Grand Canyon to Lake Powell

[Almost] Too tired.

I slept terribly while at the Grand Canyon. This was due mostly to my room’s climate control — and my inability to set it properly. My room had a baseboard heater that seemed to take forever to warm up the room. I was asleep when it got to the temperature I’d set it to and the room got very dry and stuffy. I woke up and opened the window a crack to get some fresh air in. From that point on, the sound of the wind in the trees kept me from drifting back into a deep sleep.

As I tossed and turned, I was worried about how the forecasted high winds would affect our flight from GCN to PGA.

I finally gave up trying to sleep at about 5:30 AM, which is my normal waking time anyway. Sunrise was only moments away and I was only steps from the rim of the Grand Canyon, but I was too tired to rush out with my camera. Instead, I took my time dressing and getting some of my things together. El Tovar’s dining room opened at 6:30 and I wanted to get one of the first tables. I had plenty of time.

It turned out to be a good thing that I didn’t rush. I would have been disappointed — like that horde of photographers the evening before probably was. There was a huge, thick cloud on the eastern horizon. Sunrise had been a non-event — as it sometimes is at the Canyon — when the world brightened without dramatic colors or shadows. There’s soft light and then there’s really soft light.

Lookout StudioLookout Studio at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, in slightly delayed first sunlight.

When I started my walk to El Tovar, the sun was just peeking out over the top of this cloud. I had my camera with me and shot Lookout Studio and the Canyon beyond with some of that early morning light on it. I imagined — mostly through experience — all those photographers shivering for an hour or more at Mather Point or whatever the designated “best spot” for sunrises was, finally getting a few shots that showed off the canyon’s dawn colors.

I got a table for one at El Tovar where a waiter who is definitely in the wrong line of business “served” me. I won’t go into details, but I will mention that he was rude to me — twice. My mood had been cheerful, despite two consecutive nights of bad sleep, but he managed to bring it down a notch. My breakfast was good, though, and once I got the pity of another server, strong, hot coffee kept coming.

Back outside on the rim just after 7 AM, it was still quite deserted. I had three hours to kill before meeting my passengers. I killed it by checking the weather multiple times.

I use four different methods to check the weather while I’m traveling:

  • My new Blackberry Storm has a weather application called WeatherBug. I highly recommend this to anyone with a Blackberry. You set it up with predefined locations or let it get you the weather closest to your current position, using the GPS. The weather info seems to come from the National Weather service and is augmented with icons and other graphic elements that make it easy to read. On my previous phone, a Palm Treo, I used the Web browser to visit the National Weather Service’s mobile Web site where I got the same information with a bit more effort.
  • My phone has a directory of the airports I fly into programmed into it. I simply dial the number for the airport’s AWOS/ASOS system and get current conditions read to me. Want to try it? Here’s the number for Grand Canyon’s automated weather observation system (AWOS): 928-638-0672.
  • If I have a computer with an Internet connection — which I can usually get via dial-up networking on my smartphone — I can check the DUATS.com Web site. This is a lot of weather information — usually a lot more than I need — but it is an official source of weather for pilots.
  • If I’m really concerned about the weather, I can call 800-WX-BRIEF and talk to a briefer. I’ll be the first to admit that I rarely do this. The information available to briefers is the same information that I can get from DUATS. Most of it is of interest to airplane pilots flying at altitudes I’ll never reach, traveling distances farther than I usually travel. But this is another official source of weather. And on one occasion I can remember quite clearly, a briefer helped me find my way over a mountain range that was clouded in.

On Tuesday, I mostly used the first two methods: getting the forecast and hearing the current conditions at GCN and PGA. Although PGA had high winds forecasted for later in the day, the winds remained calm at each call. GCN was another story. Each call brought a report of higher and higher winds. By the time I was ready to meet my passengers, winds were 22 mph gusting to 29. The forecast called for gusts up to 50 later in the day.

We were at the airport and climbing into the helicopter by 10:15 AM. My passengers waited inside while I preflighted. After adding some oil, I climbed on board and started up. I was parked exactly perpendicular to the wind, so my initial pick up into a hover wasn’t as pretty as I would have liked. But when I pointed it into the wind, I had no trouble getting airborne. We turned to the southeast to exit the GCN airspace and begin skirting around the Grand Canyon Special Flight Rules area. I had to keep the helicopter’s nose pointed about 15° off our path of flight to keep us in trim.

It was bumpy, but not nearly as bad as I’d expected. We dropped down off one plateau and then another. Soon we were flying over the Little Colorado River Gorge, heading northeast. We passed over a herd of wild horses at 500 feet and I asked my passengers whether they wanted me to circle back to see them better. They said they didn’t so I kept going.

We had a wicked tailwind. At one point, the GPS showed a ground speed of 152 knots. My airspeed never exceeded 110 knots.

At Page, I gave them a quick tour of Horseshoe Bend, the Glen Canyon Dam, and the Wahweap Marina, where my passengers would be staying. We had a bit of trouble landing at the airport because there was a plane in the pattern that kept changing its mind about what runway it would be using and I just couldn’t see it. (I will not approach an airport for landing unless I can see all of the planes in the pattern or there’s a controller to keep us separated from other traffic.) But we were finally on the ground about an hour after we’d left the Grand Canyon.

That same drive would have taken about 3 hours.

I had a lot of running around to do over the next few hours: taking my passengers to the marina for lunch and their boat tour, tying down the helicopter, having lunch, checking my passengers into their room and bringing up their luggage, checking into my motel in town.

I wasn’t staying at the marina. To make a decent amount of money on the excursions, I have to stay in more affordable places. So I stayed at the Page Boy in town. Not sure if I can recommend it. It was recently refurbished, but it still has that 1970s look about it. But it was $60 less per night than the the cheapest room at the marina. That’s $60 in my pocket. And I was too damn tired to enjoy the marina anyway.

Hedgehog Cactus
Hedgehog Cactus, in bloom.

One thing the Page Boy does have is a small but nicely landscaped desert garden around the pool. And that’s where I saw this hedgehog cactus, with more flowers on it than I thought possible. The flowers were a bright reddish orange and looked as if they were made of wax. I had to shoot a bunch of photos of it. I don’t think I’ll ever see a specimen this nice ever again.

I spent the afternoon trying to nap and not succeeding. I gave up at around 5:30 and went to get an ice cream. Then I went back to my room and watched entirely too much television on Hulu.com.

By 9 PM, I was sound asleep.

What do you think?