Saturday, November 2, 2013
Grand Canyon National Park 2013
It’s been over 30 years since I visited Grand Canyon with my family. I probably should have come sooner because it sure is different than I remember. I have to say that it is as busy as any natural place I have ever visited. It has traffic, congestion, and mobs of tourists with Americans being a huge minority. I have met people whether I wanted to or not from France, Germany, Italy, Scotland, China, Japan, and even New Jersey.
I am amazed at how well orchestrated the chaos is handled by the National Park Service and contract services. I am confident that GCNP is one of the elite funded National attractions and I suppose it should be.
There is so much emphasis on the Canyon and the geology that it is the only National Park that neither the National Park nor the Grand Canyon National Park Association publishes a bird checklist. It seems odd to me that the communities of flora and fauna created by this geologic marvel would not attain a much prominent interpretation than it gets.
With that said, it is absolutely breathtaking in every regard. It may be the biggest point of interest on the planet. It is incomprehensible for humble humans to appreciate. It is beautiful, in every way. It changes with the light of the day and it is mesmerizing.
It is really big, it is really deep, and people cannot help but marvel.
Then again the Canyon being the magnet as it is also creates opportunities to avoid the mobs, get where it is quiet and there is plenty of natural history and birding to explore along the rims and into the canyon itself.
As I write I have had Chipping Sparrows, Pygmy Nuthatches, Western Bluebirds, Common Ravens Abert’s Squirrels, Cliff Chipmunks, Black-throated Gray Warblers, and yes yet another herd of Elk visit my campsite.
This morning I walked Hermit Road which is open only to Park shuttle buses and away from a popular Rim Trail. I saw Williamson’s Sapsucker, Mountain Chickadees, Rock Wrens, Northern Flickers, Juniper Titmice, Pygmy and White-breasted Nuthatches, Western Tanagers, Black-headed Grosbeaks Plumbeous Vireo, White-throated Swifts, Western Bluebirds, and Western Scrub Jays.
Yesterday I walked about a mile of the Bright Angel Trail into the Canyon for a different perspective. It is an easy walk down and a killer trek back up….literally! I walked the easy part. As I was about to turn around because the habitat was pretty much the same farther down I looked up and across the massive canyon and not far from me and at eye level were two soaring California Condors. It was a rare life bird for me and an experience I will never forget.
I have looked for Condors since their reintroduction in California and other places with no success. To see them in the back-drop of the beautiful Grand Canyon was well worth the wait. I got great looks and I got pretty good pictures of them in flight. After they finally disappeared over the Rim of the canyon I did a little ridiculous dance. Don’t tell anybody.
I kept looking for them as I huffed and puffed my way back UP the trail. I never saw them soaring but I discovered them resting on the very edge of the canyon rim. More very distant pictures ensued as did the jubilation.
A footnote to this part of my adventure comes from one small interpretive sign just yards from the Condor perch. It interprets an inconspicuous hole in the ground and some mining equipment artifacts below the rim. It is a now abandoned uranium mine from the 1950’s. It was a desperate but significant necessity of the cold war.
The significance of this obscure exhibit is that we all need to be reminded that all our natural treasures are at risk when our country’s economic, political, and national security interests over shadow saving Condors from extinction. There are fences around the site to protect visitors. The site is still accessible by wildlife and Condors and it is still after clean up toxic. National treasures are and will always remain under siege and only you and I can prevent the loss of these magical places.
When you visit the big places remember that the little things are perhaps the most interesting and the salient part of any visit is what you take away from the experience provided. Make it more than the ride on a tour bus