Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Day 27: Ancient Ruins, A Plane Crash & 29 Palms

We woke up and lounged for a little bit, enjoying the scenery and then packed everything up and left the campground. Today we planned on going further into the Grand Canyon National Park and either finding another campground that we wanted to stay at with the trailer or moving on towards Ramona, California to visit John and Stephanie at CowHorse Ranch. We are fortunate on this trip to have the flexibility and means to be able to stay in places we like for longer and leave places we don't like as quickly as we want!

Our first stop on our westward path through the park was at the Tusayan Ruins, an 800 year old Pueblo Indian site. The inhabitants of the area were given the Navajo name of Anasazi by early researchers, which mean "ancient enemies," and as you can imagine it is not appreciated by descendants of these people. The ruins site has a short loop trail along which you can walk and read interpretive signs about the Puebloans and their culture while looking at the remains of the structures their built. 

What remains of the Kiva
From the site of these ruins you can see the San Francisco Peaks which include Humphreys Peak, the highest peak in Arizona, which reaches 12,633 feet in elevation. This mountain range was considered sacred to the Hopi (one of many Indian nations within the Pueblo Indian category) because they believed that the spirits (katsinas) that brought rain and other blessings resided there.

Tyler and I enjoyed driving the road that took visitors to overlooks, ruins, trail heads, etc. There were a lot of places where you could pull over and have sweeping views across the canyon and deep looks down into the canyon.

At the furthest point from South to North rim the canyon measures 18 miles wide!
If you read my entry about Avalanche Lake just outside of West Yellowstone in Montana you will already know that in 1959 there was a huge (7.5 magnitude) earthquake that dammed up the Madison River, creating Earthquake Lake and killing almost 30 people ( 

Evidently the 1950s was just a time in which a lot of things went wrong near National Parks! In 1956 two airliners flying over the Grand Canyon collided in mid-air, killing 128 people. At this time it was the deadliest aviation disaster on record. It was only after this tragic event that black boxes were installed on airplanes. Black boxes (which, despite their name, are orange to make it easier to find them in wreckage) contain audio recording devices that record conversations with the pilot so that if something goes wrong it is easier to analyze the problem and prevent it from happening again.

An article (a link to which is posted below this entry) written for Deseret News after a visit to the site in Juneof 2006 stated that, 
"In the canyon's vastness, the wreckage of TWA Flight 2 and United Airlines Flight 718 has always been a reminder of how small human endeavors are. But the wreckage endures. You can still see pieces of metal from the United plane hanging on the 800-foot cliff; you can see it from the river, when the sun glints off the metal, says Driskill, who visited the site in April. 'There are probably whole engines still embedded in the crack,' he says."

Photo courtesy of Deseret Morning News Archives.
We drove the rest of the way to Grand Canyon Village and poked around there for a little bit but being turned off by the large amount of tourists in this section of the park we decided against staying another night and instead headed towards Joshua Tree National Park.

When we crossed over the state line into California from Arizona the roads were in pretty bad condition. Since we were once again in the middle of nowhere it was a bit stressful because we did not want to have to deal with getting a flat tire but luckily it did not turn into an issue. We eventually turned on to a fun section of historic Route 66 that felt a bit like a roller coaster. I am not quite sure why the road went up and down so much considering the land around us was flat and straight but it was enjoyable so I am not complaining!

We were driving as the slightest changes occurred indicating the transition from day to night. As dusk approached we were driving in the desert with the open sky surrounding us, uncorrupted by light pollution. We barely saw anyone else on the road in this open expanse of land.

Notice the difference between the way the light hits the hills behind us as opposed to the ones in front of us!
Beautiful Desert Landscape
About an hour and a half from Joshua Tree we found a place to pull over and walk Hanz before it got too dark. I wanted to stop at this particular place because there was a long row of the most peculiar mounds of dirt. I have to try to locate on a map where we were exactly when we came across this strange sight because neither Tyler nor I could figure out how or why they were there!

The line of mysterious mounds... any ideas??
Hanz is investigating the mounds to figure out why they're here. He's a very thorough detective!
We arrived in Twenty-Nine Palms, which is just north of Joshua Tree National Park, just after sun-down. We had hoped to be able to spend the night in the park itself but it was quite a drive to a campground from the park’s entrance and we were not certain that we would be able to find a camp spot. We stopped at a gas station in Twenty-Nine Palms to ask some advice and the attendant told us the park was probably full because of the long weekend. It was too late to call an RV park and find a spot and we did not want to pay for a hotel room when we knew we would just be leaving at the crack of dawn. So we looked around for a good hotel parking lot in which we could spend the night; preferably one with several other cars so they would not know for certain that our travel trailer didn’t belong to a person who was staying at the hotel!

We quickly found something suitable; luckily there were several hotels to choose from. We settled in quickly and kept the lights off so as not to arise suspicion. We wanted to go to bed early anyways so that we could get an early start. I lay in bed for a little while, worried that the hotel would know we were inside and call the police, but I kept reassuring myself that they probably wouldn’t find out.

Just as I was drifting off to sleep a light flashed around in the window above our heads… agh! It was one of those pivoting lights on a cop car! I guess they had been more observant than we had hoped so they had sent for someone to check things out! Tyler and I lay extra still as the car drove by, did a loop in the parking lot, passed by once again and then left. I must have held my breath for a while afterwards, hoping he wouldn’t come back. After another half hour I took a deep breath and felt fairly certain he wouldn’t be back. Somehow we both fell asleep and didn’t wake up until just after sunrise the next morning.

For more information:
Jarvik, Elaine. "Vestiges of '56 Collision Still Embedded in Grand Canyon." Deseret News.

National Park Service brochure on the Tusayan Ruins:

National Park Service: Grand Canyon Guide

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