Route 66 Days 5 and 6: On the Mighty Colorado

Note: Due to a lack of reliable internet, there has been a slight delay on my travelogues. But rest assured I am still alive and blogging.

There was something saddening about leaving our posh Vegas hotel for a lodge in the Grand Canyon National Park. It meant exchanging all the luxuries that we enjoyed for the past few days for a simple room and the thin mountain air of one of America’s most awe inspiring natural wonders.

On the way to the Grand Canyon, we decided to make a stop at Hoover Dam. We took advantage of the one of the guided tours which showed us the history of the project and gave us a brief overview about what goes on today inside the dam. What struck me about the structure was the sheer drop that can be seen from the roadway that runs across the top of the dam. For the first time in my life, I actually felt dizzy from looking down the side of the dam that led all the way to the Colorado River at the bottom.

There is a fascinating reaction that many people get when they stand at the edge of a great fall. As you walk towards the edge, there is the ever so slight impulse to jump. Of course that thought by itself doesn’t mean that the person thinking it is at all suicidal. On the contrary, it is scientifically proven that this feeling comes even to people in perfect mental health. There is an article here that explains more about this phenomena and what is says about the human psyche.

After the tour of the dam (which luckily did not result in anyone jumping), we departed on our way to the Grand Canyon. As we got closer to the park I could feel the change of elevation and I gradually started to experience the effects of altitude sickness. The Grand Canyon Village, which is where our lodge was located, had an elevation of a little more than 6,000 feet. For someone coming from New York, where the elevation is in the double digits, that’s quite the transition.

We arrived early in the evening and got settled in at the Maswik Lodge. It wasn’t as bad as I had feared, and they even had a TV and free (albeit unreliable) wifi. For dinner we dined at the magnificent El Tovar Hotel, which is possibly the fanciest restaurant located in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, I was a bit too lightheaded to a fully appreciate the wonderful cuisine, but nevertheless I was able to enjoy my veal schnitzel.

This wasn’t my first time at the Canyon and it wasn’t my first time I experienced altitude sickness while I was there. I first visited the park about 15 years ago, and one thing I clearly remember was an unfortunate incident that involved altitude-related nausea and mushrooms, which resulted in a decade long aversion to fungi. Luckily, this time around I was able to keep my meal down.

The next morning we were dismayed to find that the whole area had been fogged in. At the nearest viewpoint of the Canyon, which was just a few blocks from our lodge, we could see nothing but clouds for miles and miles. As the morning progressed and we made our way west along the rim, the clouds began to break up and we were given tantalizingly brief moments where portions of the Canyon were visible. By the afternoon, most of the fog had cleared up and we were treated to fantastic views of the vast expanse of the Canyon.

We then decided to take a hike part of the way down into the Canyon. Going down was the easy part and it was quite enjoyable to look at the various rock formations and to appreciate the fantastic views. However, as we started to make our return journey the skies opened up and a torrential downpour left us with a long trudge back up to the rim. By the time we emerged from the Canyon we were soaking wet and shivering from the cold. Exhausted from our ordeal, we spent the rest of the afternoon in the lodge recuperating in our beds.

The one thing that I thought that I could rely on was the fact that in the Southwest it would be hot and dry. Even if it wasn’t one of those things, at least it would be the other. What I didn’t expect was that it could be both cold and wet at the same time. I mean for Christ’s sake it’s the desert! I blame global warming.

Another thing that stood out for me was the number of European tourists at the Grand Canyon. I must have heard a half a dozen different languages spoken on the shuttle bus over the two days I was there. Before this visit I was not aware of the fact that  this place was that popular with international travelers, many of whom spoke only the smallest amount of English. It just goes to show that the Grand Canyon is not only a national treasure, but wonder of the world.

The next leg finds me standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and enjoying a forest millions of years in the making. Stay tuned!

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