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grand canyon trip report -- with condors!

2008-05-22 - 9:17 a.m.


all photos 2008 by elaine radford

grand canyon from rim trail

Peachfront's Note: Here is my trip report from my recent trip to the Grand Canyon. For the bird list, click here. For a little more about some of the birds we encountered, click here.

May 13, 2008

The International Man of Mystery and I had to get up at a ridiculous hour to get to the airport. We were both upgraded, although to widely separated seats, but a nice man sitting next to IMOM agreed to swap aisle seats with me, and we were all set. Then I noticed an armed police officer, with a very large gun, going into the cockpit to say something to the captain. Uh oh, I says to myself, says I. But the captain announced that a minor "repair" was being made, so we didn't worry yet. Well, maybe a little. Finally, there's a second announcement. Yeah, you got it. A bomb scare against Northwest Airlines but the jerk-offs didn't bother to say which plane. So we had to be dumped off the plane and go through security again while the bomb dog sniffed away. When we were allowed back onboard, I almost sat in the wrong seat, having forgotten in the excitement that I'd already swapped.

"This is the best screened airplane flying in the industry today," the captain assured us. And I don't doubt it for a single solitary moment.


life is good when you're a singing male dark-eyed junco of the red-eyed variety

At least we all received amenity packs for our troubles, which impressed me. I mean, it isn't the airline's fault that some idiot phoned in a bomb threat. So it's a pretty nice gesture to buy us a drink, and at MSP airport, IMOM and I quickly found the tequila place, where Northwest Airlines bought me a mango margarita and IMOM a very large Samuel Adams. Yah, you could use the coupon to buy food too, I guess, but hey. Vacation. Party party!

We'd started very early, and flown MSY-MEM and then MEM-MSP. IMOM was already nodding off at the gate while we waited to board MSP-LAS, which turned out to be somewhat delayed. (Perhaps the Samuel Adams, as well as our early departure time from New Orleans, had something to do with that.) In any case, the first time the gate agent asked for volunteers, he was sound asleep. The second time, he seemed half awake, and I gave him a nudge, but he didn't really react. By the fourth time, though, the GA sounded rather panic-stricken. "We will be paying for your food, ground transportation, and hotel room in addition to $300 per person that can be applied to future flights." IMOM suddenly leapt to his feet, and I was happy to follow.

"We'll do it!" we screamed, elbows out, to knock over anybody else who was running to the gate to take the offer. The funny thing is, even with all the bribes, nobody else volunteered. I guess $600 just ain't what it used to be, but I knew that I could cancel our hotel for the night at no cost, and that we could re-schedule a cheap rental car pick-up at LAS for no extra cost, so why not? But, alas, at the end of the day, whoever was scheduled to overload the plane didn't show up, and the GA told us to go ahead and board since he wouldn't be needing us after all. However, as a thank you for volunteering, he did give us another amenity pack. At some point, Northwest Airlines is going to be buying me yet another mango margarita.


according to mr. condor, if you flap your wings and fly, it really saves a lot of hassle, but for some reason i'm not getting the lift he gets

To our astonishment, at LAS, our priority-tagged First Class bags were actually in dead fact first out of the cargo hold. Are they reading my blog? I really thought we'd be waiting a good solid hour for our bags, but they actually got them out there on time, and despite our multiple delayed flights we probably weren't any more than 15 minutes late to pick up our rental car. We drove to Kingman to pick up our free hotel room at Holiday Inn Express, passing over the Hoover Dam along the way and catching a glimpse of what (I swear) was a coyote crossing the road. Yeah, Priority Club. Stay in their hotels about a million times and you'll eventually get a free hotel room in Kingman, Arizona. Not much different from TripRewards, where it's stay in their hotel a million times and you can eventually get a free hotel room in Port Allen, Louisiana. But a free hotel room is better than no free hotel room, right?

May 14, 2008

They actually had a nice complimentary breakfast at this place, with some low carb choices like bacon, hard-boiled eggs, and scrambled eggs. They seemed to be appealing to the German/European crowd, since IMOM and I were the only English-speaking tourists in the room. Maybe it's that European "Route 66" crowd?


a view of the colorado river in the grand canyon

In any case, we headed off for the Grand Canyon. There was drizzle in the air and snow on the ground but I had no worries. After all the GC is in the desert, and May is not the monsoon season. But IMOM later admitted that he was convinced that our hiking trip would be totally rained out.

Once we arrived at the Canyon, we hit the Rim Trail. You will think I'm fibbing, but I'm not. We saw three California Condors fly by, and not too high either, within five minutes of entering the trail. Talk about "no worries." The pressure was off, the target bird had come to us, and we no longer had to do anything except stroll around and enjoy the spectacular view.

We did notice that if you stepped down -- not on THAT side, the first step is a doozy! -- but a little bit off the path into the green, then you could find a decent number of spring birds. I first noticed what I thought might be a vireo's voice and we found it easily -- Plumbeous Vireo. But there were also more colorful items, like the many Western Bluebirds, Audubon's Yellow-Rumped Warblers, and Western Scrub-Jays. At some point, overlooking the Canyon, we got a low-flying Peregrine Falcon too. But I have to admit that I have a special place in my heart for the singing male Black-Throated Gray Warblers.


a couple of california condors at the gathering point below the south rim gift shops, stick around for awhile, you'll see mr. raven trying to pull their tails, it's hilarious

We were staying at the Yavapai motel, so we entered the Rim trail about a mile from the Bright Angel Trailhead. At first, we hiked toward Yavapai point, but eventually we turned toward the tourist trail and headed back toward Bright Angel, arriving at Lookout Studio only moments after the free Condor Talk had started. As we were asked to scan the sky for possible condors, #87 came lazily flying up, soon to be followed by many others that were gathering on a ledge that we could see from the gift shop. Oh man, those Condors. Easy, easy, easy bird. I don't know what was more amusing, the way they made a Turkey Vulture look small when it tried to soar with them, or the way they made Common Raven look like a titmouse when it came up and tried to pull their tails. These guys are HUGE.

We went back to the room and I cooked up a new hiking food, a dehydrated Santa Fe Chipotle Soup. It was awful. Never again. You have been warned.

We then grabbed the free shuttle bus to Yavapai Point just in time to enjoy the spectacular sunset over the Grand Canyon.


yavapai point, sunset

May 15, 2008

I didn't set the alarm. I left it to fate. But when I awoke naturally at 4:15 AM, I knew that fate wanted me to see the sunrise, so I sneaked out of the motel and caught the last shuttle to Yavapai Point. Yeah, it's weird like that. It's a true point, with overlooks facing both west and east, so you can catch both sunrise and sunset there.

I returned to the room, fixed some instant oatmeal and hot tea -- well, I think IMOM just drank some Pepsi to meet his caffeine addiction needs -- and then we were on our way to catch the various shuttles to hike the South Kaibab Trail. I could tell a long story about hiking to the Colorado River in one day but I won't. Suffice it to say that I felt that all the signs warning you not to hike to the Colorado River in one day were aimed at me. Yeah, back in the day, I hiked it OK, but my traveling companion got real sick and was overheated and throwing up and we're probably lucky that we weren't a news story of the week. So anyway, IMOM and I overpacked with lots of water, chilled Pepsi, and infinite snacks, just to hike down to Cedar Ridge, a total hike of 3 miles, albeit with a great deal of elevational change.


view from south kaibab trail

Beautiful scenery, much discussion from courting White-Throated Swifts, occasional fly-bys by Common Ravens and California Condors who don't quite understand why one or two tourists a day can't donate themselves to the cause. The Rock Squirrels were a nuisance on wheels, with one Rock Squirrel actually boldly coming up to us and stealing IMOM's can of tuna fish! When we blessed him out, he found a woman's purse and started taking it apart. I didn't know what to do. You just don't leave your purse unattended, right? If it ain't the criminal element, it's the squirrels. IMOM tried throwing cold water on the squirrel and he was thrilled. Free bath water. In the desert. Nirvana. IMOM threw a rock, intentionally aiming off so as not to hurt the pest, and the squirrel thought it was a treat that he went running to put in his mouth. What do you do if somebody can't take a hint? We really did try to chase the squirrel off the bag, but it was a lost cause, and the bag's owner seemed to have disappeared, so eventually we just gave up and slunk away.


the evil-doing rock squirrel

Alas, a mule train caught up to us, and on the way up, we saw a mule stumble, then nearly fall off the mountain. IMOM was mad. "They're tied together. If one falls, they all fall," he said indignantly. The ladies hiking behind us were park rangers, and they assured us that they were tied with a slip knot, so that if one fell, the others could get away. But I saw how fast it happened, and I have to admit that I'm not entirely satisfied. I tried to stay WELL away from any mules the rest of the day, and I don't think I'll be ordering any mule trips any time soon. I wasn't impressed that they are such sure-footed animals.

When we got to the top, I felt a great sense of well-being that we had survived the climb without anyone vomiting or having to call on a park ranger for emergency assistance -- ah, you can see that I have some history with my hiking companions in the Canyon -- but we still decided to go easy in the afternoon. So we did the Desert View drive, stopping here and there to enjoy the overlooks, but never hiking too far on the various trails we encountered. At the Tusayan Indian ruins we had a great view of the snow-capped San Francisco Mountains, but my camera couldn't figure out where I wanted it to focus. We also had a nice lizard with a bright electric blue gular -- our only reptile of the trip, other than the one he was either seducing or threatening, no doubt in part thanks to the snow on the ground at elevation.

Toward sunset, we headed for the El Tovar porch, where we ordered drinks and watched the sunset. I had a Prickly Pear Margarita, and I believe IMOM had a Fat Tire beer. However, despite the crowds gathered there, the porch was not the ideal spot for watching the actual sunset over the Canyon. It was better for sipping the frosty drink and waiting to see when it was almost sunset. Then we gave up our seats to some other grateful folks and walked over to the rim for a better view of the ever-changing colors. The Condors had already headed off to bed, but it was pleasant weather and a colorful sunset, and, all in all, it was a spectacular show for our last night at the Grand Canyon.

Oh, and our mammal list already held some sort of cottontail type rabbit, Cliff Chipmunk, Rock Squirrel, Mule Deer, and Elk, but we didn't see a full male Elk with velvet horns until we were driving back from El Tovar to our motel.


so, sorry about the flash in the eye, but yeah, as we were returning after sunset, it was dark, and we had to use flash to grab the photo

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