing I’ve definitely learned is everything takes three times longer than you think.  By the time we reached Seligman, AZ to eat lunch at the Road Kill Café, it was already 3:30 and everyone was yelling they were hungry.  I wouldn’t let them stop sooner, insisting we had to eat there since it was on my list.   Before I mention what it was like, has anyone seen the Cars movie?  Remember Radiator Springs?  I swear, we drove through the inspiration for that town.  The people there say it’s really Peach Springs about 35 miles away but I don’t believe them.  Maybe they’re embarrassed to be the focus of a Pixar film for kids but Seligman is right on Route 66 and, well I’ll have to post some pictures and let you be the judge.

Now for the Road Kill Café.  First off, all those great names for dishes like the Swirl of Squirrel and the Splatter Platter were just names.  My kids were so disappointed ( me too).  We were looking forward to various bits of meats made to look like they had tire tracks running through them.  No such luck.  This was just a regular hamburger joint.  I will say that the “Skunk” dish, really jalapeno poppers, were delicious and the highlight of the meal.  Crispy on the outside and yummy cheesy on the inside with a juicy (my daughter is making me use that adjective but it’s accurate) jalapeno pepper that wasn’t too hot and had lots of taste.

All was not lost.  I did get a mug that says “You Kill It, We Grill It”.  And while that was patently untrue, it still looks dang funny on a mug.

A few hours later we arrived at the campsite at the Grand Canyon.  We couldn’t see the canyon yet and my husband was yelling at us all to get the tent up before we lost daylight.  Luckily we had a great campsite neighbor – always very important.  She lent us a hammer for the tent stakes.  Apparently our tent mallet wasn’t in the tent bag.  She lent us her lighter so we could get our lantern lit.  She also showed us where the bathrooms were. Thanks Carol!!

No one was hungry for dinner since our road kill lunch filled us right up.  I think we just ate some dry boxes of cereal, if memory serves.  It was much cooler than we expected so we dressed warmly and went to listen to the Ranger Program.  I usually have an awesome sense of direction but it was totally baffled by the complete darkness of the park.  I kept taking us in circles and could not get my bearings.  After passing the same buildings for the third time, I conceded defeat and let my husband figure out where we were going.  Much to my disgruntled pride he found the outdoor amphitheater and we arrived only ten minutes late for the Ranger’s talk on the various levels (strata) of the canyon walls, what they were made of and how they were formed.  I thought it was fascinating and could have stayed for the whole hour.  My family had other ideas.  My son fell asleep, my husband looked like he was nodding off and my daughter, after determining that the Ranger wasn’t hot nor were there any hot guys in the audience, kept asking to leave.  We woke my son up, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible, and quickly guided him out of the amphitheater before he woke up long enough to inquire where he was in his too loud for indoors, outdoors, or loud stadium voice.

Thus ended our first day of camping at the Grand Canyon.

Tomorrow: There’s a monsoon season in Arizona.  Really?