When inside the Grand Canyon, there’s only one thing more common than flying condors: helicopters. Only half-joking…
Though the Park has a relatively wide no-fly-zone for plane and chopper tours, the Park itself requires sometimes frequent use of official and contracted helicopters for search-and-resuce (SAR) and construction.
SAR is pretty self-explanatory, and occurs most frequently during the busy time of year, summer. But construction? In the Grand Canyon? Indeed, during most of my brief reign atop Plateaau Point helicopters came and went hauling cargo nets full of pipes, barrels, boxes, and occasionally long ladders. Helicopters aren’t the only transport in and out, however, mules are also used to haul things up and down and the mules even took some of the pressure off my back by bringing my equipment and food in and out of Indian Gardens.
The biggest reason for all the construction that I’ve seen is the GCNP water infrastructure. All of the water for the entire South Rim is supplied by a spring within the Canyon. The area that includes the visitor centers, museums, office buildings, lodges, stables, restaurants, stores, residential housing for ~1000 people that work for and in the Park and their families… all of those water users including roughly six million people who visit each year have their water supplied by that spring inside Bright Angel. A sophisticated pump house and miles of pipeline can be seen all along the Bright Angel Trail as it drops down to the river and back up toward the North Rim. Due to the prohibitive cost of overhauling the entire aging setup, the pipeline is constantly under repair during the winter months as pipes burst and break.
As the days passed on the Point, I had further encounters with the local condors. 234 and 280 have been a pair for a number of years and successfully raised a chick a couple years back. That chick, 634, was the first California Condor I saw upon arriving at Plateau Point for the first time. As I became more comfortable exploring the many vantage points of my post, I found one overlook that allowed me to look down on the condors whenever they sat upon a favorite rock. These next three photos show views of 234, 280 and 634 hanging out on that rock.
Just because it’s bitterly cold outdoors in winter, and just because the Colorado River stays around 40°F (3°C) year-round doesn’t mean that river-rats don’t enjoy running it. These river-runners might have been the first I saw passing beneath me, but any given day throughout my tenure would have a better than 50% chance of seeing rafts or kayaks on the water. I even witnessed a solo kayaker once – hardcore!
Condors were certainly the focus of my efforts at the Point, but the local Common Ravens gave me something to watch when the condors weren’t cooperating.
Common Ravens are fascinating creatures, and it just so happened that I began reading Bernd Heinrich’s Mind of the Raven while staying in the Garden. I won’t go into a book review here, except to say that ravens display an incredible level of intelligence and have very sophisticated social behaviors that are as awesome to read about as they are to watch. Plateau Point is home to a resident pair, in so far as I could tell, and they made frequent visits to the Point while I was there. In the following series of images, the raven pair landed on a cliff beneath me and allowed me to watch as they took turns preening each other (please take note of the silvery feather bases on the necks of these ravens).
My main objective on Plateau was to put an end to the developing disciplinary problems being exhibited by the local population of California Condors, namely individuals like 634, 234, and 280. To achieve my goals, I used a number of behavior-altering tools such as the one pictured below:
Here are some mixed images: the view from my home in the Garden, views west along the Colorado and north toward Buddha’s Temple.
My greatest pet-peeve! You’re on a trail for goodness sake!
More views of life at Plateau Point including shots of a Rock Squirrel that I’d like to write about in the near future.
Several shots of condors flying over Plateau:
Finally, a series of photos from my first hike out of the Canyon. The hike from Plateau to the Rim involves first walking across the relatively flat Tonto back to Indian Gardens for almost 2 miles. From there, the trail starts climbing 1000 meters to the South Rim via a series of switchbacks for another 4.5 miles. Thankfully, since I was only really carrying laundry back to the rim, the hike was relatively easy and took just under three hours.
Clouds moved in as the sun set and, though I was mostly too winded to enjoy the views, I made a couple of quick stops to look back as the last rays of light lit up Isis’s, Buddha’s, and Zoroastor’s Temples and then faded away. The trail became dark and cold as I passed through the lower tunnel and rounded the last set of switchbacks. Finally, I rounded the last switchback in complete darkness. The last two miles of trail had been snow-covered, but under the moonless night relief completely disappeared and the trail faded softly into the darkness past the cliff’s edge.
Finally reaching the Kolb Studio, Anne was there waiting. Only a short walk across icy pavement and we were driving home to Paiute.