Monday, September 29, 2008

Arizona, Day 3 - The Grand Canyon!

AZ Hwy 64 on the way to Tusayan

We were both a little startled when we awoke this morning to find that Kelley's face was swollen, especially near and around her cheeks. She located a white patch on one of her tonsils, and she decided she'd call her doctor later on to see if perhaps he might be willing to prescribe an antibiotic over the phone (she was currently recovering from what had been diagnosed last week as strep throat). We checked out of the motel, loaded the car, and we were off again. There was a Denny's close by, so we ate a hearty breakfast. While we were there, Kelley got in touch with her doctor's office, and she was advised to visit a local urgent care center. We decided that we would go on our Grand Canyon tour and then locate an urgent care center after that. After we finished our breakfast, we were back on the road---this time to Tusayan AZ, a small community near the south entrance to the Grand Canyon, where we were scheduled to meet our guide for our Grand Canyon Sunset Tour.

The McDonald's in Tusayan AZ, our tour meeting place

We made better time than I had hoped, and we actually ended up in Tusayan a couple of hours before our tour was scheduled to begin. There is a National Geographic Visitor Center in Tusayan, so we ventured there, as it was very conveniently located across the street from McDonald's. Actually, everything is across the street or next to McDonald's...this is a tiny community.

The main drag in Tusayan as viewed from the McDonald's parking lot

We watched the Grand Canyon IMAX movie there, which not only showed some breathtaking shots of the canyon, but it also shared the history of this natural wonder.

The National Geographic Visitor Center in Tusayan

Afterwards, we did some shopping at a trading post/souvenir store. I can now honestly say that I have tasted prickly pear candy, and I do not care for it in the slightest. It's made from the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. I hear that it's an acquired taste, but I didn't acquire it. It's a jelly candy, and I found it to be rather sour. I don't like sour candy, but if you do like it, then you'd probably like this stuff. I ate a piece and threw the rest away.

Finally, our meeting time of 3:30 p.m. arrived, and we drove over to the McDonald's parking lot. We met 3 British couples who were also awaiting the arrival of our guide. Joe arrived and informed the Brits that they would be on another bus with their guide, Jared. Kelley and I were assigned to Joe's bus. An Indian couple, Vijay and Meera, joined us.

Our tour vehicle...that's Kelley inside

We drove to the Quality Inn to pick up seven more passengers---two Australian families who were traveling together. Out of a total of 17 passengers on this tour, Kelley and I were the only Americans. The rest were Brits, Aussies, and Indians; Joe laughingly called it the "British Empire Tour", which I thought was a rather intelligent and clever observation. Anyway, we picked up our Aussie friends, and we were on our way.

My view in the tour vehicle...that's Joe driving

We made our way deep into the Kaibab National Forest. Joe pointed out various plants and trees that were growing there, including mistletoe and juniper trees, some of which were hundreds of years old. Camping is permitted in much of the forest; Joe showed us six miles of forest that were burned from just one campfire that was left untended. It burned up to the side of the road, jumped over the road, and continued to destroy trees on the other side.

We saw several mule deer, including a huge buck that made Joe, an avid hunter, drool. I thought they were beautiful for other reasons. We also saw a herd of elk, but they were too far into the woods to get a decent photo. I was, however, able to capture a photo of a flock of wild turkeys that we saw.

Run, turkeys, run!

One of the most interesting things that Joe showed us was a man-made watering hole that had been donated by a local sportsmen's association. Arizona is drought-ravaged, and the sportsmen's association was concerned that the wild animals would die from thirst. So the individual members donated their personal money (Joe says the National Park Service will try to take credit for it) to build this thing. It didn't come from the money made from issuing hunting licenses---it came from the members' own pockets. Tanks were built in order to store the water. Hopefully, the snow will melt and fill the tanks naturally; if not, water is hauled in on tanker trucks. They built a roof over the tanks in order to prevent it from evaporating. The result is a watering hole that never dries up. We saw a huge footprint there that Joe identified as that of a bull elk. I thought this contraption was pretty ingenious. The water looks pretty gross, but Joe said it's fine for the animals, as their systems can handle it. If humans were to drink, however, it would certainly need to be purified first.

These are the tanks that are covered by the metal roof

The "watering hole"

We then headed to Grandview Lookout where there is an active lookout ranger station. We were permitted to climb this 80-foot steel tower that was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936.

The Grandview lookout tower

From the top, you can view The Painted Desert, the Grand Canyon, and the San Francisco Peaks. I'm proud to say that my 41-year-old body made it to the top with relatively mild discomfort. It was 80 feet of all stairs, baby! Needless to say, the views were breathtaking (no pun intended). I'm fine with heights---I enjoy them, even. I love getting higher and then enjoying the view. But it's the coming down part that makes me nervous. As I descended the tower, my knuckles were white; I was hanging on for dear life. It was a small price to pay, however, for the marvelous experience. We could only go up four people at a time, so we talked and explored as we awaited our turns. Joe shelled an acorn nut for me, and I ate it. It was pretty bitter and the taste was "interesting".

Joe talks with one of the Aussie families

The Aussie kids loved listening to Joe and asking him questions

Part of the Grand Canyon as viewed from the top of the tower

Looking down from the lookout tower...whew.

And then it was on to Grandview Point to view the Grand Canyon as the sun was setting. Words cannot describe what I saw, and that is the truth. There were controlled burnings going on nearby, and the smoke made the canyon a little hazy thus muting the colors. I still thought it was pretty good, though.

The pyramid-shaped peak is nicknamed "Vishnu"

This one is nicknamed "Sinking Ship"

Need I say more?

We got back to McDonald's a little after 7 p.m., and Kelley and I were eager to get back on the road, as we had a 2 1/2 to 3 hour drive to Page AZ ahead of us. By this time, Kelley's swelling and pain had increased, and she was starting to feel pretty bad. Things had most definitely gotten worse since this morning. I asked Joe if he could tell me of the closest medical clinic; he said there was one on the park (which we would be driving through). He said the next one before Page was probably in Cameron. We found the one in the park, but it was already closed. We decided we would just go to Page and find the hospital there. So we drove on. And on. And on. Had I known that AZ Hwys. 64 and 89 were so desolate and dark at night, I would have planned this part of the trip much differently. I have an adventurous spirit, and I can be rather fearless when I travel. However, I'm smart enough to know when to be creeped out and to back down when I know I've bitten off more than I can chew. For most of the 143 miles that I drove that night, I was scared and feeling very wary. I was praying. When I say "dark", I mean that the only light was coming from my headlights. There was a new moon this night, so we had no moonlight. There are very few road signs. The only reason that I knew I was going in the right direction was because of the dashboard compass. We were completely and utterly surrounded by total darkness. There were hardly any cars on the road with us. I had no idea what we were passing; we could have been on the edge of a cliff or at the edge of an expansive desert for all I know. I was keeping an eye out for the reflective eyes of wildlife (especially elk) crossing the road. Joe had sufficiently frightened me with tales of people hitting elk and dying on impact or being critically injured. If we had car trouble, we would have been on our own for the night. There was no cell phone service. We would have had to spend the night in the car and wait for morning. It was too dark to even try to walk anywhere. Kelley was getting worse, and I became increasingly afraid. She was becoming more swollen...what if her breathing became obstructed? What if her blood glucose either shot up or plummeted? I found myself trying to remember where I saw her put her glucometer and her insulin just in case I needed it. I took a mental inventory of the food we had with us---what could she eat that would bring her glucose up to a normal level? If we did have to stop, anyone could come along and do anything they wanted to with us, and no one would ever be the wiser. I silently continued to pray.

Finally, we came upon the city limits of Page. I saw streetlights in the distance, and I got a signal on my cell phone. I used the navigation system to find the nearest hospital, which was about 6 miles away. We went straight to Banner Health Page Hospital, which is a small hospital. However, the service there was the best I have ever seen. Ever. And I have seen a lot of hospitals. I sat with Kelley as she got registered and was then asked to sit in the waiting room. I left her momentarily to go check into the motel. If we were in for a long night in the ER, I thought it would be great if all we had to do afterwards was to flop into bed. I got us checked in and hauled all of our luggage into the room. I returned to the hospital about 20 minutes later to find that Kelley was no longer in the waiting room. I was impressed that she had already been called back to the treatment area. So I sat and watched. A guy who was pretty drunk was brought in by the cops; the left side of his face was swollen and bloody. He loudly claimed that some guy had "fucking coldcocked" him for no reason at all..."I didn't do nuthin'!" he yelled. Security had to ask him several times to be quiet and to watch his language, but to no avail. The policemen took him outside, and I heard him yelling at them at the tops of his lungs. There was also a young guy hunched over in a wheelchair, crying and holding his stomach. No one seemed particularly alarmed, including his mother and younger brother who were with him. So I sat and watched. A male nurse came out and called his name. His mother and younger brother wheeled him through the double doors. As the doors were closing I heard the nurse ask in a bored tone, "Have you been drinking again?" "Yeah", I heard the young man say.

John, the very kind and attentive patient representative asked me if I wanted to go back to the treatment area to sit with Kelley, and I accepted his invitation. Kelley and I sat (well, she laid) in Exam room #1. They have flat screen TVs in their exam rooms!! So we watched "Seinfeld" as we waited for the doctor. John (a different one than the patient rep), the nurse, was a good man. He was kind and respectful, and we enjoyed talking to him. Dr. Elizabeth Faulk was the doc on duty that night, and I just have to say that I wish she lived near me so that she could be my doctor. She actually got a pillow for Kelley and she put it in the pillow case even. She brought each of us a soda. Dr. Faulk was intelligent, helpful, humble, and informative. She knew that Kelley was a nurse, so she talked to her on a professional level while remembering that Kelley was also a sick person who was far far from home. The three of us were betting that Kelley's mono test would come back positive. Surprisingly, her mono test and her strep test came back negative. Dr. Faulk was stumped, but she remained proactive. She called an ENT guy in Flagstaff and consulted over the phone. Dr. Faulk then offered Kelley the options of being admitted to the hospital in order to be monitored and receive IV antibiotics or she could be discharged on oral antibiotics and hope for the best. Dr. Faulk left us to talk, and I told Kelley that my gut said she should remain in the hospital. Since no one had any idea of what was happening or what was going to happen, maybe we should let it play out here in the safety of a hospital rather than at the Motel 6. Kelley agreed (meanwhile, we joked about this being like an episode of "House"). She gave me a small list of things she would need overnight, and I returned to the motel and gathered them. I went back to the hospital with her stuff, and we confirmed with Dr. Faulk that Kelley would indeed be admitted. Dr. Faulk called the admitting doc, and he agreed that an inpatient admission was appropriate. Kelley had been given some morphine at this point, so she was feeling allllll right. By this time, it was 2:30 a.m., and Kelley dispatched me back to the motel so that I could get some sleep. I hated to leave her, but 1) I knew she was in great hands at this place, plus I was listed as the contact person if anything were needed and 2) I was exhausted and wanted to fall into a bed.

I had not eaten a meal since Denny's that morning, and I was famished; but there is not much available at 2:30 a.m. in Page. I did find a gas station called Maverick's. I stumbled into there and grabbed a sandwich, a can of Pringles, two granola bars, and 2 bottles of Lipton Diet Green Tea. I returned to the motel and collapsed onto the bed. I have eaten my tasty and nutritious dinner, and I'm getting ready to fall asleep to the sounds of "M*A*S*H" on TV Land.

The Colorado River trip scheduled for tomorrow is kind of iffy at this point. It will depend on what the doctor says when he sees her tomorrow. I'm hoping that it will work out for both of us to go. We shall see.

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