Thursday, November 20, 2008

North Rim to Campo

We left the North Rim, dropping down off the high Kaibab Plateau with the great colored cliffs ahead of us, and then paralleled them heading west through Fredonia. Colorado City is on this route, where the polygamous breakaway sect of the Mormon Church hides out. An innocent enough town, and perhaps I was imagining it, but the houses did seem a lot larger that one would expect out here with no visible means of support, room for all those wives, I suppose.

Just before Hurricane, we dropped down steeply into the Virgin River Basin. This is pretty much the edge of the great Colorado plateau uplift, and therefore an angry rough place. Not only does the river continue to carve as it did in Zion, but the fault at the edge of the plateau has had upheavals and splits and volcanic action. A wild place geologically, the edges of the fault rear up like the plates on a stegosaurus, the sedimentary sandstone with its bands of color get twisted and tossed, and everywhere the black volcanic rocks lie in boulders, in heaps or in congealed flows.

Hurricane got its name when Erastus Snow, an important early LDS leader, had the top of his buggy blown off, and decided to name the place Hurricane. In 1904, water from the rivers was diverted into irrigation, and the mild climate made this area a fruit-growing center.

Here we pick up I-15, and through St. George UT where volcanoes, and faults and the Virgin River have the land in an uproar, it descends the Virgin River Gorge. The river has cut through the same rocks as seen in the Grand Canyon, and this highway, one of the most expensive ever built, dives and careens through a sort of IMax version of the Grand Canyon. Next time, I would like to stop in the middle, but as it is an Interstate, I have to pay attention to the road and not goggle. I CB to Don that this is much better than a mule ride !

We drop down onto the Mojave Desert. Miles of flat sand and creosote bushes, with the naked brown volcanic mountains popping up, looking huge until we drive close. The Virgin River goes south and ends up in Lake Mead. Little of it is left to join the Colorado River.

We come over a ridge and there, deep in smoke and smog is the skyline of Las Vegas. It looks like something out of Mad Max movies, Sci-Fi wild cities that sprang up after the nuclear holocaust, powered by methane from pig manure, and inhabited by a wild and woolly bunch of survivors. Not a tempting sight, and soon we are crashing along I-15, dodging construction and zoomy traffic. I can only glance at the towering hotels, more being built as older ones are torn down. Mostly they are just very tall and sandy colored with gold windows and faux Palladian windows, temples and palaces plopped on the top. How could there be so many people coming here that they need all that space?

The best building is the enormous black glass pyramid of the Luxor hotel. It squats there among the other hotels with a lot of drama and portent, sparkling in the hot sun, like a huge alien ship.

Our campground is suitably splendid, a vast marble and gold lobby, avenues of palms trees, several pools and miles and miles of roads. Right by I-15, it is pretty noisy, especially in the cheap sites in the back. As I get out I notice one of the Airstream’s tires is flat.

When I replaced the old, mismatched truck wheels with aluminum wheels, I got new lug bolts too. That’s right lug bolts, not lug nuts like everyone has today. The bolts are way deep in the holes, and a regular socket can hardly get enough purchase to grab them. So I knew I was in trouble, and also knew that we had to get them off and not trust some hot head wrench monkey at the local tire store.

All this put a damper on our Vegas fun. We did go out to eat with a friend of Don’s and his wife, driving up and down the strip in the dark with all the wild lights and garish architecture flashing and trying to seduce us. I hope I can come back, it was hardly a taste of one of the strangest places on earth.

Finally, we got a socket and Don filed it down enough to get a grip on the bolts. We could find no hole or nail, so we aired it up. The stupid thing has held air ever since. Hard to understand, I must have hit a bump just right to let the air out and then it resealed itself.

So we boiled out of town, headed down through more high Mojave desert, past Barstow where a Harvey house station languishes, and several rail lines come together, over the Cajon pass, littered with volcanic granite in every possible size, and down into the Moreno Valley. Lots of dairy and market gardens. Our stop over is at the edge of an upscale development, with a huge diary farm next door. A nostalgic odor for me, not so nice for non farmers, I’ll bet.

From there to Campo the next day was a rather rattling reintroduction to California Interstates. We know where we are going, so it’s not too bad, wish there were back roads, but the big mountains all over the place sort of prevent that. We all have to rush along in torrents of cars and trucks in the valleys in between. Finally, we turn off “the 8” as I-8 is known and come down through the bony mountains to our same spot at the RR Museum. Feels sort of like home.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Hiking Boots

The Uber hike here is called the Rim to Rim. This involves hiking down from one side of the Grand Canyon, spending the night at Phantom Ranch and then hiking back up out again. It is 22 miles of steep walking, and much of the trail is narrow and rocky. As the crow flies, it is only 14 miles, but what with 5,000 some feet of drop and then back up, I imagine you would have to be in pretty good shape. In addition, the actual altitude of the bottom is 2650 feet above sea level, so both rims, especially the north rim 8200’ are pretty high up. Some completely crazy extreme hikers do the whole thing in one day !

Like any National Park, there are lots of other hikes of varying difficulty and length. One called the Bridle Path, the old mule trail when the mules came right up to the lodge, is easy enough for me, and I often walk it back to the trailer instead of taking the employee shuttle.

What struck me was that dressing as though you had just done, or were about to do, the Rim to Rim was the thing. There were new hiking boots everywhere, and shorts with many pockets, and hats and packs and walking sticks and poles. Maybe all this made me feel sort of old and overfed, but I am sure that at least half of these people could not have walked 5 miles at this altitude, let alone the hard trails. But there they all were, REI, Cabellas, and LL Bean to the teeth.

The day trippers off the bus are not dressed like this, of course. They come in with their heads full of Zion or Bryce, scuttle through the lodge to look at the canyon, have a meal, buy postcards and stamps, mail them and then climb back on the bus. Many of them were from overseas, and many fairly well aged. Three times while I was there, people felt short of breath and had the EMT Rangers in, and one night three folks were helicoptered out with altitude sickness.

I watched all this through the metal grill over my Post Office window.

Many people are amused by the heavy metal bars and the rustic wooden sign : North Rim Post Office, 86052. Retired postal workers stop by to sort of check in, wondering what it would be like to work out here. They are amazed by my total lack of modern postal equipment, only a digital postal scale, all the rest is historically accurate for say 1950. Pretty Jurassic. Mostly I sell post card stamps. In my 5 weeks there, I sold nearly 1,000 27 cent postcard stamps, about 1/3 as many overseas post card stamps. I hand canceled at least 150 postcards a day. People often asked me to hand cancel, and would hardly believe that I had no choice. The cancel marking says North Rim CO, standing for Contract Office. That is how a greenhorn like me gets to play postal worker, as this seasonal Post Office is under contract with the concessionaire company that runs the Lodge, the cabins and the restaurants.

My initial nerves over the job gradually faded, although on a busy day it was pretty frantic to get all the paperwork done and the mail ready for the pick up. Way too many details and multitudes of opportunities to get things wrong. The girl I replaced had done it for 2 years and while she was training me, she did everything at light speed, and talking just as fast. I was sure I would never learn it all.

The last day, when my boss at the Fredonia AZ post office came to tally me up and take the important stuff and the stamps and money, I was a bit nervous too. But she was really complimentary and pleased with me, how fast I had learned it and how few mistakes I made. Very gratifying to have learned so many new tricks so fast.

We have really enjoyed our brief stay here, and before we left we filled out applications to return next summer for the whole season. It is partly for the money, but also we like the climate and the isolation. In these uncertain times, it seems smart to have a paying job for a change. Working at the Front Desk and the Post Office are really a better fit for our computer and mental skills, painting all day in the hot sun was hard work.

The end of the season is sort of sudden. On Wed Oct 16, it’s all over. No more rooms, no more food. The ice machines are all turned off, the cabins deep cleaned or stripped out for renovations. We had signs up that the Lodge was closed, but people still came in. Soon it will all be locked up, even the bathrooms and the gift shop, visitors can go out on the edge and look at the canyon, but no other services. The vans are driving the employees off to meet the bus in St. George, and soon only a handful of people will be here. Two couples will spend the whole winter out here, snowbound sometimes. To get to town will be an all day snowmobile ride, then another 40 miles or more in their car or truck.

Not for me, we are off down the road, heading south.