The Grand Canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and Monument Valley, where countless Wild West movies were shot—these and nearby Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park were on my bucket list for a long, long time. I had been itching to see them but the Corona virus had thrown a monkey wrench into the plans. But with the vaccine, the tide was turning. People were beginning to travel and lead at least a semblance of their normal lives. I was ready to go!
But, first things first. I got vaccinated against COVID-19. No need to explain why, I hope. Then looked for suitable tours of these sites. I found one. Globus Journeys had an eight-day conducted bus tour of these destinations. I quickly made plans knowing that these popular places and tours would get snapped up. My son and I would make the trip just before the Labor Day weekend. I made reservations well in advance.
I flew from Philadelphia into Phoenix. Scottsdale, a short distance from Phoenix airport, was the starting point of the trip. The adventure started as soon as I stepped out of the airport looking for my Uber driver. The temperature was a toasty 102 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, a far cry from the north-east. It was hot and dry. It was a relief to step into the air-conditioned cab as we headed for the Scottsdale Marriott, McDowell Mountains, where we would stay the night. My son had already arrived and had checked in.
That evening we met the rest of our fellow travelers and the tour director over drinks. We introduced ourselves. All were vaccinated against COVID-19, a necessary requirement for this trip. There were 36 tourists plus the tour director and driver. We spent the next seven days riding in a coach, staying at hotels, eating at restaurants and visiting the sights. None of us showed any ill effects throughout the trip. I do not have a cough, cold or sniffle as I write this two weeks after coming home. Nor do I have a loss of smell or taste. Modern medicine has made giant strides since the time of Jenner, Pasteur and Koch. Vaccines are effective agents in combating infectious diseases.
Next day after breakfast we started the long drive through the Sonoran Desert heading for the fabled red rocks of Sedona. Our coach was large and comfortable with a restroom at the back and power outlets to charge our cell phones. That would come in handy as the barrage of picture taking takes a toll on the camera batteries. We saw the large saguaro cacti with their many branching arms give way to the cholla and prickly pear cacti as the elevation increased. Soon we were in Sedona surrounded by spectacular red rock formations.
It is a charming town with a reputation for good, healthy, new age living. We took a jeep tour on unpaved, rocky, bumpy, dusty roads to marvel at some of these formations. This trip was just an appetizer for the many thrills in the days ahead. It whet our appetites.
After a much needed lunch we headed for the Grand Canyon. We arrived in the afternoon through the east gate and stopped at the Desert View Watchtower to admire the view. This was our first glimpse of the Grand Canyon and just a taste of what to expect on the following day. We then checked into Yavapai Lodge, our home for the next couple of nights and walked over to the south rim to watch the sun set. Unfortunately, we got there a little late and missed the most spectacular part of the show— the changing patterns of color as the setting sun reflects off the many layers of stone making the canyon walls. I made a mental note of the time.
We had the next day to ourselves, no organized tour. We could wander at our will which was exactly what we wanted. It was the end of August in Arizona. Very hot. However, the south rim of the Grand Canyon is at an elevation of approximately 7000 feet, so relatively cooler. And we had come suitably prepared. We geared up; hat, sunglasses, sun block, snacks and plenty of water. We had our backpack hydration systems. Water was essential to prevent dehydration, a distinct possibility, and to stay cool.
There is a park shuttle that stops at all the view points, Maricopa Point, Hopi Point, Mojave Point, to name just a few. Tourists can get on and off at will. We leisurely went from point to point admiring the view and taking pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. I had with me my tried and tested Panasonic Lumix and my iphone 12. Both excellent cameras, but good to have a backup in case of any mishaps. Our guide told us horror stories of people dropping cell phones as they lean over the rim. The last thing I wanted was to see the sights without a camera.
It is difficult to describe the Grand Canyon in words. Even good pictures do not do justice. Imagine the Colorado river gradually carving its way through the rocks over millions of years until it is a thin ribbon a mile below the rim where we were now standing.
And then wind, water, freeze-thaws, and every natural process known to man widens the canyon (about 10 miles as the crow flies from the north to the south rim) and carves it into its present fantastic shapes. Some peaks have shapes like temples and names like Vishnu, Brahma and Zoroaster. The exposed rocks span geologic time, millions of years in places and have different mineral compositions giving the subtle hues so beloved by photographers and geologists. I was in raptures.
By noon we were tired. We hopped once more onto the park shuttle and headed back. I had a big lunch; an elk burger, fries and a beer. Satiated we walked to our room for a much needed nap.
My son had tried to make a dinner reservation at the historic El Tovar hotel but it was peak season and there was a long waiting list. We went there anyway, had drinks at the bar with a lovely view of the canyon. We ordered a takeout dinner and waited outside. I had timed it right this time. We got to see the colors of the Grand Canyon come to life as the sun slowly leaned west. Time for the cameras again. This is what I had come to see. I watched mesmerized. After a while we got a call from the hotel, our dinner was ready. We took it and headed back to Yavapai Lodge. We had dinner in our room. I had a big salad. After my meaty lunch I needed it. We then stepped outside to see the stars. We saw Jupiter, big and bright, and to its right, Saturn. Unfortunately, clouds covered a large part of the sky. Too bad. We headed back and were soon fast asleep.