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2011-10-25

Trip to the Grand Canyon

In September we took a trip to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. We had been to Las Vegas last year, but decided then that it was too hot to leave town. But I admit: the huge pool area of the Venetian might have influenced our decision somewhat back then.

This time we flew there with friends, a couple's vacation. After two nights in Las Vegas that we mostly used for time at pools, eating too much at food buffets and some gambling (no big wins, as was to be expected), we set out for our first stop at the Hoover Dam. We took a short walking tour, with a guide who was giving us more information than we could possibly remember. A few of the things I do remember are:

  1. The dam was not built for Las Vegas (apparently a common myth), instead it was built to provide power and water for all the adjacent states and even Mexico.
  2. Starting in 1931, the dam was built in just 5 years, with a death toll of over 100 workers (not counting the ones that died not directly at the site, e.g. the ones that died of carbon monoxide poisoning but were erroneously recorded as pneumonia victims).
  3. If the dam had to be built nowadays, work safety and other regulations would cause the project to take at least 30 years to complete.
  4. It is hard to endure 43°C with no shadow standing on top of a concrete structure.
  5. You need a helicopter to make a picture of the whole thing. So here a shot from inside the thing instead:
The turbines inside the Hoover Dam
We continued our trip to a hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona, which is about 90 minutes away from the Grand Canyon. The next day we set out to the South Rim (luckily, it was just around 25-30°C) and saw this:

One tiny little part of the Grand Canyon
There is no way to convey the vastness of this canyon with words, photos or even film. You really have to go and see it for yourself. If you take the same trip that we took, you might start out really impressed by Las Vegas, the huge buildings, the breathtaking shows, the over-the-top-ness of it all. Then you might marvel at the colossal Hoover Dam, this gigantic proof of what human beings are capable of. Then you see the Grand Canyon for the first time, and all those human achievements are put into perspective.

It took the Colorado River around six million years (a relatively short amount of time compared to the earth's age of 4.5 billion years) to carve this huge crack into the landscape. Working together with erosion through wind, water and temperature changes, it revealed earth's geologic history one layer at a time. And it continues to do so at the rate of about the thickness of a sheet of paper every year (which gives you a nice relation for your own life span the next time you refill your printer with a small stack of paper).

The first day we just hiked along the rim for a while, the second day we hiked down the South Kaibab Trail to the "Ooh Aah Point" - the place where the trail opens up to a wide panoramic view of the canyon:

A self-captioning photo
About a third of the way back up, a thunderstorm passed over us. That was no surprise, as we had been seeing not-to-far-away lightning all day, and heard the thunder roll in and echo through the canyon (that alone was awesome). We were prepared because someone had insisted to buy $5 rain ponchos the previous day. The surprising part was the sheer amount of rain pouring down on us, topped off by a nice five minute shower of hail - ice pellets the size of peas, ouch!

Continuing on our way back up after the storm, we were amazed to see how many pebbles and  rocks had been washed onto the trail, after just maybe 15 minutes of rain (and the rocks kept falling down, one of them missing one of narrowly). As I mentioned above, erosion through rain and wind contributed a lot to the river's carving of the landscape. During our hike we saw this happening ourselves!

Fog forming clouds in the Grand Canyon after a thunderstorm
Unfortunately, we only had a short two days to visit this amazing place. When we left, we were sure: We will be visiting this place again, with more time for hiking.