Saturday, November 6, 2010

Day Two at the Grand Canyon

Day two dawned with a blue sky and slightly warmer temperatures. Avi and I took the Grand Canyon bus to the Bright Angel Lodge to check out their coffee shop. It is actually doing double time, becoming a bar later in the day. My cappuccino was good and Avi’s coffee was also eminently drinkable.

Then we headed out to spend the morning hiking along the Rim Trail.

As we hiked we also birded and had one of those special birding moments. Avi and I were looking at a nearby tree – at two different birds. Avi was looking at a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. I focused on a Warbler and directed Avi’s attention to it. We both agreed it was a Northern Parula. Only problem? It wasn’t supposed to be at the Grand Canyon.

We mentioned it to a Ranger we met a bit further down the trail, but it didn’t seem to register with him. Later in the day we were going to attend a talk by a representative from Hawkwatch International, so we decided to bring it up with him that afternoon.

As a little addendum, two other birds we saw that were supposed to be there were a wonderful migrating Peregrine Falcon and a Cooper’s Hawk.

We continued on with the usual breathtaking vistas of the Canyon in optimal light.


Along the Rim Trail, there are markers indicating the billions of years of depth in the Canyon as distance markers. We walked about two miles, equaling about 4,600+ million years. Avi and I began debating about the formation of the Canyon.

We were fortunate enough to meet up the a Ph.D. candidate in Geology, doing some work at the Canyon as part of an internship/education (his, not ours) program. He told us the Canyon was mostly started by the Colorado River and enlarged by eons of erosion by rain, snow, ice, and wind. This was a bit of a conflict from the theory that there was seismic activity that contributed to its formation. But it seems that the river theory seems to be the more popular one – at least this year!


At one of the overlooks, while walking out on the path, we encountered a very insistent Rock Squirrel. S/he kept going from person to person, standing in front and begging for food. Nobody I saw rewarded this behavior. But there must be some rewards forthcoming, since the squirrel seemed a bit miffed s/he received nothing from those of us that were there that morning.


Rock Squirrels are very pretty animals. Here’s one in a less anthropomorphic position:


Something new I learned this time at the Grand Canyon is the fact there used to be a uranium mine there. In fact, some of the equipment and the entrance to the mine is still visible from the overlook. The area was “cleaned up” a few decades ago. But, considering the mine was still active during the 1960’s, I wonder what’s still emanating from that open hole today?

P1100744 P1100745

We took a bus back to have lunch at the Arizona Room, also in the Bright Angel Lodge. The Arizona Room has interesting and reasonably priced meals for lunch and dinner. Also, their tables for two are at a window by the rim area of the park.

After lunch we walked over to the Lookout Studio to see if there were any California Condors around. Most of them had already gone to winter in southern Utah. But there were, supposedly, about a dozen remaining in the park’s area. Luck was not on our side.

Earlier in the morning, Avi saw a very large bird swoop down behind one of the Canyon walls. We’re not sure if he saw a Condor or not. He’s still trying to decide if he wants to claim it on his list or not.

Since the Hawkwatch talk was at 2, we decided to head out to Yavapi Point, the meeting spot. We got there a bit early, so we did a little watching of our own. Before Felipe, our Hawkwatch rep showed up, we tallied a Red-tailed Hawk for the list.

The migration talk was the usual, except for learning that you watch hawks down in the Canyon, rather than up in the sky. We hadn’t really thought of it. But the thermals push the hawks up within the Canyon, and then they glide over to the next thermal, also within the Canyon. This offers a most interesting hawk migration watch, since you’re seeing the birds from above, and more closely, making identification a bit more accessible. Cool!


We spent a little time with the Hawkwatch people, while I told Felipe about our Parula. He was quite interested and asked for my email. He said he would be having dinner with the Ranger who maintains the park’s bird list and would pass the information along.

That night I received an email from the Ranger asking for more details on our sighting – otherwise known as a “Rare Bird Report”. We submitted it and it was accepted. We now have credit for only the third sighting of a Northern Parula at the Grand Canyon. Again, cool!

Finally, the other attention-grabbing thing from our morning at the Canyon was the witnessing of a helicopter rescue. There are often helicopters around the Grand Canyon, mostly tours and supplies deliveries. But this one was a little different, since there was a rescue basket hanging from the bottom and it was coming up from lower in the Canyon.

We found out there are over 300 of these rescues a year at the Grand Canyon, mostly young men who think they can hike down to the bottom and back up in one day. They miscalculate any number of things and wind up in trouble. Rescues occur via Ranger, mule, or helicopter.


If you’re morbidly curious, there’s a book all about tragedies in the Grand Canyon: Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon by Michael P. Ghiglieri and Thomas M. Myers.

I’ll leave you with a shot of the Hopi House, designed by renowned architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, one of the first American architects to appreciate the utility and beauty of American Indian design. Following Hopi architectural traditions, the building was constructed primarily by Hopi workmen using native stone and wood.

Of course, the fact that two Common Ravens had decided to perch on it, was what motivated this photo.


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