|By Michael Abrams
story on the Sonoran
Biting-cold, windy winter
down at the south rim of the Grand
Canyon where junipers and pinyon pines weathered the freeze on the
impossible, impassible slopes as February was ready to begin.
Dawn arrived and the sun began to set the blue overcast sky afire.
second, the colors rained down and blended phosphorescent orange
Visitors wrapped themselves in heavy coats, gloves and hats and tried
their cameras to capture this kaleidoscope. They were like the
proverbial mice trying to photograph
an elephant. Then came the realization that it was impossible to
capture so large a picture. Some
people simply gave in to the natural urge to stand and absorb.
Does such a wonder as the Grand Canyon really exist?
Biblical verse on
Hermit's Rest lookout
|It is exactly a
century since environmentally conscious
President Theodore Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon a national
monument in 1908.
Congress made it a park in 1919.
The landforms are hard to imagine. I've spent most of my life in
Florida on a vast horizontal plane, with
a few sinkholes scattered here and there.
But here I am. And it does exist. The mind struggles to capture all
that the eye can take in. It's almost like stepping off onto another
comprehend this vast awesome majestic absence of space? It is a
long fall downward. The canyon is a mile deep and an average 10 miles
across. Some who
have challenged the height
and the width have lost.
These unfortunate people are documented in the book Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon.
The cover shows skeletons. It's sold in all the shops around here.
A mile below, the Colorado river, brown and somtimes turbid, snakes its
way for 277 miles. It carved this canyon, chiseled as a madman might
take a take a hammer to a pie. I could see 11 miles across at my
vantage point, but distance across is as far as 18.
My California cousin Bob and I had
taken the first leg of this weeklong trip from Los Angeles through the
Sonoran desert to a fairly warm Phoenix to visit relatives. Welcome
rains had come not only to Southern California but to the parched
Sonoran Desert and its thirsty and thrifty saguaro
cactus with upraised prayerful branches – good news for
residents who had suffered through a severe drought.
We left the four million residents of metropolitan Phoenix and their
Super Bowl onslaught and soon found ourselves in need of gloves and
warm pullover hats as we drove north and began to reach the altitudes
7,000 feet or better. The landscape was changing. The vigilant saguaro
had disappeared and we were in a land of fir and spruce.
A cascade of pure
white snow had fallen days previously and I had the pleasure of
crunching into it until toes chilled and bare hands were stinging and
At the entrance to the canyon park we paid the $25 fee for the car -
possibly one of the world's great bargains, considering the lifelong
memories that people bring home. A 12-month pass is available for
Shuttle bus routes include a hiker express to
trailheads; a bank, postoffice, market, restaurants and cafeterias make
this park a premier destination.
||Visitors can also
arrive in a sleek silver train on the Grand Canyon
Railway from Flagstaff or Williams, Arizona.
It stops right across from the lodges. The restored 1920s coach
two hours. A steam engine runs in the summer and a diesel the rest of
We had reservations at the Maswik Lodge, the least expensive of several
lodges inside the park on the South Rim (about $100 for a double room)
and so we splurged for dinner and breakfast at the ritzy El Tovar, the
magnificent hotel where one could view the canyon through picture
windows. We sat at a fireplace table, lavished by heat, doubly
warmed with chardonnay.
|Two of the most
conspicuous guests at that lodge were the moose smiling
down at us from the lobby wall.
There are few things more unnatural
than a supercilious smile from a stuffed moose, in my estimation.
We asked, and a ranger admitted to
that there are no
moose (meese?) at Grand Canyon. This moose was simply for the
edification of tourists. Aha, Score
But we think the bear and deer were native.
(Continued at top
Moose had no excuse
Click here to see this picture and others.
We did not come to hike in winter (maybe next time), so spent
our time enjoying the vistas and photographing from the lookout points
on the south rim.
Hiking trails range from from introductory to "steep." Park
visitors can enjoy lectures,
nature presentations, guided walks and a visitor's center with a
question desk staffed by rangers and many-colored wall-size maps to
ponder. Native American handicrafts, particularly turquoise jewelry,
are sold in the souvenir shops. The national park
service headquarters may be reached at (928) 638-7888 or through the
canyon website at http://www.nps.gov/grca
Or, you can experience the magic of the canyon for yourself with one of
the many Grand
Canyon Tours available online.
From the rim we could barely make out the Phantom Ranch which offers
accommodations and food for muleriders and backpackers who hike down to
the floor of the canyon. Reservations must be made well in advance for
the overnight stay.
The ice was slippery and after two spills (ouch) I
determined that for a greenhorn flatlander it's much safer to
the snow than chance an icy shortcut.
As it happens, the park keeps
mules for riding
for carrying your gear in the Grand Canyon. In the summer, 40 of them
once. The mules make it a little easier for those who want to
make the long hikes.
Some are available in winter for hikers who defy cold weather. Charlie,
who can carry a 200-300 pound pack on his back, didn't want
to come to the shed for his special studded winter shoes, so Larry
Spencer, 35, had a tug-of-war with him.
Finally, Charlie budged and left his friends for the warm barn.
Studded shoe must be
worn in the winter
|Shoes last only four
to six weeks because "the rocks and everything will tear them up."
Spencer, a farrier or expert in care of the equine hoof, hails
from West Virginia. He explained that a mule is
the progeny of a horse and a jackass. It is sterile and has ears larger
than a horse.
It's foot is rounder than that of a horse.
Rounder feet mean the shoes have to be heated and hammered a bit more.
What the large ears mean, I didn't find out.
Spencer says there are five or six
sizes of shoes for mules and horses. Same shoes, actually.
Wearing a thick leather apron, he grabbed Charlie's left front
leg and put it between his own legs. He leaned forward and began to
extract the nails (see picture below).
He compared the old shoe with the new for fit, and heated and hammered
a new shoe for
Charlie, careful to make it just the right size, measuring several
times against the hoof.
He pared the hoof, and filed the hoof
down. The nails, two inches long, are actually driven
through the hoof, come out, and are cut off.
"It could hurt if you nailed him in the wrong place," said
Spencer. I was wondering who might be hurt the most here. Spencer
has been a farrier for 14 years. He's a graduate of a six week course
at the Oklahoma State Horseshoe School.
"You're always learning something new," he said. For instance,
he said, at school "you didn't have to deal with hoof rot and stuff