Karen's Page

Welcome to Karen's Page, a web page intended to keep Karen's family and friends informed about her cancer. Karen, age 40, has a rare form of cancer called Pseudomyxoma Peritonei. She and her husband Tom have 2 children ages 4 and 7.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Grand Canyon Part 2

I blog again much later than I had anticipated, due to my annual finger injury. Yes, it seems that I am developing a habit of mangling a finger on a yearly basis and much to my chagrin, last weekend was the day.

I had just built a frame and installed a shiny new power ventilator in the attic so as to pull the cooler air in to the space and push out the really hot stuff. It figures that here in the desert, “really hot” in the summer is probably about 140 degrees up there, and so it makes sense that if I remove that and put in the “cooler” ambient air temperature of 110 degrees, we should reduce the load on the a/c in the house.

So I did that.

After it was installed and wired I was unhappy with the amount of vibration that was being telegraphed into the house in the form of a buzzing noise. I was up in the attic, and had adjusted the far two fan mounts and was reaching back across the fan when ZING the fan started making an awful noise. Once I looked at my finger, I began mumbling awful noises as well.

Now, before you go off on a tangent about not turning off the fan before sticking my finger in it, let me just underline that it is difficult to adjust a buzzing machine while the machine is not buzzing, hence my approach. Granted, my finger would have been far better served had I allowed a little more margin for space, but . . . I did not.

So now, my finger is well enough to write. The nail bed will hopefully heal and the the bone fracture from where the fan blade gave it a rousing “hello” will heal up as well. So there it is.

So back to our trip. After we had landed in Williams, we were ready to go right away. The entire town has experienced a renaissance thanks to the success of the railroad since it was purchased and revitalized in the late 90’s. I am here to tell you that they do it right, and have a right good time doing it. The equipment is wonderfully restored, and they run the operation just like (and better than) Amtrak. They have their own hotel right at the train station, as well as their own food services (which you can patronize at the hotel and which also provides box lunches for those at the canyon), a dirt lot set for the morning shootout show before the train leaves, a tremendous gift shop and ticket windows. They also organize bus tours at the rim, mule rides, overnight packages, and hikes. It’s well done and the thing that really impressed me was how friendly the people are. What a nice change to hear someone reply to a question with a smile, good information, and in a language that is understandable to the letter. I don’t miss the shrugs, mumbles, and pointing of many of our locals in that respect.

As is my usual weakness in places like this, I stocked up on books by the local authors about the canyon and the railroad, as well as a neat mile marker guide to the railroad as you travel to the rim. My favorite book is called Death in the Grand Canyon, and it is a fascinating story written by two adventurers and river guides. The most frequently asked question about the canyon is “how many people have fallen off the edge?” This book answers and chronicles all know deaths in the canyons, on the trails, and on the rivers as well as air accidents above it. Did you know that until the 1980’s the worst air distaster in history happened over the grand canyon? Two commercial airliners collided and spilled themselves into the canyon and all 200 plus died. Who knew? Great stuff!!!!

So each day the train returns from the canyon at 6:15pm and from it pour the mass of humanity that has been there and done that. The railroad says that by taking the train to the rim, they save over 86,000 car visits there every year, and I am believing it. But having seen the Grand Canyon Village I cannot imagine driving there in my car or RV, because there just is not that much space there.
As the train arrived that night, Karen took a load off on the couch and stayed behind while the boys and I walked over to see the trains. In the non-peak season they run restored 1950’s diesel engines that they purchased from the Canadian Railways, and they are beauties. Since the boarding areas run literally up against the rails, you are one on one with the trains as it should be. Hudson was in awe with the big Diesels quietly idling at rest, and he identified many of the parts like the brakes, the horn, the hoses, and the “power car” which is a rolling power plant for the train’s lights and A/C. Once within a few feet of them, however, he was really taken aback by the size of the machines. All was well until the whistle blew signaling that the train was moving, and that about scared him out of his socks. He was then keen to walk around a bit and head back to Barnaby, which we did.

That night, as every night that we were there, the wind blew. This prevented any kind of fire for roasting marshmallows so we fired up the stove and the boys gorged themselves on barely-roasted puffs. Frankly, for as long as they DON’T actually roast them one could use a match or even a picture of flames to roast them the same amount and it would not matter.

That night the boys and I slept well, and Karen did not. This is normal because her first night at altitude is always lousy, even if she is very tired or had a tough day. But it was all right and the next morning we were on site at the cowboy shootout theater where we watched some pretty cool cowboys do a routine with guns and blanks that was pretty neat, except for one thing. When they would shoot at each other, even with blanks, they would aim at the ground. So if I was going to shoot . . .let’s say . . . Mark in this show, even though he was 50 feet away across the paddock, I would aim just forward of my own feet and fire, and then Mark would fall down. Call me a stickler for authenticity but dang, can’t you even pretend to pretend that you are filling the guy with lead? Don’t get me wrong, I did not find that this particular tactic in any way diluted the fun factor of this officially cheesy tourism trap-type show, but I was aware of the discrepancy.

The first train came and went, and it was 12 cars full of coach class. These folks had the bench seats and were packed in subway style with open windows and the smell of fresh dust in their nostrils. Sounded like fun on the way out, but on a hot day coming back? Mmmmm . . . not so much. The trip is 2:15 one way mind you but after a while, mass transit gets a bit prickly on the backside.

The second train was a magnificent restored streamliner, with parlor cars, three observation cars (with the glass domes on top – no children allowed), a dining car, and several first class cars. We went first class, and the name of our car was the Anasazi. Each first class car has an attendant who serves you drinks, champagne on the way back, and prepares the buffet both directions as well. These cars are completely restored as well, featuring nice upholstery, working air conditioning, and restrooms. Actually, the men had a restroom while the ladies, I am told, had a restroom and a private lounge that was something to see. I know both boys went to the bathroom with mom just to witness it but I could not pull off the kid-with-mom routine so easily.

Our seats were assigned, and we had two and two facing each other, and sharing a huge picture window that looked out over the landscape. It was fantastic. And for all of you going to the Grand Canyon to take the train . . . take it first class. It was not that much more than coach, and we had our bus tour tickets all ready for us on board, got recommendations from our attendant about where to go and what to see as well as some tips on what to do at Williams.

The last thing before you leave the train at the village is a cold bottle of water to get you started. Fantastic! We disembarked, walked around the station, and there waiting for us as promised to a T was our tour bus. We climbed on board and were off almost right away. Having only about 4 hours the way we did it required movement of the most perfunctory and organized fashion.

Now, apparently once a season the Grand Canyon is inundated by flies in an invasion that lasts about two weeks. These flies don’t bite, they don’t buzz your face or really annoy you in any fashion by themselves. But when they invade by the millions (not an exaggeration) they become a pain.

And they like white. If you were wearing white or driving a white car you literally had hundreds of flies hopping on board to join you for your tour of the Canyon. Some folks really took this hard and would not even leave the bus to look at the sights because of all the flies. Wimps. Granted, after a ten minute stop they were literally piled in mounds on the buses’ white wheels, and my shirt carried a good hundred of them at all times, but what a great memory!

I am not even going to address the Canyon. How can one even begin to put into words the majesty and scale of that monster ditch? I cannot and will not do it the injustice of trying so suffice it to say that if you have been there, you can dig it. If you have not, it is something that you must do. And the funny/sad thing is that we did not even explore the canyon itself. A hike down Bright Angel trail (where the mules go) is 4 ½ miles down and 8 miles up, and that is a two day hike. There is not motorized access to the floor of the canyon for the public so if you hike it down, you are hiking it up, brother. We will go back and try it some time.

We saw people hiking the trail, and we saw people riding the mules on the trail. I thought that the mule thing sounded like a pretty good idea and then found out that there is a 200lb weight limit for people riding the mules. 200???? I have not been that small since 6th grade! Don’t they have Super Duty Mules with a turbo diesel? Get with the program.

But I digress. After a firm discussion about staying away from the edge )reinforced by the accounts that I had been reading in my book), our first stop on the bus gave us a truly mind-boggling view of the canyon. Most of the intense look out spots are railed for your protection, but between those spots you have to use your brain. Well, within about a minute of leaving the bus who should step off the trail and beeline towards the edge to get a better look?


Who could it be?

Yep. Hudson casually leaves the trail and strolls towards the edge. I let out with a bark of “Hudson, NO!!!!!!!!!” and yanked him back on the trail before he could say ‘gravity is not my friend’ I don’t think that he has ever heard me yell at him in that tone of voice, and it scared the shi-ite right out of him. He sniffled and cried and mommy made it better but he stayed far from any random edges for the rest of the day. So cheeky.

After the bus tour Karen, Hudson, Tucker, and I sat down with 1,243,833 of our new buzzing friends and had a box lunch at the train station followed by a stroll through the village. It was pretty good but a bit on the warm side, I must say. The hotel is truly a wonder and is one of the Harvey houses that we have come to know about and visit whenever we can. If you are not familiar with those, google Harvey House and read about it. It’s a slice of Western American history that is still alive out here in the form of restored houses. If you like western stories with a bit of Railroad history, you’ll like this one.

Four hours with the guys was just right. We boarded our train home, sat in our same assigned seats and let our attendant attend us. The car was cool and comfortable, and there was a little buffet of snack and drinks for us in our car. We were also held up by the bad guys from the shootout that morning. They come a-ridin up along side the train, dust flying and guns a blazing, and the next thing you know the train is stopped and they are coming through the cars talking hold-up talk and demanding money. The boys forked over a couple of bucks but the most priceless moment on our car was when the cowboys were talking to a little girl across the aisle from us who was terrified of these guys. She sat with big eyes and told them not to shoot the guns, and one bandit announced to the car that there wouldn’t be no shooting ifn we was to fork over with the money.Everyone was having a good time, Tucker was telling them that they should get a job and earn their own money while Hudson was worried about the noise if they did shoot their guns. The little girl, however, had a different idea.

“My mommy has LOTS of money!” she wailed, pointing at her mother the next row down. Priceless. The bandits gave the boys empty shell casings from their guns, and moved on the terrorize the next car.

We got back right on schedule, and walked back to Barnaby. After a quick dinner and showers for the guys we all hit the sack. It had been a great day. I cracked open my book and cross-referenced all of the points we had visited with the deaths that had occurred there over the last 150 years. Cool stuff. ( You know what I mean.)

Most of the deaths at the Canyon have been male, and young. Hmm. Go figure. Very few women have died at the canyon of their own mistakes, and no one has ever died on a mule ride. Their safety record is 100% for almost 100 years of running 250 trips per year up and down. Now that’s cool.

That night we had a wopper of a storm. The wind blew and the rain pounded and it got cold. Barnaby was a chatter with the blowing rain and wind but we slept soundly, warm as bugs in a rug, and remembered the Canyon.

What an adventure.

There were more to come . . .


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