Thursday, May 24, 2012

Freezing at the Grand Canyon, Part Two

How in the hell did we lose the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide. Having seen it before, I was pretty sure it would be impossible to miss, even in the dark. Naturally, I was wrong.

Because of our late arrival, we had to make the pragmatic (if less ideal) choice to put our tents up and get our food from the market before visiting the rim. By the time we were finished it was after dark. Despite this, I was adamant that we visit Mather Point before going back to make dinner. We may not have seen much, but at least we'd get to see it.

So on to the visitors center parking lot we went. At first we parked in one lot, but it was fairly empty, and we thought it was probably farther from the canyon. So we left that lot and went to one closer to the complex of buildings. There were more cars parked there, so we decided that was a good place to be.

One thing to realize about the Grand Canyon visitors center is that there is no overhead lighting. There were some lights which illuminated paths, and the buildings had lights to show you where they were, but there wasn't a real good way to tell where the canyon was. Had this been Oconoluftee, Yosemite Valley, or Beaver Meadows, I would have been able to find my way directly. However, we had only been to the Grand Canyon once, and it was before they had completely rebuilt the Visitors Center. Suffice it to say we were lost.

Eventually, we stumbled around the complex for a while, before finally ending up in a deserted parking lot behind the main building. A bit confused we walked on the sidewalk around there for what seemed like a good distance, before finally reaching a building with restrooms next to a path that led away from the parking lot. A short walk through the dark and down some steps, and we were there. Despite not really being able to see that much, a 5,000 foot deep canyon is still very breathtaking even in the dark. We were there only five minutes or so, but it was totally worth it. We walked back a different path, which turned out to be a quicker way to get back. Naturally the first parking lot we came to was the one we had first visited.

Our little journey to the edge of the canyon over, we headed back to our campsite to fix dinner. After filling our water, we got set on getting the fire started. It took a bit of effort, but eventually Erin got the fire started. I helped by wrapping the potatoes in aluminum foil and put the beans in the pot.

It didn't take long for the beans to cook, which was good, as we were hungry. The hot beans were good on a cold night, and went well with the peanut bar. We eagerly anticipated the potatoes, which Erin assured would be delicious. Just another few minutes, we thought. Yep, just a few more minutes and we'd be in tuber town.

As we came up to the beginning of quiet hours, the potatoes were still not done. At this point, we accepted they were a lost cause, and resolved to try them again. So instead of throwing them away, we put them back in the car. Remember them, as they will show up again later.

Since we were done with dinner, and quiet hours were about to begin, we decided it was time to head to bed. We visited the bathrooms, and went in to our respective tents. It was already rather cold, and it wasn't getting any warmer for a while.

I have to say my mattress pad worked fine for the two hours I was in there. However, getting situated in my mummy bag was a bitch, and I never was quite able to get it right. I had forgotten all the little noises a tent made when even a little breeze hit it. Every time I heard it move a bit, I thought someone (or something) was trying to get in my tent. Unwisely I had read a warning by the bathrooms about javelinas in the area, so I got paranoid that wild pigs were about ready to attack my tent.

Above all, my problem was that the sleeping pad would move when I tried to turn over. Eventually I ended up against the wall of the tent. As it was a two person hiking tent, and I was a very big guy with questionable knees, situating myself comfortably was a problem. After a couple hours of that crap, I called in the towel. I felt bad about it, but I needed to get at least a few minutes of sleep, and that would be more likely sitting in my car.

Apparently Erin was unaware of me retreating to the car. She had a rough night of it, sticking it out to the end. She would be best qualified to tell her story, so I won't even try. I have to say that she thought I either was sleeping very soundly, or was frozen stiff in my tent. Glad to see she was concerned, but not enough to check on me. Oh well, I guess I should have given her my sleeping pad, which was much better at insulating than her yoga pad.

At one point I somehow lost track of my phone AND my keys, which was kind of a pain in the ass to find and keep from disturbing people. I made the switch from the driver side to the passenger side so I wouldn't have to deal with the steering wheel. I played my iPod quietly for a while, although not too long, as it was almost out of power. I went back and forth between being awake and asleep. oftentimes residing in the hazy area in the middle. The car smelled of wood smoke (from my clothing) and underdone baked potatoes (from the underdone baked potatoes in the back seat). In spite of that, I made it through.

Finally I woke up and had to go to the bathroom again. I stumbled along between our neighbors' campsites, reaching the relative comfort of the bathroom. I don't think it was heated, but the lights kept it somewhat warmer than it was outside. I spent some time in there, before heading back out into the cold. Instead of walking back through the middle of the campsites, I decided to walk the road out and back in, as it wasn't that far from where I was going. Through the chill I walked, keeping one eye on the starry sky, and another eye on any mountain lions that might be hiding in the trees. As if I could do anything if there was one.

I was sad to see my quick walk end, but happy to see what the time was. As it turned out, it was almost 5:00 am. Shortly thereafter, the sky started to get slightly brighter. We had made it. Now it was time to see the sun rise at the Grand Canyon.

Although I was excited to see it, getting Erin up was a bit more difficult. Reluctantly she got up and around, and we headed back off to the visitors center. Amazingly, it was much easier to find the canyon in the light of day. We stopped at a small overlook first, but eventually settled on the Mather Amphitheater. We stayed until the sun rose above the canyon walls. It was quiet and it was beautiful. From the changing colors as it grew lighter out, to the remnants of snow left high in the canyon, it was great. In short, it was what the Grand Canyon is supposed to be. Erin might disagree, but to me it was worth the cold night.

Of course, that wasn't the end of our Grand Canyon visit. We still had to eat some breakfast and strike the tents, tasks that we accomplished concurrently. Breakfast was malt-o-meal cooked over the fire and served in a plastic cup. I had my multiutensil with me, but for the twenty-fours I needed it I thought I didn't, so I mixed in water and drank it like it was a really thick drink. It was warm, and it was delicious, especially with some "craisins" mixed in.

Finally we had filled our bellies and emptied our campsite, packing it all back into my car. After returning our permit to the office, we did the usual Grand Canyon stuff, complete with a trip to Hermit's Rest for some hot chocolate (it was still cool in the shade) and a return visit to Mather Point. Not surprisingly, there were many other people there with us. We left at about 1:30 PM MST and headed towards Barstow. There were a few times my lack of sleep caused me some problems on the drive. However, some Powerade and beef jerky fixed that problem. Late that evening we made it to California, home of In n Out and some nifty blankets at the Roadway Inn there. But that is another story.

In the end, that was our only "real" night of camping, as we spent the rest of the trip in either motels or a tent cabin with blankets, beds, and a pizza deck nearby. It was chilly at Yosemite, although much better than the Grand Canyon. Although it wasn't my best night of sleep, it certainly was one of my more memorable nights. I can now say I camped at a National Park, which is something I intend to do again. As soon as I get warmed up.

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