Timing is everything

Tiny tourists

I have a problem with punctuality.  Honestly, I think it is a symptom of my OCD and I am always on time or early.  It drives Teddy crazy and his slowness makes me consider spousicide or whatever the word is.  Before I left the Grayliner Bus at the entrance to the Grand Canyon, the driver went to great lengths to emphasize that Arizona was one hour behind Vegas.  He urged us to check and double-check that we would be back in 4 hours precisely no matter what time it said on our watches. Our fellow passengers would have plans for Vegas later, perhaps a show, and we had to be considerate of each other.  I was listening…

Proof that I am not a vampire. Spoiled a great shot of the brown Colorado river way down

After chatting to the Tribal member who looked like my Dad when he was young, I went straight back to base.  There was a little tourist shop, restrooms and a view of the airfield.  The canyon was in the distance and I was so happy to sit in solitude with my ice-cream gazing at the view.  It was fascinating to watch the small planes and helicopters take off.  On a couple of occasions, staff came up to me to ask if I was waiting for someone or generally okay.  I don’t think I look particularly suspicious but the airfield was a secure area, as they all are.  Eventually it was time to head to the bus.  Other passengers were there before me including my foul-mouthed friends.  Some people were a few minutes late but one couple was about 35 minutes past time.  Even worse, they sauntered to the bus oblivious to the silent hissing and dark stares.  Their attitudes changed as soon as they stepped on the bus with boos and cat-calling.  They look mortified, as they should…

Can you see the couple on the ledge?

We set off, got off the Tribal Lands, then the county roads to the main drag between Arizona and Nevada.  The bus was going pretty fast and then it stopped.  There was a major accident ahead and the double-lane road was closed.  As the driver relayed this information to us, you could sense heads swiveling towards the unpunctual couple.  There is really no more to the story – we came back to Vegas about 2 hours late.  My fellow passengers in my row became ruder and more annoying.  We stopped at the first hotel on the outskirts of Vegas and I bolted off the bus like Speedy Gonzalez.  The driver confirmed that there would another staging fiasco so I went to the Uber lane.

My mood was foul but I was curiously surprised that my Uber driver was a middle-eastern lady.  She was even more surprised when I greeted her in Arabic.  We had a lovely time chatting about Iraq and Egypt.  Her journey for Iraq was as traumatic as you can imagine and then she struggled to conceive.  Her boss kindly paid for the IVF treatment and now she was a happy bunny with a baby in Nevada.  Her story jerked me back into reality about what is really challenging in life.  It’s not an overlong trip to the canyon.

Perhaps Vegas is a happy ever after story for some?

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So, why was the trip to the Canyon so bad?

Given that I am going to show you some great photographs, what was wrong with my Grand Canyon trip?  I am cheap, thrifty and love a bargain.  Therein lies the problem; busy flight to Vegas paid for by Teddy’s miles.  I considered a helicopter ride to the canyon but decided to use my ancient British Airways miles for a prepaid tour bus to the western rim of the Grand Canyon.  It sounded so marvelous: comfortable tour bus; wonderful guide; lunch on the Tribal Land of the Hualapai viewing the Skywalk.  Blah, blah, blah – all I saw was that it was free.  I blame my upbringing in Scotland.  Even better, they picked us up at our hotel.  They omitted to mention some critical facts.

  • We left at 5am
  • Then we went to a detention camp staging area
  • We queued endlessly for another ticket
  • Finally we went out to the cattle trucks luxury Greyliner double-decker buses

There were quite a few singles among the groups of tourists.  Another, very sensible, lady and I were last to get on my bus but there was only one seat left.  She decided to get the next bus; impatient Kerry got on the bus…from…hell.  My seat was in the middle of 5 seats in the very back row upstairs.  Somehow in all of this excitement I forgot that I have a congenital spinal problem and take medication for that.  In the row was a Spanish speaking family, obviously tourists, who looked unhappy that I was going to take up their extra space.  I was equally unhappy.

After we got underway with a very jolly guide, I attempted to converse briefly with my fellow guests.  I discovered they were from Costa Rica and then nothing.  That made me curious because almost all the Latin American guests that I meet at the airport are friendly and very polite.  I was certain they were not originally from Costa Rica.  They looked nouveau riche, not uncommon in our part of the world.  Before we even reached the Hoover Dam, the senora next to me was snoring on my shoulder.  Sigh.

Without revealing everything about the trip, I was relieved they did not know I could understand Spanish and by the time we returned to Vegas, my mind was whirling with nefarious plans for their demise.  I jest of course… but do I?  My conclusion about mi amigos was that they were Cartel.  Their bags and clothes were ludicrously expensive and didn’t seem to match their coarse language peppered with Puta and Pendejo.  I would guess that they originated in Mexico by their accent and looks.  They endlessly encroached on my limited space with no apology.  The final insult was passing candies across me to each other, without offering me one or a ‘disculpe’.

They were only part of the problem, however, and I was still relatively excited by the time we crossed into the Tribal lands, spotted Joshua trees and then finally glimpsed the canyon.  I don’t know if any of you have taken this particular route to the canyon but the Hualapai Nation have really gone to great lengths to satisfy the endless thirst of tourists.  There is the infamous Skywalk – you pay even more money to walk on it and then you cannot take any photographs.  You could have lunch at various places and shuttle buses regularly rotated between the Skywalk, the Wild West Show and the plain old canyon.

What is wrong with this image – the people!!!

Marriage to Teddy, who taught geological field-trips in Utah and Colorado, has given me the opportunity to see amazing natural wonders without so many tourists.  Although the Grand Canyon is the largest, it wasn’t the prettiest or most photogenic.  At the main viewing site, I felt constrained by having too many people around me, all trying to take dangerous selfies.  Without thinking about the consequences, I walked off into the road so that I could be alone.  Almost immediately I was corralled by a tribal guide who told me to stay within the invisible tourist perimeter.  There were very sensible health and safety reasons for that – the shuttles drove fast and I could have easily got lost or fallen off the edge.

Wandering off the Reservation

Lunch was not particularly appetizing but it did make me think about how difficult life would be on most tribal nations.  The bathrooms were clean but had a sign asking us to conserve water.  I wondered how often they had to drill new wells or was the water shipped in?  Even though I had another hour or so, I decided to head towards the shuttle back to base.  Alongside was a tent with tribal members selling hand-made trinkets.

One young man was just the image of my father.  Although our native DNA is from North West Mexico, it is pretty close to South West USA.  There were no borders before the Europeans arrived.  We started chatting and he told me that when the Hualapai Nation were given this land it was mostly useless.  As pretty as it is, there is no value in land that you can’t use.  It isn’t really suitable for crops or grazing.  Back in the day no one realized how valuable this type of tourism could be.  His sister Pearl had made the earrings I admired from Hematite, a healing stone in their culture.  I bought them for a friend who has cancer.  This was my favorite part of the trip, truly connecting with a real person from the canyon.

My father with his sister in the 1930’s

More to come soon…

Evaporation

Hoover Dam

This is the Hoover Dam with Lake Mead behind it.  If you look at the white band above the lake you can see how low the water level has dropped with years of drought.  The original Boulder Dam was built in the 30s during the Depression.  Thousands of workers flocked to the site for work.  The Dam was renamed after President Hoover – it provides hydroelectricity and water.

This photograph shows the scale of construction with the original road.  There is now a bypass which makes it safer for tourists to look at the dam.  Although it is a miracle of modern engineering, there is always an ecological cost to pay when you divert a river (the Colorado River).  We waste so much of our most precious resource on the planet – water.

When you visit or live in arid places you become very aware of how much we need water.  I wish we could send a little of our excess water in Houston to our dry neighbors.  After a 10 year drought we are now in the throes of a wet decade.  There is moss in my garden!!!  I left that behind in Scotland…

I am standing in Arizona looking at the impossibly blue sky of Nevada.  None of my photographs have been altered.  The light is fantastic.

This is my first glimpse of the Grand Canyon through the bus window.  More on the trip from hell next time.

first glimpse of grand canyon

An oasis in the desert

Duunnn dunnn… duuuunnnn duun… duuunnnnnnnn dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dunnnnnnnnnn…

These are a few of the residents at the shark aquarium at Mandalay Bay Hotel.  I love sharks!  Teddy ate local basking shark with Vietnamese sauce at our wedding lunch in Wales.  Before I set off for the Grand Canyon, I had an afternoon to visit this aquarium.  It was good, not the best I have been to, but gave some respite to the chaos of Vegas.

Lion Fish – Rawrrrr!

I had my new camera with me and I am so impatient that I didn’t read the instructions.  It took me a while to figure out how to turn the flash off.  Once I did, the photographs were great quality through glass.  Wouldn’t this lioness’ costume inspire a lovely dress?

Fashionable rays

These rays had the most beautiful outfits on.  The black one looked like velvet.

Handsome Whiskers

Catfish are my favorite type of fish, probably because of their whiskers.  They taste quite nice too, especially blackened.

Starfish

Starfish just make me feel happy – they look like little hands waving at you.  I loved the delicate brocade on her seams.

Rays in flight

Until this moment, I have never seen rays flapping their fins.  So graceful and elegant.

Wings up!

A perfect predator

The last photograph of jelly fish is my favorite – it looks like some alien world.  Beautifully different and somehow alluring.

My long hot walk along the Strip to get to the Mandalay Bay Hotel was worth it just to see these wonderful creatures and I didn’t gamble a cent.

I went to the Grand Canyon and it wasn’t…

Silhouetted crow on the Western Rim of the Grand Canyon

…that grand.  To be fair, the canyon was a really Grand natural spectacle, it was the arduous trip to get there that took the gleam off the visit.  Air travel has never been more popular, especially to tourist destinations.  The flight to Vegas was completely full and my heart sank as I walked towards my aisle seat.  Two rather large people completely filled the THREE seats.  They managed to squish up a bit and I had a little sliver of seat.  My airline should have dealt with the situation but I didn’t complain knowing it was pointless.

Finally we arrived at Las Vegas and even the airport seemed a little shabbier than it did a decade ago, on my last visit.  Still, I laughed at the slot machines right beside the gates.  My ‘I work at an airport’ aura followed me west and I helped a party of French people communicate with their Serbian Uber driver.  My Uber arrived and I drove off, shouting “Au revoir!” while thinking, ‘good luck finding someone else who speaks French…and enjoy our Freedom Fries!’

My hotel lived up to all its recommendations, just off the Strip but incredibly quiet.  Each room was a little suite and I could have happily lived there.  Perhaps some of the very elderly residents did? I felt like the young groovy chick that I am.  After I unpacked, I went off to see the sights of Vegas before my long trip to the canyon the following day.  Waiting at the crosswalk, I got talking to an older man (my age) who had his even older mother in a wheelchair.  I wasn’t sure she was alive…mummified?  Was his name Bates?  I kept bumping into them at the Mall across the street and she didn’t seem to move.  Welcome to Vegas!

As I was trying, with thousands of other people, to negotiate the Strip’s overhead walkways, I noticed that there were many homeless people; some drunk and some mentally ill.  One poor guy got in the large elevators with 15 or so other tourists.  He was shouting at nothing, terrifying the other occupants. My ‘I worked in mental health’ aura was about to appear when the doors opened and he stumbled out.  It is really hard to enjoy visiting a place when you can see the underside right in front of you.

What mortified me even more were the British tourists behaving crassly.  I really tried to manage my Trans-Atlantic twang so I could travel incognito.  There was a really loud English couple, from up north like Jon Stark, in Victoria’s Secret who were trying to find something classy for her mother (presumably my age or less).  They eventually found a sexy little something in leopard silk polyester.  I struggled to contain my mirth…  Later I came across some Scots men in a hotel bar and every second word was a loud cuss word.  Sigh.

I took some shots close to my hotel as night was falling.  It was as though the night added some dark glamour to the previously tawdry street.

Do you see the truck at the bottom?  Sin City Indeed.

Perfect peace on the site of a battleground

Following on from my last post of Blakeley, Alabama, the site was serenely quiet and tranquil.  In 1865 the Civil War battle of Blakeley commenced.  Ultimately 261 people died, hundreds were injured and over 3000 Confederate soldiers were captured by the Union.  You can tour the battlefield, seeing the Confederate fortifications and other details.  Prior to this sadness, Blakely had been occupied by the Apalachee who had fled their home in Florida after a British led Creek battle.  Then it was chartered as the town of Blakeley by an early settler, Josiah Blakeley in 1814.

In the early days it was a thriving community but as I previously mentioned yellow fever and malaria killed so many people that the place was abandoned, to all intents and purposes.  No one really knew what the cause of the illness was and it was referred to as “Bad Air”.  Anyone who lives in the tropical south knows how oppressive a hot humid day can be but by comparison to Houston, the air seemed as fresh as a daisy.

Calahaba Lily

There is a Calahaba Lily River Association – it is an aquatic plant found only in the south-east.

Wild or Louisiana Iris

The state symbol of Louisiana is the fleur-de-lis based on the real Iris above.

The residents seem peaceful these days…

Lady Blue Dasher with black lace wings

Mr Lizard

Battlegrounds often have a pervasive feeling of gloom but the wildlife has taken over most of the area leaving a sense of ‘life goes on’.

Blakeley, Alabama

The lumberjack fairy

This is a lumberjack fairy in a fantastic tree root of a live oak in Blakeley, Alabama.  Perhaps this fairy retreat provoked my recent addiction to fairy stories?  Blakeley is located to the east of Mobile, Alabama and back in the day it had the best deep water access for the many ships coming to Alabama.  It is now a historic state park and a ghost town.  Both Mobile and Blakeley are in swampy delta areas – five rivers connect at the estuary.  Yellow Fever was common in this area in the 1800s and when it first decimated the population at Blakeley, the remaining residents decided to move to Mobile or other areas.  Unfortunately, there was yellow fever there too and there is a very sad cemetery in Mobile with tiny little graves.  The survivors made it through and we have eradicated yellow fever in America although it is common in other tropical areas.  It is a virus spread by mosquitoes.  Next time you worry about a snake or a cougar, just think how many deaths the mosquito is responsible for.

No fairies but now you know a full grown lumberjack fairy can fit inside it

Where there is death there is life

Elder live oak

What a magnificent old gentleman, his branches graying with Spanish Moss.  Live Oaks live for hundreds of years which worries me because we have one in our front garden that has grown from a 3 ft sapling to 50 ft in 14 years.  Despite that, I love her and stroke her bark when I pass her.  It gives me such pleasure to see the acorns in the leaf litter feeding all the critters.  Click here for a fascinating story about her – One Sleep until Halloween