Grand Canyon South Rim

The black camera bag was hiding in the shadow behind the entrance to our room. Nearly an hour after leaving, I noticed we did not have the bag. Fortunately it was still there when we returned.

We got up bright and early for the drive from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon. After filling the ice chest with ice and the car with gas, we were off through the scenic San Francisco Peaks. As we drove through the beautiful forest, I said, “Dad, let’s get a picture of you in these woods.” We stopped, and I reached for the camera. OOPS! No camera! Immediately we turn around and head back to Flagstaff, hoping the camera bag would still be in the hotel room. By 8:30 we are back to the Motel 6. It is well before checkout time, so the keycard still works. I find the camera bag behind the entrance door. Hooray! But now we have to retrace our route through the San Francisco Peaks without stopping to sightsee. We have reservations in Cameron tonight, and all the Grand Canyon to see today.

Dad taking in the view at Mather point

The view from Mather Point

The plan for today is to park at the Visitor Center, and take the bus up the West Rim Drive, stopping at various overlooks along the way. This is a good plan in theory, but in practice it breaks down. I would not recommend the bus approach, at least during the busy tourist season. There are just too many people for the buses to service. Buses are scheduled every 15 minutes, but I found that it takes two or three buses before you can board. It does not take too many waits at a bus stop before much of the day is gone. We had intended to go all the way to the end at Hermit’s Rest and work our way down, but Dad needed a restroom and that is where the plan broke down.

There was no restroom at Maricopa Point as promised, so we walked up to Hopi Point. By then all the buses coming up were full and there was no hope to get on. So we did some sightseeing while walking along the South Rim Trail to the next bus stop to catch a bus back down to the Grand Canyon Village. But the buses coming down were also full. Buses have seats reserved for Senior Citizens, but the bus driver said they were all taken. Furthermore, all the buses would be full just like his. When I asked what an 87-year-old man should do, he recommended walking all the way down to the bus stop for the Village Loop. Fortunately, other than needing frequent restroom stops, Dad is capable of walking a mile downhill, but it took us most of the afternoon. Then we waited 45 minutes to get a seat on a bus to take us to the Visitor Center.

If you are fit, plan to walk or bicycle the route, and not spending the day in a bus stop. Otherwise, just drive. Though cars are discouraged, I believe they are still allowed on the East Rim Drive, for at least part of the way.

Portion of Bright Angel Trail

Another portion of Bright Angel Trail. This trail is one of the most popular ways to get to the canyon floor.

The good news is that the views are spectacular. The Grand Canyon is indeed grand. It is just too big for a camera to do justice, but I tried.

View from Hopi Point.  The Colorado River can be seen far below.

While at Mather Point, I noticed some California Condors soaring overhead. I zoomed to maximum and snapped off several shots. Later I saw a man operating some direction finding equipment. He explained that he was recording direction of California Condors. Each condor is fitted with a couple of transmitters that are used to track their movements. Each condor also has an identification number on the underside of its wing. He asked if I had noticed the ID number of the bird I had photographed. I had not, and it was not visible in the picture on the camera, but back home I was able to further enhance the image and see the identification number. #80 is a 9-year-old female.

California Condor #80. Note the tag on the underside of the right wing. Condors are also fitted with radio transmitters so their movements can be tracked.

Along Desert View Drive

Colorado River at Navajo Point

At the far eastern end of Grand Canyon National Park is Navajo Point, famous for the Desert View Watchtower. We stopped there, and at several viewpoints along the way, as we finished off a spectacular day.

Desert View Watchtower

Petrified Forest

Newspaper Rock

The Petrified Forest is located on the south side of I-40; the Painted Desert is on the north side. Both areas are part of the Petrified Forest National Park. After having seen the Painted Desert, we continued on to the Petrified Forest. First stop was Newspaper Rock. The overlook is a ways above the actual rock with petroglyphs marked on it. Even with a telephoto lens, the figures look quite small. The rock and markings are bigger than they seem in the photo.

Blue Mesa Area

In my previous visits I had never taken the Blue Mesa scenic loop. Today we drove around that loop and exclaimed over the sights. It was quite hot in the sun, so no hiking the trail.

The Petrified Forest appeared different from how I remembered it from past visits. The Jasper Forest is an overlook today, but I recall a trail among the logs. I will have to look up pictures from former visits to confirm (or debunk) my impression.

At the Crystal Forest we could walk among the petrified logs. The heat and walking was getting to Dad, so we had to cut short the walk through the Crystal Forest. We headed out of the park and on to Flagstaff on I-40.

The itinerary included stops at Homolovi Ruins, Meteor Crater, and Walnut Canyon, but that was too ambitious a plan. Due to the late hour, we went straight to the Motel 6 in Flagstaff. Like last night, the skies were cloudy with rain showers. This caused us to cancel plans to visit the Lowell Observatory in the evening.

Painted Desert


The folks at Halona fed us a sumptuous breakfast, after which we took a little stroll around town.  Native American people are very sensitive about photography, so i did not take any pictures.  With the cooked to order breakfast and walk about town, it was a late start on the road.  We had a quick lunch at Subway before arriving at the Petrified Forest National Park.

The Painted Desert is the northern part of the Petrified Forest NP, and it was as dramatic as usual.  I’ve always seen the Painted Desert in the middle of the day, and this time followed the pattern.  Some day I’ll see it in the morning or evening to appreciate the play of light and shadow on the hills.  (The first time I saw the Painted Desert was at midday in a car without air conditioning.  Hot!)

This is the first HDR photo I took with the Pentax. With three exposures a half stop apart, the composite shows the foreground and background both exposed properly.

There are many erosional features in this park.  Together with the colors of the different sedimentary layers, It makes for dramatic vistas.

For the first time, I visited the Painted Desert Inn.  There I talked to a photographer who gave me tips on taking pictures using High Dynamic Range (HDR) technique.  I’ll make another post about HDR once I get experience using it.  The iPhone takes HDR photos automatically, but it requires some post-processing with the Pentax.

The Inn At Halona

We spent the night at Zuni Pueblo. The trading post in the center of the village has been owned by the same family for generations. The current owner married a Frenchman, who is the innkeeper for the Bed & Breakfast. He treated us very well; there were snacks available so that we did not have to go out to eat that evening, and a we were provided a full breakfast in the morning. The rooms were tastefully decorated, and we were upgraded to two rooms, though we had reserved only one.

My attempt at blogging on the road.  It was not a success.  The inexpensive Bluetooth keyboard missed keystrokes, and together with my normal typos that led to much frustration.  I had no way to upload photos from the Pentax camera, and the iPhone screen is really too small to properly edit a blog.  I ended up recording text with a few photos taken on the iPhone.

It was pouring rain the last 10 miles from El Morro to Zuni, but with the aid of Google Maps, I found the B&B easily enough. The Garmin Nuvi GPS was not helpful because it did not have the B&B in its database. However, I was using an iPhone app called Cartographer that syncs with Google Maps. Since I used Google Maps to plan the trip, Cartographer was able to give specific directions to the B&B, using the GPS built into the phone.

This girl is holding the turtle fetish I bought as a souvenir for Dad.

Even after arriving at the Inn at Halona, and parking practically next to it, it was not obvious which building was the Inn. Finally the innkeeper, working at the trading post next door, showed us to the B&B.

In the morning, after breakfast, we took a walking tour of the old part of the village. As we were leaving, we stopped at the gas station to buy fuel, and a girl selling fetishes approached us. I bought Dad a turtle fetish as a souvenir of the trip. I’m sure it was overpriced, but the girl looked like she needed to make a sale.

El Morro – Inscription Rock

A very large sandstone cliff rising from the desert floor, El Morro was well-known by travelers in years past for the unique pool of water at its base. The pool is not fed by a spring, but by runoff from rains at the top of the cliff. It reminds me of the water harvesting techniques practiced by the Nabateans at Petra, except this is natural. The size of the pool varies with rainfall but it never runs dry. Morro was a stop for travelers from ancient times until the railroad passed it by.

It seems that people from all eras cannot resist the urge to write their names on large, flat, vertical expanses. Morro rock provides an ideal canvas for people to say “I was here”. The sandstone is easy to carve, and everyone from ancestral Puebloans to Spanish conquistadores to children traveling with wagon trains added their graffiti to the rock. I saw petroglyphs, spanish inscriptions, and english carvings, It all basically says “I was here on this date”.

Puebloans started the tradition of inscriptions on the rock

First Spanish inscription by Don Juan de Oñate dated on April 16, 1605

An Anglo inscription on El Morro