Elk, condor and the sights of Grand Canyon
With only four days left on this 33 day RV tour, the caravan arrived today at Trailer Village, Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim. It wasn’t an accident that tour organizers saved the best for last. Although nearly three weeks ago we spent three days at the north rim, this is the part of the Canyon where five million people visit annually and considered among the most spectacular scenery in the national park service inventory. The North Rim, however, is just as dramatic but without the huge crowds which makes it just as inviting.
The tour caravan is staying at Trailer Village, a huge campground that holds a bunch of rv’s, trailers and tent campers and dozens of “urban” elk. These were once wild animals who have taken up residence in the woods surrounding the campground and found safety and probably food from unwary campers. They have established a permanent residence. They stroll from campsite to campsite, stopping in the shade of trees and munching fallen acorns. There are cows, calves and bulls—bulls with trophy sized racks.
Elk roamed the Trailer Village campground like stray dogs. They were present every day. Once there were seven elk lounging in the shade of a tree alongside our RV.
It is rutting season which means bulls are selecting and rounding up mates. Rangers told us to give them a wide berth which most did. I shot most of my elk pictures from the safety of the RV but other brave souls followed them around at closer than comfortable range.
Tour organizers treated caravan members to an ice cream social (nothing like desert before dinner) and later we joined our Canadian friends for dinner at the Bright Angel Lodge.
After dinner and a long day driving from Bluff to the Canyon, we stopped in the Bright Angel Lodge lounge to unwind with a few adult beverages. While reliving some of the day’s highlights, six people ranging in age from about 40 to 60, walked into the lounge carrying heavy-duty backpacks, water bottles and walking sticks and sat down at a table next to us.
While chatting among ourselves about the various scenic places that impressed us today, someone across the room asked the hikers about their rim-to-rim trip.
Rim-to-rim is exactly what the name implies: walking from the top of the North Rim, down a mile to the canyon floor, across the Colorado River, across the canyon and up another mile to the South Rim. While most hikers would hire a guide and take three to four days to make this 23-mile trip, these people walked the entire distance in one day. Leaving an hour or so before daylight and walking all day and into the night, they arrived at the Bright Angel Lodge lounge about 9 p.m., looking a little worse for wear but surprisingly in good shape. They certainly earned bragging rights along with seeing some spectacular scenery along the way.
The Caravan bunch boarded buses today for a guided tour of Desert View Drive, a scenic route that runs east of the Grand Canyon Village along the south rim for 25 miles. It includes a half dozen stops at some of the more scenic overlooks and the Desert View Watchtower. The view from the four-story tower, which was built in 1932, is impressive while the interior contains murals.
Visitors gather at an overlook rock cropping that provides a wide view of the canyon’s south rim.
In the afternoon a crowd gathered at one of the scenic overlooks where a ranger was tracking California Condors, some of which live in the area. He pointed to a place across the canyon where his radio receiver was picking up a transmitter mounted on one of the condors, although it was too far away to see. The condor population now stands at around 360 birds with 70 soaring the skies of northern Arizona and southern Utah. The ranger talks that we enjoyed were always informative and free.
Today we watched a National Geographic IMAX film about the Grand Canyon, rode very crowded public shuttle buses to the west end of the Canyon to see more sights then gathered for a farewell dinner at a local restaurant.
The Caravan tour officially ended on the morning of the fourth day with a farewell continental breakfast.
The trip home will cover 2,100 miles and take eight days. We will drive south to Flagstaff, AZ., then head east across New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and joining Interstate 10 west of Tallahassee for the drive to St. Augustine.
Monument Valley is where many imagine the old west
A Navajo souvenir vendor waiting for tourists off Highway 163 leading into Monument Valley.
Day 28, Monument Valley, Utah
33-Day Western National Park RV Caravan Tour
John Wayne said Monument Valley was the place “where God put the west.”
And here is the place where director John Ford made John Wayne a household name.
Monument Valley, which borders Utah and Arizona, is the home of many of my personal childhood western movie heroes, was high on our to-visit list for years and after spending a couple days in this area, we were not disappointed.
There were scenic places in the valley where I could recall seeing John Wayne and the cavalry riding through the park in the old 1949 western classic movie “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.” This movie really showcases the splendid scenery of Monument Valley and won an Academy Award for cinematography for director John Ford. He filmed seven western movies here which is why decades of movie goers picture this scenery when imagining the west.
I could recall as a youngster sitting in a small town movie theater on a Saturday afternoon in the early 50’s and recall Wayne, dressed in cavalry blue, leading a troop of soldiers across the valley with the tall monuments in the background and a bugler sounding some kind of order.
Wayne was correct, this is no doubt the most famous example of classic western scenery in the country. Along with being the backdrop for many western movies, it also provided scenery for many television commercials including the iconic Marlboro advertisements from 50 years ago. Without even knowing, it was likely the reason the first cigarette I smoked was a Marlboro.
The only place to stay in Monument Valley was Gouilding’s Lodge, which is located outside the park and near Big Rock Door Mesa, just across the state line in Utah. Many movie stars stayed here while filming in the park including Wayne. The original trading post here looks like it did in Fort Apache in 1948. Now a museum, the trading post is full of movie memorabilia including the swing saloon doors from My Darling Clementine.
This rock outcropping was named “John Ford Point” in honor of the award winning director who used this landmark in several of his western movies.
All tours, which are led by Navajo guides, stops at a dozen or so places on the drive through the valley, including John Ford Point for pictures and a view of the same scenery seen many times from Ford’s cameras. It was the director’s favorite camera location—the place where numerous cavalry charges and Indian attacks were committed to film.
What a day!
A sign marks the spot where Forrest Gump ended his run across the United States in the movie by the same name.
Two lane roads are challenging; Burger King and Navajo Code Talkers
Day 30, Grand Canyon South Rim
33-Day Western National Park RV Caravan Tour
With only four days left in this 33-day RV caravan tour, we broke camp at Bluff, Utah for the 224-mile trip to Grand Canyon’s South Rim for the grand finale.
Get a load of the trip journal’s description of Highway 163 toward Mexican Hat:
Milemarker 6.0: Be prepared for a road hazard: 5% downhill with 35 MPH curve at bottom.
Milemarker 23.9: Road Hazard, 8% downhill with 25 mph curve at bottom.
Milemarker 24.2: Road Hazard, 8% uphill for approximately ½ mile.
Milemarker 150.0: Road Hazard, 6% downhill, Highway 160.
These are all two-lane highways and typical of some of the challenges that await RV owners traveling through this part of the southwest. Big rig travelers are encouraged to buy diesel when its available, which is not often. Since most everyone is towing a vehicle, getting into normal sized service stations is doable but getting out is questionable.
On the road to the Grand Canyon, the tour bunch stopped at a Burger King (of all places) in Kayenta, AZ., which also houses a popular Navajo Museum, featuring the WWII Code Talker display and Navajo artifacts. Parking for big rigs was at a premium but most everyone managed to find a spot among a half dozen or so semi-tractor trailers.
Kayenta is in the heart of Navajo country and proudly tells the story of 400 members from its nation who volunteered for a secret “code talkers” unit to evade Nazi and Japanese code-crackers. Considered an indecipherable language and without a written alphabet, the Navajo could send secret radio messages to troops that completely baffled the enemies.