Thursday, April 16, 2015

Travels with Krispy and Noddy (And Karen!), Day 6: From the Depths to the Heights to the Depths

Thursday, March 12th, 2015. (You might want to journey back in time to Saturday, March 7th, if you are a newcomer to this road trip.)

We awoke in the Grand Canyon. Well, not IN the canyon, but in the sprawling village along its South Rim. Karen had never seen the GC, and I hadn't seen it since the 1980's (when it was brand new), so this was going to be a treat.

We checked out of the incredibly-expensive-and-yet-drab motel and drove to the Main Visitors Center on a cold and cloudy morning. We found some breakfast at Bright Angel Bicycle rentals, which a breakfast bought at a bike store. 

And then it was a short walk out to Mather Point, on wide, empty, disneyesque pathways. Man, how many people does this place get per year? Well, in 2014, let's see, 4,500,000 visited Grand Canyon National Park. 3,000,000 paid a visit to Magic Mountain. So the Big Ditch absorbs half-as-many-again as the super-popular amusement park. Wow.

And all you can really do here is stand and look at a big hole in the ground.

But oh my, what a view.

That canyon in the upper middle is not the Grand one. That's
a small secondary canyon. No, really.
You can look at these pictures, click on them and enlarge them all you want, and still never get an idea of just how VAST the Grand Canyon is. The breadth from the South Rim alone is mind-boggling. Its 18 miles ACROSS to the North Rim, and 277 miles from end to end, which is the distance from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

I'll give you a moment to process that.

And, keep in mind that Arizona is only 300 miles across.

Here's another moment for trying to picture that.

You stand there on the rim, and you boggle at this........thing......and you end up
Junipers love the view.
sounding like a drunken porn starlet because all you can say is: "Its so BIG......!"

And beautiful. Even on a gray, overcast morning in Mid-March the canyon was awash in a muted rainbow of colors, from the reds of the Paleozoic sandstone down to the greenish base of Precambrian limestone and then the deep, dark browns and purples of the billion year old slot of the Colorado river, as it continues to cut through the granite "Vishnu Basement Rocks" more than a mile below the rim of the canyon.

(My new Sitar-Metal band name, by the way, is "Vishnu Basement Rocks".)

mandatory selfie. We're pretty happy.
We were goggle-eyed and we were seeing the canyon at its most bland. The trade-off was that we saw it in peace and quiet. We were able to walk along the Rim Trail and enjoy the Geology porn with very few people around. This was a good thing, because you really aren't looking where you are going when you have a view like that on your right. 

After a mile we had quite the neck stretch. 

And after that mile the view had not changed considerably, because the damned ditch is just THAT BIG. So we turned around and stretched our necks the other way getting back to the Visitor Center.

INTO the scenery

Because Admiral Karen and I both had this idea, and its the same one I had when I visited Colorado National Monument a few months before: I did not want to
Alright. Cool. Um, what are those?
just stand on the rim and glimpse nature over there; I wanted to go there and get into it.

So we asked the straight-out-of-central-casting grizzled old park ranger what our options were for a 3 hour hike. He quickly narrowed it down to one option: the South Kaibab trail, and then he didn't recommend it. "It just opened a couple of days ago, but the switchbacks at the top are all iced over. You'd need crampons."

We thanked him and rushed out to the bus stop, wondering what the hell a 'crampon' was. A short, crowded bus ride took us to the trailhead, where the bus remained crowded because almost nobody got off with us.

What? Are you scared off by icy switchbacks? Ha-HA! Wimps! I mean, shoot, the worse that could happen would be you' ...youuuuuu...... ......ooooooo......... 

We filled our water bottles and then peered over the edge. Holy Crap. 10 switchbacks right out of the gate, and yep, its one solid sheet of slippery ice all the way down.


Watch that first step.



You wouldn't fall all the way 6,000 feet to the river, so that was good. No, one misstep and you'd bounce your way down all of the rest of the switchbacks and then drop about 500 feet into an arroyo so steep we only saw one glance of its bottom. So there's your silver lining. Whee.

Luckily I am married to a Norska who is also a Capricorn, and my goaty bride displayed all of her grace as a former ballerina as she tip-toed and sashayed her way down one arm of the trail, then back down the other way, and then back down the other way.

Come on, says Admiral Karen, wha'choo waiting for?
It was engrossing and exhilarating, which was good, because that took our minds off of the one way journey that existed one step out from where we were. Ulp.

At the end of the switchbacks it was time for a very happy drink of water and then the luxuriously dry trail took us out into the canyon. 

And there is just something supremely satisfying about being down IN these places. You see the micro as well as the macro, the subtle color and texture changes within a certain type of rock, and then, as you descend further, the next type of rock. 

The trail itself changed colors. Sometimes subtly, other times between one curve
Here you can see how the trail itself
changes colors. Very cool.
and the next. The macro view changed constantly with every bend of the road, and now the lovely scenery was above us, below us, and all around us. YES.

I do so adore hanging out IN Wild Nature.

We only went down 1.5 miles before the elevation, grade and time elapsed caught up with us. We had distances to traverse and appointments to keep this afternoon, so we turned around and trudged our way back up to the wall of the canyon.

The day had warmed up considerably, which is not necessarily good news for an icy trail that suddenly had many more hikers on it. On our way up we found ourselves giving encouragement to folks headed down: "Hang in there." "Its worth it." "You got this." "Only 47 switchbacks to go! Totally kidding!"

The bus ride back was filled with smiles, and from there we found the mini-van and headed due South. 

The other 2/3rds of Arizona

The South rim of the Grand Canyon stands at 7,000 ft. (The Colorado River splooshes along down there at about 1,000ft above sea level). The South Rim is a high desert environment, a harsh, sandy juniper forest, and the Eastern half of the
Well named.
state is the big underside-of-Sweden of the Hopi Reservation. Together they comprise the top 3rd of the state, and unless you are a lizard, they aint a whole lot that's attractive here (other than the big ditch).

And now we drove through the middle third of Arizona, which, thanks to a couple of 12,000 foot peaks and their snow run off, is a lovely alpine forest. This surprised me. When I thought of the Copper State I pictured the Grand Canyon, and then a huge, ugly sprawl of Phoenixtucson covering everything from the Mexican border all the way up to the rim of canyon.

I have no pictures of the middle part
of this day, but I have tons from the
Kaibab trail. So here ya go.
I forgot about Flagstaff, nestled lovingly nestled in a gargantuan pine forest, also at 7,000 feet. In moving South 100 miles we hadn't gained or lost any elevation and yet we had moved from Barstow to Spokane, Washington. Very cool.

Our only problem, as it was for the entire trip, was finding lunch. We always had breakfast at whatever town we were leaving, and dinner was at whatever town we were heading into, but in between? All of the lovely scenery of the Southwest is great and all, but you can't EAT IT.

Flagstaff was a little out of our highway way, and it seemed silly to go into a big, unfamiliar city just to find a meal, so we pushed on South on I-17 towards Phoetucnixson. We watched the exit signs and when we saw one that had a knife and fork we exited into Munds Park, and gassed up the ever-thirsty minivan. We weren't desperate enough for gas station food, and the local pizza
It goes on like that for about 7 more miles, to the river.
joint was closed, so we followed the clues on my phone map along a frontage road and a sizable trailer park. 

Munds Park gave way to Munds Ranch and then Munds Tank - I think the locals here need to reevaluate a name that sounds like a burial mound of mud. Our conclusion, as we got back on the highway, was that the only food around here was somebody in the trailer park microwaving a chicken pot pie.

Luckily our stash of Girl Scout Cookies was holding up nicely. We switched CDs and when the Sirius radio clicked in we got the tail end of "Lola" and then the unmistakable synth of "Baba O'Riley" to satisfy our need of 70's Who. 

And as we transcended out of the Alpine middle third of Arizona, we couldn't
Waiting for the bus back to the visitors center.
You can see the sun just starting to peek through.
help but sigh. The Descent had begun.
Phoetucnixson sprawls uglyly at 1,000 feet above sea level, just like the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, which seemed like it was on a different planet now. 

As we dropped 6,000 feet to the suburban 1/3 of the state, we left behind scenery, cool temperatures, nice people and good energy. The only increases here were the traffic and the temperature, which quickly jumped 30 degrees, up to 90.

We passed Dry Beaver Creek, which, like Munds park, really needs a PR makeover.

Where There's A Will

There must have been something really wonderful here to have drawn us into this endless one-story suburban hell, and there was, and it wasn't the Motel 6 that we now headed towards, past an awful lot of drive-thru liquor stores. 

Pretty much everything in this room is bolted down. But it was
the closest thing to the ballpark. The Yelp page is scary fun.
This motel was nestled in the nexus of three major streets, an elevated highway, and a railroad track. It was like being at ground zero of nowhere.

Popular place too, judging from the parking lot. We stashed the minivan around back, in a dimly lit alleyway. Ugh. Our front desk clerk was an older model android. And our room looked like a mental health ward from 1975. Oh boy.

No time to admire furnishings though - wait - there ARE no furnishings - we had to get across this small sector of Pthuocesnoinx and over to the Camelback ranch to see our Giants play the 'home team' White Sox.

We made it just in time to see Madison Bumgarner's first pitch. Before the inning was out though I was getting us some much needed protein, grease and alcohol.
The White Sox share a very nice facility with the Evil Dodgers, so dinner was beer, garlic fries and excellent Dodger Dogs. One of the very few things I miss about L.A.

Seated behind us was our friend Colleen, who is an A's fan but wandered over to the National League part of Spring Training to catch this game with us. It was nice to see somebody familiar after a week of faceless clerks, attendants, cashiers, kiosk slaves - and the front desk clerk robot back at the Motel 6.

The game was good too, and considering we had driven 1,500 miles to get there, that was a definite plus. The Giants (well, mostly the wanna-be kids), came from behind and were leading 7-4 in the bottom of the 9th, with the White sox coming up for a final time.

Grand Canyon hike AND baseball in one day?
We are happy road trippers.
And then everything ground to a screeching halt. Because Will Ferrell had this stunt where he was going to play for 10 different teams in a single day. And we were on his list.

Now you may be a Will Ferrell fan. We're not. We think he is screamingly unfunny, and in the Lego Movie he was clearly out-acted by an 8 year old. And yet here he was, interfering with OUR baseball game that we had come so far to see. 

Well, he wasn't here yet. Oh no. See, comedy is timing and brevity is the soul of wit. And so we waited. For, ah yes, a helicopter. Which circled the ballpark. Slowly. 3 times. Finally it lands in center field (which, I am sure, was not appreciated by the grounds crew). 

Anyhoo, it lands. And we wait.
The helicopter entrance. O-kay.

Eventually Will emerges, wearing a White Sox uniform. He is surrounded by people, microphones, lights, cords, etc. and he ssslllooowwwlllyyy makes his way to the White Sox dugout. 

We wait. Now keep in mind (or just scroll up a bit) that we are at the end of a very long day that started 250 miles north of here, and including a good sized hike, some of which was on ice. We had earned the end of this game. We had suffered for it.

And now Will is FINALLY coming out to pinch hit. Jean Machi, who was closing for the Giants, was definitely on our side and showed Mr. Ferrell no
Will Ferrell batting for the White Sox.
mercy, and no breaking pitches. Will managed one weak foul ball before striking out. It wasn't funny, but it was oddly satisfying.

But now at least we can get on wi.......oh. Now Will is being 'traded' to the Giants. Ha. Ha. We wait. 

Eventually he lumbers his way across the diamond to our dugout, where, of course, he has to change uniforms, and then get on the catchers gear.

We wait, exhausted and unamused. More beer, anyone?

Ferrell waddles over to home plate and catches a couple of fastballs from Machi, which was admittedly impressive. Then they intentionally walk the batter and Bochy goes out and pulls Will from the line-up. 
Will Ferrell catching for the Giants.

And that was it. Machi mowed down the real White Sox and the game finally ended.

This whole stunt was apparently a charity thing, which is admirable, and the closely edited footage will no doubt be amusing for his fans, but I will say to you that Will Ferrell is not a quick wit, does not improv well, nor is he a good physical comedian. 

On our way back to the Gordian knot of our Motel, past many more drive-thru liquor stores, Karen and I discussed who would have been funnier in those pantomime situations:
  • Paul Giamatti
  • Buster Keaton
  • Lee Evans
  • Dick Van Dyke 
  • Bill Murray
  • Harpo
  • Hunter Pence
  • A random fan pulled from the stands
  • A potato

Ah, but we were way too tired for this, and listing people funnier than Will Ferrell would have been an all night experience. 

Back in Glendale at the popular Motel 6 - popular with drug addicts and prostitutes at least - we again had to park the brand new rental minivan in the dimly lit, deserted alley. Hooboy.

All worth it though, because we got to see THIS.
The laughable 'decoration' of our room looked just fine once we had turned off all the lights, and with the first of 47 freight trains clanking by next door we drifted off directly to sleep.

From hiking in the Grand Canyon to the towering Alpine forest to waiting for Will Ferrell to leave our baseball game. From the depths to the heights to the depths - From the sublime to the ridiculous.

Tomorrow though! Finale!!

Angus McMahan


  1. You are really gonna piss some of our friends off with the Will Ferrell hate. And yet, you are right. - The Wife.

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