Drinking In All the Wonders of America's Western Desert
The sand will never leave my shoes. Repeated shakings, wipings and remonstrances have done little to relieve my tired feet of the grit. And I haven't been remotely close to the beach.
Instead, I spent part of my vacation slogging through what is best described as Arizona desert.
Back from my annual excursion with NatureScene, I admit that views of the Grand Canyon are indeed mind-boggling. But then, so are canyons in Bryce and Zion national parks, along with Antelope and Red canyons.
It was Antelope Canyon that brought on the sand.
First, they loaded us into heavy-duty pickup trucks for a tooth-jarring jaunt through thick sand to the slot canyon, with its spirals and looming "chimneys" pouring slender streams of light into darkness. Our genial Navajo guide stopped periodically to help with our photography. No doubt, it was a breeze for the National Geographic crew that featured Antelope Canyon several years ago.
It was a hot walk through sand to reach the entrance to Antelope Canyon, hence the shoe problem.
Such experiences are common on NatureScene tours. It's not that we don't see the same sights other tourists enjoy, it's just that we pick up information not available to others. That's because we have Rudy Mancke, the naturalist who produced the NatureScene show on South Carolina public television for many years. He takes us behind the scenes to meet birds, insects, animals, flowers and trees otherwise missed.
Take the vain raven, for example. The big black bird posed on the rock railing at Ponderosa Point, where we stopped to view Agua Canyon. Of course, the bird was suspiciously tame, and Rudy finally pointed out that he had become accustomed to treats from hundreds of tourists. It's against the law to feed wildlife in national parks.
I didn't toss him crackers but did take his picture.
By the time we reached the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, I must confess that my awe was dimmed by the sheer spectacle of the canyons at Bryce and Zion. The vivid colors, the arches and bridges, the hoodoos poking up at odd angles, the unbelievable formations, all are reminders that Mother Nature has her own way of structuring our landscape and our history.
In the simmering heat, at elevations above 10,000 feet, we spotted snow on peaks and in niches below us, ancient openings carved through the eons by wind, rain and ice, the colors shading from white to red, orange and brown.
A visit to Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam brought us back to the reality that mankind does tinker with nature. The dam is the second-largest on the Colorado River and generates power and stores water for a huge chunk of Arizona.
After euphoric views of canyons and other spectacular scenery, it was -sobering to return to the post-9/11 -reality at the dam and power plant, where Homeland Security ordered us to divest ourselves of just about -everything except cameras, billfolds and water bottles. We could take -pictures of the dam, the lake and the river, but not of our guide or security guards.
Incidentally, our guide was a Navajo woman who speaks the native tongue. She kindly used English for our benefit.
A day later, we were treated to a refreshing float down the Colorado River.
At a remote visitor center smack in the middle of the desert, we saw dinosaur bones and fantastic paleontological artworks. It was fun to meet Merle Graffam, a park ranger and -amateur paleontologist who discovered the fossilized toe bone of an animal later identified as a therizinosaur of the Late Cretaceous Era and named in Graffam's honor. It was the first time I had ever met someone whose name is lent to a scientific family.
Mule deer, pronghorn, lizards, toads, a snake fly, prickly poppy, flax, Gambel oaks, the list goes on. At last count, Rudy's bird list numbered 77.
Contact Florence Gilkeson by e-mail at florence@thepilot. com.
More like this story