Category: Travel

Where Far East Meets Grand Canyon West

When people plan a visit to the Grand Canyon, they usually make a choice between the North Rim or the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. But this wonder of the world can also be seen without the National Park Service playing host.

If you go to Grand Canyon West.

Grand Canyon West is hosted by the Hualapai Indian tribe. Hualapai (pronounced Whollop-Eye) means People of the Tall Pines. For centuries the Hualapai’s have lived and and died in these majestic lands skirting the southwestern rim of the Grand Canyon. And here they’ve been confined to the Hualapai reservation since the 1800’s.

Great Seal of the Hualapai Tribe.

Great Seal of the Hualapai Tribe.

Not only has the Grand Canyon separated them from the rest of our country, but so has a deep chasm of poverty. At least until the 1980’s. That’s when they came up with a grand plan to raise a few bucks. They designed and built a tourist trap facility, called Grand Canyon West. And now, over the past 30 years, these clever and enterprising Native Americans have been growing in prosperity, while attracting unsuspecting tourists from all over the world.

Hualapai Indian dancer.

Hualapai Indian dancer.

My wife and I were two such unsuspecting tourists, just a few days ago. Well actually, we did suspect a few things. We read the Yelp reviews. These mixed reviews led us to approach with caution. We only paid the basic entrance fee of $40.00 per person, and decided against paying the extra $20.00 to walk on their famous Skywalk, or the extra $10.00 to eat their famous beef mush, or the extra $187.00 to take their famous five-minute helicopter ride combo 20-minute pontoon boat splash.

We’re oh so grateful for those reviews and our caution. Overall, we enjoyed ourselves, but I must say our experience was just like the Yelp reviews. It was mixed.

The barely visible rim hinting of the Grand Canyon below, from Hualapai Ranch.

The barely visible rim hinting of the Grand Canyon below, from Hualapai Ranch.

We drove two hours from our beachhead at the gambling town of Laughlin, Nevada. The drive was a bit confounding. I could not get my GPS to find their address, so I had to guess on the waypoint. Signage along the way helped out, until we got deep into the heart of the Arizona wilderness. That’s when, for some strange reason, the Hualapai’s decided to stop putting up those friendly helpful signs guiding us to their place of business.

We sweated it out for quite a stretch, wondering if we should have turned down that other road 30 or so miles back. But then we saw some tourist buses heading in our same direction and that gave us the reassurance we needed.

A waiting taxi, at Hualapai Ranch.

A waiting taxi, at Hualapai Ranch.

Parking was plentiful and easy. However, this was a Tuesday. And with such available parking, my wife and I began congratulating ourselves on how clever we were for planning this trip during the middle of the week, where we could beat the crowds. But what we failed to remember was those tourist buses.

Those buses were loaded with Japanese tourists, who had been brought in for a day trip from Las Vegas, where they had been vacationing. And there were hundreds and hundreds of these selfie-stick-toting Asians.

Many headed straight for the heliport, forming a long queue. And there were dozens of helicopters swirling in and out, their twirling blades chopping the air with a cacophany of “whollop-eye-whollop-eye-whollop-eye”.

The grounds were hurly-burly with scrambling tourist guides barking out loud commands in Japanese to their Asian minions, over the obstreperous machinery of the whirlybirds.

Can you spot the helicopter?

Can you spot the helicopter?

But not all the Japanese wanted to ride in helicopters. Several hundreds of them were wise enough to opt for the same basic ticket package that my wife and I went for. This package included unlimited riding on the shuttle buses that take you from point to point to all the attractions at Grand Canyon West.

There are three attractions.

We crowded onto a bus that may as well have been in downtown Tokyo. And what I’ve heard about so-called Japanese rudeness was confirmed on this and other buses. I don’t think they mean to be rude. But Japan is a crowded island. The Japanese have apparently developed the survival habit of fighting amongst each other to board their public transportation, such as trains, subways, and buses. It was every man, woman, and child for themselves.

Hualapai Ranch. Does this look like a ranch to you?

Hualapai Ranch. Does this look like a ranch to you?

Our first stop was Hualapai Ranch. As my wife and I, and all the Far Eastern visitors aboard our bus attempted to debouch, Japanese tourists outside attempted to board, without waiting for us to get off. This impoliteness made for a calamitous and comical exercise of people squeezing past each other from opposite directions, sometimes throwing each other back, and sometimes surging forward, like receding and advancing waves of soldiers involved in hand-to-hand combat.

After claiming victory in this battle by successfully debussing, my wife and I set off to explore our conquered territory. But we were disappointed. Hualapai Ranch was really nothing but a fake ghost town with a souvenir shop, horseback riding stable, and other businesses whose prime aim was to loosen up our wallets. We didn’t stay long.

"Lissen you low-down yellow-bellied skunk. I'll meet you in the middle of this here street at HIGH noon, an' we'll settle our beef once an' fer all!" Wasn't that a line in a movie?

“Lissen you low-down yellow-bellied skunk. I’ll meet you in the middle of this here street at HIGH noon, an’ we’ll settle our beef once an’ fer all!” I found Hualapai Ranch kind of inspiring. It made me want to write a Western.

We raced for the bus stop and managed to be first in line. Well, it kind of resembled a line. Though we planted our feet exactly where we expected the bus door to open when the next shuttle would arrive, crafty Japanese began to encroach on both sides. When the approaching shuttle bus was descried, our Asian competitors hurried forward, threatening to overwhelm our position.

But then a loud war cry erupted from a stentorian Hualapai standing nearby. He gruffly ordered the tourists to fall back and form a line behind us. He was very authoritarian and even wore a uniform. This was the magic touch that was needed. Apparently the Japanese greatly respect authority, because everyone in the crowd obeyed instantly. And the bus was boarded in a polite and orderly manner.

View from Eagle Point.

View from Eagle Point.

Off we rolled to Eagle Point. Eagle Point is the locale of the famous Skywalk. The Skywalk is a loop of plexiglass-floored walkway that extends from a cliffside building out over the Grand Canyon. For 20 bucks, tourists can tread upon it, and pretend they are walking on air. However cameras are not allowed. You must leave your camera and all other personal items behind, in a locker, before you are allowed on the Skywalk.

According to the Yelp reviews, you will be stalked by professional photographers with every step you take upon the Skywalk. They will snap many pictures of you, and for a mere $50 to a $100, you can buy these photos. This apparently is why you aren’t allowed to take your own camera with you on the Skywalk.

They want your money.

The Skywalk at Eagle Point. Notice the tourists up there running from photographers?

The Skywalk at Eagle Point. If you look carefully, you may notice tourists up there running from photographers.

But we didn’t pay for such nonsense. And the view of the Grand Canyon at Eagle Point is spectacular, whether or not you walk the Skywalk.

The third and final stop of the shuttle bus was at Guano Point. We were herded like cattle onto this bus, and it was standing room only for hapless stragglers. My wife found the last seat, but I had to hang onto a bar, while being crushed between two grim-faced Asian men who clung to the same bar.

The Colorado River from Guano Point.

The Colorado River from Guano Point.

Guano Point is the site of an old guano mine. You can hike about a half mile out to the mine, over a promontory that juts into the Grand Canyon. There are many vantage points along this route for snapping breathtaking photos of the Colorado River.

Looking upriver from Guano Point.

Looking upriver from Guano Point.

After Guano Point we were anxious to get the hell out of this tourist trap. We had spent about two-and-a-half hours at Grand Canyon West, and that was enough for us. Besides, we’d seen all there was to see.

Remains of the guano mine at Guano Point. An Air Force jet put this mine out of commission in 1960, when its tail clipped a cable that spanned the width of the Canyon.

Remains of the guano mine at Guano Point. An Air Force jet put this mine out of commission in 1960, when its tail clipped a cable that spanned the width of the Canyon.

All-in-all, I’d say it was worth doing this as a one-time experience. But my wife and I agree that we will never go back again. It’s too crowded and too touristy for us. And there are only two viewpoints.

But I must admit they are great views. And it’s the only place where you get to see the tail-end of the Grand Canyon, just a few miles before the Colorado River empties into Lake Mead.

Northern rim of the Grand Canyon, from Guano Point.

Northern rim of the Grand Canyon, from Guano Point.

If you decide to visit this tourist trap, don’t expect to have a one-with-nature kind of experience. There are just too many people and there’s too much noise from all the helicopters whirring about. But bring your camera. I guarantee you’ll have a great time snapping lots of stunning photos.

Except, of course, on the Skywalk.

The view seems like it's just  about as good off the Skywalk, as on. And the photography is free.

The view seems like it’s just about as good off the Skywalk, as on. And the photography is free.

The Hoodoos of Bryce

Black Birch Canyon.

Bryce Canyon is actually many canyons. Or they can be more accurately described as natural amphitheaters. This is a view of Black Birch Canyon.

Our next stop for my wife and me in our road trip through Utah this month, was Bryce Canyon National Park. The chief attraction at Bryce is tall columns of orange rock. These columns resemble petrified unicorn horns to me, but they’re actually called hoodoos. I guess they looked like hoodoo dolls to whoever named them.

Black Birch Canyon.

Another view of Black Birch Canyon. The many natural amphitheaters can be viewed by driving an 18-mile long road through the national park, and stopping at viewpoints. There are also several hiking trails.

Hoodoo dolls are a wicked fantasy. It’s a dark dream we all share at some time or another, to make those who’ve caused us suffering feel the same pain we feel. Throughout our lives we’ve been dealt a host of harms, both real and imagined, from a bunch of assholes. And sometimes we sure would love to pay them back.

Bristlecone Trail.

A view from Bristlecone Trail. The Bristlecone Trail is over 9,000 feet up, at the very end of the road. Most of the park is over 8,000 feet in elevation. (That’s 2,400 meters, for you Canucks.)

Wouldn’t it be nice to raise your abusive parents, and make them suffer at your mercy? Or how about blasting your loud, rap-music neighbors with 150 decibels of Slim Whitman hits? Or what if you could force TSA agents to work barefoot and without belts?

Bristlecone Trail.

View from the Bristlecone Trail. The Paiute Indians thought the hoodoos were the Legend People who, according to mythology, were turned to stone by the mythological character Coyote. Now there’s some ancient revenge for you. The Paiute term for hoodoos was Anka-ku-was-a-wits, which means “red painted faces.” This rhymes with Manischewitz, which is a sweet red beverage that can also get you stoned.

Revenge has a sweet taste. But Gandhi said that if we practice an eye-for-an-eye, the whole world will go blind. Darn you Gandhi for spoiling all the fun, with your great wisdom! If I could only come up with some wise retort for you, you’d know how I feel right now.

Bristlecone Trail.

Yet another view from the Bristlecone Trail. I managed to hike this one-mile path. The extreme altitude left me almost as breathless as the views.

Empathy is what peaceniks recommend over things like hoodoo dolls. It ain’t easy to practice, and it ain’t always pretty, but the sad truth is that it does redound in better long-term results. For instance, feeling the pain that drives the assholes of our lives to harm us, helps us to understand our enemies. And as a smart strategist once recommended, “Know your enemy.”

Natural Bridge.

This natural bridge reminds us of the connections we can form with our enemies when we stop relying on hoodoo magic.

The Buddha spoke of the Simile of the Saw. He taught that if some mean dudes are holding you down while sawing off your limbs, it is best not to think ill of them. Instead, wish them to be well, peaceful, and happy.

Natural Bridge.

Bryce Canyon is named after the Mormon settler, Ebenezer Bryce, who briefly homesteaded here. He tried to raise cattle, but the livestock kept getting lost amongst the hoodoos. After this and other difficulties, he moved away in 1880. I would have stayed and found a new vocation.

Well, peaceful, and happy?! Bullshit, right? Instead, you might rather flip them off, if only you had fingers left to do so. But just think, if these droogs were peaceful they wouldn’t be sawing your limbs off in the first place. And then you wouldn’t mind if they were well and happy.

Rainbow Point.

View from Rainbow Point, at 9,105 feet.

The hoodoos of Bryce are beautiful to admire. But be careful of their allure. Avoid the steep cliffs at their base. Revenge is a treacherous precipice, with ineluctable gravity. It only pulls you down.

Rainbow Point.

Another stunning vista from Rainbow Point.

So we gave the hoodoos a wide berth, and observed them from a distance. We avoided the edge and kept our feet on solid ground. And the temptations of the hoodoos were supervened by this one wish:

Yovimpa Point.

View from Yovimpa Point. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument can be seen in the distance, below.

That all living beings would be well, peaceful, and happy.

A Little Piece of Heaven

My wife and I went unicorn hunting a few weeks ago. That is, we went on a 7-day road trip. We motored through the scenic wonderland of the great states of Utah and Arizona. It was a successful hunt, as we captured a number of those elusive one-horned critters along the way.

View of Zion Canyon, from Weeping Rock. Yep, plenty of unicorns to be found here.

View of Zion Canyon, from Weeping Rock. Yep, plenty of unicorns to be found here.

Our first stop was Zion National Park. Zion was originally named Mukuntuweep National Monument. Mukuntuweep is a Paiute Indian word meaning “straight-up land” or “straight arrow”, or straight something or other. We were lucky, as we were not shot by any straight arrows as we toured the region.

Looking straight up the canyon walls, near the River trail.

Looking straight up the canyon walls, near the River trail.

A Mormon rancher, who apparently couldn’t speak Paiute, renamed the area Little Zion, with the idea that it resembled a little piece of heaven. This got me wondering what heaven really is.

I passed at least one kidney stone last week. For me, heaven is not having kidney stones. Or better yet, heaven is having good health in general.

Court of the Patriarchs. From left to right, these peaks are called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They all suffered from kidney stones, and therefore had these rocks named after them.

Court of the Patriarchs. From left to right, these peaks are called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They all suffered from kidney stones, and therefore had these rocks named after them.

The Virgin River passes through Zion National Park, and some say that heaven is having 72 virgins. But I say, how long will they remain virgins? Heaven for these men is very short-lived, unless they suffer from erectile dysfunction. Besides, virgins make lousy lovers. They’re bashful, and you have to show them how to do everything.

The Virgin River. This river is renowned as a favorite swimming spot for young ladies and old maids.

The Virgin River. This river is renowned as a favorite swimming spot for young ladies and old maids.

For me, heaven is having one lover, and one only. Lovers can cause headaches, you know. Just one is enough for me. And a lover who you can communicate and work well with can be very useful in a unicorn hunt. But just try coordinating a hunt with 72 giggling girls. It can never work.

A closer view of the Virgin River, looking as pure and innocent as ever. But I'm skeptical. When I got real close I spotted some tadpoles.

A closer view of the Virgin River, looking as pure and innocent as ever. But I’m skeptical. When I got real close I spotted some tadpoles.

For the Mormon that named this area, heaven was beautiful scenery. I’ll go along with that. My wife and I love the beauty of Zion National Park. In fact, this was our fourth visit.

Our first visit was brief, as we just drove through it like a Mukuntuweep straight arrow. My wife was behind the wheel, and she was so impressed by the scenery that she would stop in the middle of the highway and back up traffic. She had a hard time keeping her eyes on the road, and at times I feared she would drive off a cliff. For her, the beautiful scenery was heaven. For me it was a living hell.

Checkerboard Mesa. Wouldn't this be the perfect spot to build a Senior Citizen Center?

Checkerboard Mesa. Wouldn’t this be the perfect spot to build a Senior Citizen Center?

We’ve since learned to enjoy Zion in safer ways. And our memories of this unique canyon are the unicorns we captured. Too bad we couldn’t remain in this little piece of heaven. But there were more unicorns waiting down the road . . .

"Depths of Poison" Book 2

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