Road Trip 2014: Wupatki and Grand Canyon

July 3, 2014

[HINT: Click on the images in this post to get bigger versions]

Arizona has more national parks and monuments than any other state in the union. We were heading out to see a couple more of them on July 3. We had originally scheduled only a few hours at the Grand Canyon; Carla and I have been there a couple of times before. But my buddy Herb urged us to stay until sunset to get some great pictures. So we changed or plans and decided to spend the whole day in the area, spend the night in Williams, Arizona before heading on the last leg home.

July 3 travel: Flagstaff, Wupatki National Monument, the Grand Canyon
As you can see from the map above, the direct route to the Grand Canyon is directly north of Flagstaff on highway 180. One of my favorite drives in the entire country is Highway 89 north of Flagstaff, Arizona up to southern Utah. After passing the San Francisco Peaks of Flagstaff, you have a gentle decline with beautiful northern Arizona before you. Years ago when the kids were young we drove through here on our way home from visiting my folks in Prescott, Arizona where they lived after retirement. The area is on the edge of the painted desert and a big thunderstorm came up; the rain flowing in the ditches on the sides of the road looked like someone dumped thousands of gallons of paint. 
One of Carla’s favorite places on earth (no hyperbole) is Wupatki National Monument. Here you’ll find the remains of the ancient pueblo people such as the Sinagua who lived here around 500 A.D. Now that we had a full day, it was a no brainer we’d go north then head over to the east entrance of the Grand Canyon.
It was another stormy day as we approached the ancient site. There are no trees up here and as we walked up a hill to one of the ruins thunderclaps were closing in on us. I figured we’d be the highest thing for miles around so we grabbed a few quick pictures and skedaddled. When walking through the monument I didn’t get a sense of how orderly the site is.
Birds’ eye view of Wupatki pueblos.
Walking up to one of the sites we saw a couple of very colorful lizards scurrying down the path ahead of us.
Colorful lizard at Wupatki National Monument.

He sure didn’t blend into the scenery here; maybe he is hideously poisonous and we lucked out. Or maybe he really does blend into the painted desert.

We stayed up on the accessible pueblos long enough to grab a couple of photos.
Walking up to an abandoned pueblo at the Wupatki National Monument

Jeanette making herself home in a pueblo at the Wupatki National Monument.

Jeanette and Carla at Wupatki National Monument

Jeanette and Carla  with a squall coming at Wupatki National Monument

We hopped back in the car promising ourselves we’d be back for a longer visit someday soon. We were on the edge of the storm and it promised to be an “interesting” day up on the Grand Canyon Rim.

After driving a little farther north on US 89 we headed west to get to the Grand Canyon. In the map below you can see the two of the rivers, the Colorado and the Little Colorado, that flow through and formed the canyon. We rougly paralleled the Little Colorado.
Rivers forming the Grand Canyon
On the way in we stopped by a Navajo view point that also had a small trading post. The storm we had been running from caught us. The winds were so strong we were afraid to get too close to the railing over the canyon; yes the wind was that strong. Carla and Jeanette went to the trading area – an open wooden structure with canvas top – when rain and hail hit. I jumped in the car and drove over near the entrance to the trading area; Carla and Jeanette hunkered down until it tapered a bit. Carla got a picture from inside the trading area after it cleared up a bit.
View of the Little Colorado canyon from the Navajo viewpoint.
When we first got there, Jeanette asked if this was the Grand Canyon. She is the most positive person I know and she marveled at it. I told her no, this is just a taste of what is coming. I’ve never been to the east end of the Grand Canyon so wasn’t sure what to expect. Mary Colter, the architect behind La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona designed the Indian Watchtower here. Too bad I didn’t get a picture; you’ll have to go yourselves I suppose. I did get a picture of me though 😉

Howard at the Indian Watchtower on the east end of the Grand Canyon

It was early afternoon and we were hungry so we had a bite to eat before heading west to the main entrance.  I was surprised (shouldn’t I have looked at a map?) that we were still 25 miles from the main entrance to the Canyon. But it was a beautiful drive where we saw a herd of elk and caught glimpses of the Canyon. We parked and made our way to the Canyon rim. Our jaws dropped. It was beautiful.

South Rim of the Grand Canyon

South Rim of the Grand Canyon

 This picture is from an iPhone; maybe I ought to throw away my fancy Sony SLT A65

South Rim of the Grand Canyon

It was getting to be late afternoon/early evening when the storm caught up to us. Carla and I took matching pictures of the sun bouncing off a promontory. I had a polarized lens on which wouldn’t pick up the rainbow.

South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Rainbos over the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

There is a great bus system here; four bus lines serving various parts of the canyon. We knew for sunset we wanted to go as far west as we could; somewhere close to Mohave Point. We stopped for a quick bite then scouted for a bus to get us to a sunset viewing site. It turns out that there is a special point picked for sunset watching; extra busses wait to pick people up.  We climbed on and went up to Mohave Point. As we got off, a squall of wind and rain hit. We aren’t made of sugar so we knew we wouldn’t melt; we hunkered behind a small tree. Other people were not so intrepid; dozens of site seers jumped on the bus. After about 10 minutes the rain stopped and we saw that there were very few people who stayed to see the sunset. Our good luck! I imagine this was one of the least crowded sunset views in peak season.

Sunset at Mohave Point, Grand Canyon

Sunset at Mohave Point, Grand Canyon

Sunset at Mohave Point, Grand Canyon

 After the sun went down it got dark in a hurry! And I don’t mean a little bit dark. After getting back to the visitor center we had a hard time finding the parking lot we pulled into. Thank goodness for remote entry; I pushed the “unlock” button until I saw the lights blink. We piled in and headed south down highway 180 into Williams, Arizona. It was pitch black on either side of us; I used the high beams most of the way down; something that doesn’t happen in the populated area we live in.

Arizona is one of our top spots for vacations; is there any wonder why? After a nice night’s sleep we were headed out on the last leg of our trip home.

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