Grand Canyons, Vermillion Cliffs and Pipe Springs


31 July, 310 Miles

When we were working out where to go we’d discussed missing Grand Canyon as it was quite a bit out of our way. On reflection I decided we’d come all this way and if we didn’t visit Grand Canyon I’d feel a bit cheated. So Grand Canyon it was.

It was another early start and still it was stinking hot. I really don’t know how people live in this climate, I assume they must get used to it. We only had about thirty miles to go though so arrived at the visitor centre fairly fresh. The first port of call was, of course, the stamp then we went to have our first look at the Canyon.

In the 1930s, as the national parks really took off, a lady called Mary Colter created the ‘Indian Watchtower at Desert View’ which is a pastiche of Indian watchtowers she had researched. I must admit I didn’t realise the Indians had watchtowers.

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Our first glimpse of the canyon was breathtaking. Nothing prepares you for how big it is. Even the miles we had travelled in Utah (which is American for BIG) hadn’t helped. If you look carefully you can just about see the Colorado river in the middle of the picture – the tiny stream of cocoa. Unfortunately our photos don’t even begin to show the majesty and scale of this place.

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It wouldn’t be good to suffer from vertigo, it really is a lonnng way down.

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Even in this dry heat some trees still manage to cling on to the edge

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Kevin always likes to get to the edge for that extra special view

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We were visiting the South Rim of the canyon. I’m not sure whether it’s the same on the other side but you can’t actually see the canyon from the road, you have to pull into one of the view points. Some of these were extremely popular so we didn’t stop at all of them. As time rolled on the park got busier and I got more tired as we kept getting off and on the bike so we eventually turned round and headed back the way we came.

On the way in we’d spotted a viewpoint for a ‘Little Canyon’. We decided to stop there on the way out and we were glad we did. This is a tributary of the Colorado and, whilst it is on a tiny scale compared to the Grand Canyon, it was impressive as it was a much more sharply cut in the rocks; from the road you could see where it was carving its way through the landscape. In any other locality this would have been a grand canyon in its own right.

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Still continuing our quest for national parks our next stop was ‘Glen Canyon’ where the visitor centre appeared to have disappeared. It certainly wasn’t on the section of dug-up road the Zumo said it was. We turned into the road and started a u-turn at the ‘stop’ lady when we realised our error. A road worker in a pick-up truck decided he wasn’t going to wait for Kevin to finish the manoeuvre and reversed up the road in front of us. He wasn’t a very good driver and ended up stuck with at least one of his wheels hanging over a 6 foot drop where the road had been demolished. We left him and his mate to sort it out while we tried and failed not to laugh.

Kevin sent Dan a text saying we couldn’t find the visitor centre (Dan created the POIs we were using to find the National Park visitor centres and they have been invaluable). Bless him, Dan called us back and then spent about 10 minutes on the phone and his computer looking for it. It turned out to be in the ‘Interpretive Centre’ for the bridge just down the road. Thanks Dan! We’re still not quite sure why the fairly modern-looking bridge required interpreting but never mind.

We now had quite a long ride to our next stop which was Pipe Spring National Monument in Arizona and, contrary to what we were beginning to believe, not all the rocks in the area are red. I was quite surprised at the variety we saw on this journey, not only colours but shapes too.

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We continued through Arizona and passed the Vermillion Cliffs which can definitely be classified as ‘Red Rocks’.

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Eventually we were in Utah on a large plain and approaching Pipe Spring. We went into the visitor centre and as a tour was about to start we joined it (in fact we were the only two people on it) and had a really interesting look around ‘Winsor (sic) Castle’. James Whitmore, the original claimant for the land, and a herdsman were killed while trying to recover cattle stolen by Navajo Indians. Brigham Young bought the land from Whitmore’s widow and appointed Anson Perry Winsor as the first ranch manager. A fortified ranch house was mapped out in 1870 but by the time it was completed disputes with the Navajo had been resolved so the defences were never tested.

One of the things we learned was the position of the fort was such they could see anyone coming from the horizon, about 60 miles away on the Arizona Strip.

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The ranch prospered from 1871 until 1879 and had lots of grazing space for tithing herds (Mormon church members gave 10% of their income, often in the form of cattle, to the church). Regular deliveries of butter, cheese and cattle were made to St. George where workers were building a new Tabernacle. The park ranger was very knowledgeable and really warmed to her subject. Kevin was surprised I didn’t know but I hadn’t realised the Mormon church was started by a ‘Young’ (my maiden name).

The building was last inhabited in the 1920’s and our guide said she goes to church with the last person born there. Living history at its best.

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The grounds were very peaceful and I could imagine sitting out here meditating. I’m not sure that’s what actually happened as it sounded like everyone had a lot of work to do, including many female telegraph operators. We were told the Mormons had the highest percentage of female operators in the country.

Our next push was to get to Zion National Park where we arrived early evening and found a lovely hotel in Springdale to stop in. We had ridden quite a bit and decided we’d have a day off the bike and take advantage of the Zion shuttle bus to see the park. More of that in our next update.

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