Long time readers of this blog are used to its author whining about not seeing a California Condor after several attempts at the Grand Canyon. Another attempt, this time at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, failed last week.
But there will be no more whining about not seeing a condor.
After a trip through parts of the Navajo Nation and a side trip up two of the three Hopi Mesas (Old Oraibi and Walpi) and a night at the Cameron Trading Post, a backpacking buddy and I headed for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for two nights and three days of hiking. To get to the North Rim from the South Rim, if you don’t have the time to hike 26 miles or can’t fly, is a 200 mile drive. The only bridge across the Colorado River leading to the North Rim sits at the head of Marble Canyon at Lee’s Ferry. (The Navajo Bridge) After crossing the bridge, the road skirts the Vermillion Cliffs before climbing up to the Kaibab Plateau, about 1,000 feet higher than the South Rim and about 5000 feet higher than the bridge.
On the morning we made the drive, road work caused us to stop. Only one lane of the two-lane road was open and traffic had to take turns using the one open lane. I got out of the car to visit with the flag man who, in the course of conversation, told me that people had been seeing some condors on the Navajo Bridge. He did not know a Navajo word for “condor” but that was no surprise: The California Condors are not native to Arizona or Navajo country. But some condors are nesting at a site in the Vermillion Cliffs. He did know how to be polite to the woman who got out of her car further back in the line and demanded, “What are we supposed to do? Drive around all these stopped cars?”
He was very polite to her but, after she stomped back to her car, did laugh when I asked him if he got a lot of stupid questions. I thanked him for the condor information and it was our turn to drive through the road work.
Naturally, we stopped at the bridge. Actually there are two bridges, a modern one that traffic now uses and an older one that is now reserved for pedestrians who want to walk out and look down on the Colorado River.
We got out and scanned the bridges and the cliffs and saw nothing.
Fortunately the woman who runs the visitor center at Navajo Bridge was on the foot bridge visiting with a man from the Peregrine Fund who is involved in the condor project. They pointed to a shadow on the cliff face which resolved itself into the all-black shape of a juvenile California Condor.
Here, thanks to my friend with the better telephoto lens, is what we saw.
Condors’ heads don’t start turning their distinctive red until the bird is about three years old. Until then, their heads are black as you see in the photo. This one may only be a year old because he still is not fully grown.
We stopped at the bridge again on the way home and my friend got a fleeting glimpse of one flying away, but the bridge blocked our view and I didn’t see it.
So now, all that is left for me to whine about is that I still have never seen an adult condor or one in flight. Which means I’ll just have to keep going back to the Vermillion Cliffs and the Grand Canyon. I hate it when that happens.