After flying out of Palm Springs California we headed to Flagstaff Arizona.
During our stay in Palm Springs the week before I took a chance and phoned the El Tovar hotel on the south rim of the Grand Canyon and was able to book a night's stay there. Turns out this late in the season there is a good chance you can find vacancies(which during the summer require up to a year's advance booking), so when we arrived in Flagstaff we headed straight to the Grand Canyon less than 2 hours away. The weather was sunny and gorgeous the entire time with temperatures in the 60's and no crowds.
We did not venture down into the Canyon but took advantage of the shuttle bus service and traveled westward on the Hermit's Rest road. We made multiple stops and enjoyed the breath-taking views. At one of the stops we happened upon a ranger-led program on the California condors. A scope had been set up with views of a juvenile condor in a nest on a very distant cliff. Unfortunately you could only see the lower half of its body but you could still appreciate the size of these birds. The adults were seen soaring a good distance from the nest. The ranger talked about the captive breeding program which started back in the 1980's when the total population of condors was down to 9 birds. He went on to describe the difficulties in setting up a successful program and the need to use hand puppets in the form of adult condors to prevent the juveniles from imprinting on the human caretakers. Apparently it worked and the program has resulted in producing over 400 birds(half of which presently are in the wild). Right now there are more than 70 condors in northern Arizona and southern Utah. Many of them frequent the Grand Canyon particularly in the summer. The captive breeding program continues but the birds have started breeding in the wild and there are at least 7 wild-bred birds flying free in Arizona and Utah with 5 active nests in the Grand Canyon.
When we arrived at the last stop at the Hermit's Rest lodge we were greeted by a very tame raven who provided photo ops in return for tourist handouts. The next morning we awakened to sunrise at the Grand Canyon. I was out on the rim with my coffee, binoculars and a camera snapping pictures of the views, the local mountain chickadees, juniper titmice, western bluebirds, western scrub jays, pinyon jays, pygmy and white-breasted nuthatches, ravens, hairy woodpeckers and juncos.
On the last trip here over ten year's I saw bighorn sheep on the adjacent and very close cliffs. Unfortunately none were seen today. I later spoke with some of the staff at the hotel who told me that I was lucky on my last trip as many of them who worked here for years had never seen any sheep that close to the hotel. We spent the better part of the morning walking the eastern rim trail and headed out late morning to check out the eastern end of the Canyon.
One stop was the Lipan Point. On this particular morning there was a serious wind making standing upright a real challenge. The sign there mentioned that this was a prime hawk migration corridor and that a hawk watch was conducted yearly by Hawk Watch International. The reason for the popularity of this route for the hawks was the short distance from the Northern Rim(8 miles) to the Southern Rim. If the wind that day was typical I would say that late fall conditions at Rosetree Park were pretty tame and I was thankful for not having counting duty in Arizona.
Our last stop just before leaving the park at the East entrance was the Watchtower. This building was the creation of a woman architect named Mary Coulter. She succeeded in a profession that men dominated at the time. One of the brochures mentioned that her works were seen by many more citizens than creations of her contemporary, Frank Lloyd Wright. She used the Grand Canyon as her inspiration and incorporated native rocks and Hopi art work in her creation. The high vaulted ceiling looked like an European church with Native American paintings(she hired a local native artist) in place of Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel. The whole experience was awe-inspiring and a beautiful end to our brief visit to the Canyon.