Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Campin' at the Canyon

There are several options for accommodations at the Grand Canyon. We choose to tent camp each year while others in the group have campers or stay in the Rim lodges. The Canyon is a GREAT place to camp, and the camaraderie that is felt at the campsites is the palpable heart beat of the Canyon! While I wouldn't say that we are novice campers (we've both spent our share of time in tents, growing up and as adults); we aren't the type to set up a camp kitchen, or cook our food on site. That's why they have all of those lovely cafeterias and restaurants there, right? That makes the annual GCSP camping trip just about perfect! We did encounter some gear problems this year, however. We knew our air mattress had a 'slow leak'...that quickly turned into a 'fast leak', leaving us sleeping on a deflated air mattress every night. Our other "hey whoops!" was that with the record heat our tent poles started breaking! The first to go was the 'closet' pole - not a big deal at all. The next was one of the main support poles...and then the other main support pole. Our dome tent quickly became a sagging tepee! While Dean was 'okay' with not worrying about it, I was more insistent that "we have to fix it". After an attempt with duct tape and splints, Dean and one of the other friends (also a Dean) figured out how to correctly fix the problem. By our last night we had a dome tent again, though it is now 1" shorter than it started. "Bravo!!!" for these guys that think things through and get the job done! Even for those who know nothing about pitching a tent, there are rentals at the General Store (formerly known as Babbitt's at Market Plaza) for all of the equipment that you could want or need to make your cozy home 'neath the pines. Each year we, the volunteer astronomer's, are given several campsites - reserved for those who are staying the full week. Since we have not been able to stay the entire week the past two years, we have made reservations for our campsite - months in advance (the campground fills up quickly!). Mather Campground is 'the main' campground on the South Rim, and is comprised of several "Loops". Our group is, typically, in the first Loop - Aspen. I felt like we had won the lottery when we were able to score a site in Aspen Loop this year! Each site can hold up to three tents and two vehicles, and is spacious enough to allow everyone their own 'comfort zone'. There are two bathrooms in the loop - each with a "Men's" and "Women's" (several stalls each) and an outside sink for washing dishes,etc. The showers/laundry building are located near the entrance to Mather, with plenty of shower stalls - and laundry facilities for everyone, and was an easy walk from our campsite.

Given that we were at the Grand Canyon, in a wooded area, there are (from time to time) "critters" that made our stay more interesting! The first night, this year, we were serenaded to sleep by Coyotes (and have heard them on previous trips as well). They weren't very near the camp, but their yips and howls reminded us that we weren't at the local Motel 6! Daily we were visited by the Chihuahua Ravens, who love to pilfer from the campsites. Since we didn't have food there (but they did manage to tear open the garbage bag we had hanging from a tree) they didn't hang around our site too much. They have been known to steal candy bars, and turn Styrofoam coolers into 'snow'!

There are, of course, plenty of Squirrels running around - smaller and less wary than you might find else where. These little guys know they're high on the 'cuteness' scale - encouraging visitors to feed them (strictly against NPS rules!). We have been fortunate that we haven't seen any of the local reptiles or arachnids (else our camping days come to an abrupt halt).

The most sought after critters, however, were the large four-legged variety: Mule Deer, Big Horn Sheep, and Elk. We have seen Big Horn Sheep on other visits, but not this trip. There were several years when we did see some deer, but nary an Elk was to be found. This year was different! When we pulled into the registration office at Mather Campground we were greeted by a few Elk, taking an afternoon snack from the nearby Oak trees. It was great to see them so near! Driving to our campsite we spotted two more, feet away from our friend's (Joe) campsite! Over the next couple of days we saw several grazing, laying in the cool shade under the pines, and eating from the upper reaches of the Canyon Oak. On Monday morning, our anniversary, we were visited! Dean left the tent before I did, and I heard our friend/camping buddy (Donna) whisper, "Dean! Dean! Elk!!!" He poked his head back in the tent and said, "You should get out here!" Sure enough, two very large beasts - one with a 13 point rack, and one smaller were out enjoying our area! While they seemed to be undaunted by the growing group of people with cameras, they didn't linger too long...all the while munching their breakfast. Needless to say, we took a ton of pictures of them - some of which I'm including here. We wouldn't want to disappoint these beautiful creatures by not taking their pictures! After the Elk had moved on I noticed a few Mule Deer, hanging around behind our campsite. Interestingly, at one point in history the Elk were nearly, completely, gone from the Grand Canyon. Big Game hunters (yes, including Teddy Roosevelt) had hunted them to extinction. It has been through re-population and relocation that this majestic symbol of the American West has returned. Our hunter friend, Kirk, told Dean that the largest of the two Elk at our camp ground would have been considered a "trophy Elk". We choose for our "trophies" to be great pictures, instead!

From my first visit to the Grand Canyon (in 2006), I have been in love with the place. In it's true grandeur there is a quiet, a peacefulness, and a calm that you can't find in anything man made. I particularly like this quote (etched onto a panel in the Yavapai Observation Station) from Theodore Roosevelt. I think it says it all.

1 comment:

JAW147 said...

I finally got a chance to read this. Very nice! Especially moved to tears by the perfect ending with the Roosevelt quote. Thanks!