Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Toroweap Thanks for Giving

Beginning in the high elevations of the San Francisco Peaks near our hometown of Flagstaff, to the low canyons of Zion and the Grand Canyon, Kristi and I got to enjoy a nice long fall here in the Southwest last year. We had just gotten back from a trip to Zion when I had another trip planned, this time to the remote and rugged Toroweap area of the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Our preferred method of travel is the restored and retrofitted 76 VW camper, but this trip would probably see the van's demise. The rugged and unimproved sandy road to the rim is notably tough. The warnings from the park service state that a high clearance vehicle, spare tires and extra gas and water were highly recommended. Agreed, the last 10 miles were definitely an adventure. 70 miles from the nearest town, you don't want to be unprepared. The National Park Service maintains the small area, with composting toilets and a remote ranger station. They don't however, maintain the road.

I already serviced my 4Runner, and outfitted it with brand new BFGs with an extra thick sidewall. We packed the truck with gear and water then headed off. Kristi wasn't looking forward to the five hours sitting in the car, but I was determined to spend Thanksgiving far from any stores, commercials or Christmas consumerism that America bombards it's citizens with during the holiday season. I can remember driving through the area ever since I was about twelve years old. Back then I was bored to death and it seemed like an eternity to get to where we were going. Now as I drive through there I see nothing but photographic opportunities. I dream of the day when I can stop at every wide spot in the road and capture the amazing light bouncing off the red canyon walls. Too many photos to little time. Kristi, however, was bored to tears. I handed her my iPhone with some movies, and she settled down while I drove through the dreamscape that is Northern Arizona. We made decent time and arrived at the Canyon at about three thirty that afternoon. There were a few campers at the Tuweap campground when we got there, but the sense of quiet solitude was still present. We chose a nice spot facing the afternoon sun, just below a ridge of strange orb like formations. We immediately settled down, and tuned into the quiet. For four days we'd be gazing at the wide views, and listening to the gentle breeze.

There were only a few trails there, mostly along the rim. We carefully explored each one, analyzing the best viewpoints for later visits during sunset or sunrise. We were there undoubtedly for the photographic opportunity, but more importantly to relax and unwind. Sometimes photographers end up living through their lenses and not actually spending time absorbing the energy or the wildness of a place. Sure I made some images, but they mostly were squeezed in at the beginning or the end of the day. There was plenty of time to hike around and explore during the middle. We even played a few hours of Frisbee on a flat red slick rock near camp. After taking a couple of shots of the orb like rock formations, I got the impulse to set up a night shot. I had been watching the moon cast it's silvery light the night before and calculated that about 2:30 it would illuminate the rock and the canyon. I set my alarm, but like the many times before awoke shortly before it actually went off. I composed the shot, set my remote timer, and laid back down for the hour. Laying there staring at the stars I floated in an out of day dreams. Crickets and the gentle flap of the tent door were the only sounds....except... what was that? It was a sort of plastic rustling sound, and it was coming from the truck. My curiosity was piqued. I grabbed my flashlight and popped the hood to find a large mouse weaving in and out of the fan belts.

I wasn't sure I scared it off sufficiently, so decided to start the truck (if the wiring hadn't been chewed through). It started, but I stirred Kristi and had to explain we were being attacked by killer mice with death wishes. No doubt they were attracted by some coolant that had seeped around the hoses. I went back to sleep but with one eye open.  Wouldn't want to be mauled alive without a little warning. I came away with a couple of sunrise, and sunset shots plus a night shot and a couple of other flora shots. But the time outdoors watching the light and gazing into the deep canyon was what was really needed. Incidentally we were there during the first flooding of the canyon by the Glen Canyon Dam. They decided to let an enormous amount of water from the dam so it would create or recreate some beaches and mimic the ebb and flow of the river floods prior to the building of the dam.  From the rim you couldn't tell how much water was there, but I didn't have anything to compare it to.  They did continue the river trips, as we spent some time watching the rafts float their way down to Lava Falls. The weather here in Northern Arizona is usually really nice around Thanksgiving and I make a concerted effort to get outdoors, wherever it may be. Thanks Toroweap, for giving me a great Thanksgiving!

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