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Archive - May 2006

South Rim Transportation - Take IV

South Rim Transportation - Take V

A Merit-less Award

Random Fragments - 5/24/06

Natural Bridges National Monument

Monday, May 1, 2006

   South Rim Transportation - Take IV - The Park Service is soliciting public comments as part of their scoping process for the consideration of plans to deal with congestion at the Grand Canyon.  The comment period ends today, Monday, May 1st, at 12 midnight, and I have submitted three proposals this past week - Take I, Take II and Take III.  Here is a fourth proposal of mine.  If you wish to opine on these matters, you can do so through the park service's on-line comment form.  [If you go to the form, you can easily navigate to the various documents that are posted up relating to this issue.]

South Rim Visitor Transportation Plan – Public Comments
Proposal DF-04

     Construct a parking area east of the South Kaibab Trailhead.  Due to the proximity of this trailhead to Mather Point, addressing the congestion that occurs here should be part of any integrated strategy to deal with congestion in the South Rim Village area.  As of now, the road to this trailhead, and Yaki Point, is closed during much of the year, and visitors are encouraged to take a bus to this trailhead.  An area to the east of the Yaki Point road is close enough to the trailhead to serve as an overflow parking area and could easily serve 100 vehicles.


--The South Kaibab trail is not only one of the great trails of the Grand Canyon, it is truly one of the greatest trails in the world.  The existing parking, at the trailhead, is insufficient for the peak demand during many months of the year, leading the park service to close the road, and parking lot, to public use, and providing a transit system in order to access this trail.  Creating this dependence on transit leads to two problems for potential users.
     First, hikers must factor in the time spent using the transit system as part of their hiking time.  A few years ago, I opted to hike from the Bright Angel to the South Kaibab, and return to the village on the bus.  The transit leg, from the South Kaibab trailhead to the Bright Angel Lodge took nearly an hour, while driving this distance takes hardly ten minutes.  Time spent in the transit system is time that could have been spent hiking, and most hikers are extremely unwilling to make that substitution.
     Second, while one can easily plan to use the transit system at the front end of their hike, it is much more problematic to rely on it at the back end of their hike.  It is easy for a hiker to spend a lot of time, not planned for, in the canyon - perhaps for reasons of poor conditioning, or just because watching the sunset from atop the Redwall is a beautiful experience.  Regardless, they face the distinct prospect that, when they reach the trailhead, there will be no more buses serving that route.  Consequently, they might have to walk many miles, along a dangerous road, in the dark, to reach their car, parked in the village.
     The consequence of these problems leads many hikers to park in the picnic area near the Yaki Point turnoff, along the East Rim road itself, or at the paved viewpoints along the rim.  These three choices represent an inefficient use of existing parking space and an increase in the probability of a serious accident.  The appropriate solution is to enhance access to this trailhead.  An area just east of the Yaki Point road is suitable for an overflow parking area, which could be expanded over time, as conditions warrant.

The image shows AZ 64 as it passes the Yaki Point road.  About halfway to Yaki Point, is the South Kaibab trailhead.  The auto icon marks the spot of the nearby picnic area.  [Original image from Google Earth.]

Portion of Grand Canyon Shuttle Bus Map, showing where
the South Kaibab trail is relative to Mather Point.
[The map is not drawn to scale.]
To see some other park maps, follow this link.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

   South Rim Transportation - Take V - The Park Service was soliciting public comments as part of their scoping process for the consideration of plans to deal with congestion at the Grand Canyon.  The comment period ended last night, Monday, May 1st, at 12 midnight.  I was able to make a final submission just a couple of hours before the deadline, and that proposal is below.  I had made four earlier proposals - Take I, Take II, Take III and Take IV.  While the comment period is over, you can still go out to the park service site to read documentation on this plan.  The next phase will be the release of an "Environmental Assessment" which will outline a few different proposals, including one favored by the park service.  Then, we will see if any of my ideas had an impact.

South Rim Visitor Transportation Plan – Public Comments
Proposal DF-05

     Add a local bus express lane at the entrance station, to be used by a shuttle bus that operates between Tusayan and the major areas within the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park.  Use Tusayan as the staging area, under the control and supervision of the business interests there, and allow for any number of licensed firms to participate in this venture.


--If additional parking is made available in the park, either as suggested by “Option A” or by the proposals I have put forth (DF-01, DF-02, DF-03), the need for external parking would be mitigated.  Still, it would be efficient if the growing numbers of visitors staying in Tusayan had the option of leaving their vehicles at their hotels, where they can board a shuttle bus into the park.  This would further mitigate the pressure on traffic in the park.

--The present plan, “Option A,” calls for a parking area at Long Jim Canyon.  Drop this in favor of parking throughout the Tusayan area, where any visitor (whether they are overnighters in Tusayan or not) can board a shuttle into the canyon.  The park would not have to fund these facilities (indeed, much of the existing space can be used exactly this way), nor would they have to maintain them.  Leave this entirely up to the private sector.  An obvious advantage here is that park resources need not be used to facilitate this option, except for the express entrance lane.

--These trips can be priced however bus operators would like to price them.  I would think that the park could accept some per person fee in lieu of the park pass or entrance fee for vehicles.  Each person could get a hand stamp, allowing them back into the park (via shuttle) for the rest of the day.  This could be done by the bus operator, or could be done at the gate (which would be more time consuming).  At the gate, the driver can make the payment and give a count to the clerk, and continue on to the CVIP.  [Years ago, I took a bus up to the canyon, and the driver collected the fee from each passenger and noted down who had a park pass – all in all, it went smoothly at the gate.  Something like this is what I have in mind for this proposal.]

--To enhance the desirability of this service, I would suggest that these buses be allowed a limited number of stops in the park, so that visitors don’t have to do too much planning to get a shuttle back to Tusayan – CVIP, the business center, and Maswik Lodge would seem reasonable choices.  Keep these stops/pullouts separate from the regular park shuttles.

--Although these buses will be specially marked, to distinguish them from other buses, there may also be a size limit imposed on them to keep their presence in the park less intrusive.

Saturday, May 6, 2006

   A Merit-less Award - This past Thursday, a front page story in the Arizona Daily Sun featured a native American high school student, Alberta Nells, who received a "moral courage" award from Northern Arizona University's Martin-Springer Institute.  The award was for her "refusing to be intimidated during an incident with police" at the school.  The "incident" started with the posting of flyers around the school that were promoting the screening of a film opposed to snowmaking at the Arizona Snowbowl (blogged about in "Cultural Bigotry").  The flyers were loaded with images that suggested violence, and the group sponsoring the event had no official standing with the school.   A police officer, who was at the school on some other matter, noted the flyers and raised questions with the administration.  A SWAT team was sent to the school and a number of students were questioned.  The police admitted that they overreacted, apologized to the students, and their parents.  The film was not shown.  So, what's wrong with this picture?  Plenty ...

Issue 1 - The incident makes a mockery of this award.  The Martin-Springer Institute is dedicated to "Using the lessons of the Holocaust to promote moral courage, altruism and tolerance."  There are huge lessons to be learned from the Holocaust, and every generation will, hopefully, learn them.  But, to equate this incident with these lessons is unfathomable.  Another recipient of this award was a grade school student that faced down an older, and bigger, student that was bullying another student.  That award makes sense to me.  That student placed himself in physical danger to stand up for what was right.
     But, this "incident" hardly rises to the level of meriting this award.  After the matter settled down, Ms. Nells, and others, demanded a public apology from the police, saying that the individualized apologies were insufficient.  It sounds to me like these child-activists are showing little, or no, tolerance, and, rather than exemplifying the goals of the Martin-Springer Institute, they mock and degrade them.

Issue 2 - It isn't clear that the film was suitable for this venue.  The group that wanted to show this film ("The Snowbowl Effect") could have followed the proper procedures for getting this film shown at the high school.  Still, that might not have been enough, as public school venues are discouraged for controversial issues, especially ones that are one-sided.  There are certainly plenty of other places in Flagstaff to screen this film, and it was, earlier this year, shown in the library auditorium at NAU.

Issue 3 - The Columbine Effect.  Imagine, if you will, the response if the police had just ignored these signals, and true violence had broken out on the grounds of the high school.  There would have been no shortage of condemnation for the local police.  They have to react and respond to threats, without necessarily knowing to what extent these threats can be realized.  They used overwhelming force in this instance, and decided that poor communications were to blame.  But, I don't blame the police for this.  The activist groups involved in this were likely quite happy with the windfall publicity this incident gave them.  That probably sounds more like a Goebbels' propaganda-ploy than it does as evidence of "moral courage."

Issue 4 - Reform education.  This incident also offers up further evidence, like we really need any, for the separation of school and state.  Let schools be perfectly private institutions, establishing their own rules and regulations.  I have noted this before, in "Deregulate Schooling."

     And, now for the unexpected ironic twist here.  On the same day as the newspaper touted this "award," Rick Krug had a letter published, in which he defended himself from the attacks of others, for his use of his money to help promote his opinions concerning the on-going election, with regard to the dubious "workforce housing" proposition (see more about the props in "Flagstaff - Baby Leviathan").  Krug spent many hundreds of his own dollars to have a recorded message sent to random households in Flagstaff.  I am not convinced that this is really going to convince people, but I was under the distinct impression that this is a free country.  The city is investigating him for violating free speech campaign finance laws.  No word on whether the ACLU will be helping Krug, and I wouldn't hold my breath on that one.  This issue also appeared on the front page of the Daily Sun (4/26/06).  And, he was even rebuked by an NAU professor, who runs a polling lab on campus, who questioned Mr. Krug's ethics.  Talk about pots and kettles!  Do you think that Krug will be a recipient of the Martin-Springer Institute's award for "moral courage" next year?  No, I don't either.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

   Random Fragments - The end of the school term always leaves me exhausted - long days, lots of papers to grade, and exams to prepare.  And, then, I am in a semi-vegetative state for a while as I decompress.  One nice feature of the academic lifestyle is the fact that every 15 weeks everything is absolutely, positively, over.  Well, I am likely to see a few students repeating my class in the fall.  But, still, the finality is, I think, quite unique.  That is, in many businesses, you work on various projects that have completion dates.  But, those completion dates usually overlap start dates for other projects.  Otherwise, in other jobs, it is a case of some continuity of tasks.  Anyway, I find that I am quite tolerant of working long days, getting short changed on sleep, and sacrificing more nights and weekends, as the semester winds down, because I know I will soon be free of those duties and responsibilities.

     I am not, however, free of things to do, work/school related or otherwise.  I have research projects that must be continued, insofar as my professional health goes.  In fact, after turning in semester grades, I was finally able to wrap up a research paper that has been hanging around for quite a while.  And, there is another paper that I have worked on, which really must be completed this summer.  In August, it all begins anew (no summer school for me, which hasn't always been the case).  A fresh beginning, and the knowledge that it will only last for one semester.  I have a theory that this work pattern helps me to be better cognizant of the passage of time.  If anyone has some input on that, drop me a line.  Well, enough on that score.  Time to get back to more regular blogging.  Today, some random fragments...

Why can't drivers merge?  My daily commute takes me to the interstate twice a day.  I find that far too often, I am behind someone that moseys up to on-ramp, reaching the highway traffic, by the time they are doing, oh, say 45 mph.  Then, oblivious to the consequences of impacting metal boxes that are hurling along at 65 mph, they just move over into the traffic lane with nary a care in the world.  Doh!  I learned, many years ago, that the purpose of the on-ramp was to speed up to the prevailing speed of the highway traffic, so that you could merge easily between two vehicles.  What is it that other drivers learn?  I don't see this characteristic in big cities, but 99 times out of 100, it seems to me that this laconic driver is not local.  It must really drive truckers nuts, as I am always observing that they move over, into the left hand lane, to avoid impending disaster.  So, down in Phoenix, they are experimenting with cameras to catch speeders (and, then, mailing them their ticket!).  How about setting up cameras along on-ramps - if you aren't going at least 90% of the highway speed, you get a ticket.  And, the lower your speed, the more you pay?  I would exempt semis, but include RVs.

Why do bums have pets?  Well, the "pc" term is "transient" and not "bum."  However, whenever I see someone with their cardboard sign, panhandling at various intersections, they look employable, so I think it is more accurate to call them bums.  So, what is the deal when they have a dog with them (I can't recall ever seeing one with a cat)?  I suppose it is a ploy to further appeal to our "humanity."  But, I just think that if they can take care of an animal, they can take care of themselves.  And, if they can't take care of themselves, they shouldn't have an animal.  Anyway, when I see these people, with pets, I just imagine that they are really saying, "Hey, I don't want to work - give me some money."  Another question, do they make new signs at each stop?  Or, do they recycle?  I think the former.  Which means, they must carry a magic marker with them.  I wonder if anyone has done any research on what possessions bums do carry around with them?  I bet they almost all carry magic markers.

Tax money well spent?  A few weeks ago, I went to a concert featuring Los Lobos.  Great band, although they seemed to be traveling light - maybe, when they play smaller venues, they don't bring a brass section.  Too bad, as that is part of why I like this group so much, and have for, ...  what, 20 years?  I guess so.  The concert was at the new Pine Mountain Amphitheater, located just a couple of miles south of Flagstaff.  It was the first such show in this brand new facility.  And, who paid for this?  Taxpayers.  Indeed, to kick off this afternoon of festivities, the announcer rallied the crowd with, "Do you think this is a great way to spend taxpayer's money?"  Apparently, I was the only one to reply, "No."  I can't, in my wildest imagination, fathom the rationale for using taxpayer funds for such a bizarre purpose.  Clearly, the rest of the crowd could care less about the proper role of government - they like to receive personal benefits from taxpayer monies.  So, what's the difference between these people and Jack Abramoff?  Only the scale of their ability (but, not willingness) to rip off the public sector, it would seem.  I overheard more than a few concert-goers comment about how it was "about time" that Flagstaff finally got a facility like this.  The ironic cap to all this was a bumper sticker on the car of someone attending the concert.  It was a symbol and abbreviation that is meant to be read as, "Don't Phoenix Flagstaff."  Apparently, many people actually do believe that you can have your cake and eat it, too!

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

   Natural Bridges National Monument - The Memorial Day weekend found the nuclear family up at the Natural Bridges National Monument, in southern Utah.  Eric and I had stopped by, for about a half hour, on a long road trip through Utah early last summer.  We thought we might go back for a camping and hiking trip in the fall, but time flies by when one is busy!  So, as Memorial Day approached, it seemed like a good opportunity to do this trip.  The park has only 13 campsites, but the facilities are rather low grade - pit toilets.  Water is available, 24/7, outside the visitor's center, which is just about a half mile from the campground.

     This is the oldest national monument in Utah, and it isn't all that big.  There are three natural bridges here, all easily visible from the nine mile loop road, and all within less than a half mile hike of their respective overlooks.  What intrigued us was the idea of hiking from bridge to bridge to bridge, covering some six to seven miles in these neat little canyons, and another five to six miles of hiking across the mesa to reach our car.  You can kind of make it out on the map, to the right, or click on it to see a larger image.

     The hiking was fantastic.  We decided to split it up over two days, hiking down to Sipapu Bridge, and down White Canyon to Kachina Bridge, and out, on the first day.  The hike back to the car was tiring and it was hot on the mesa.  So, on the second day, Eric and I dropped Cara Lynn, and our packs, at the Kachina Overlook, drove the car to the Owachomo Overlook, and hiked back at the start of our day.  Then, we hiked down to Kachina Bridge, up Armstrong Canyon, and out at Owachomo Bridge.  Both days, we encountered neat ruins and petroglyphs midway along these canyons, which was like frosting on the cake.  The only downside was the fierce wind on Saturday night, which forced us to drive to nearby Blanding for dinner (rather than serve up a tasty portion of chili mac with grit!).  I don't think any other people stayed as long as we did - three nights.  Mostly, the campground emptied out early in the morning, and filled up late in the afternoon.

Click on any picture to see a larger image.

First stop - Sipapu Bridge.
This is the second largest natural bridge in the world.  The largest is the famous Rainbow Bridge in 
nearby Lake Powell.
Wide open spaces!  The "trail" includes wooden ladders.
Cara Lynn, Eric & Dennis at Horsecollar Ruin.
 Second stop - Kachina Bridge. Ruins & pictographs at Kachina.  The "Knickpoint" above Kachina. 

Stone steps allow for the descent of a tough spot in the trail above Kachina Bridge.  I was fascinated by the cool trail "improvements" here that allowed visitors easy access to all three bridges.  It reflects a much more "user-friendly" attitude than I am used to encountering at the Grand Canyon! 
Stairway out at Kachina.  Step cut into the stone. 

The "Shoe" panel of petroglyphs, between Kachina and Owachomo.  The site is so-named for the rock formation that lies above this cliff.

Last stop - Owachomo Bridge.  I took this from the old trail that descended from the old visitor's center, now inaccessible to park visitors.

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