Snow, Music & Grand Canyon

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 36.05720°N / 112.1375°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Feb 25, 2001

Sunday February 25, 2001

I wanted to get up early to videotape sunrise over the Grand Canyon while playing the music of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe. I was half awake most of the night and got up a few times (in our hotel in Grand canyon Village) to look out the window. It seemed to be cloudy and snowy.

I finally got up at 6:45 and went by the edge of the canyon. It was foggy and snow covered everything. I could only see a little of the snowy slopes below. I was getting worried. If it did not clear up, I would not be able to see anything. I then began walking along the rim to the Bright Angel Trail. There are a few other hotels and restaurants on the rim. A few people were out. I then reached the Bright Angel Trail. This trail goes all the way to the bottom of the canyon by the Colorado River. It makes a 19 mile round trip. I went down the trail into the canyon just a few hundred feet. It was icy. I could hear crows and other birds but I could not see them in the fog.

Then I began to walk back and ran into Mary. We went to a restaurant for breakfast. When we came out the fog had lifted somewhat and I could see much further down. This was encouraging. We then went to our room to wash up. I came out around 10:30.

It was still cloudy but fog had lifted and I could see all the way down. This is an awesome sight no matter how many times you see it (I had been here in 1993). We were on the south rim of the canyon, which is between 2100 m to more than 2250 m high (6900 to 7400 ft). The bottom of the canyon at the Colorado River is about 600 m, 2500 ft high. It is not all a vertical drop from the rim to the river. Around here at least, there seems to be a plateau 2/3rds of the way down. There is a tight canyon down there that contains the river. You can not even see the river from here. The canyon is 9 miles wide (south rim to north rim). The north rim averages around 2450 m, 8000 ft high. Grand Canyon proper is 277 miles long (from Lees Ferry to Grand Wash Cliffs at the tail end of Lake Mead). In the middle of the canyon there are many buttes that rise up from the bottom. Many of them have been named after eastern religions. The canyon is different shades of red, yellow, white and brown. You can see many parallel layers of sedimentary rock. Only the top 200 m, 600 ft or so of the canyon had snow. The rim is forested but as you go down the forest quickly ends. The bottom looks very arid. From here, you get a good view of Bright Angel Canyon, which is a large side canyon cutting into the north rim. You can easily mistake it for the main canyon.

I then connected my CD player to the camcorder and began filming and playing the third movement of Saint-Saens’s piano concerto number 2. This is a glorious and joyous tune from the beginning to the end. I wanted to choreograph the music with the scenery but I ended up moving the camera way too much. The end result was that you almost get nauseated when you watch the film.

Then Mary came and we went to the car. It was 34 degrees F. Later, it became sunny and went up to lower 40s degrees F. There is a road that goes along the rim to Desert View 25 miles east of here. We went on that road. There are many designated spots along the road where you can stop to get a good view. Almost all of these spots are higher than 2200 m in elevation. The forest along the rim is mostly of juniper trees but in some places there are forests of tall pine trees. Some of the pine needles were encased in ice. This gave the trees a crystalline glow. The park was fairly crowded although it was winter and not the height of the tourist season. You can see people from all over the world. Finding quiet and solitude can be impossible. The biggest annoyances are the bus tours. Suddenly a bus comes and dumps a large number of people. They leave the bus idling making a loud noise until the people get back in and the bus moves away. Well, this is a very large park. If you want solitude, all you have to do I suppose, is to get away from this road. You probably won’t see anybody else. We visited the park in a true tourist fashion ourselves. We got out of the car at the view points, took a bunch of pictures and drove on to the next point.

The first place we stopped at was Yavapai Point. We had good views of the Brahma Temple and the Zoroaster Temple which are huge buttes (2302 m and 2173 m) connected to the north rim. To the west, there was a yellow wall that dropped several hundred feet vertically. Snow covered the little shelves on the wall. You can walk on pieces of rock that are the last part of the rim. You can see a vertical drop right in front of you.

I began videotaping and playing the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s symphony number one (Winter Dreams). This symphony was not meant to be about sled rides and jingle bells. Winter Dreams is supposed to be a state of mind. Nevertheless, I think the music goes well with a snowy scene like this. It begins quietly and in less than 2 minutes it builds up to the point where loud horns are heard and the main tune is played very forcefully. I too began by filming the snowy rim forest and moving closer to the edge until the loud horns were played and I began filming the canyon. The main body of the music has a lot of ups and downs (and even "dead ends"). I wanted to film the high points of the canyon when the music was loud and the bottom of the canyon when the music was low. The music of course changes quickly and again I ended up moving the camera way too much. It is not pleasant to watch. The music ends by becoming quiet like the beginning. I too ended filming by returning to the snowy rim forest.

Then we drove to Yaki Point. Brahma and Zoroaster Temples were still in good view. I could see some "swirly" rock formations that looked like piles of fossilized dinosaur poop.

We then went back on the road and stopped at a nameless point where the road went right by the edge. The Brahma Temple could not be seen but I could see the Zoroaster temple from a different angle. We went into the forest on the south side of the road. Most of the trees were not very tall.

Our next stop was at the Grandview Point. Here, a very steep trail drops 800 m, 2600 ft into the Horseshoe Mesa where the remnants of an old mine exist. This trail, like most other trails, was supposedly built by miners at the turn of the last century. Mining was not profitable so they decided to bring in tourists.

We then drove to the Moran Point. The most striking feature here was the Red Canyon. This was a side canyon below us, which was really red. The Coronado Butte rose up to 2167 m, 7108 ft right in front of us at the head of the canyon (we were standing at 2182 m, 7160 ft).

At our next stop, Lipan Point, the river was in good view and several loops could be seen.

Then we went to Desert View. This is as far east as the road goes. The canyon of course continues for many more miles but there is no road access. To the east, I could see Palisades of the Desert. These are a band of intensely red cliffs. Farther east, I could barely see the top parts of another canyon. This must have been where the Little Colorado River joins the Colorado River. In front of us, a long stretch of the river was visible at the bottom of the canyon. To the southeast, there was a plain known as the Painted Desert. It was very far and I could not see much. There was a tower there named the Desert View Watchtower. It was a 3-4 story tall stone structure built in the style of the Pueblo Indians. In it, there were many windows on each floor giving good views of the surrounding areas. Indian paintings and other artifacts decorated the walls. The top of this tower is the highest point on the entire south rim.

We then drove back a little to Navajo Point which we had originally skipped. It was around 4:45. This seemed to be a relatively quiet spot. I had had enough of driving. I wanted to just stay in one place and enjoy the views. I also wanted to see the sunset hoping to see dramatic colors. We went away from the parking lot and sat somewhere right by the edge. At times, there was nobody at the parking lot and no cars drove by. These were periods of absolute silence. I loved it. We still had good views of the river and the Palisades of the Desert. Cardenas Butte rose up to 1911 m, 6269 ft right in front of us (about 350 m, 1100 ft lower than us). It was all red but the summit of it was beige. I could also see the Desert View Watchtower standing on the slopes to the east. Late evening clouds appeared so the sun did go away at times. As the sun went further down the sky, the reddish hue became more intense. A cold wind began to blow. We had to wear hats and gloves.

When the sun went down, I began videotaping and playing "A Night on Bald Mountain". This music is used a lot in the popular culture (commercials, cartoons etc.) and always signifies something evil. I would have preferred to videotape the canyon under the light of a full moon but that was not possible. I began filming by zooming over the Desert View Watchtower and then moving to the canyon. I had to take my gloves off to operate the camera. It was only around 32 degrees F but the wind made my fingers go numb and they soon began to hurt so bad that I had to quit filming before the music was over. I could hardly hear the music on the headphones under my hat anyway.

We then left at 6:30 and drove back to our hotel (El Tovar). It became dark. We had dinner reservations at 7:30 but they were busy so we walked around the hotel a little. This is a log building built around 1905 and fashioned after the European lodges of the time. There is a big warm fireplace in the lobby next to a small gift shop. Nice paintings of the canyon decorate the walls. The hotel was named after Don Pedro de Tovar who was one of the early Spanish explorers who saw the canyon. I don’t know anything about de Tovar but most probably he came here looking for gold and glory. The site of this huge natural obstacle must have been disappointing to him. We then had our dinner. It was very good but I did not want to sit in a restaurant forever. While we were there, we saw a raccoon-like animal running over an overhead beam. The waiter said it was a ringtailed something who has found a way to get in here.


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