Sunset at the Grand Canyon

Every time we visit a great national monument or natural wonder there is always some person or group of people that is annoyingly loud and obnoxious. On a trip like ours, you get used to them and just shake your head. The Grand Canyon was no exception. When we arrived at the South Rim at sunset, there were several tour buses unloading and teenagers and know-it-alls blabbing and shouting away. What was different at the Grand Canyon was that once you approached the rim, everyone became calm and quiet. The people that seconds early had been speaking with raised voices now spoke in whispers. It was like you had entered a church sanctuary as the minister was praying. The sunset over the Canyon caused everyone in its presence to be completely awestruck.

Watchtower at sunrise

The next morning, Heidi and I woke up at 4am to drive to the East Rim and see the sunrise. Just as beautiful as the sunset, it rose up and changed the colors and shadows all across the massive gorge before us. We videoed a good bit and took dozens of photos and can’t wait to show you what we saw. Very inspiring.

Our one regret about visiting the Grand Canyon is that we didn’t hike any. The reason was that to hike down into the Canyon they recommend a full day to go one direction and we didn’t have that sort of time on our hands. I believe that sometime in the future we will plan a 4-5day vacation dedicated solely to visiting this wonder of the world.

Petrified Forest National Park

The next natural wonder we saw was the Petrified Forest. By calling it a forest they conjure up images of whole standing trees when really it is a desert with hundreds of remnants of trees broken and scattered about. I guess the Petrified Logs gets too many crass jokes from the kids (and me). The trees are very neat though; some are completely crystallized and have great vibrant colors. Again, many a photo was taken by Heidi and myself. Funny thing that one of us often goes to frame a shot when the other says “oh, I just took that”. We basically subconsciously compete with each other for the best compositions – hence being dubbed “Dueling Hauns” by our friend Ed Martin.

With the massive logs behind us (sorry, had to do it) we arrived at the Valley of Fires late at night and set up camp. I love waking up in the morning with no idea where you are because you arrived there in total darkness. This morning was awesome. We woke up and realized we were on an island in the middle of an ancient lava flow field. All around us cactus and sagebrush grew out of the charred, jagged black rocks. This lava flow is 127 square miles large and is only about 5000 years old. Being no mountains nearby, they believe it rose out of vents in the desert floor.

Jumping at White Sands

Our next stop was one of our favorites – White Sands National Monument. Our mistake was planning our arrival at high noon, but the 110 degree heat aside, we had a blast. With F-117a stealth fighters booming overhead (this place is right by the Missile Range where the first atomic bomb was dropped) we spent a good hour running and jumping off pristine white dunes into the sand. If you visit our website we have (way too many) photos of us jumping and jumping… and jumping some more. Our second mistake was that running and jumping in 110 degree heat causes you to sweat a good bit – and rolling in fine sand while covered in sweat causes it to stick a good bit.

Bat Flight at Carlsbad

Our original plan was to see Carlsbad Caverns on the New Mexico/Texas border that evening and then drive all night to San Antonio. It turned out to be a blessing that we arrived too late to visit the caves. We did arrive just in time to watch the bat flight and then got a motel (showers!!!!) and saw the caves in the morning. The bat flight was surreal. Hundreds of thousands of bats swirling out of an opening in the ground at a rate of over 5000 bats a minute. They had a distinctive pattern where they would come up and out of the opening in a counter-clockwise swirl that looked like a tornado. Then, still massed together in a black cloud, they streamed off into the east to eat what the Ranger said would be 3-4 tons of insects throughout the night.

One interesting thing was that the Ranger instructed everyone to be quiet as the bats flew out and not to use flash photography. Do you know that “Awwww” sound we make when we see or hear about something tragic? For example, the one you probably let out when you read the subject of this email. One of the park visitors accidentally fired off a flash and the crowd let out a loud “Awwww” full of sympathy for our hairy, flying, blood-sucking friends. You’d of thought someone had just drop-kicked a kitten. With bats being nearly blind and relying on their incredible sense of hearing to fly, I honestly think the loud cry from the crowd was more disturbing to them than the 99cent disposable camera flash.

I’ll wait for the next email to tell you about our Harley-Davidson sub-sandwich and the perils of a broken fuel gauge in your car.

Until then, avoid making those petrified log jokes,

William and Heidi

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