Monday, May 17, 2010

An Arizona adventure.....

I just returned from a week long trip along northern Az. I had designed our itinerary to visit some places that I had always wanted to see since a child, along with places I'd been that I wanted to share with Guerdon. (Click to "bigify" as always) :)

We flew into Las Vegas, rented a car, and immediately headed out as we had a fairly long drive to the South rim of the Grand Canyon. I have been to the south rim a few times, the last one being the most bittersweet as it was the last trip my Mother and I took before the Alzheimer's started to consume her. We actually didn't "see" the Grand Canyon that time as it was fogged in and snowing. Mom and I joked about it and it wasn't too disappointing as we had both seen it before....we really felt bad, however, for the people that had traveled from all over the globe to catch a glimpse of the magnificent canyon.

I decided to splurge and stay at the El Tovar 20 feet from the rim of the canyon.

A little history on this historic hotel:
The Santa Fe Railroad commissioned the construction of El Tovar in 1902. Charles Whittesey, a Chicago architect, designed the structure as a cross between a Swiss chalet and a Norwegian villa. It officially opened its doors in January, 1905, as the luxury hotel at the Grand Canyon for the Santa Fe Railway. The El Tovar was originally financed by the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, at a cost of $250,000, and was managed by Fred Harvey and his Harvey Girls

We checked in and explored around the beautiful lodge. Wood logs from OR were used in building this lodge and it had a great covered porch with rocking chairs that I probably could have sat in and rocked away a good part of my life. :) We had a drink in their lounge which also had outside seating where we could gaze over the canyon.I decided to try a Prickly Pear margarita and though it was a bit sweet it was refreshing.

It was here that I got my first sighting of the immense Condors that call the canyon home.

I found the info on the history of the condor so fascinating I am copy/pasting what I found on the National Park Services website. Here is what they say:

" In Pleistocene times, condors ranged from Canada to Mexico, across the southern United States to Florida, and north on the east coast to New York. During that period, condors were a common resident at the Grand Canyon. A dramatic range reduction occurred about 10,000 years ago, coinciding with the late Pleistocene extinction of large mammals such as mastodons, giant ground sloths, camels, and sabre tooth cats that condors fed on.

By the time Europeans arrived in western North America, condors had retreated to a stronghold along the Pacific coast from British Columbia to Baja California. The birds managed to maintain a strong population until shooting, egg collecting, poisoning by cyanide traps set for coyotes, power line collisions, general habitat degradation, and especially lead poisoning began to take a heavy toll. Lead poisoning from ingesting fragments of lead ammunition in the carcasses and gut piles they feed on remains the greatest threat to California condors today

From the 1880s to 1924, there were scattered reports of condors in Arizona. But by the late 1930s, no condors remained outside of California and by 1982, the total population had dwindled to just 22 birds. Extinction loomed

What's Being Done to Save the Condor?

As a result of the continued downward spiral of the condor population, one of the longest wildlife recovery efforts ever attempted began. The California condor was placed on the federal endangered species list in 1967. Critical habitat was identified and mortality factors were studied.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began a captive breeding program in 1983, teaming with the Los Angeles Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park. (Additional breeding facilities were added later at The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho and at the Oregon Zoo in Portland, Oregon.) But in the wild, condor numbers continued to decline until by 1985 only nine wild birds remained

A controversial decision was made to bring all remaining condors into captivity, and the last wild bird was captured on April 19, 1987. All hope for recovery was now placed on the captive breeding program and the task was formidable.

Condors aren't capable of reproducing until they are about six years old and once a pair mate, only a single egg will normally be produced every year or two. Because of these factors, recruitment into the population is very low. To offset this, captive breeding techniques were developed in which eggs are removed as they are laid, usually causing the captive condors to lay a second and sometimes a third egg.

The extra eggs are incubated and the chicks are raised by caretakers using a hand puppet shaped like a condor head. The puppet prevents the young condors from imprinting on people, a phenomenon in which a bird will identify more with humans than its own species. Some condor chicks are also allowed to be raised by their parent birds. As a result, the captive condor population increased dramatically from 27 birds in 1987 to the 150 or so that are currently being held

Best of all, captive bred condors were being released back into the wild in California beginning in January 1992. Today, more than 80 condors fly free in the state of California, from the Ventana wilderness and Pinnacles National Monument down to the Sespe Condor Refuge and Los Padres National Forest north of Los Angeles.

In December of 1996, six young captive-bred condors were released into the wild in Arizona by The Peregrine Fund from a site in the Vermilion Cliffs, 30 miles north of Grand Canyon National Park. For the first time since 1924, condors were flying free in Arizona skies. Subsequent releases have occurred every year since then.

In October of 1992, three condors were released into the wild on the Baja peninsula of Mexico. It was the first flight of California condors there since 1937.

The world total of California condors today is over 320, more than half of which are in the wild. Although still endangered and facing ongoing challenges such as lead poisoning, they’ve come a long way since numbering just 22 in 1982

California Condors Have Adapted Well to This Area

Currently over 70 condors soar over northern Arizona and southern Utah. Many of them frequent Grand Canyon, especially during the summer. They come from all four captive breeding locations. But more importantly, a number of them come from wild nest caves in and around the Grand Canyon.

The first California condor chick to fledge in the wild anywhere since 1982 was seen leaving its nest cave deep in the Grand Canyon on November 5, 2003. Unfortunately this youngster died in March of 2005, apparently of starvation. But his parents have bred successfully in the same nest cave twice since then. In fact, as of this writing in April of 2009, there are a total of eight wild-bred condors flying free in Arizona and Utah. There are also five active nest caves in the Grand Canyon and the Vermilion Cliffs right now."

Unfortunately I was unable to get any pics of them....mostly because all I could do was stare up in awe at them. Here is a pic that Ann Torrance took at the Grand Canyon.
We had dinner at the El Tovar, a house salad (Baby Organic Greens, Vine-Ripened Tomatoes, Kalamata Olives, topped with Goat Cheese and Grilled Red Onion, served with a Toasted PiƱon Vinaigrette) for a starter, followed by a lovely ribeye steak with a pesto sauce, potatoes and broccoli. No room for dessert! In the morning we had breakfast there as well and I tried their pancake trio, blue corn, buckwheat and buttermilk pancakes with a pinenut honey butter drizzled with Prickly Pear syrup. Delicious!

Another interesting bit of history right across the El Tovar was the Hopi House. Hopi House was designed by Mary Jane Colter, a woman who was a standout as an architect. She designed 21 projects for Fred Harvey. She really is one of my hero's, going where most women feared to tread. She also decorated El Tovar and designed the Watchtower.

Here are a few pics heading out of the canyon, and on our way to the Desert View Watchtower...

Guerdon clowning around....:)
Approaching the Desert View Watchtower....

The Desert View Watchtower...

Just a piece of cool looking wood....:P
Climbing up into the Watchtower there are paintings by Fred Kabotie, murals done in 1932.....

The view from the top of the Watchtower...
More of the paintings and pictographs done by Hopi artist, Fred Kabotie
From here we continue on to our next destination, Monument Valley.....


Shula said...

Very cool pictures. I hope to meet my parents at the Grand Canyon next time they fly over to visit me from England. I've never been but am looking forward to it. I also want to see Bryce Canyon while I'm out there. Enjoy the rest of your vacation :)

I need orange said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing your trip with us!

Seeing the Grand Canyon is on my bucket list.....

The news that there are wild-raised condors flying there brings tears to my eyes. Maybe some day I'll get to glimpse one.

Michelle said...

Wow; you go into hiding and come out at the Grand Canyon! Great shots, and I can't believe my eyes -- there is an actual Guerdon! ;-) What a great trip it sounds like; can't wait to see and hear more.

Susan said...

What a wonderful travelogue! Makes me want to go pack my bags and head west, far west. Thank you for taking me there through your beautiful photos.