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Saturday, 26 November 2022

Travel Biography - Week 24 - Pictorial.

This week, we spent two days and a night at East Grinstead, West Sussex. This was for my beloved wife, Alex, to attend a two-hour academic appointment at a hospital. Each journey consisted of two train rides, with a change of platform at Clapham in London. However, on the return journey, there were significant engineering works on the London Victoria to Brighton line, which meant that our train was diverted to London Bridge in Southwark, on the South Bank of the River Thames. With no other trains running due to an industrial dispute, the only way we could further our journey towards home was to walk along the riverside to London Waterloo, where another train took us to our hometown of Bracknell several hours later than originally scheduled.

Fortunately, at my wife's suggestion, I brought my camera with me. Although no photos were taken of East Grinstead, I was fortunate enough to arrive at the River Thames at the peak of its spring tide, where the water level was almost above street level. At one point, a breach in the safety barrier allowed the river water to trickle through the wall and flow along the sidewalk towards a nearby drain.

No doubt, this very unusual phenomenon would have fired up the imaginations of Hollywood! Surely, a disaster movie could be made beginning with such a trickle, to end with much of London underwater, with just the clock of Big Ben, the pyramid roof of Canary Wharf, the summit of the Shard, and the upper floors of the NatWest Bank tower being the only clues of man's achievements still remaining above the surface. Indeed, marine life would gaze with astonishment at the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater, and the Walkie-Talkie buildings, and wonder just how addle-headed these humans, these Masters of Creation, really were.

As this is a Travel Blog, the 24th week in all, nevertheless, it was my beloved Alex, and not I, who suggested taking the camera for the entire trip. So much about having travel experience! Hmm! As I sit here and type away, I now regret not taking any pics of the trickle. Maybe because it was so minute, so insignificant. Instead, I was more impressed by how close some swans were to the camera and the dazzling coloured lights of a few trees. Ah, photography. It's all about the beauty of beholding to the eye.

South Bank, London.

The unusually high tide of the Thames.

Evening Scene of the City.

Swans ply the Thames.

In comparison with Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Paris, Rome, and even Jerusalem, London will always have a place in my heart. As documented in Week 1, I was born in London and I grew up near the River Thames. Pimlico was and still is, a handsome district of Westminster, and an area I never regretted living in. As these photos show, I still visit my former home:

Around 2 years old.

And here am I, some 67 years later, at the same address.

Somewhere in between, as a late teenager.

I grew up. New York 1978, aged 25.

Here are some of my classic pics of different locations:

Paris, I visited several times.

By contrast, at Niagara Falls in 1977.

At the Star of Bethlehem, 1976.

Fishing boats in the Sea of Galilee, 1976.

Orthodox Jews welcoming the Sabbath, Western Wall, 1993.

Deep inside a 2,700-year-old tunnel under the Canaanite City.

Inside the Statue of Liberty's head, 1978.

I arrived in New York, in 1995. My hotel view.

At the Great Salt Lake, Utah, 1977.

San Francisco, 1977.

These are just a few of my photos taken throughout my travelling life, according to what I had written so far. But as I progress with the diary, photos of scenes I have so far not mentioned will appear in future blogs.

Due to our late arrival home from East Grinstead, I was not able to write a full blog as I normally do on a Saturday. But next week, I shall resume my journey across the USA in 1978.
Next Week: The journey continues to New Orleans, Miami Beach, and back to New York.

Saturday, 19 November 2022

Travel Biography - Week 23.

Before Leaving Los Angeles...

If I had a daughter still living at home, or for that matter, already flown the nest to attend college, then after graduating, announces that she wants to do some backpacking abroad for a gap year before settling down, how would I feel? Most likely happy for her, but not without a father-to-daughter talk about some people to avoid. Indeed, like any loving parent, my concern for her would always be in the back of my mind.

I remember reading a true-story book which I borrowed from a friend. Although this was many years ago, I had never forgotten its contents. The titular was an English female graduate I shall call Anne. She, like me, was backpacking around the USA, when she was chatted to by a couple of other women in the street of downtown Los Angeles. She was then escorted into an upstairs room where a thin weasely man delivered a lecture to a congregation of people of similar age. Is this beginning to look a little familiar?

Anne was immediately impressed, and she made a choice to go with the group to a mansion in the mountainous countryside, a beautiful spot away from any urban sprawl. Thus the group, officially known as part of the Unification Church, sounded very much like any other Christian denomination.

Mass wedding ceremonies were mandatory in the Unification Church.

However, it wasn't until she had arrived at the remote mansion that she heard of Sun Myung Moon, the founder of the church, for the first time. During the introductory lecture, like the one I attended in 1978, no leader claiming to be the Second Coming of Christ was mentioned in the preaching. When I paid attention to the lecture, not only had I found it dull and lacklustre, but something about it wasn't right. So I began to put him to the test of his beliefs by asking whether Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. He couldn't answer. Furthermore, I was escorted out of the room, down the stairs, and out into the street. To them, I was poison. Fortunately, there was still plenty of time to get to the Greyhound Bus Station and book a seat on an overnighter to San Francisco.

The Cult's Inner Brainwashing.

But Anne lapped it all up. After arriving at the mansion, she, along with the others in her group, was each assigned a mentor as a course of intense indoctrination began. Like the other new recruits, she was taught that when Jesus attempted to establish his kingdom here on earth, instead, his mission came to an abrupt end when he was crucified. So, nearly two millennia later, the Holy Spirit called a rather obscure South Korean to America to establish the kingdom of God, with an emphasis on uniting all the churches under one spiritual umbrella. Hence the Asian, Sun Myung Moon, was hailed as the Messiah and the Second Coming of Christ fulfilled.

With such beliefs, I am wondering how anyone with a sound mind can be sucked into such nonsense! Had I not been thrown out that evening, I would have run - and kept on running - even from the mansion, over the mountains until I found safety at the bus station. Yet, mostly the younger people by the thousands, students, in particular, are convinced and are taken in.

At the mansion, Anne was never alone, not even for a moment. Instead, her mentor stuck by her at all times. Even when household duties were assigned to her, she, along with all other recruits, was constantly monitored, thus preventing any free thinking or allowing any doubt to set in. Yet, she soaked it all in and became an ardent convert to the movement. She began to write letters to her mother back in the UK, expressing the glorious wonders of the Unification Church, also known as the Moonies, how the movement met all her desires and her ambitions, and how a large percentage of her fellow converts were former graduates. She described her new associates as being one of a happy family.

Her mother was immediately concerned for her. After some time spent swopping letters, she flew to Los Angeles where her daughter was based. There, she sought out a couple of deprogrammers, a private business to which she had to pay an exorbitant fee. After much searching around the city, she was spotted, but her mother was instructed to hide from her offspring's presence and not to show herself to her, or else the deprogramming would fail and her daughter would be further entrenched into the cult. However, the mother did manage to meet and speak to the initial lecturer about her daughter, and the distress he had brought to her own family. That night, at her hotel, she had a dream that as she was looking at the thin man, his face metamorphosed into a demonic entity.

Sun Myung Moon.

After weeks, perhaps months of effort, the two long-haired and bearded men managed to get through to Anne, and gradually, she began to see the true nature of her "family" and began to drift away from them. Only after was her mother revealed to her, and the two were locked in a tight embrace, much to the joy of the deprogrammer's success in their efforts. The book which tells it all was co-authored by both Anne and her mother.

Isn't this meant to be a travel biography? Why, then, am I writing all this? Because of my own encounter with the same group whilst I was in Los Angeles in 1978, and also, going by their description, the very same lecturer as the one I met was part of my own travel experience. Anne's encounter took place shortly after mine, I believe, around 1980, give or take. And so, I write all this to demonstrate how easily anyone who needs love, social acceptance, or an uplift in self-esteem, could fall into the clutches of mind-bending cults and isms especially whilst far from home.

All of that goes to show what the 1970s were like. A time of religious fervency, particularly among young people who were deluded by the work ethic, war, the machine society, and the established church. Like whenever I went to London on a Saturday. Every time I was at Oxford Street or Piccadilly Circus, there was this group of young men, around my own age, all dancing in a line, chanting the Hare Krishna mantra along with accompanying rhythmic clanging of cymbals, dedicated to Swami Vivekananda, a guru of the Hindu god Krishna. These men were very distinct from the rest of us in the way that all were shaven-headed and each wore colourful Indian gowns. During the rest of the week, they all lived together as a commune under a strict, regimental discipline imposed by their leaders. Their popularity and fame were enhanced by ex-Beatle George Harrison with his 1971 song, My Sweet Lord.

The Journey Continues.

After I was thrown out of the Unification Church building near Pershing Square in the heart of Los Angeles, I made my way to the Greyhound Bus Station, itself towered over by the upper floors of the Cecil Hotel, from where I vacated earlier that day. It was while boarding the Americruiser and settling down in my seat, chosen at random, that a young black man ordered me out of my seat to make space for his girlfriend.

Wow! If there was a time that I felt very unwelcome, I think that was here in Los Angeles. First, I was escorted out of a building by, I assume, a church elder or steward. And now, I'm ordered to leave the seat I had every right to occupy. The abrupt suddenness of the order stunned me into silence, and I immediately rose to take the seat directly behind. When his girlfriend took her place where I briefly sat, a quarrel erupted between them, with her disapproving of his action. At last! A sense of vindication.

I arrived in San Francisco the following morning, and after a wash-and-shave, I had breakfast at the Bus Station restaurant, as was the custom. After that, I found a suitable hotel just across the road from the terminus. This was very different from the previous year's visit when I boarded a BART train to Walnut Creek to stay with a friend from Italy. This time, I intended to remain in the city and check it out properly, as my friend had already returned to Italy before my 1978 arrival.

And so I did for the next few days. This includes an ascent up the Transamerica Pyramid, a 48-floor tower which was, until 2018, the tallest building in San Francisco and the 17th tallest in the USA. However, in 1978, the observation gallery was on the 27th floor before it closed to the public in 2001. Barely halfway up the slender pyramid, it still offered good views of the Bay Area, with Coit Tower taking prominence of the scenery seen from the north side, with Alcatraz Island beyond. From the east side, the view take in Oakland Bay Bridge as it crosses the bay and passes over Yerba Buena Island. 

The one issue that struck me was how the people populating San Francisco were somehow different from those in Los Angeles. Whilst those living in southern California were predominantly of Spanish origin, hence having a darker Mediterranean complexion, people in San Francisco were paler, more British or Norwegian. Also, it seemed cooler here than further south, with fog often clouding the Golden Gate Inlet.

That didn't stop me from crossing on foot the Inlet on the Golden Gate Bridge (which is painted a dull red, not gold) to reach Marin County on the other side, from where I have an amazing view of the city skyline seen from a distance.

Along with riding the famous cable cars, especially along the California Line that goes up and over Nob Hill. After arriving back home, a friend asked me whether I was acting fully British by sitting inside the car like a proper commuter on his way to the office. I blushed a little and gave only a nodding ascent. Not like many of the locals who stood on the outer ledge and hung on whilst the car was moving. 

By contrast, praying and meditating in Grace Cathedral on the summit of Nob Hill gave me a time of quietness and even solitude. Quite a contrast to the crowded ferry which set sail from Fisherman's Wharf, past Alcatraz Island with its fortress prison, to a neighbouring harbour town of Sausalito, located on the east coast of Marin County, where I spent an afternoon sauntering around.

A Hare Krishna street chant.

Indeed, on my own, I have seen far more of San Francisco than I did when I was staying at Walnut Creek in 1977. A city built on two hills, Russian Hill where the switchbacks of Lombard Street make a tourist attraction in its own right, and Nob Hill, crowned with Grace Cathedral, of an Anglican denomination and apparently, the principal church of the city. Other attractions I visited that year included Pier 39 and Union Square.

Indeed, I found the city of San Francisco more tourist-friendly than downtown Los Angeles, but that is not a discredit to the Southern Californian city. After all, nearby is Disneyland, along with Hollywood Studios. Then I visited Long Beach, a pleasant stretch of sandy beach sloping into the Pacific Ocean. The Los Angeles administration area also covers Santa Monica with its historically famous pier, which I visited in 1995.

By contrast, San Francisco is built on a natural peninsula, with the Pacific Ocean to the west, Bay Area to the north and east, and two prominent hills, giving views of the surrounding coastline. Marin County, a smaller peninsula north of the inlet, is taken up mostly by the Golden Gate Natural Recreation Area towards the west, and the harbour town of Sausalito on the east coast, facing into the bay. The Golden Gate Bridge, itself a tourist attraction, connects the two peninsulas, making the city and the bay one of the most unique places on Earth.

Next week, I shall be away on a hospital appointment for my wife as she attends a pre-op consultation. Thus by not being home in time to write another blog. Instead, I hope to publish a set of photos of what I have covered so far.

Saturday, 12 November 2022

Travel Biography - Week 22.

Summary of the Grand Canyon.

Hiking down into the Grand Canyon wasn't my original intention when I planned this 1978 trip to the States. My purpose was to arrive during the previous day's morning, spend several hours at the South Rim, and then take the bus back to Flagstaff to continue with the main journey.

But as a simple request was made about some details of the trailhead I had just seen, an announcement was made about a cancellation at Phantom Ranch, right at the bottom of the Canyon, and a bed was offered. I snapped up the offer without the slightest hesitation.

Although I have done plenty of walking in the first 25 years of my life, and probably enhanced by not owning or driving a car, backcountry hiking was something I never took seriously before, thus to be faced with a challenge as this one - basically, mountaineering in reverse, with its first descent, then the return ascent afterwards when the body is already tired from the downhill trek. For a first-timer, it was a plunge straight into the deep end.

Indian Gardens on the Tonto Plateau seen from South Rim

Yet, I managed it. I was happy and exuberant. After spending the remaining hours of the day at the South Rim, I boarded the Greyhound bus back to Flagstaff, knowing that I had a film in my camera which was full of undeveloped images that will be processed into slides once back at home. Little did I realise that I was in for an awful shock, a terrible disappointment that would alter the future of travel.

As I sat on the bus, I believed that I would never need to arrive at the Canyon again, as this was already my life's ambition fulfilled. Instead, I could spend hours putting on slide shows in my apartment, whether it's for friends or family members or just to revitalise my memories and stir the feeling of nostalgia. Also, my interest in the geology of the Canyon began at that point. I wanted to learn more about it, how it got there, and in particular, whether the mesas, buttes, and pinnacles I have seen close up, have names.

Independent Travel. What a difference this is in comparison with the 1972 package holiday to Spain, only to get thoroughly stoned out of my wits with cheap wine, and then wake up in the morning from sleeping in the hotel bathtub soaked in vomit. What a far cry all this is!

To reiterate: My first independent trip to Italy in 1973 included a visit to Pompeii to see the excavation of a city destroyed by the AD 79 volcanic eruption of what was then Mt Somma. This was followed by a hike to the summit of the volcano itself, now Mt. Vesuvius, to gaze into the gaping hole of its crater. After that, a trip to Israel in 1976 to visit the Old City of Jerusalem, experience Middle Eastern culture, as well as to wade through a 2,700-year-old tunnel dug out of solid rock under the ancient Canaanite city. In addition, stroll alongside, and even swim in the Sea of Galilee made famous by the ministry of Jesus Christ in the locality some 2,000 years earlier.

And then, my first transatlantic flight in 1977 to Toronto to visit Niagara Falls, followed by a visit to Chicago, on the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Further on, a swim in the Great Salt Sea in Utah, and the fulfilment of my dream to visit California, inspired by watching Hollywood movies. This was finally rounded up by looking across Lake Superior from the Greyhound bus as it journeyed towards Toronto along the Canadian coastline.

And a year later in 1978, now, my two-day experience at the Grand Canyon. An experience that will remain with me for life.

Arrival in Los Angeles.

The bus pulled into Flagstaff Bus Station and here, I retrieved my suitcase from the left luggage locker and reserved a seat on the next bus bound for Los Angeles. Another overnighter and I arrive at the terminal around breakfast time. I recognise the bus station from the previous visit a year earlier. During the seventies, the Greyhound shared the building with the local bus, the latter I took for a ride to Disneyland, and in 1978, also to Long Beach. The bus terminal was located on South Los Angeles Street and 6th Street before it closed down during the 1980s and relocate to East 7th Street, a couple of miles away, where I alighted in 1995. From the bus station, the upper floors of Hotel Cecil loomed from the next block on Main St. At present, the hotel is renamed Stay On Main Hotel, perhaps in an attempt to rid itself of its shady past.

Even a year earlier, I was aware of the hotel's presence, but I thought that was one of those expensive 5-star establishments for the wealthy. Rather, as I found out, it was a budget hotel located in the Skid Row district as if deliberately because of the bus station. This time, I decided to try it.

In the States, what we here in the UK would call the Ground Floor or Ground Level, in America, the Ground Floor is the 1st Floor. Hence, from the entrance doors, one would count 14 floors up. But, after checking in and using the elevator to reach my assigned room, there was the 15th floor. I smiled. There was no 13th floor. There was the 12th, in which my room was assigned, and then the 14th. Indeed, the 15th floor was really the 14th.

The hotel has a shady past. At least 13 alleged suicides had taken place throughout its history, the first being that of a 52-year-old in January 1927, who shot himself in the head just three years after the hotel opened in 1924. Since then, up to 15 deaths were recorded at the hotel before I checked in, including two confirmed murders and one or two unsolved deaths. Three more deaths occurred since I vacated my room after spending three nights there. 

Hotel Cecil, Los Angeles.

One mystery occurred in February 2013, 35 years after my stay, and concerning 21-year-old Elisa Lam. In the days following her disappearance, guests at the hotel started to complain about the taste and the discolouration of the water supply. When a member of staff went up to investigate the cause of the problem, he found the decomposing body of the female in one of the rooftop tanks. Whether it was murder, suicide or an accident, this remains unknown to this day.

Then there is the case of a serial killer, Ricardo Ramirez, a handsome 25-year-old of Spanish origin who, between 1984 and 1985, went out on killing sprees within the city whilst staying at the Hotel Cecil. He returned to his room in clothes stained with the victim's blood. It was while returning with blood on his clothing that he was seen as a suspect and held secure by fellow guests. He was handed to the police and in Court, given a death sentence. But he died of cancer on June 7th, 2013 whilst still on death row.

Yet, despite such a dark history, both before and after my four-day stay at the hotel, each night, I slept well with no bumps in the night. During the day, many other guests sauntered around, and all the elevators were busy. A very ordinary day at an average American hotel. Of course, at the time, I knew absolutely nothing about its past. Instead, I made note that my room was rather small, and it was meant to accommodate a single person, and at the rear face of the hotel block. From the window, the view took in the Greyhound Bus Terminal. Thus, each morning during my visit to Los Angeles, the day began with a short walk to the Bus Station cafeteria for breakfast and a meal during the day or in the evening. 

On the first day of arrival, I returned to Disneyland for a second-year stint. And I also visited Long Beach for the first time. A long stretch of sand and a gentle breeze blowing along the Californian coast cancelled out the heat from the sun. But it wasn't until I had returned to the hotel that my shoulders felt tender to the touch. The coolness of the air did not mitigate the strength of the sun. My shoulders were sunburnt. And as I turned to look in the mirror, the redness of the skin was obvious. And it was aching.

It was my last day in Los Angeles before moving on to San Francisco. After checking out from the hotel and depositing my luggage in a locker, I spent the afternoon at and around Pershing Square, just a few blocks up 6th Street and in the heart of Downtown L.A. I remember the area from the previous year. Little had changed. It was later, in 1995, that there were massive changes in the city skyline. By then, not only Pershing Square had changed its layout but a series of new skyscrapers had shot up nearby as well.

As I was sauntering along, two rather pretty young women were out and about. They set their eyes on me and approached.

A Potential Danger.

When I'm by myself, thousands of miles from home, family and friends, and far from my church too, then I welcome any form of friendship offered. I can say that at that moment, I was in a vulnerable position. However, had they been young men instead of women, I would have politely acknowledged their greeting and then move on, even putting up resistance if such men persisted. But with women, I couldn't help feeling elated at their attention pouring out on me. By not having a girlfriend since 1972, how nice it would be to have a female I could call a friend. Even if I knew that later in the evening, I'll be out of the city, heading north.

The two girls asked whether I would like to attend a church meeting at a particular address nearby, close to Pershing Square. Being Christian, I thought that would be a splendid idea. Something spiritual in a midst of a very secular holiday. And here's the rub. Cults in particular often hide behind an orthodox Christian front and do not realise the heresy behind it until it's too late. All this reminds me a little of the deep sea Angler Fish. This rather grotesque creature swims with a lamp-like bait attached to the predator by a rod just above its mouth. Another fish swims up to the bait out of curiosity or in anticipation of a meal. Then snap! The potential predator becomes prey in the Angler's mouth.

Deep Sea Angler Fish.

Those two females were the bait that attracted me into the arms of the cult. At the agreed time, I made my way to the designated building in the hope of meeting those two girls. From the front door, I went up a flight of stairs and entered a room which was filled with other young people. All attention was drawn to a thin, weasely man at the front. He delivered a lecture about his faith and how we all can participate.

After his talk was finished, I approached him and looked hard into his eyes, and asked,
What is your view of Jesus Christ? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?

The man could not answer. Instead, looking very agitated, he ordered me to leave the room and the building. He signalled to someone, probably one of the elders, and he escorted me down the stairs, out of the door and onto the street. I was free to make my way to the Greyhound Bus station.

My own faith in Jesus of Nazareth saved me from what would have been a potential disaster. That group was made up of Moonies, followers of Sun Myung Moon, a false messiah from the far east who arrived in America during the 1960s and proclaimed himself to be the awaited messiah. A devoted supporter of President Nixon at the time, and a staunch capitalist, his anti-Communist stance had attracted a large following, especially from the younger set.

But supposing that I had no faith at all and I have gotten myself sucked into this cult? And what happens to those who are caught in its meshes?

Next Week:  Beautiful mountains? Or potential Catastrophe? The Journey Continues.

Saturday, 5 November 2022

Travel Biography - Week 21.

Grand Canyon Corridor - Overnight Information

Phantom Ranch is the only known rustic brick-and-mortar accommodation located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon amidst a copse of Cottonwood trees, aside from several campsites found along the Corridor and elsewhere. Consisting of a restaurant and several huts, in all, the Ranch accommodates up to 96 guests in different individual huts, nine of them accommodating up to four people, which includes ten mule riders, along with two larger huts for the Colorado River boat trippers and hiking parties, each with ten beds, and in addition, four hiker dormitories, each also containing ten beds of which two huts are for the male hikers, the other two for the female hikers.

Mules at Phantom Ranch.

In addition, the Bright Angel Campsite is close by, with 32 sites. If each of the tents accommodated two people, which looked to be the norm, then with 64 hikers under canvass, together with up to 96 guests at the ranch, this would make 160 people sleeping at the bottom of the Corridor region of the Grand Canyon during a typical night. Although, as you are probably aware by now, I love playing around with statistics, and this is no exception.

However, regarding the proportion of individual hikers making their way down to the River to spend the night, here I can only give estimates. In this case, it's established that at the height of summer, all places at the Ranch were, and are, fully booked several months before arrival. Likewise, on the riverboats, all places were fully taken months before the day they set sail, in addition, even up to a year before any rider mounted his mule for a two-day journey on the trails.

According to official statistics, in 1978, the year of my first visit, there were a total of 2,746,642 visitors, or 7,530 per day if I was to iron out the seasonal variations.

In 1995, the year of my second visit, there were 4,557,645 visitors, or 12,486 daily.

For the record, 2018 peaked with a total of 6,380,495 visitors pre-pandemic, with a daily average of 17,480.  

Therefore, with up to 160 people spending the night on the corridor floor in 1978, only 2% of all visitors spent the night there. However, among individual visitors who made it down as independent hikers, with as many as forty sleeping in the four large huts in the Ranch, along with a further 64 campers, a truer figure would have been less than 1.4%. However, what I had experienced at the Ranch in 1978, the percentage would be even less. Therefore, the estimated number of overnighters to the total number of daily visitors being at around 1% was confirmed later by a Ranch staff member on a YouTube video.

However, a far greater number of visitors were day hikers. On the Bright Angel Trail, the turnaround would more likely have been at the 1.5-mile rest stop, or at the three-mile rest stop further down, both having a bathroom and a water supply. This was my experience of hiking down the trail, especially in 1978 when many hikers were making their way up towards the Village, but after passing the three-mile stop, the Tonto Plateau area with Indian Gardens campsite was absolutely deserted. On the South Kabab Trail, Ooh-Ahh Point would have been a popular turnaround 1.8 miles into the hike.

What Happened at Phantom Ranch?

The 9.6-mile hike down Bright Angel Trail was made especially daunting by the cloud cover and a dry thunderstorm, along with a notice warning of life-threatening flash floods. Yet, at Indian Gardens, despite being all alone, the sight of Buddha Temple Butte directly in front, and to the left, Cheops Pyramid, transforming the Village view of the North Rim from a straight line making up the horizon to that of a mountain range looming ahead, making me realise the vast grandeur of the Canyon. Its grandeur was intensified when I continued the hike down the Devil's Corkscrew within the Inner Gorge, a canyon in its own right, the hard Vishnu Schist bedrock resulting in a much slower rate of erosion, thus a much narrower gorge whose walls loomed far above me.

Vishnu Schist bedrock near Phantom Ranch.

Eventually, shortly after crossing the Colorado River on Silver Bridge, I arrive at the Ranch, which, by then, it was rapidly getting dark as the night approached. After checking in at reception, I found the appropriate hut and entered. Inside were ten beds arranged in bunk form like that of a hostel dormitory. And like any hostel dorm, this hut was single-gender, assigned for male hikers. There was also a shower cubicle and lavatory, hence a bathroom just large enough to accommodate one person at a time. 

There were already three hikers in the hut. Two of them expressed surprise at my late arrival, but at least I was commended for completing the hike. These two were Americans, both a tad older than me, and both from Los Angeles, and the third hiker, a German of about my age or slightly younger, making his way into the shower cubicle. Only then I became aware of the presence of a shower in the hut.

And so, with four of us, there were still six beds remaining vacant, but I gave little thought about them. Presently, the German came out of the shower, and I thought it was the right moment to take advantage of the facility. Feeling refreshed, I sauntered out into the night and watched Bright Angel Creek as it flowed past the Ranch as it makes its way to join the Colorado River, a half-mile downstream from where I was standing. Meanwhile, I spotted the German hiker relaxing with his girlfriend as I unintentionally drew their attention. However, I just sauntered along.

It was when we all returned to the hut that it was agreed between all four of us that we would be up at four in the morning. The hike back up took about nine hours - twice the time it took for me to descend. An early start would take much of the heat out from hiking back up the Devil's Corkscrew. It was after we all settled in our beds that a discussion arose among us on why the other six beds remained unclaimed, and with all indications that they won't be claimed at all.

I could see that the American hikers were more irked by the presence of unclaimed beds than the German or me. In a huff, one of them spoke with a sneer.

I bet they have turned chicken and turned back to the Village!

I felt myself blush. Surely, I am a coward, too. The hiker's remark reminded me how fearful I felt whilst descending the Devil's Corkscrew with the high cliffs looming above, the thunderstorm, and the threat of flash floods, never mind the sense of loneliness, the cutting off from civilisation. In my own embarrassment, I didn't say a word. Instead, I made attempts to sleep. But not that well.

Bright Angel Creek is next to Phantom Ranch.

The Hike Back Up.

I couldn't blame the irk felt by the American hiker. Six beds in our hut remained unoccupied. And that was just our hut. How many more beds remained unclaimed? And this, whilst back at the rim, the number of potential hikers who walk away feeling downcast because there were no spare beds and no cancellations. Among the crowd of failed potential hikers, a few dared to break National Park regulations and hike down and sleep rough. The Two Frenchmen I passed near the end of my descent were a good example. Then again, the six empty beds might have been a group cancellation, with just me taking up one of the freed beds. A possibility, but very unlikely. Any on-the-day cancellations would have rapidly filled up.

I was the last one to leave the hut to step outside just as the first hint of a new day turned the sky from black into a velvety dark blue, as all the thunderclouds of the previous evening had dispersed. As I hit the trail, crossing Silver Bridge and taking a last look at the River dominated by Zoroaster Temple Butte, I saw all the other hikers ahead, all of them heading back up. And every hiker had at least one companion. There were also groups of three or even four. But the greater majority were in twos. I was the only lone hiker.

As I began to ascend the sweeping curves of the Devil's Corkscrew, the sunlight began to shine on the peaks of the surrounding buttes and pinnacles. They looked as if each one was uprooted and dipped into a huge can of glow paint. But I was grateful for the shade that covered the trail.

It was a while when I arrived at Indian gardens. By then, the shadows retreated as the sun rose, and I felt grateful whenever the trail passed through a shadow. But as the hike progressed, so the shadows slowly diminished, and I began to feel the heat of the sun.

Looking into Bright Angel Canyon from the Devil's Corkscrew.

In the sunshine, however, Tonto Plateau looked beautiful. Backed by the two dominant pinnacles on the north side of the River, the sun brought out the beauty of the pinkish-red sandstone topped with white limestone. Buddha Temple was so similar in shape to Zoroaster Temple, each consisting of a white limestone "head" resting on red sandstone "shoulders" - both shaped that way by the different rates of rock erosion - that I was confused, thinking at the time that I was constantly looking at just one butte. Actually, there were two, both looking very similar in shape and colour.

At the rest stop, several hikers were soaking their shirts in the cool refreshing water, but I hesitated to do the same, as I was concerned about the rucksack on my shoulders. So I just wet my face and proceeded on.

At last, the start of the most strenuous part of the entire Bright Angel hike, which is up the south wall of the Outer Gorge, leading to the Rim itself. Starting with Jacob's Ladder, a series of short, steep switchbacks at the lower part of the cliff, I no longer was walking at a steady pace, as I was doing all along. Instead, I would now walk several metres, then take a short break stop.

Further up, I had to stand aside and allow a train of mule riders to pass by as it descended the trail switchbacks. After the last mule passed by, it was one switchback after another in an unending sequence. Yet, despite the frequent breaks, I was determined to finish the hike entirely. I kept looking back at the North Rim edge. The line was beginning to straighten, but it seemed to take forever.

Further up, I had to stand aside again. This time it was for just three mules. The first beast carried the park ranger. The second mule carried a rucksack. The third mule carried an exhausted female hiker, looking as if bathed in shame and embarrassment at having to be rescued.

And that is precisely the deception the footpath can have. No wonder there are notices giving warnings of the severity of the Trail. Each year, up to 250 exhausted hikers are rescued, then have to pay a hefty fee for the rescue. In many of these cases, it's either an underestimation of the strenuousness of the hike, an overestimation of the hiker's ability, or both. Not to mention heatstroke, hyponatremia, sunburn or any other ailments one can fall into during the hike.

As the three mules carried on ahead, I continued to walk, then pause, and then walk. By then, the Trail is crowded, mainly with day hikers, but some were, like I did, preparing to settle for the coming night on the Canyon floor. The only difference was that they were setting off earlier in the day. As I progressed, some of the bystanders were cheering me on, as if I was a marathon runner approaching the finish line. One family cheered me on with gusto. It was very encouraging!

Cheops Pyramid is seen from the Devil's Corkscrew.

At last. At last! The trailhead came into view and I exited to amalgamate into the Village crowd, feeling very happy, exuberant, a sense of achievement. It was somewhere between 13.30 and 14.00 hours. Having set off from Phantom Ranch around 4.30 am, the authorities were spot on with the duration. With so many pause breaks taken on the final ascent, the return hike took nine hours to complete. This compares with the 4.5 hours for me to hike down the day before.

Nearing the exit of the Trail.

But also tired and exhausted. Along the South Rim, there were two benches facing each other. As I sat on one of them, I must have fallen asleep. When I woke up sometime later, the family who cheered me earlier whilst still hiking, was there and gave me further greetings as they reminded me that I have been sleeping for quite a spell.

Next Week: Staying in a hotel with a questionable past.

Saturday, 29 October 2022

Travel Biography - Week 20.

Some Grand Canyon Information.

The Grand Canyon of the Colorado River is one of the World's Natural Wonders, and another is the Great Barrier Reef, off Queensland. I had the incredible privilege to visit both, the latter in 1997.

My first visit to the Grand Canyon was in 1978, and my second visit was in 1995. During my first visit, the Instamatic 110 camera, which I had at the time, failed to take proper photos of the experience. Therefore the need for another stop in the next convenient year, which was in 1995. Therefore, the photos included in this week's blog are from the 1995 visit. Since I will be concentrating on the 1978 visit, again, like last week, I apologise if you feel that the originality of this article was compromised.

Grand Canyon 1995. In 1978, I looked a lot younger!

The Canyon is a 217-mile, 350 km long, steep-sided gash cut into the Colorado Plateau by the Colorado River. It's up to 18 miles, 29 km wide, and approx 1,600 metres, or over a mile deep. Because the whole of the Colorado Plateau, which extends into the States of Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, as well as Arizona itself, slants towards the southerly direction, the North Rim, at 1,680 metres above the River, is about 300 metres higher than the South Rim which is approx 1,380 metres high. That means the UK's highest mountain, Ben Nevis in Scotland, peaking at 1,345 metres above sea level, if relocated inside the Grand Canyon, then both rims would look over the summit height of Ben Nevis.

Due to the southward slope of the Colorado Plateau, the River is considerably closer to the South Rim than the North Rim. This is due to the direction of the rainwater draining southwards, causing a greater rate of erosion of the north wall. Hence the mountains within the Canyon, knowns as buttes, along with the valleys separating them, are mainly on the north side of the river, thus the south wall, although lower than the north wall, is steeper.

One of the most remarkable features making up the Grand Canyon is the stratified layers of different rocks consisting of a horizontal, sandwich-like formation that applies to both rims and to all the buttes and the larger mesas within. The perfectly tidy yet distinct layers indicate that they were laid down by the water that once covered the area, a theory agreed upon by both secular geologists and Creationists alike.

Forming the upper rim edge is Kaibab Limestone. Below that is the Torroweap Formation. Next, the Coconino Sandstone rests on Hermit Shale. Below this, is the Supai Group of rock layers. Beneath is the Redwall Limestone. This rests upon Temple Butte Limestone, which itself lies on a layer of Muave Limestone. As the cliff lowers further still, next is Bright Angel Shale. Finally, Tapeats Limestone completes the upper section of the stratification. This series of layers, each bedding plane perfectly horizontal, was laid between 260 million years ago to 550 million years ago, according to secular geologists. However, beneath the Strata and forming the bedrock is the Vishnu Schist, along with Granite, both of volcanic origin which, according to geologists, was formed some 1.6 billion years ago.

Hence, where the water-laid Tapeats Sandstone meets the Vishnu Schist, there are around 550 million years of rock layers missing. This is known as the Great Unconformity. Yet the bedding plane between the Schist and the sandstone looks as normal and without incident as all the other layers above.

South Rim View. Tonto Plateau is centre-left.

Grand Canyon in the evening.

Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim marks the location of the Bright Angel Trailhead. This path, known as the Bright Angel Trail, is 9.6 miles, 15.5 km in length as it reaches Phantom Ranch on the floor of the Canyon. The Ranch is located a half-mile inside the mouth of Bright Angel Canyon, a side gorge leading up to the North Rim. Bright Angel Creek flows through it to join the Colorado River, a short way downstream from the Ranch. A couple of miles east of the Village, South Kaibab Trailhead begins a 7-mile trail which eventually joins the Bright Angel Trail at Phantom Ranch, then continues on for another 16 miles as North Kaibab Trail to the North Rim. Thus, this Y-shape trail configuration is known as the Corridor, and it's this part of the Canyon that's gazed upon by countless numbers of visitors at and around the Village.

Arrival at the Canyon Village.

Having arrived at the South Rim after a two-hour bus ride from Flagstaff, I was taken aback by the sight. Spread before me, was the Canyon in all its splendour. The North Rim appeared as a straight line on the horizon, totally unaware that it was at a higher elevation than where I was standing. When I arrived there in 1978, I knew virtually nothing about the Canyon. Thus, the information I can provide was learned since I visited the National Park, and not whilst there or beforehand.

Grand Canyon Village.

My plan was to spend just the day at the South Rim, absorb the glory into my memory and camera alike, and then return to Flagstaff to resume the long journey to Los Angeles. In the meantime, even as an untrained eye, I could make out, far away, what looks like a long side Canyon leading away from us and towards the North Rim, it was later that I learned that this was Bright Angel Canyon, a tributary of the Inner Gorge in which the Colorado River flows. On either side and below eye level, I would have looked at Buddha Temple Butte directly in front, to the left of it, Cheops Pyramid, with Isis Temple Butte just behind it. On the other side of the tributary gorge, Zoroaster Temple Butte dominates with Brahman Temple Butte next to it.

All these features were on the other side of the River, hidden from view at the Village area of the South Rim. If one is mystified by such Eastern names, then it was Clarence Dutton, a mid-19th Century geologist who had an interest in Eastern religions, who gave names to these pinnacles as he surveyed the Canyon.

At Indian Gardens on the Tonto Plateau.

Off from the South Rim and from where I stood, a small pinnacle, known as Battleship Rock overlooks Tonto Plateau, a level shelf of Bright Angel Shale on which Indian Gardens sits. A side trail branching off the Bright Angel Trail leads to Plateau Point, adding 1.5 miles to an Inner Gorge overlook over the River which is directly below, and the first sight of it after a downhill hike from the Village. Had I known about the South Kaibab Trailhead a few miles east of the village, I would have been taken aback by the impressive O'Neil Butte leading off the South Rim near Yaki Point.

Preparing for the Hike.

As I strolled west, I came across what looked like the start of a trail leading down into the Canyon. A flash of excitement took hold of me as I watched one tired and sweaty hiker after another reaching the end of their journey, exiting the trail and arriving back into the safety of the Village. This, I learned, was the Bright Angel Trailhead, and this was the most popular of all hiking trails within the national park.

I approached Bright Angel Lodge, which wasn't far from the trailhead, to ask more about the trail. The lady at the counter quickly responded that she had just received a cancellation at Phantom Ranch, and a bed has become available on the Canyon floor. Asking me if I would take it, without hesitation, I said, "Yes, yes, yes!" And so, I bought a bed reservation ticket, and my plan for the day instantly changed. My luggage will now have to spend a second night at Flagstaff Bus Station as I made my way to a nearby kiosk to hire a rucksack, the first one I ever wore over my shoulders, and a pair of hiking boots, both items marking a start to something of a personal revolution for future travel. I then found the site superstore, and in it, I bought various items for the coming hike. It was a while later, as clouds were gathering in the sky, that I set off on my hike down into the Canyon.

Zoroaster Temple Butte dominates the River.

As I zig-zagged down the cliff switchbacks, I encountered more and more hikers coming the other way. One of them even stopped me and asked if I had a Camper's Pass. I answered that I had a reservation ticket for Phantom Ranch which I showed him. He then let me go with a wish of good luck.

The switchbacks continued, back and forth, rounding bends as I descended the south wall. It wasn't too long before Battleship Rock towered over me. From the Rim, this pinnacle was way below me. Now I was below it. And from this angle, the rock actually resembles a ship. 

By the time the footpath began to level out at the start of Tonto Plateau, three miles into the hike, the area was deserted. There were no more hikers coming the other way. One can say that the Tonto Plateau resembles a large field, possibly a meadow. Yet, the sky was overcast and a peal of thunder rolled across the valley. I was alone, all alone in the strange environment. I paused to look around. Looming behind me were the high cliffs of stratified rocks topped by the South Rim. In front, the straight line of the North Rim has distorted, with Buddha Temple Butte now towering over me, along with Cheops Pyramid to the left of it. Nearby was a notice warning of flash floods in the area that can endanger lives. Wow! Just what I need. Alone in the desert, a clap of thunder rolled and fear gripped me. But would I turn back? No! Instead, I was determined to press on with the hike.

I approached Indian Gardens which had a rest stop with a water tap. A good source of refreshment. It was here, too, that the trail divided, with the Plateau Point path branching off to my left. Presently, the trail began to plunge into the Inner Gorge in a series of lengthy curved switchbacks known as the Devil's Corkscrew. Another thunderclap rolled, but at least it wasn't raining. As I again paused to look around, the high cliffs of the harder Vishnu Schist volcanic rock loomed high, making me feel like a tiny dwarf. I suppose this was why the Inner Gorge was considerably narrower than the Outer Gorge. The harder the rock, the slower the rate of erosion.

Bright Angel Creek.

Unlike at Tonto Plateau, here, near the bottom of the Canyon, the whole area was buzzing with life. Countless numbers of crickets were chirping in the bushes, their combination creating a continuous hum, backed by rolling thunder. It was quite a fascinating scene as I walked on.

After a while, about eight miles into the hike, I approached a hut. Two young men were looking as if preparing a meal on a camping skillet. Feeling relieved at the sight of another human, I called out as I approached the hut.

The two men, whom I could see were Frenchmen, warmly welcomed me into their company. We talked and I too was served a portion of their dinner. They said that they couldn't reserve a bed at the Ranch, so they decided to settle down here in the hut for the night, where it would be unlikely to be spotted by a passing ranger. After thanking them, I was preparing to leave, to complete the final leg of the hike. They begged me to stay for the night with them. Despite how tempted I might have felt to remain with them, my desire to finish the hike was stronger, and they had to let me go, but not without expressing my gratefulness.

It was the right decision. I rounded a bend and lo! There was the River, flowing at speed through the Grand Canyon. The trail, officially known as the River Trail but very much Bright Angel still, hugged the riverside as it wounded its way along the irregular surface of the Vishnu Schist valley. 

As I looked ahead, the looming shape of Zoroaster Temple Butte began to dominate the sky above the River. Resembling a white limestone head resting on red sandstone shoulders, this mountain, or so I thought, was all left of the North Rim. What a difference from when I looked at it from the Village! From there, the North Rim was a straight line making up the horizon. Down here, all that was left of it was a solitary mountain peak surrounded by the sky. At the time, I was still unaware that what I was looking at was a butte, a pinnacle rising well inside the Canyon, and not actually part of the North Rim, even though the butte is on the north side of the River.

As I was walking towards the butte, another appeared from behind the valley bend. This was Brahman Temple Butte, although roughly the same height as Zoroaster, it was much more stout in appearance.

Presently, Silver Bridge, one of only two that cross the Colorado River with the Canyon, appeared, just as it was getting dark. Silver Bridge was to first one to appear. The second one, Black Bridge, was about a mile further on and served the South Kaibab Trail before the twain joined Phantom Ranch to become the North Kaibab Trail leading to the North Rim.

Phantom Ranch.

Eventually, after another half-mile within the mouth of Bright Angel Canyon, I approached Phantom Ranch with its number of huts amidst a copse of Cottonwood trees. Nearby, the creek of the same name as the valley it flows through, gurgled along its course to join the Colorado River at the mouth of the gorge. The Ranch is classified as a hotel, with a restaurant house and eleven separate cabins, nine of them accommodating up to four people whilst the other two cabins took in ten guests, one for men and the other for females. At the Ranch reception, I handed in the reservation ticket and I was given the key to one of the larger cabins. When I got there, I saw that there was a young German hiker and two American hikers, making, so far, four occupants. We were to wait for the other six. 

After the German had a shower and then left the cabin to join his girlfriend outside, it was my turn to take a refreshing shower. After this, I took a stroll around the site before retiring to bed. The two American hikers, whom I found out lived in Los Angeles, the German, and I, all waited for the occupants of the remaining six beds to arrive. So far, no one else entered our cabin.

Next Week: A Test of Endurance.