We woke up for our first morning at the Grand Canyon with a bit of a surprise – snow! We knew it was probably going to rain, but we weren’t expecting snow. We hiked out the roughly half-mile to the Rim to see the snow in the Canyon. Since it was pretty cold, we didn’t stay long and headed back to the camper until it warmed up then we took the bus to one of the Northern-most stops and walked the rim for about four miles. The views were really beautiful.
We had two interesting wildlife encounters as we walked – the endangered California Condor and the (definitely not endangered) Elk:
I am now completely a huge condor fan. They are absolutely amazing to watch flying – with a nine foot wing span they are often just floating on the thermals and winds that come up the Canyon walls.
I remembered when we lived in California in the late 1980’s there was a lot of publicity about the endangered California Condor. (I think I remember this more because power lines were known to be contributing to their decline and it came up as an issue at LADWP anytime we started talking about building new transmission or distribution lines.) There were only 22 condors left so they decided to capture them and start a breeding program in an attempt to save the species.
The program was incredibly successful and the first of the captive-bred condors were released back into the wild just five years after the last condor was captured. Condors only breed once every two years and are very susceptible to lead poisoning from ingesting lead ammunition when feeding on carcasses.
There are now three areas where California Condors are living in the wild – California, Arizona and Mexico (Baja California).
The most amazing sight was seeing about eight of the condors flying over the South Rim of the Grand Canyon! They land on the cliffs just below the Rim Path out of reach from where all the tourists are standing. It was a fantastic sight – especially because we weren’t really expecting to see them. (The Grand Canyon newspaper had an article that said you might spot one.)
As we continued our stroll down the Rim Trail, it was getting late and there were a lot fewer people around. We went around a corner and there were four huge elk standing in the path! (They must have stood eight or nine feet tall.) Then, we spotted another four on the other side of the trail – they were everywhere!
It took us forever to get down the path. The Elk wouldn’t get out of our way and they are a bit intimidating when they look you in the eye. We didn’t want to get too close or startle them. They were finding plenty to eat and they weren’t moving too quickly.
We finally cleared the first pack and walked a bit more when we came upon two more – one on each side of the path! We didn’t want to get between them so we traipsed around through a part of the woods that had been burnt out. There was Elk scat everywhere!
We thought that was it and the next thing you know we saw dozens off to our right in a clearing in the woods! We have since seen others – while on the bus and then while riding our bikes on the Greenway Trail.
Male Elk lose their horns every year and they are just starting to regrow now so we don’t have any pictures of big racks. But, lack of horns does not make them any less intimidating.
Here are some of the other pictures we took of the Canyon while dodging the Elk: