I picked my dad up from the Flagstaff airport, and off we went. He was in good form, immediately losing his phone (he was sitting on it), and mistakenly trying to go into the girls’ bathroom (I stopped him). Anyway, eventually we rolled up to the El Tovar Hotel in the Grand Canyon.
(Image is an approximation of our actual arrival.)
The El Tovar opened in 1905 as a first class accommodation for travelers on the Santa Fe railroad, which had finally reached the Grand Canyon. As the card in our room informed us,
“Nothing was spared to make this one of the great hotels of its era. The building was completely equipped with electric lights powered by its own steam generator. Railroad tank cars brought fresh water for the hotel from Del Rio, 120 miles away; fresh fruit and vegetables were grown in greenhouses on the premises. The hotel even had its own dairy.”
Nowadays it’s a destination for thousands of short-pants ruffians like ourselves. It’s right on the edge of the canyon, prime location. Our first order of business was to check out the view.
Woah. It made us a dizzy the first time we looked into the canyon. It’s just so massive and deep, and all the different layers of color funnel your vision down, but you can’t even see to the bottom. Only in a few spots can you glimpse the Colorado River.
Second order of business was to get some food in us. We sat out on El Tovar’s deck and looked out over the canyon while sipping on tea and munching on vegetarian chili and crab cake sliders. Twas good.
Properly fueled, we ventured out to walk the Rim Trail. This is just a paved path that goes along the rim. My dad was mad because it wasn’t more trail-y, but it had some educational merits of its own. There are no rails anywhere, because to rail the whole canyon would require as much metal to go halfway around the earth, then for every foot of height you’d need another bar of rail, multiplying that amount. Besides, people would climb over it anyway, so the park admitted there was just no point. However, there are plenty of copies of the book Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon, detailing the 550 deaths in the Grand Canyon, on sale everywhere you go to give you ample incentive of your own not to wander too close to the edge.
Overlapping the Rim Trail, the Trail of Time is set up to give you a physical metaphor in the distance you walk comparing to the amount of time it took for the Grand Canyon to form. Along the way there are plaques explaining the formation of the different rock layers. Dad helped to further elucidate in his coloquial style, “Look, so there’s where that shit seeped through”.
They’ve also mounted rocks from each layer and era so that you can touch them. Dad insisted we walk along petting each rock. After this first one he paused to analyze the texture and came up with his official scientific observation: “This would make a great granite counter top.”
One plaque shouted at us that 1.2 billion years were missing from the rock record. Dad muttered to himself, “Goddamn teenagers.”
Then he made us take this picture where “it will look like we’re falling into the canyon”. Shortly afterwards he came running up behind me yelling I had to stop. He wanted to show me this ancient geological specimen he had found…
Ie. a piece of the road.
We finally made it to the end of the Trail of Time and this vista point.
Dad tripped and almost fell off the cliff taking this picture of me, evoking a shout of “Jesus fucking Christ, Dad!”
So then we had other people take pictures of us.
After that we went to fancy dinner back at El Tovar. You could tell it was fancy because their butter is stamped with a crest.
Also because they had a crumb sweeper. This is someone who comes around after they take away your bread and sweeps away all your crumbs with a little silver comb so that you are aware of how messy an eater you are.
Honestly, their food was pretty bad. My dad’s celery soup was inedibly salty, they brought him the wrong entree, and though it’s hard to mess up a salad, it just had too many over-powering components to be truly enjoyable. Even their pie was too sweet. Their chefs obviously had heavy hands.
The next morning we got up early to go on the Cedar Ridge Hike, a Ranger lead hike down the Kaibab trail. I have to reiterate how awesome park rangers are- always so nice, with zillions of helpful and interesting things to tell you. I was particularly comforted by his presence, because everywhere on the trailhead and heading down there are posters detailing all the different ways you can die. I must also give props to their commitment to making visits to the park exceptionally educational, especially when visitors usually show up with no intention of it being so, and environmentally friendly. Nowhere in the canyon will they sell you bottled water, because the bottles end up in landfills or blown into the canyon by the wind. They provide their own water in filling stations along the trails, straight from the Roaring Springs below the North Rim.
Before we started, Dad made me take this picture of him to prove to his personal trainer that he was warming up. So here you go, Craig…
Then we started down in a group with about 12 other people. It was a little chilly, but just in the way of nice, brisk morning air. Our ranger told us that of all the thousands of people that come visit the canyon each year, only 2 percent actually descend into it. What punks.
The trail is unpaved, 3 miles round-trip, and descends 1.120 feet. It took us a little under 3 hours, and that was with stopping at the bottom to chill out and snack. It’s somewhat steep and rough going, windy, and it certainly would be possible to fall off the edge and die, but if you hold on to your hat and pay attention to where you put your feet, it’s so much fun! The views were spectacular, exponentially better than you get just walking along the rim. Our ranger told us interesting anecdotes about the building of the trail, some of the plants along it, and the park’s legal battles with Ralph Cameron, an original settler on the canyon.
The hike up is a bitch, but stop to rest frequently and it’s fine. Excellent father-daughter bonding time. If I come back, I want to do the hike all the way to the bottom of the canyon, where you can stay the night at Phantom Ranch, then hike back up the next day. But that’s for another trip.
We were back on the road. Next stop: Los Angeles.