Grander than Grand

Magnificent!  Spectacular!  Those adjectives are far more accurate descriptions of the natural wonder that we call The Grand Canyon.   It is very difficult to capture in a photograph the enormity of this “hole in the ground”.

An early explorer, with the catchy name of James Christmas Ives, was unimpressed.  He dubbed it a “profitless locality”  and predicted  “the Colorado River, along the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed.” Had cable news been around during his day, he might have had a brilliant career as a pundit. (I leave it to you to decide which station would hire him).

After meeting at the Scottsdale Cottonwoods Resort in Scottsdale, our group of 35 headed off to the Hualapai Lodge in Peach Springs via Sedona and Flagstaff.   Our hotel is on the reservation, right by the railroad tracks.  Somehow that image didn’t make it into the hotel’s decorative window.IMG_0253It occurred to me that the trains’ engineers might have been a little annoyed that they were working while others were sleeping.  That’s the only explanation I can come up with for blasting the horn multiple times as they approached the town.  And yes, there were many, many trains–about 1 every 15 minutes. Made me feel really sorry for the people who live in the Peach Springs.

The big attractions for the western Canyon were the helicopter rides down to the canyon’s bottom, river rafting to Lake Mead on the “snout rigs”, and the Sky Walk.

First the Sky Walk.  It wasn’t quite what I had envisioned.  We didn’t go out on it, but we saw it from the top of the canyon,

View of the Sky Walk from the rim
View of the Sky Walk from the rim

then later from our river raft.  It’s that silver oval, jutting out from the top of the photo. What do you think? Worth an additional $70?

View of the Sky Walk from the Colorado River
View of the Sky Walk from the Colorado River

We didn’t think so either.

Back to the western canyon–here’s the view from the rim–very subdued colors, with a sediment laden river (that very brown ribbon) winding along the bottom. The Colorado River is quite low because of 12 years worth of droughts and the additional water needs of the area’s growing population.
P1000247Mike and I were in the last group of chopper riders, so we had time to become “one” with the landscape and to take pictures of our new friends as they climbed aboard.

The flat Colorado Plateau gave no hint of what was close by
The flat Colorado Plateau gave no hint of what was close by

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I was lucky enough to get a front seat.IMG_0650

Prior to this trip, we had toyed with the idea of rafting and camping through the canyon. Our ride on the snout rig absolutely settled that issue!
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I’ll let you in on a little secret. Those rigs are not the most comfortable way to travel. And if you are seated in the front, you are guaranteed to get wet, even when there are no rapids. Guess what–the water is COLD.

Our land transportation, on the other hand, was luxurious. Good thing, because we traveled from one end of the canyon to the other:  from Lake Mead to Lake Powell, logging many hours on that bus.P1010290
Our next stop was the one most visited by tourists–the south rim. The advantage to going a little later in the season was that the park was not crowded. Fortunately, we didn’t go TOO late. Had we waited another week, we would have found the park closed, thanks to our fine congressmen. But that’s another story.

There are so many possible captions for this next photo. “Death Wish”, “Just one more step back, honey”,  “Did you send the check to the insurance company?”…

No, they were not with OUR group!
No, they were not with OUR group!

For the more adventurous, the South Rim offers the opportunity to hike (or ride) along Bright Angel Trail.
P1010058Dinner at El Tovar was not part of our tour package, but we decided to forgo the Maswick Cafeteria and enjoy that beautiful setting.

Mike and Augusta on the porch at El Tovar
Mike and Augusta on the porch at El Tovar

The next morning, while my two favorite traveling companions caught up on their beauty sleep, I returned to the edge of the rim to catch the sunrise.

P1010043I had the view pretty much to myself.

P1010023Our last leg of the journey was to Glen Canyon where we enjoyed another raft trip and a tour of the dam.

View of the dam from the river
View of the dam from the river

If you look closely at the next photo, you will see our rafts on the left hand side of the river. We get there via a two mile tunnel carved through the rock.

View of river from the dam
View of river from the dam

Drew, our fantastic river guide, kept us informed and entertained, as he guided us down the river. A former Marine and lawyer, he chooses to spend his days piloting rafts on the river, and we all benefited greatly from that decision.
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Drew explained the significance of the petroglyphs, including the “modern” one. Can you make out the word “Trent” carved into the rock? it seems Trent just had to leave his mark, and in doing so, he also contributed many dollars and hours of community service for defacing a historical site. Yep, he got caught.

Petroglyphs
Petroglyphs

Some people never learn. Once again, I sat in the front. Once again, I got SOAKED from head to toe.
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We spent our final night in Marble Canyon.

Here it is--the town of Marble Canyon
Here it is–the town of Marble Canyon

The best part about being in such a remote area is the skies are magnificently dark. We were lucky enough to have a professional astronomer with us–Mike gave us a wonderful impromptu lecture on the heavens.  It was a great finale to a fantastic trip!P1010353

Off to The Grand Canyon

Colin Fletcher called the Grand Canyon a “huge natural museum of the earth’s history”. Okay, so I didn’t know who Colin Fletcher was either, until I signed us up for this Road Scholar trip. Now that I am a retiree (excuse me, “lifestyle manager”), I have time to actually READ the suggested background materials.

Colin Fletcher wrote “The Man who Walked Through Time: The Story of the First Trip Afoot Through The Grand Canyon”. Given that the canyon was inhabited by Native Americans for about 10,000 years before the first Europeans arrived, it isn’t hard to imagine that one or two of them might have sauntered from one end of the canyon to the other before he did, but then again, THEY never published their adventures and thoughts. I shouldn’t be too hard on Mr. Fletcher, though. After all, his book was written in the early 1900’s; half a century later, when I was in school, we still were being taught that Columbus “discovered” America, as if it were completely devoid of human inhabitants when he arrived.

So, now that I’ve gotten beyond the title, what did I learn from his book? Other than that I would never, ever even CONSIDER hiking through the canyon, I learned that you can tell the age of the rocks from their colors. I created this little chart so I’d know what I was looking at when we get there, starting from the rim and moving on down to the bottom:

Rock Color Thickness Age
Limestone White 400 feet 225 million years
Sandstone Pale brown 350 feet 250 million years
Shale and Sandstone Red 1,000 feet 275 million years
“The Esplanade”, Limestone Blue gray, stained red 800 feet 450 million years
Bright Angel Shale Layered greenish gray and purple 600 feet 475 million years
“Tonto Platform”Tapeats Sandstone Brown 225 feet 500 million years
Schists Dark gray with granite Depth is unknown Almost 2 billion years

Okay, so I have no concept of what 400 feet (or any of the other number of feet, for that matter) looks like–but when I get there, and take photos, and post them, well, then we’ll ALL know. And we’ll also know how long those bloody rocks have been plopped there.

I do better with visuals. So here’s a picture of where we will be for the week, starting and ending in Phoenix.

grand canyon

This trip will have an added element of adventure. The original plan was that this trip would be my father’s day present to my dad. He and Mike were going to room together, and I would be rooming with my “childhood” friend, Augusta. My dad’s knee became uncooperative, causing him to have to cancel out. Well, I notified Road Scholar and told them to change my roommate to Mike. I then learned that doing so would mean that Augusta might be assigned a female roommate, which wasn’t quite what she’d had in mind. So, Mike being an all around wonderful guy, decided to ‘take one for the team’ and agreed he’d be the solo traveler. No, that doesn’t mean HE gets the female roommate. He will only be matched up if there is another solo male traveler. The adventure part? We won’t know how this will shake out till we arrive tomorrow night.

Just think of the possibilities… Mike’s assigned roommate is a Sean Connery look alike, who gazes upon the lovely Augusta and is immediately smitten, causing us to swap roommates faster than your average college freshman. Beautiful sunsets, the canyon as a backdrop..could this be a made for TV movie, or what? Lifetime channel, perhaps?

More likely, Mike will be roommate-less. Hmmm. Maybe we shouldn’t mention that we’ve been married for 37 years. That way, if I am spotted doing the “walk of shame” out of his room some morning, it might liven up breakfast discussions.

So, which part of the blog did YOU find more interesting– rock colors and ages or the possibility of “seniors gone wild”?

Why I Love Road Scholar!

Mike and I are now traveling on our own, after our whirlwind tour with Road Scholar, through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. And what a tour it was!
My blog couldn’t keep pace with our activities and even now, this summary will only provide a taste of those incredible 20 days.
Here are a few of the many reasons I love Road Scholar.

SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE
Road Scholar made contributions on our behalf to the two village schools and hospital we visited.

One nurse per 500 children at the outpatient clinic of this free hospital
One nurse per 500 children at the outpatient clinic of this free hospital
Look who else visited the hospital--but not while we were there.
Look who else visited the hospital–but not while we were there.

While traveling in Cambodia a few years ago, the Spitlers asked their guide to suggest a worthwhile project. The end result was this village school.
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Sarin, a Cambodian tour guide, and head of the Spitler School
Sarin, Cambodian tour guide, and head of the Spitler School

Prior to the Spitler School, children in this village had no opportunity for education.
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Yes, we were captivated.
Yes, we were captivated.

JAW DROPPING EXPERIENCES

Mike, taking in the majesty of Angkor Wat
Mike, taking in the majesty of Angkor Wat
The demons guarding the bridge to Angkor Thom
The demons guarding the bridge to Angkor Thom
One of the many faces of King  Jayavarman 7
One of the many faces of King Jayavarman 7
Good guys on the left, demons on the right, churning the sea of milk
Good guys on the left, demons on the right, churning the sea of milk with Jayavarman 7 gazing down on it all

And of course, the many Buddha images in Laos and Thailand were unforgettable and impressive.
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WONDERFUL LECTURES

Tony Zola, another former Peace Corp volunteer who settled in Asia, was a fascinating lecturer.  He spoke to us in Thailand and Laos.
Tony Zola, another former Peace Corp volunteer who settled in Asia, was a fascinating lecturer. He spoke to us in Thailand and Laos.
Tara (an American)and a local Lao woman created the Museum of  Art and Ethnology.
Tara (an American)and a local Lao woman created the Museum of Art and Ethnology.
We had an amazing lunch at Fabian's stilt home in a  Laotian village, followed by a lecture.
We had an amazing lunch at Fabian’s stilt home in a Laotian village, followed by a lecture.

GREAT COMPANIONS
Fantastic experiences are even better when shared with like minded companions.
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The jungle temple
The jungle temple
Showing off our Baci Ceremony stringe
Showing off our Baci Ceremony strings

CULTURAL IMMERSION

Elephant Camp
Elephant Camp
Water Puppet Show
Hanoi Water Puppet Show
Lanna dance
Lanna dance
Ancient musical instruments.  That IS an elephant carved on the end of that bow
Ancient musical instruments. That IS an elephant carved on the end of that bow
One of the marriage stories in the museum of Art and Ethnology
One of the marriage stories in the museum of Art and Ethnology
From night markets...
From night markets…
To rice paddies, we saw it all
To rice paddies, we saw it all

BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE
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INCREDIBLE FOOD
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Judging from their rounded bellies, I think these apsaras just finished a Road Scholar trip!
Judging from their rounded bellies, I think these apsaras just finished a Road Scholar trip!

I’ll give your eyeballs a rest, and stop with the photos.
You’ll just have to take my word for it, this trip was AMAZING!

Halong Bay

For this post, the pictures will (mainly) speak for themselves.
HaLong Bay is about 4 hours by bus north of Hanoi.image

I think the ballot box may have been stuffed for some of these choices, but Halong Bay definitely deserves to be on the list of Natural Wonders.
I think the ballot box may have been stuffed for some of these choices, but Halong Bay definitely deserves to be on the list.
The surrounding area is starting to get built up, with lots of hotels across from the beach.
The surrounding area is starting to get built up, with lots of hotels across from the beach.
We, however, spent the night on the Emeraude.
We, however, spent the night on the Emeraude.
Take a good look.  Can you find the shower?
Take a good look. Can you find the shower? What about the “closet”?
Great views from the top deck (and the middle and  the lower decks)
Great views from the top deck (and the middle and the lower decks)but the top deck has the bar!

I didn't expect penguins in Vietnam
I didn’t expect penguins in Vietnam

Or monkeys...
Or monkeys…
My sister Sue always wanted a pet monkey.  I tried to convince this one to come home with me.
My sister Sue always wanted a pet monkey. I tried to convince this one to come home with me. Check out her facial expression for her answer.

We took a tender to the Surprise Cave.  The third cave was enormous!
We took a tender to the Surprise Cave. The third cave was enormous!

We climbed over 100 steps (I lost count) to an opening that gave us this wonderful vantage point.

I couldn't resist posting two shots--one framed,one not. You get to choose which you prefer.
I couldn’t resist posting two shots–one framed,one not. You get to choose which you prefer.

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These ladies were waiting for us to return to the ship so they could sell us some of their handmade goods.
These ladies were waiting for us to return to the ship so they could sell us some of their handmade goods.

How lucky were we, to see night fall on Halong Bay
How lucky were we, to see night fall on Halong Bay

And with an almost full moon.my photos don't do it justice.
And with an almost full moon. My photos don’t do it justice.
Sunrise on the bay
Sunrise on the bay
East coast girl, hanging out, enjoying the view.
East coast girl, hanging out, enjoying the view.
We cruised for a while, enjoying the effect the changing light had on the seascape (bayscape?)
We cruised for a while, enjoying the effect the changing light had on the seascape (bayscape?)
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Time to return to Hanoi for our farewell dinner and the end of this phase of our Asian Adventure.
Time to return to Hanoi for our farewell dinner and the end of this phase of our Asian Adventure.

One day you’re hot, and the next day you’re not.

We spent our last morning in Cambodia cruising to the Tonle Sap Lake. During the dry season, the tributaries leading to the lake drop to a depth between 3 and 5 feet, but during the rainy season, the area floods, with the water level rising to between 24 and 30 feet, which explains why the houses are on stilts.

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The children were all very cute and friendly, waving from the banks.
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These tykes were too close to the river for MY comfort level.
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It was slow going, getting to the lake, because we were quite a bit larger than the average Cambodian (an understatement), weighing the boat down in the already shallow passageway. That gave us plenty of time to take in the sights.

A fish farm
A fish farm

The bathroom
The bathroom

As usual, our excellent guide took good care of us, bringing along more snacks than we could eat. I’ve developed a very strong attachment to mangosteens, which are rightfully known as “the queen of fruits”.
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Tonle Sap Lake was quite beautiful. I particularly liked the floating restaurants.
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On the way back, Man tossed fruit and snacks to the kids. This little boy was delighted with his catch.
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Time to move — to another country and another climate. North Vietnam is quite a bit cooler than the other three countries we visited, as you might guess from our wardrobe.

"Well, east coast girls are hip, I really dig those styles they wear". -- the Beach Boys
“Well, east coast girls are hip, I really dig those styles they wear”. — the Beach Boys

And now a preview of coming attractions…tune in again for the Hanoi version of “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”.