Lees Ferry, Lake Havasu Latkes, and Leaning Toward the Ledge

Once back from my white knuckle drive from White Pocket, the rains roll in right on cue, just as forecasted.   I am feeling a great deal of gratitude for making it back safely without getting stuck.    Rain on the 10 mile sandy stretch could possibly help pack down the loose sand, but the rest of the road is likely to be a muddy mess.

The drive into Lee's Ferry Campground from Marble Canyon is surprisingly beautiful!

The drive into Lees Ferry Campground from Marble Canyon is surprisingly beautiful!

Vermillion Cliffs along Hwy 89

Vermillion Cliffs along Hwy 89

Lees Ferry Campground

Lees Ferry Campground

I’d planned to do some hiking in the Lees Ferry area, but Cathedral Wash behind me is now more like Cathedral River. A rushing sound behind the Winnie reveals that runoff from the rains into the wash is now flowing at a rate to match the Paria River in the next gully over. The rain seems to be coming in waves, directly proportionate to my motivation to hike. Every time I get up and start to don the raincoat, the deluge returns. So hiking is out. Time to move on.

Rainbow over Lees Ferry

Rainbow over Lee’s Ferry

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I accepted an invitation to Thanksgiving Dinner at Lake Havasu friends Joel and Kathy again this year, because last year was such a treat. And having spent a week with their family at Yosemite this summer, bonding on the backpacking trip to Half Dome, I feel like an adopted family member…one of those eccentric aunts that gets invited for holidays. 😉

This is the launch area for boats going down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Close to 1,000 trips (22,000 people) leave Lees Ferry each year.

This is the launch area for boats going down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Close to 1,000 trips (22,000 people) leave Lees Ferry each year. Beyond here, there is no easy way in or out of the canyon for 200 miles.

Following heavy rainfall, the Paria River is flowing into the Colorado, but the two water sources are flowing too fast to blend.

Following heavy rainfall, the Paria River is flowing into the Colorado, but the two water sources are flowing too fast to blend.

The Paria River looks like chocolate milk, while the Colorado is deep blue.

The Paria River looks like chocolate milk, while the Colorado is deep blue.

Knowing Kathy and son Jona just finished up a “Rim 2 Rim” hike through the Grand Canyon, I am excited to hear all the details of their trip.   I had this same itinerary booked two years ago, when I had to make a sudden detour back to Texas due to a death in the family.   So I am eager to relive the experience vicariously through Kathy.

Joel's famous Latkes, or potato pancakes, served with applesauce. Typically reserved for Hanukah, we get a special preview the night before Thanksgiving, along with steaks as big as my head.

Joel’s famous Latkes, or potato pancakes, served with applesauce. Typically reserved for Hannukah, we get a special preview the night before Thanksgiving, along with steaks as big as my head.

Her enthusiasm for the hike is infectious.  I listen with intent as she talks effusively about experiencing the canyon from the top down, and then the bottom up.   I come back to the Winnie and on a whim, place a call to Xanterra’s Phantom Ranch reservations.    While on hold, the recording states they are now accepting reservations 13 months in advance.   Fat chance.  Once the reservationist answers, I start the conversation by saying “I realize this is a ridiculous long shot, buuuuutt…” I am shocked out of my socks when the guy replies, “Well, we do have two nights in the woman’s dorm next week…”   I jump to my feet and grab my credit card.

Grand Canyon Railway RV Park. Thank goodness for Passport America discounts!

Grand Canyon Railway RV Park. Thank goodness for Passport America discounts!

Getting a glimpse of Winter at the South Rim

Getting a glimpse of Winter at the South Rim

Icicles hang from the Bright Angel Lodge.

Icicles hang from the Bright Angel Lodge.

A check of the weather forecast for the South Rim the week after Thanksgiving reports an “arctic blast” on the way, bringing nighttime temperatures down into the low teens.  But the bottom of the canyon, where I’d be staying is typically 20 degrees warmer.   Highs should be up into the 50’s at Phantom Ranch.  With no wind and lots of sun in the forecast, it could be perfect hiking weather.   I send a quick note to my favorite Grand Canyon Ranger Gaelyn to ask her opinion.   She replies, “Inner canyon temps look perfect for day hiking.  You could hike up to Ribbon Falls.”  So I won’t have to worry about myself…only about the Winnie.

My last day in Lake Havasu, I spring into action winterizing the Winnie. (No photos…it was all business!) I borrow Joel’s air compressor, dump the fresh water tank and hot water tank in the boondock area, and blow the water out of the lines. I add a gallon of “pink stuff” to the holding tanks and P-traps, and hope I’ve covered all the bases.

This is the historic Kolb Studio, once the home and photography studio of pioneers Emery and Ellsworth Kolb, built in 1904. Now restored, it is a information center and curio shop with nice art exhibit on the lower floor.

This is the historic Kolb Studio, once the home and photography studio of pioneers Emery and Ellsworth Kolb, built in 1904. Now restored, it is an information center and curio shop with nice art exhibit on the lower floor.

Lookout Studio, another historic building on the rim built in 1914. Architect was Mary Colter whose signature style was organic, using stone to blend into the rim. Hard to tell where studio ends and cliff walls begin.

Lookout Studio, another historic building on the rim built in 1914. Arcitect was Mary Colter whose signature style was organic, using stone to blend into the rim. Hard to tell where studio ends and cliff walls begin.

I love this landmark locator. Line it up with the notches to see certain landmarks in the canyon.

I love this landmark locator. Line it up with the notches to see certain landmarks in the canyon.

The drive toward the South Rim grows increasingly challenging the further east (and higher elevation) I go.  The arctic blast overtakes me, bringing with it sub-freezing temps and sideways blowing snow!  I have driven through fallen snow before in the Winnie, but never when it was snowing hard enough to bring out the sanding trucks!   These “white knuckle drives” are starting to do a number on my shoulder muscles!   I have my doubts about the road leading into the canyon, so I decide to make Williams, AZ along I-40 my target for the night.   I will re-evaluate the situation the following morning, and decide whether my call to the Bright Angel Lodge will be to reconfirm as they have requested, or to forfeit my deposit.

The Grand Canyon Railway RV Park (Passport America!) is covered in snow and ice when I arrive, though they must have some system to keep the parking pads thawed out, as they are clear.   It’s a relief to have hookups, since clouds have been stealing my solar.   I crank up the small electric heater to wait out the forecast….

Checking out the conditions of the Bright Angle trail head.

Checking out the conditions of the Bright Angle trail head.

"Icy Trail" hhhhmmmm...

“Icy Trail” hhhhmmmm…

One interesting tidbit I learned about the National Parks…they do not use any traditional methods toward deicing roads…no salt, no chemicals.  I may be wrong, but I don’t believe they even use a snow plow.  They do use mechanical means such as breaking up the snow with shovels along entrances to lodges.  But as for the roads, well, it’s strictly up to the sun.  Lucky for me, I awake to a sunny day.

Too bad I don't carry a pair of cross-country skis. ;-)

Too bad I don’t carry a pair of cross-country skis. ;-)

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I check in with the woman at the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park to see if she has heard any news on the road conditions.  “I come in to work that way.  The roads are dry.  You’ll be fine.  Well….at least up to the park gate, that is.”   I decide to make my attempt midday when the sun is at its highest point, with the promise to myself that I will turn around at the first sign of discomfort.

Looking across at the beautiful El Tovar Hotel, built 1905 as one of the Great National Park Lodges built in conjunction with the railway.

Looking across at the beautiful El Tovar Hotel, built 1905 as one of the Great National Park Lodges built in conjunction with the railway.

A closer look at the historic El Tovar Lodge.

A closer look at the historic El Tovar Lodge.

I decide to splurge and treat myself to dinner in the El Tovar, in case I don't make it back up the trail leading out of the canyon. ;-)

I decide to splurge and treat myself to dinner in the El Tovar, my “Last Supper” in case I don’t make it back up the trail leading out of the canyon. ;-)

The hour drive on Highway 64 is clear of any ice, but once I drive through the park gate, it’s a different story.  Thankfully, there are never long stretches, only icy patches where the roads are shaded.  I creep along below the 25 mph speed limit, and pull safely into the parking lot of the Backcountry Information Office, where I plan to leave the Winnie for my hike down into the canyon.  There are two large lots here, one even has RV spaces.  The lots are less than 1/3 full, so I find myself a nice secluded, level spot, and prepare for my coldest night yet without hookups on the Canyon Rim…

16 thoughts on “Lees Ferry, Lake Havasu Latkes, and Leaning Toward the Ledge

  1. Oh, this is just so exciting! From the sounds of this, you did actually make that rim to rim hike….I can’t wait! Actually, also, they do plow the roads in Crater Lake National Park, at least half of them.

  2. Be very careful…a few years ago we spent 2 nights at phantom ranch the day after Christmas. Our weather forecast was favorable…..it started raining on our first mile back up…turned to snow. If it were not for my husband our group of 12 would have been very much in trouble…me included…big time.

  3. Suzanne you’re KILLING me with these last posts! You’re in my favorite (so far) places on Earth! I’ve done 2 Colorado River trips and can’t wait to hear where your next post takes me. Several years ago, on an adventure that lead to those 2 river trips, I did an early April hike down to Phantom Ranch, but not rim to rim. The morning we set out was slippery and snowy…and a little daunting! But down in that glorious canyon it was more like Phoenix temps. On another April morning when I was living in Phoenix a friend and I and her son headed up to Grand Canyon. At the last minute I grabbed jackets and hats for us all, despite the fact that we were in shorts and tees in Phx. As we drove up from Flagstaff there were snowplows coming the other way. My friend’s son got his first view of the Canyon as we stood at Mather Point in a blizzard in shorts and sandals and down jackets having the time of our lives. But, like you, we woke to sunshine the next day! Thanks for bringing all these wonderful memories to mind! Can’t wait for the next episode. BTW…do you carry an air compressor?

  4. Sounds like the perfect time to walk the canyon floor. The summer must be wicked down there. But…getting down!!!??? Hope you have crampons! Can’t wait for the rest of the story! Don’t delay! Love, Love the rainbow:) The two rivers not blending is very cool!!

  5. Can’t wait to read the rest of the story! Your sense of adventure and telling it’s tales is captivating. You know all about our love affair with the canyon…and rim to rim is still one of the experiences waiting for us.

  6. I feel like I’m standing at the edge of the canyon with one foot hanging over the edge – do I or don’t I? But knowing you, Suzanne, I’m sure that you headed down. Looking forward to chapter 2!

  7. Gaaaaaaaahhhh…hanging here, legs dangling, arms outstretched, fingernails packed with dirt and blood as they tether me to the rim of the cliff up there over my head! The *only* way I’m hanging on is by visualizing the gorgeous rainbow and canyon shots from this post…I *refuse* to let go before I get to see the *rest of the story*! The wind is picking up, though, the temp is dropping and my arms are aching like the dickens…come on, girl!! :-)

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