Las Vegas,Nevada, June 5
Heat Advisory to Snow. Friday and Saturday were days of contrast. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is higher in elevation than the South Rim with greater precipitation, more trees, and cooler temperatures. It did get into the high 80s both days on the North Rim but the temperature on the canyon floor was to reach between 115-120 degrees F. When we arrived in Las Vegas Saturday evening, the temperature was 107 degrees. But let me back up a bit on the story line.
Friday morning we were scheduled to go on a rim top mule ride. Only one hour, and not the ride down to the bottom and back up again. However, on this trip I began to experience problems with altitude headaches and shortness of breath. I have been at higher elevations than the 8000 feet or so at the North Rim in the past and have not experienced those problems. Second, I have some vertigo issues but again, on this trip, it was worse than usual. In fact, I was getting nervous Thursday night while trying to sleep just thinking about Friday’s rim ride. Finally, I was getting a sinus headache and my eyes were watering. I told Chris Friday morning we were not going to do the mule ride; I did not want to be on a mule, my eyes watering and getting dizzy from looking over the edge. We canceled the ride. One has to accept one’s limitations, even if they are increasing.
Seeing the sunrise on Friday was still on the agenda. We were up at 4:30 AM but Chris took many of the pictures. I stayed back from the edge. There were fewer people out for the sunrise than had been out Thursday night for the sunset. The sunrise, and sunset, would have been enhanced by more clouds and more color but still it was a unique experience to watch it over the huge canyons below us.
Reflecting now on our visit, I think the vastness of the Grand Canyon reduced its pleasure for us. Driving the roads along the many mountain cliffs, where the cliffs are closer, change color, and contrast with the valley floors provided a more intimate and more visually rewarding experience. Even the drive down I-15 is impressive through the mountain valleys in that stretch of Utah, Arizona, and Nevada (as long as you ignore the haze/pollution).
We did take a morning ranger talk about the Grand Canyon. He explained how the geology contributes to the heavier rainfall that flows southward from the Kaibab Plateau to the north of the canyon edge down here to its edge. The north gets 15 feet of snow per year and that melting water creates more erosion on the north rim. More erosion equates to more visually stimulating gorges, rocks, etc for viewing compared to the steep drop-off of the South Rim. The 400 bison here are one of the more genetically pure herds in the U.S. Many herds have some cattle genes intermixed.
The North Rim has greater variety in vegetation. One can walk a few hundred feet and the juniper and pinyon pines of the desert change to Ponderosa pines of the forest. The south facing canyon wall provides for up drafts of warm air from the canyon floor 5500 feet below that limit the vegetation along the edge. Roaring Springs Canyon which runs just east of our cabin provides all of the water for the North and South Rims from the springs in its gorge. The vast majority of the park’s electric bill is for pumping water.
After the ranger talk, we took most of the day easy. We enjoyed the views, watched people, did our laundry, and listened to a second ranger talk. It was more relaxing for me to not feel the pressure to go on long walks or look over the edge. With the trees and the breeze, it was a comfortable day. We had our meals in the Grand Canyon Lodge; there are few options and the food was tasty. Our evening dinner was a buffet with a wide-screen showing a variety of National Park films. All of the accommodations are in cabins, the lodge is for meals, gift shop, etc.
Saturday we drove to Las Vegas via two National Park units; Pipe Spring and Cedar Breaks National Monument. Quite a difference between the two. Pipe Spring is in the northern strip of Arizona, just south of the Utah border. It proved handy for the early days of the Mormons when they could cross over the border to avoid prosecution for polygamy.
Pipe Spring had been a long time habitation for the Kaibab Paiute Indians. It has a spring sufficient to support wildlife or some grazing and growing of crops. A Mormon missionary came across the spring, passed the word up the chain of command, and the inevitable conflict over land use and water rights began. Grassland was more abundant then and Mormons established a ranch here. During the building of their temple in St. George, Utah, this ranch provided meat, dairy and cheese to the workers. In order to provide protection against raiding Navajos (the Paiute here were peaceful) and to support the early Mormon desire to establish their own kingdom of Deseret, a small fort was built at Pipe Spring. The fort was built right over the spring; Indian access to the water was denied.
Cedar Breaks is another of the mis-identification by early settlers. The trees here are not cedars as they thought but junipers. Breaks refers to the steep, heavily eroded terrain. The road winds through forest and climbs up to a 10,400 foot elevation. As we approached the visitor center, snow appeared on the side of the road and the car gauge indicated the outside temperature was 68 degrees. Heavenly.
Cedar Breaks does not have many trails and the two we attempted still had snow blocking much of the trail. At this altitude, I was not inclined to do a long walk anyway. The main feature here is to observe the rocks in “The Amphitheater”, which we did from several locations. The rangers here were all young and enthusiastic about being assigned to such a scenic location. I can’t blame them. The sight was amazing and quite unexpected. We enjoyed our “lunch” of granola bars overlooking “The Amphitheater”.
Cedar Breaks might be a great place to return to in late summer when the wildflower are out. For now, it will remain a great memory of wonderful vistas. For once the time differences among these states proved to our advantage. We were in Utah, an hour later than Nevada and Arizona so we had an early dinner at a steakhouse in Cedar City. Cedar City is also the home of the Utah Shakespeare Festival which begins here in late June with an expansive schedule of plays.
After dinner, it was a quick 2.5 hour drive down the Interstate to Las Vegas. We are here for three nights with a timeshare spiel tossed in Sunday.
Ed and Chris