Day Three: 7 August 2007
According to my journal, I slept well the previous night after running, diving and swimming all evening. The next morning, my group and I gathered to pack up everything we would need for the remainder of the trip. We rushed around like madmen, packing our backpacks, making sure we had all the food, and books, and anything else we might possibly need before cleaning up the hall and loading up the vans.
From Sombrero, we would make the five-ish hour drive north to Page, Arizona, which is the last town before Utah, and where Lake Powell sits. Lake Powell is just one part of the Colorado River. It flows southwest from the Rocky Mountains and, for whatever reason, decided that it would carve Grand Canyon. Before making the trek through the Grand Canyon, Group 3 would be driving to Lake Powell with Group 2 to river raft the Colorado River through Glen Canyon, which ends at Lees Ferry — and where the Grand Canyon officially begins.
The land is FLAT when you are out of the city and there are many cacti. In Phoenix there were lots of palm trees. It’s strange to see dusty, flat land and then abrubtly, humongous mountains.
We made a pit-stop in Flagstaff, about halfway through the trip, at a place called Thorpe Park. We ate quickly and then played on the playground before gathering in a circle in a shady, grassy glen and playing soccer. Kicking the ball around was a great outlet.
As you can see from my shirt (and later, you’ll see it on a pink hat!), I was a big fan of New York City at the time. My best friend from home, Laura, loved Chicago and Boston, but New York was my big thing and favorite place to escape. Plus, I wanted to represent where I came from while on the trip, and what better place to represent everyone’s stereotype of Connecticans (Avon, Greenwich, Fairfield, Stamford, New Caanan) than New York City?
In the years since high school, I have visited Boston numerous times, lived in Worcester for undergraduate, and visited Chicago after its Stanley Cup win in 2013, so naturally…I’m not such a big fan of New York anymore. Chicago is beautiful, and Boston’s history is too rich to ignore.
We continued driving. The silliness ensued. I was in a van with Meghan, Margaret (who runs Camp Sombrero and was driving), our counselor Skye, Alison, and Kathryn. My journal states that as we drove farther north, there were more evergreen forest (“conifers”) and grass, just like if I was driving in Vermont.
We drove farther north. Kathryn taught us some basic Chinese, including something to the effect of “Ni de pigu shi cong ming” which means “your butt is ugly.” Classic insult. Kathryn spent some time in Taiwan, which is how she was able to know some Chinese.
Suddenly we were in desert country again, and I believe it was the painted desert, because the rocks were striped and layered in an array of tans, reds, and pinks. We would be in Page in about an hour.
WE’RE FINALLY IN PAGE! We’re in Motel 8 in Page, AZ, just outside of the Grand Canyon and near the Painted Desert. I’m rooming in 209 with Carley, Meghan, and Kathryn. Marica, Laura, and Melanie are in 212. We’re thinking of prank calling them since before, when we were jumping on the bed, they called pretending to be from the front desk and said there was a “noise” coming from our room. It was really funny.
We ate pizza for dinner, had a group meeting about the next few days, and watched Law & Order until pretty late. It was only Carley and me that were obsessed with the show at first, but the rest of our friends got hooked immediately, especially because it was Law & Order: SVU and the episode was a particularly creepy one about a kidnapped little girl named Maria who keeps calling the police station and trying to tell them where she is. It was the night before our first exciting encounter with the Canyon, and none of us could sleep. In the middle of the night, I heard Carley ask Meghan if she could bring her some water, because she wasn’t feeling well.
Day Four: 8 August 2007
The sun was shining in my eyes. Before I was really awake, I was eating a hotel breakfast. I did my hair in two braids (I think because the girls thought it would look good, but also to keep my extremely long hair off the back of my neck) and put on my favorite tank top, a blue one that said “Not all those who wander are lost.” A Tolkien quote from Lord of the Rings, naturally.
To get to Lake Powell, we had to cross through a long dark tunnel through the sandstone and limestone. These are government lands and everyone wears hard hats and carries guns. We’re not allowed to take rocks from the Canyon as souvenirs. They must be running out or something.
It was so early in the morning as we climbed down the stairs in the shade of a huge dam, which is what created Lake Powell and changed the Colorado River. At one time, the whole river was wild, red with clay, dangerous, and deep. Now, the dam changed the waters that began at Lake Powell into a shallow, rapid-free river. Eventually, the river picks up again, many miles away in the Grand Canyon.
We would be smooth water rafting today, on a motorized raft that was bright blue and nicknamed the “Blue Banana.” Our tour guide, J.P., began telling us all about the Grand Canyon, which begins at Lake Powell. However, it’s not called the Grand Canyon yet–it’s called Glen Canyon. It’s younger and much shallower–its walls are only 700 feet high where the Grand Canyon is 5000 feet high (that’s about a mile, folks!) and full of the jagged layering which makes it famous.
The Glen Canyon, however, had some layers of its own. In the pictures below, you can see on the right that there is a horizontal band of lighter-colored stone. As you may or may not know, the Grand and Glen Canyon were both at some point (and possibly several points) miles of sand and mud beneath vast inland oceans. As the river downcut, it revealed fossils millions of years old embedded in the rock: shells, fish, crustaceans, you name it. It was fun to follow the strip of light sandstone around the canyon walls, like we were following an old friend. And as you can see from the perplexity on my face, I was having trouble understanding everything that was going into my head. It was beyond my scope of time, place, and purpose.
Glen Canyon, which is where we’re rafting on the Colorado river, is roughly as old as the Jurassic period of the earth, 45 Million Years Old! We rode the Colorado to a small beach where we were shown petroglyphs drawn by the ancient Navajo. They showed hunting, sheep, and other symbols.Then some of our group (NOT ME) decided to go for a swim in the 47 degree water! It was crystal clear because the Glen Canyon Dam makes the river slow and shallow. Compared with the Glen Canyon, our Grand Canyon is several billions of years old.
I decided to walk up to my shins in the water. It was excruciating–not just because it was freezing cold water, but because the sun was so hot, I had hoped to cool off. Unfortunately, all I could do was straddle the hot and the cold.
After finishing the rafting trip, we stopped for lunch at a small restored ranch from the 1800’s. They were growing peaches in a small orchard under the shadow of the Glen Canyon Walls.
The landing was Lees Ferry, and the peach orchard named Lonely Dell Ranch. Lees Ferry is the official starting point of the Grand Canyon. Mormon John Lee built Lonely Dell Ranch in the late 19th century and attempted to mine for gold in the cliffs. After Lee was executed for his role in the murder of 120 people (and blamed it on Paiute Indians) the ranch fell into the hands of one of his  wives, Emma. We ate lunch not too far outside the orchard and the cemetery.
Both the petroglyphs and the ranch reminded me that people will try and live anywhere. They will make their homes wherever they can, despite the climate and the odds.
After lunch, Carley and Laura switched vans so our entire group would be driving together. We nicknamed the white van “Group 3, A Van” because when we read the sign backwards from inside it looked like it said “A VAN.” Anyway, we continued on our way and made a quick stop to take some pictures in front of some upside-down rocks. These formations occur when wind (not water, like I had previously assumed) picks up sand from the desert and acts as sandpaper against giant boulders, eventually sculpting them as wind typically travels with more intensity close to the ground.
I fell asleep after a little while until we got to the Cameron Trading Post about halfway to the Grand Canyon. I got a few souvenirs and postcards and brochures. It was a pretty big place, too.
We were officially on Navajo lands. The dusty, flat tan landscape eventually changed while Meghan and I sang and danced to some pop songs on the radio (“Under my arm forevvvvah…evah…evah…eh, eh, eh” instead of “Under my umbrella” by Rihanna) and became again, more familiar to my climate back home: coniferous forest and grass. As we drove under the cover of trees, there was a break in the treeline and we were staring at the unbelievable chasm in the ground: The Grand Canyon.
Well, 2 hours later and we’ve reached the South Rim of the Grand Canyon! We’re at a campsite called Mathers, site 81-82 area. Our tents are green and fit four people each. On the road I got my first glimpse of the Grand Canyon. It was amazing — we were driving on this perfectly normal road between a large forest and there was a clearing where the Earth just opened up into thousands of feet of rock walls and plateaus and fissures. It was so uneven and deep that you can’t even see the river down below! The rocks and dirt are every shade of pink, red, and gold, just like a desert, with occasional patches of green foliage.
We unpacked our things and got settled in the campground– it looked like (Insert-your-average-New-England-campground-here). Evergreen trees above us, gravelly dirt below us. Carley laid down on a flat slab of rock that we named “Carley’s rock” because it fit her body perfectly when she laid on her stomach.
Right after we finished setting up, site 81 was claimed by another group. So we scooted to the campsite next to it. Then, after we put up the tents, some man came over to tell us that it was his campsite even though we were told we had campsites 82 and 83. So, while we waited for word about whether we’d have to move (AGAIN) or what, we drove over to the Bright Angel Trailhead and Grand Canyon Village for dinner. We were supposed to cook pita pizzas for dinner and have our first real camping night, but it was already too late with the confusion about the campsites. So, we ate fried chicken instead at the Grand Canyon Village and Bright Angel Lodge.
After dinner, we packed up all our things (AGAIN) and walked to site 15 to prep our backpacking gear for our guide, Christophe (remember him?) to check. We divvied up the food and planned which parts of each tent would go in each pack (I got the tent poles) as well as other essentials. Christophe also brought a scale to weight the packs, the most important part. Anyone with a pack that was too heavy needed to figure out a way to make it lighter. I had been stressing and stressing over it, packing and repacking, worrying that it would somehow be too heavy.
He wanted them under 30 pounds with our sleeping bags, water, and extra gear. Mine ended up at 18 pounds without including my sleeping bags, tent poles, and two liters of water, which was relatively light.
My tent-mates and I used the bathroom (we had no room for shampoo, toothbrushes, or toothpaste) before clearing the rocks and pinecones from underneath our tents and unrolling our ground mats, which didn’t make the rough ground any more comfortable. We hardly slept after being in beds for several days prior. Even the mattress pads at camp sounded really good about then. We had to get up very early (read: 4:30) to beat the hottest part of the day for our hike. The problem was, the rim of the Grand Canyon is a plateau. In the middle of August, it’s 50 degrees at night and in the early morning, but as we hiked, we would gain 5 degrees for every 1000 feet, and by the time the sun was high, it’d be 90 or 100 degrees.
The desert is a foul, evil place.
Keep on your toes.