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A Geological Wonderland – Grand Canyon


Sunrise Viewing From Mather Point

Sunrise Viewing From Mather Point

I felt Grand Canyon was calling us to see her again when we stayed in Las Vegas. So we bid farewell to Las Vegas and headed to Grand Canyon. Arizona welcomed us at the other end of Hoover Dam Bridge. Route 66 took us to Seligman. The next day we took Highway 40 and then 64 to Grand Canyon. We were gaining elevation as we drove along Highway 64. Drought tolerant pines and junipers appeared in high deserts when we got closer to Grand Canyon. After passing Tusayan, a small town where we stayed in our last visit, we were in Grand Canyon National Park again!

Elk Drinking Water

We checked in Mather Campground and drove to the service area to add water to the trailer. We were stunned to see a large female Elk standing right by the faucet. She was licking water from the puddle of water under the faucet! I came out of the truck and started to walk towards her. I said hello to her, she looked at me but didn’t move. I walked in front of her to open the cap of the water tank of the trailer. She stayed still and I was just several yards away from her. Stephen approached her and asked, “Can we get some water?” She turned around and walked to the tree by the faucet. I grabbed the hose and Stephen turned on the faucet. The Elk stayed by the tree and waited. After a while, she couldn’t help and joined a grey squirrel to drink water from the puddle again. She backed up after a little drink. We finally filled up the water tank. She came back to the faucet to quench her thirst.

Stephen with Elk and Squirrel

After settling the trailer on the campsite, we wasted no time to see Grand Canyon. We drove to Yavapai Point on the south rim and joined a ranger led program. From the ranger’s interesting “Geology Glimpse” lecture, we learned the story of Grand Canyon. Behind the fence of the ranger was the sheer cliff and one-mile deep canyon. North rim of the Grand Canyon seemed so close but it is ten miles away. The top of Grand Canyon is flat because the top layers of some 5,000 feet rocks were eroded away. Imagining the First Nation walked across the land and suddenly this gigantic canyon cut off the earth, how did they feel and think? The red limestone walls are the prettiest in the rock formations. But the ranger’s favorite rock formation was the sandstone. He explained that he could tell the directions the wind blew from the sandstone. If you walk down to the canyon, you will see rock layers from the youngest on top and the oldest on the bottom, and you will walk 1,840 million years back in time. Looking closely through the binoculars, you could see Bright Angle Creek cascaded to the canyon from Bright Angle Creek on the north rim.

Sunset at Grand Canyon and Moon

The Geology Museum at Yavapai Point sits right by the south rim. Kids wearing Halloween costumes walked around the museum asking questions. The window frames a gorgeous view of Grand Canyon. The tremendous size of the canyon, different colors and magnificent shapes of rock formations make Grand Canyon one of the seven natural wonders in the world. Looking down to the deep valley, we only had a glimpse of Colorado River hidden among the narrow inner gorge. About five million years ago, Colorado River from the Rocky Mountains found its way across Colorado Plateau to the Gulf of California, starting its grand carving of Grand Canyon. Erosion, volcanic activities, and earthquakes sped up the canyon’s growth. From the telescope, we saw two hikers crossing the suspension bridge across Colorado River. Under a curvy line of green trees way down there by the plateau was the classic Bright Angel Trail to the river. Another trail on the plateau led to the Plateau Point. Colorado River looked small and tame in the canyon, but the power of its torrential rapids cannot be underestimated. The first daring soul to conquer Colorado River was John Wesley Powell, a one-armed explorer who made the first survey of Grand Canyon in 1869. His expedition still inspires us to explore unknown and to face tough challenges.

Rock Formations Glowing in Sunrise

Sunset at Grand Canyon 2

Grand Canyon is most beautiful in sunrise and sunset. We watched sunset from Mather Point the first night and from Yavapai Point the second evening. Both offer spectacular sunset scenery. The setting sun painted a line of golden hue to the rims of Grand Canyon. A rising moon on the eastern sky added charm and peace to the brilliant scenery. Redwall Limestones glowed with dazzling orange and red colors. A raven landed on top of a cliff in front of Mather Point, making screeching calls and fluffing its wings. It was cold at sunset. And it was freezing at sunrise. We bundled up but some people wore shorts! A woman wrapped herself in a blanket. Lots of tourists have gathered on the platform of Mather Point waiting for the sunrise. I stood on top of the big boulder above the platform and had a commanding view of the scene. The kiss from first sun rays on the rims woke up Grand Canyon. In a moment, among the cheer from the tourists, the sun jumped above the south rim and shone into our eyes. It brought light and warmth to the world, and started revealing the beauty of Grand Canyon. The sun painted the top layers of rock formations first and then continued to paint downwards. Finally, the rock formation that looked like a man’s head was bathed in the morning sun. Another beautiful day in Grand Canyon has begun!

Tourists Viewing Sunrise at Grand Canyon

Sunset at Grand Canyon


We drove towards Grand Canyon Village and got lost in the loops. Finally, we found our way and parked by the street in front of Bright Angel Lodge. The rustic looking lodge was designed by Mary Colter, a famed architect, who designed 8 structures in Grand Canyon. Walked through the lodge to the back, the view of Grand Canyon brightened up our eyes. Ravens circled in the canyon riding thermos. Later when we rode the shuttle bus to Hermits Rest, the bus driver explained this was the mating season of the ravens. At the tip of the rim was Lookout Studio, another masterpiece of Mary Colter. It’s rock façade seamlessly blended with the cliff. A short walk to the west, we came across a herd of mules in the fence. A mule guide was giving instructions to several tourists who were going to take the mule rides down the river. We were at Bright Angel Trailhead. It took at least one year to make a reservation of the mule ride. And riding a mule down the canyon is challenging.

Lookout Studio

To finish the hike of Bright Angel Trail, one needs a thorough preparation. Not only do you need to hike down the 9.5-mile trail, you have to climb back. It usually takes two days. Just to say that I hiked Bright Angel Trail when I wear my new Grand Canyon T-shirt, I set my feet on Bright Angel Trail and started walking down the canyon. The trail was narrow and rough at the beginning for a short distance. After a turn, it was widened to about 2 meters. A sign by the trail told me to stand to the inside of trail when mules pass. It reminded me the train of mules I saw on the Rush Creek Trail hike on Sierra. I would be extremely nervous riding the mule down the canyon. A tunnel cuts through the cliff and the trail keeps going down. Walking through the tunnel, I saw sections of the trail winding along the cliffs, and reappeared by the plateau underneath. Two hikers were on the trail below me. A young parents and their two kids came through the tunnel. They walked briskly with walking sticks in hands, backpacks on the backs. I watched them hiking down the trail and returned. Climbing back to the rim was harder. That was my short hike on Bright Angel Trail and I survived.

Tunnel on Bright Angel Trail

Bright Angel Trail

We took the shuttle bus and stopped at Powell Point to view Powell Memorial. Beneath Powell Point was the gorge that Major John Wesley Powell and his party traversed on their 1869 and 1872 expeditions. The low shrine looking memorial is dedicated to Powell. One might be surprised to learn that there existed an Orphan Mine between Powell Point and Maricopa Point. They used to mine uranium there!!! Stephen told me that the current administration is planning to reopen the mining in Grand Canyon. That would be a manmade disaster to this natural wonderland!

Weiwei Takes Flight

Giant Fireplace at Hermits Rest

Hopi Point was just a short hike away. The panoramic view of Grand Canyon from south rim to north rim was breathtaking. We saw more sections of Colorado River below. The ride to Hermits Rest was the best bus ride ever because of the candies given by the lady bus driver. The building at Hermits Rest is yet another work of Mary Colter. The most impressive feature is the gigantic size fireplace facing the entrance. The fireplace has a rock arch that spans from wall to wall. Another small arch frames the hearth. Rocks on the fireplace were stained with smoke. I admired the talent of Mary Colter. She also designed the tower at Desert View, Phantom Ranch by the river, Hopi House and other buildings in Grand Canyon.

Indian Crafts at Hopi House

Decor at El Tovar Hotel

Back to Grand Canyon Village, we toured historical landmarks: Hopi House and El Tovar Hotel. Hopi House now houses a gift store selling native Indian crafts. The house has sandstone blocks as its exterior. Interior walls looked like mud. Sticks and dry brushes covered the ceiling. It was modeled after the 10,000 year-old Hopi pueblo dwelling. The interior of El Tovar Hotel is really dark. Walls, ceilings, and supporting columns were all painted with black. But the glowing fire in the fireplace, the yellow light emitted from Tiffani lamps, and groups of gourds warmed up the lobby. A train carried passengers from Williams to the village. A red tour bus seemed to take tourists for a helicopter tour at Grand Canyon. We revisited part of the eastern section of the south rim to complete our Grand Canyon tour.

Two male mule deer with huge antlers appeared in the campground the next morning. They were browsing the dry leaves from the trees and bushes on the ground. A raven was making low and deep call perching on a branch by our campsite. What a peaceful morning! We enjoyed our short stay here at Grand Canyon. Hope it remains beautiful when we see it again.


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