Travels in the American Southwest

Dinosaur Tracks and the South Rim, Grand Canyon

Thursday, 9/4

Goofed off Thursday morning. Took some extra time checking the RV because the next leg of our trip was to the South Rim. For us, it would be a 6 1/2 hour, 215 mile trip to a place we could see from our campsite! Normally a 4 1/2 hour trip, it took so long due to a number of stops and construction at Desert View. The trip east on US89 from Jacob Lake highlights the Vermilion Cliffs on the northside of the highway. AAA has listed this road as a Scenic Highway and most deservedly so. One strange sight along this road is at Soap Creek. Rocks like you'd see in a Roadrunner/Coyote cartoon leave you wondering why they haven't toppled over! We stopped at The Gap; No not the national chain clothing store but a Trading Post which dates back over a century. Today, it is much like any convenience store with the exception of the Native American crafts for sale. Hung a left at route 160. Wanted to check out the Dinosaur Tracks near Tuba City. What a unique experience that was. We followed the homemade signs announcing Dinosaur Tracks down a dirt and gravel road where we were met by a member of the Navaho Nation. He recommended we park well off the road and secure the RV. Having done so, we crossed the road to where the native who was to be our guide patiently waited. "This is a bad road," he explained. His community had lost 9 members who were driving on that road. (It's not that the road is bad but that the accidents were directly attributable to alcohol.) Our guide started us off by showing us various tracks, then asked "See these holes? There use to be lots of tracks but when the road was put in, they were stolen." He then listed a few places, including local and national museums, which have some of the tracks. It was as if the guide had once read a script and was repeating it. The word laconic comes to mind; No real emotion. "There are lots more tracks but they're all buried," our guide informed us. The locals wait for a drenching rainstorm to wash away the surface sand hiding the tracks. A couple of highlights in addition to the tracks themselves were what appeared to be a claw and fossilized remains of what our guide identified to us as a dilophosaurus. Whether the identification is accurate or not is beyond my realm of expertise!

Our guide suggested we see the wares his grandmother was selling from a small stand near the parking lot. We did pass by to look but I'm not big on jewelry, beaded Native American or not, so we boarded the RV and in search of gasoline, we set our sights on Tuba City. There we hit paydirt. Navajo Petroleum is exempt from charging Arizona state tax so we filled the tank with inexpensive gasoline (inexpensive being relative, of course!).

Hung a right on SR64, another scenic roadway that enters the South Rim of the Grand Canyon from the east. We could catch glimpses of the canyon as we headed west. Folks who have read my 1995 trip report know that I'd first been out this way with my folks when I was very young, hadn't even celebrated my first birthday they tell me. Of course I have no memories of that particular trip but my folks do have photos - one of a young CmdrMark in his mother's arms. Prior to this year's trip, MSO and I decided to see if we could find the spot where the picture was taken decades earlier. All we really knew was that the photo was taken somewhere along the South Rim so our first search would be at Desert View where the Watchtower stands as sentinel guarding the east entrance. Much construction is taking place here - The old parking lot has been replaced with a much larger one albeit much farther away from the tower and rim making people get out of their cars and walk.

MSO and I, clutching a copy of the black and white photo, started looking - truth be told, I didn't have much hope of finding the scene of the original photo. We wandered over to the tower which was designed by Mary Elizabeth Jane Coulter. This architect designed many of the canyon's buildings, in this case copying from Native American towers which can be seen throughout the southwest. Although it looks much older, the tower was built in 1932 as an observation point and rest stop for tourists. While gazing down into the canyon, I said, "Hey, look how the river bends a bit to the right, then straightens out." We consulted the photo and sure enough, it looked awfully similar. Excitement grew. "Look! Look! There's the butte!" It had to be the same stretch of river that was in the photograph! I started snapping photos while MSO disappeared behind the Watchtower. Minutes later, she beckoned me. The ground had changed some - looked like the Park Service had done some filling here and there but nonetheless, MSO had found the exact spot. We crossed another item off our "to do" list and continued our journey to Grand Canyon Village.

I visited the South Rim again in 1995, and much has changed at Grand Canyon Village. To relieve traffic congestion, the Park Service has instituted a free shuttle bus system. Visitors park their vehicles in one of five outlying lots and take the shuttle to the various sights. It sure beats sitting in a line of barely moving cars breathing someone's exhaust fumes! We found our campsite at Mather campground. Checked in and received the usual National Park literature from the campground ranger. One surprising bit of info concerned ravens. These jet black birds have enormous wingspans - up to three feet! Besides being large, they are thieves. Food left unattended quickly disappears as do shiny things like flatware, jewelry or most anything that sparkles in the sunlight. These are cunning birds. Residents of a nearby campsite piled into their car and left the campgrounds. Before their car had turned the bend, three ravens swooped in. They scoured the campsite for items left unprotected; Pecking at containers left out to see what was inside. Poe's raven might have said "Nevermore" but as these giants extended their wings and lumbered off into the treetops, I'd swear I heard them cackle "Gimme more"!

We got ready for this vacation's final dinner at a National Park. We had reservations at the El Tovar. I asked the maitre d' for a table near the dining room's windows. He consulted his seating chart. "Have a drink at the bar and check with me in ten minutes," he smiled. At the appropriate time, we returned and were seated. In the gathering dusk, we looked down into the canyon. As evening progressed, lightning bolts flashed over the North Rim. The food exceeded the high expectations I'd remembered setting eight years earlier. My tournedoes of beef were delicious as was MSO's penne pasta. We topped off dinner with a chocolate taco - a taco shell made of dark chocolates filled with chocolate mousse. Oh man, was that delicious! Made it back to the campsite where the day's travels made sleep very easy. Tomorrow, we'd check out the views from Yavapai Point, then  like the Joads in the Grapes of Wrath, MSO and I would travel the Mother Road - the famous Route 66.

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