Day 13: The Grand Canyon

After waking in the same hotel room with our children for 11 days straight, it was strange to wake up without them. We’d been given “permission” from Rebecca and Dave to arrive at the campsite by 10:00, but we had an interesting dilemma on our hands, one that will be important to you if you visit the Grand Canyon. To tell this story, I need to go back to the night before when we noticed a sign in the lobby of the Bright Angel Lodge. The sign led to quite a long discussion amongst our Central & Pacific Time Zone crowd regarding the inappropriate use of the term “Standard.” Both Hal and Rebecca find that, in business settings, it is very common for people to use the term “Standard,” as in “Central Standard Time” or “Pacific Standard Time” when it is actually “Daylight Time.” Hal commented that it’s almost as if people don’t know that “Standard” expressly means non-Daylight. We lamented the thoughtlessness of business-people not recognizing the most basic issues of chronology, especially when communicating with people from multiple time zones, as Hal and Rebecca do regularly for work. Hal even showed us a work e-mail that referenced an e-mail that was sent recently from Oakbrook, Illinois at a certain time, CST. I commented that it seemed a little silly to have the sign permanently installed like that; Standard is clearly a part-of-the-year occurrence, so why would the sign be permanent.

This whole situation reminds me of how challenging it is for human beings to change their perspective on the world and how it works. We are much more likely to assume all sorts of accidental occurrences or aberrations or coincidences than to completely modify our world view, or even our theories about daily occurrences. Here is the evidence we had to work with:

  • Rebecca’s phone was still on the time at home (Los Angeles).
  • Permanently installed sign in the lobby said “Mountain Standard Time.”
  • The Bright Angel Restaurant was very busy at what we thought was 9:00 pm.
  • The Mather Campground was very much awake, with campfires going and lots of bathhouse activity at what we thought was 11:00 pm.

And finally, the data that led us to put all these pieces together: the clock radio in our hotel room said 10:15 pm at what we thought was 11:15 pm. Ironically, I almost wrote that off as the clock just being wrong. I thought it was more like 11:05 pm, so I figured the clock was just altogether incorrect. Even more ironically, we soon discovered that the clock radio was only precariously perched in its outlet. The entire time we were at Yavapai, the clock plug kept popping in and out of the outlet. I think I reset it three times, re-arranging the mattress and boxspring to attempt to wedge the plug in the outlet. So, half the time we were in this room, it was flashing 12:00. The other half, it was mostly off and only occasionally correct (for the few moments after I reset it). This makes it particularly odd that it was this clock radio that finally set us straight:

Arizona does not do Daylight Savings Time.

Arizona is always on Mountain Standard Time.

Well, the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona observes Daylight Savings Time.

But mostly, Arizona is always on Mountain Standard Time.

Hence the unchanged cell phone. Hence the busy restaurant. Hence the busy campgrounds. Hence the permanently installed sign in the lobby of one of the oldest National Park Lodges in the nation.

Once we figured it out, instead of multiple data points being oddly inconsistent with what we believed to be true, we were left with only one out-of-sorts data point: our car clock (which normally changes automatically when crossing between time zones) never changed from Mountain Daylight Time that we’d been in since Wyoming. I am unsure where the Odyssey navigation system is getting its data, but that is the only thing that was incorrect. Even my cell phone changed to MST once it got sufficient coverage to gather its data.

Back to our dilemma: Hal and I had figured out the night before that we were in MST, not MDT. Last we knew, Rebecca and Dave were thinking MDT, so should we boldly take the extra hour granted to us by Arizona’s time zone choices, or should we proceed on the time zone that we had previously agreed that we were in? Time, being a human construct, is really all about what agree to be true, isn’t it? So, did it most matter that we were in agreement with the majority of those in the community within which we were temporarily residing, or did it matter more that we were functioning in accord with the people with whom we were making arrangements, the people who had, in fact, taken responsibility for our children?

Recognizing that our children like their sleep and hoping that Rebecca and Dave would understand our choosing majority agreed-upon reality, we took the extra hour. Hal had noticed that the Bright Angel Lounge, a bar at night, magically transformed into the Bright Angel Coffee House, aka the Canyon Coffee House from 5:00 – 10:00 am. They serve a continental breakfast, which is really more our style than pancakes and bacon. Hal and I headed to the Coffee House and discovered yogurt and fruit and bagels and packaged coffeecake and coffee and tea and fresh-squeezed orange juice, all laid out on the bar of the Lounge. An excellent use of space not normally used in the morning hours. I guess they figure no one really needs a beer before 10:00.

It has been interesting to get the lay of the land in each of the locations where we’ve stopped. We found the map inside the Grand Canyon newspaper to be much more useful than the map they also handed out at the gate, because it laid out the most important aspects for us: roads, hotels, campgrounds, food services, and buses. Yes, buses. Our experience on this day was a combination of rural canyon hiking and very full (almost urban) bus-riding. While Zion’s shuttle buses started running in 2000, the Grand Canyon’s started in 1974. Hal and I were here about 15 years ago and I don’t remember riding the buses, but they were clearly the recommended form of transportation around the Park. They were quite a different experience than in Zion, however. Rather than every 7-10 minutes (but often every 5), the Grand Canyon buses are marketed as every 15 minutes, but often seemed longer. The buses were very crowded. Very. Many of our rides were standing. Our waits were long and hot. Bottom line: they need more buses. My sister, who works for the GAO (Government Accountability Office) thought that the counters the drivers were using for passengers might eventually lead to justifying more buses. Let’s hope so.

While we had a wonderful time at the Grand Canyon and I think everyone should see it at least once I their life, there were some distinctives about our time there that are less than ideal. There seem to be a lot more smokers at the Grand Canyon. Looking out over this amazing, gorgeous canyon, 10 miles across as the crow flies, but 215 miles by road, a mile deep and 277 river miles long, you very likely would be standing next to a smoking tourist. Ugh! There also seems not be enough indoor locations near the rim for sitting and resting and cooling down. The evening hours were beautiful, but the heat of the day was, well, hot. While I don’t consider myself an expert on national parks, we have certainly experienced our share of them this summer and indoor locations seemed to be missing at the Grand Canyon. In addition, there seemed to be very little casual dining options. Beyond the tiny, little luncheonette that also served ice cream, there only seemed to be waitress-service restaurants. Maybe that’s the way to get in out of the heat. It sure would have been nice to have more places to get a sandwich, though. And speaking of the luncheonette, the line was enormous. The Bright Angel information seems to call this the Bright Angel Fountain on the web site. They seem to be having branding challenges; all the signage on location calls it the “Luncheonette.” There is a market here for more casual dining options: a deli, perhaps, with some outdoor, shaded seating. People want it and they aren’t getting it. At other parks, we saw evidence of management making wise decisions regarding serving and moving crowds. At the Grand Canyon, we saw lots of people providing services, but few who seemed authorized to make decisions and to change systems to more effectively serve the people. I’m not sure what that’s all about, but it was interesting to observe.

Partly because we had a sleeping baby on Dave’s back (which made hopping in and out of a car difficult), and partly because we found parking challenging in some locations, we decided to take advantage of the bus system. While it was certainly crowded and insufficiently frequent, the buses went to interesting places, some of which do not allow cars. There is a purple line that runs “into town,” that is, to the IMAX and fast food. We didn’t head out this direction, though Austin wondered if Deathly Hallows might be playing. An orange line runs along the rim, to the east. The blue line essentially runs internally, between and among the park services (hotels, food services, campground). And the red line runs west from Bright Angel Lodge to Hermit’s Rest, an area where cars aren’t allowed. We brought the van back to our hotel, after picking up Dave, Rebecca, Gray and the kids (no worse for the wear, not upset about our hour-later arrival, still thinking it was Mountain Daylight Time). In fact, the kids were washing breakfast dishes when we arrived: an excellent aspect of raising kids to camp! We left the van at the hotel and caught the blue line to the Visitors Center. From there, we hiked along the rim, from Mather Point to Yavapai Point, a 0.7 mile hike on entirely paved path. The views are beautiful, offering glimpses of Phantom Ranch at the bottom, along the Colorado River. At Yavapai, we hopped on the orange line, taking it back to the Visitors Center. The blue line took us over to Bright Angel Lodge, where we lunched at the luncheonette (long lines and all).

Before lunch, I wasn’t sure we’d want to do much more that day. I’m telling you, it was hot. And the buses were crowded. But it’s amazing what a bottle of cold water, an egg salad sandwich, and an hour of resting in the shade can do for a family. We walked a little further west on the rim after lunch, hiking a short way down the Bright Angel Trail, just to say we hiked into the Canyon. We were hoping to see some of the mules coming up for the day, but didn’t manage that. If we’d planned better, we might have asked when they tend to make their way up. There are two day-rides that go each day, I believe. I imagine their arrivals are fairly predictable and it would have been fun to see the mules coming up the trail. Some day, I’d like to ride down into the Canyon and stay overnight at Phantom Ranch. Reservations are required and are often taken even a year in advance. Everyone in your party needs to be 4’7” and I’m not sure we’re quite there yet, but maybe some day soon.

Just past the Bright Angel Trailhead (the Grand Canyon’s most famous trail), we waited for the red line bus to take us toward Hermit’s Rest. Watch the stops carefully. Heading west (out), the red line stops at all stops. Heading east (back), it only stops at three of those stops. We got off at Hopi Point and hiked along the rim the 0.3 miles back to Powell Point. We found this, as advertised, a beautiful trail (partly paved, partly not) with a lot less foot traffic than the rim by Bright Angel Lodge or Yavapai Point.

At this point, it was 5:30 pm, and our family had plans for a cook-out, so we headed back to the campsite (with a stop in the hotel for a few kid showers). Rebecca and Dave had suggested that we cook out at their campsite one night, so they provided the hot dogs and s’mores and fixings for a wonderful campsite meal. It was 8:30 pm by the time we got started, so the stars starting coming out by the time we were making s’mores. There is nothing like cooking hotdogs over a campfire grill, eating outside, and enjoying s’mores over an open fire with family, the deep Arizona night sky visible through the trees above you.

The kids opted for one more night at the campsite, even though it involved getting up at 6:00 am (Mountain Standard Time, of course) so that Dave and Rebecca could break down their camp and be on the road by 7:00 pm to head back to California. These kids seem to have enjoyed camping!

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3 Responses to Day 13: The Grand Canyon

  1. Ginger says:

    I remembered as soon as I started reading your post that Arizona and Indiana used to stand in solidarity when it came to resisting Daylight Savings Time. 🙂 Indiana caved in to the pressure a few years back, but the life-long Hoosiers still complain about DST. As a transplant to Indiana, I’m so thankful to finally be spared all the explaining that went along with having out of state relatives. But the way I see it, when you’re at the Grand Canyon, time is kind of relative and insignificant anyway.

    Glad to hear that the kids enjoyed camping so much! And Gray is so cute!!! I love her hat!! 🙂

  2. Becky Dorf says:

    The North Rim does NOT have buses yet, becoming a rare thing in the world of National Parks!

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