Sunday, June 27, 2010

Grand Canyon Bicycle Tour, Day 13

After I got up and got things ready to go, I spent some time talking to the minister of the church which had served as my home the previous night.  We talked about their ministry with the Indians in the area - Hopi and Navajo - and a little bit about the traditional beliefs of those groups.  I was curious to discover whether the pacing native I saw from the ditch was performing some kind of ceremonial act.  What I was told was that if there was not a crowd, it was probably not an official ceremony.  Religion is a community practice for the Navajo.  But they sometimes say personal prayers to the four cardinal directions, and I think it's possible that this is what I observed.

Either that, or it's so boring in the desert that some people just walk back and forth for entertainment.  I wouldn't be surprised either way, I guess.

I got on the road around 7:00.  After a very short stint on US-89, I turned onto AZ-64.  This was one of the nicest roads I've ever ridden, as far as the quality of the pavement goes.  The shoulder was consistently nice and wide, well-paved, and clean.  And the ride was otherwise very pleasant as well.  It was all uphill, but the grade was not too severe: perhaps 5% most of the time, with a few short sections steeper than that.  And most importantly, there was only the gentlest of breezes.  The scenery was lovely, as the Little Colorado Gorge cuts dramatically into the plain of the desert.

Little Colorado Gorge seen from AZ-64

Kaibab National Forest would have been a nice place to camp, had I made it there at an appropriate time.  But while the climb up to GCNP was enjoyable first thing in the morning, it might be less pleasant at the end of a hard day of riding.

Entering Kaibab National Forest, south of GCNP

At last, at 11:45 I reached the Grand Canyon National Park.  It's difficult to tell from the photo that I took beside the sign, but I was positively beaming.  Oddly, the road's shoulder narrows upon entering the national park, but there wasn't too much traffic, and the riding was not bad.

Entering Grand Canyon National Park

I had heard that the National Park had a campground just for cyclists and hikers, but the gate attendant to whom I spoke didn't know anything about such a thing.  What she could tell me was that the campgrounds at Grand Canyon Village were full, but the first-come, first-serve sites at Desertview still had openings.  And it was right up the road from the gate.  I paid the $12 personal entry fee (it's $25 for a car) and went straight to the campground.  This was the first campground I'd seen with a self-service pay station which accepts credit cards, which was good news for me, since I didn't quite have enough cash to cover the $12/night fee.

As soon as I had things in order at the campsite (around 12:45), I headed for the canyon rim.  It was everything that I expected it would be.  I found a rock to sit on for a while, and as I reflected on everything I'd been through so that I could be in that very spot, I got a bit choked up.

Grand Canyon as seen from Desertview

I had lunch at the Desertview snack bar.  It was unsurprising, both in terms of price and the food selection.  But I had quite an appetite and had to keep a tight reign on myself to avoid grabbing one of everything.  I did grab one of each of the fresh fruits.  Fresh fruits and vegetables were rare while I was on the road.

Exploring the Grand Canyon

I'd been seeing a group of volunteer workers around Desertview and ended up talking to a couple of them.  They were removing noxious weeds from the area to help protect the native and less aggressive species.  There were also signs in place encouraging people to avoid bringing in non-native plants via seeds stuck in dirty shoes and vehicles.

After relaxing a bit around the campsite, I returned to the rim that evening for a sunset talk by one of the park rangers.  Ranger Elyssa, who is also a classical percussionist, spoke to us about soundscapes - the sum of all things audible in a given area - and how they should be treated as natural resources to be preserved just as we try to preserve the landscapes.  It was an enjoyable talk and included a performance of a movement from John Cage's 4'33" (a composition of ambient sound and no notes).

Grand Canyon in the evening light

I was absolutely thrilled to have reached my destination.  It was an excitement matched only by my anxiousness to see my family the next day.

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