Day Twenty Six – Thursday September 15, 2016



Something different today. As I write this, it is a little after 7:30 AM, Mountain Standard time, and we have been up a little over 2 hours. The alarm was set for 5:30 this AM, so that we could get up and out to the rim of the Grand Canyon in time to catch today’s sunrise at 6:11 AM. It was a good show!! It was quiet, almost reverent, and everyone who was out for the sunrise was speaking in a whisper. Slowly, as the sun rose in the eastern sky, the color and light patterns on the canyon changed. Even though sunrise was 6:11, it was after 6:30 before we saw the actual sun come over El Tovar (the hotel next door), and had to put on our sun glasses. Slowly but surely, the rays of the sun started to play on the canyon until it was in full sunshine. I read that you needed to be out there about a half hour before till about a half hour after sunrise to appreciate the changing colors. Now we have officially seen sunset and sunrise over the Grand Canyon. Can I sleep till 7 tomorrow?

A little after 6:30 AM, we decided to head into the Bright Angel Lodge and have some breakfast. For some reason, Susie and I both felt like pancakes and bacon, and that’s what we ordered. When our breakfast came, the pancakes were beautiful, and looked like something prepared for a photo shoot, rather than a real breakfast! They were beautiful, but they were HUGE!! Had we known they were going to be this “substantial”, we could have split an order! Susie only made it through a third of the stack, and while I did a little bit better, neither of us belong to the clean plate club!


Full beyond belief, we headed back to our cabin, to relax for an hour or so, before the tour we booked for this morning that leaves at 9 AM. Of course, we inserted the digital key into the lock and instead of getting the green LED and an open lock, we got the red and yellow LEDs, and no opening! After trying it for 5 or 6 times, we had to head back to the registration desk in the Bright Angel Lodge, which we had just passed on our way out of breakfast! Oh well, a little more exercise I guess!


Welcome to afternoon in the Grand Canyon National Park! It’s a little after noon, and we are back from our morning tour. We took the 2 hour guided Hermits Rest tour, in part because from March 1st to November 30, private vehicles are not allowed in this section of the canyon. Also, every time we have taken one of these tours in the parks, it has been a good experience and we have learned more than we knew before we took the tour. Today’s was not the exception to that rule!

We met our driver/tour guide JD just after 9 AM, right outside the Bright Angel Lodge. There was Susie and I and another couple, and we figured the bus would make a stop at another hotel, before starting the tour. Nope…we were it! Did we luck out!

Rather than just drop us off at the various view points, and tell us we had 15 minutes, JD came with us and gave us a private tour. He described what we were seeing, pointed out things we would have never seen without his guidance, and gave us history, geology, meteorology, and gossip about the Grand Canyon. At every one of the three stops we made, he had something new to share with us, and boy did we see and learn a lot in the 2 plus hours we were in his care. Questions were asked and answered, discussions were held, and it was a great experience, and well worth the $30 each we paid. You could tell that JD was passionate about his subject. Just like Leslie, our driver/tour guide on the Yellow Bus Tour we took in Yellowstone, JD had studied the Grand Canyon. He knew the history, knew the ecology, knew the science, and knew the new, and sometimes yet to be proved theories about how this natural wonder came to be.

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After getting dropped off at the lodge, we went into the Bright Angel History Room, and looked at the many displays. The Grand Canyon, like many other National Parks, was originally developed as a tourist destination by the Santa Fe Railroad. Included in the displays, was a lot of information about someone who worked with the Santa Fe, and who was very involved in the early development of the Grand Canyon, Fred Harvey. Fred Harvey, who’s dining business was closely tied to the railroad, was the original concessionaire at the Grand Canyon, and was responsible for the construction and running of the hotels and restaurants servicing the park. You may have heard the term Harvey Girls, or seen the 1940s era Judy Garland movie of the same name (a favorite of Susie’s). Well Harvey Girls was what the women who worked in Fred Harvey’s restaurants were called, including those at the Grand Canyon. In fact, we found out from our tour guide JD, that the present concessionaire Xanterra took over the businesses in the Grand Canyon from the Fred Harvey Company.


Since we’d had that huge stack of pancakes for breakfast, lunch was out of the question, but we stopped at the Bright Angel Soda fountain for a soda and a snack (Susie had an ice cream cone and I a pretzel), before heading back to our cabin. As I’m writing this, Susie is reading one of the books she has bought in the last two days. This one is called, Death in the Canyon, and includes a lot of historical information about some of the really stupid things humans have done in this beautiful place, over the years. I’m also going to go get a couple of maps out of the car and plan our exit from the park tomorrow and plot our trip to Monument Valley.


Yesterday you saw the inside, here’s the outside of our GCNP home!

This afternoon we are going to do some more exploring around the area, and perhaps try a little of the Bright Angel Trail, and follow the advice of JD to see a couple of very interesting Grand Canyon sights!

And another advisory, seems we’ve lucked out here, with some usable, if slow, internet service, but no guarantees for our night at the View Hotel on the Navaho Indian Reservation. If you don’t see a Day 27 blog tomorrow, never fear, I will get it published when I can!

Our Big Trip Update

imageSo, the last time we talked about our “Big Trip”, we told you that because of a need to make certain reservations now or not be able to stay where we want to, our trip had taken on some real details. We will be leaving Long Island on August 21st…two months from tomorrow… and heading west, so this is becoming more and more real! Since our last update, some of our reservations have changed and more of the early part of our trek has been further fleshed out.

imageOriginally, the only place we could originally get in the Grand Canyon was a room at the Yavapai Lodge, this was definitely not our first choice. While it is indeed located at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, it is not ON the South Rim, but is back about a 1/2 mile. As everything else at the Grand Canyon was already booked for our dates, we felt fortunate that we were at least in the Grand Canyon and not miles outside of the Park. Frank had read online advice from many folks that said to grab something, and just keep on checking back and see if something better opens up, and that’s exactly what we did. After checking back on almost a daily basis, we were rewarded with exactly what we wanted. We now have reserved a cabin at Bright Angel Lodge, which is literally feet away from the rim of the canyon! Sunrises and Sunsets will be much easier to enjoy from that location!

We’ve also fleshed out our stay at Yellowstone a bit and have booked one dinner at the Lake Yellowstone Lodge, a boat tour of Yellowstone Lake, and a Lake Butte Sunset Tour, the vehicles for which are classic Yellowstone “Yellow Buses” from the 20s and 30s. This along with exploring things like Old Faithful on our own, and seeing the varied wildlife in the park, should make for two unforgettable days in America’s First National Park!

We have also looked closer at the days leading up to our two night stay in Yellowstone. The amount of reading you have to do, the number of maps you need to consult, the websites you have to check, and the mileage and time calculations you have to do to have a successful trip can be mind boggling! But, when it’s a trip you have been dreaming and talking about for years, it all becomes worth it! One of the things that will be included on those days leading up to our Yellowstone visit will be one of Frank’s main Bucket List items on this trip, Mount Rushmore!

imageHis desire to see Mt. Rushmore in the flesh, probably stems from seeing Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint climb across the faces of the presidents in the Hitchcock classic, North by Northwest. Frank found an interesting article recently dealing with what was actually filmed on site, and what was shot back at the studio. Of course, it would seem fairly obvious that someone like Cary Grant was not actually dangling from Lincoln’s nose on the real Mt. Rushmore, but apparently the head of the National Park Services was fearful that back in 1959, some folks might think he was! It seems that the permit that Hitchcock and the crew were given for the scenes they filmed at Mt. Rushmore contained specific language detailing what the film makers could do in scenes shot on site, or in the studio using mock-ups. The reason for this language lay in one simple fact: master film director Alfred Hitchcock had long wanted to film a movie involving the “Shrine of Democracy,” but the Park Service had concerns about the memorials potential “desecration.” After seeing a preview of the movie before it’s public release, the head of the service wrote, “The phony studio shots leave the average customer with the idea that the scenes of violence were staged on the memorial itself.” Kind of hard to understand that logic when 60 years later we have seen everything from the Empire State Building to the White House destroyed in movies, but the Park Service actually tried to have the release of the movie stopped…obviously that didn’t happen. You have to wonder how many of the tourists who have journeyed to Mt. Rushmore over the almost 60 years since the release of the movie, have done so for the same reason we are… because they saw North by Northwest. In hindsight, perhaps the movie they feared so much, was the best publicity a monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota could have gotten! As Cary Grant playing Roger Thornhill, the advertising executive protagonist in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest says, “Ah, Maggie, in the world of advertising, there’s no such thing as a lie, there’s only the expedient exaggeration!”.

So, anyway, Mt. Rushmore is the first major stop of our adventure, and as we said, we have fleshed out some of the days leading up to our visit. Leaving NY on August 21st, we will journey out Interstate 80 to Chicago, then head slightly north until we join up with Interstate 90. Depending on weather, the road conditions, how we feel, and what we may want to stop and see along the way, we figure it will take us the better part of 4 days to reach South Dakota. We are planning our first stop in South Dakota to be in Murdo, and then the next morning, we expect to hit our first National Park of the trip, Badlands National Park, on our way to Mt. Rushmore. Next we reserved two nights in Keystone, South Dakota which is right in the heart of the area with easy access to Mt. Rushmore, Custer State Park, and the Black Hills National Forest. After our two nights in the area, we will head out, hopefully hitting Devils Tower National Monument and detouring north to pay a visit to Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana. We hope our stop that night will be in Sheridan, Wyoming and then the next day we will head into Yellowstone for our two days there.

imageTo be honest, this kind of planning is definitely not our style. We are more the type of folks that get into the car, have a rough idea of where we’re going, a general idea of our time frame, and then take off, stopping each night in hotels we find along the way in the AAA Tour Books. What we have discovered though, is that when your trips include National Parks and Monuments, unless you want to drive around half the night looking for a place to stay, you really have to plan ahead. So at least on this first leg, we have been forced to make hotel reservations, figure out how much mileage we’ll cover each day, and what we’re going to see. Hopefully the next leg of the trip, will leave us a little more leeway to wander, but we will see when we soon take a closer look at the two weeks between Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. We’ve already looked at the maps and are thinking about the next leg taking us to the Rocky Mountains, Salt Lake City, Denver (perhaps a baseball game there), Pikes Peak, and maybe even Vegas. We don’t want to give away too much of the “adventure” of this trip, but just thought you might be interested in a bit of the planning we’ve put in. Only time will tell if our trek between leaving Yellowstone on August 30th, and checking into the Bright Angel Lodge in the Grand Canyon on September 14th will be as planned, or more free form. Only time will also tell if our plans will all work out, or if we will be doing some “flying by the seat of our pants”. Stay tuned!