The Grand Canyon part 1
This was by far our most planned adventure. After all it is the Grand Canyon or the “Big Ditch” as some so fondly like to call it. Where to start with a place so vast and you have 9 days to see the best of the best of the area? First we researched when the best time of year was to visit and decided on spring because the temperatures and weather were perfect. Our research showed us that summers became way too hot, and in fall and winter there was always the chance of rain which could bring flash flooding. After all, I had read “Death in the Grand Canyon”. Next we started researching trails through a Web Site called naturevallytrailview.com and Backpacker magazine. Through the web site we found Havasu Falls, which is unbelievably beautiful, and Backpacker magazine had a nice article that convinced us to day hike the 15 miles down South Kaibab trail to Tonto trail then up Bright Angel Trail after we discovered we could not get backpacking permits to camp in the Canyon. So then began our research on getting backcountry permits for Havasu, buying multiple books and maps, and talking to people who had been there to find other areas we should see.
Our adventure began with a flight into Las Vegas and since we were “ in the area” we decided we needed to start out in a big circle and see Zion National Park first then drive across the North Rim to Page, AZ and on to the South Rim. Zion was so beautiful with the multi colored cliffs and canyons. We had purchased a book about the park and decided to hike the Emerald Pools trail. It turned out to be a clear day with temperatures in the mid 80’s which encouraged us to visit the park again at the end of our trip to hike The Narrows. We also learned of a formation called The Wave that we hoped see. More on those later.
The sun was setting on the cliffs of Zion casting them in darker shades of pink and red as we left the park. Our drive across to Page, AZ that evening was uneventful, but when we came to Page we quickly discovered that our projected arrival at the Holiday Inn on the South Rim at 11:00 p.m. was not to happen. Apparently the road to the South Rim had caved in and the detour added at least a hundred miles to the trip or so it seemed.
No matter how much you read about the area it still does not prepare you for what you actually see when arriving at the South Rim, even in the wee hours of the morning. We had always thought of AZ as total desert and cactus area, hot and dry and not much to see but red cliffs and the “Big Ditch” winding its way through the canyon. Our first surprise were the tall Ponderosa Pine trees we were driving through, then we saw the “deer” crossing signs and questioned the funny looking deer painted on the sign. Then we saw the reason as a long legged critter with a large rack strolled out in front of our car. The large “deer” were elk. There were also “large cat” crossing signs, but we never saw that elusive critter .
The first day at the rim we decided it was best to acclimate ourselves to the area. So we hiked and road on the bus route the length of the south rim to check out all the trail heads and find the ones we planned to hike. Words cannot describe the site of the Grand Canyon when you first look upon it, or anytime you look upon it. It is so vast and ever changing as the sun and clouds angle across the sky changing the shadows and colors bringing out canyons within canyons and peaks you didn’t see before. You can stand there a lifetime and never fully comprehend that you are actually there. You are nothing but a small speck on the rim of the great Grand Canyon. We ended our day watching large black ravens catching thermals off the canyon walls as the sun set over the Canyon. What a perfect day!
Day 3, Easter Sunday, of our adventure was finding us up at 6:00 a.m. to drive back across to Page, AZ to take a Colorado River float. This was the first time venturing across the northern AZ country side since the late night arrival. Again, we were surprised at the tall trees, elk, and most of all the snow covered mountain peak in the south. We made it our mission to find out the name and to visit this mountain sometime during the week. We eventually made it to Page in time for our relaxing river float down the Colorado. It started at Glen Canyon Dam and we floated down river on old WWII rafts to Horseshoe Bend. Before turning around to go back up river we stopped at a beautiful canyon area where there were ancient Indian petroglyphs engraved in the canyon wall. This is when we first got a good taste of spring in the canyon, flowers blooming against the red rock walls and the different shades of desert green, made us realize we made the right choice to come in the spring .
After the float we spent the rest of the evening exploring the Page area. We drove around Lake Powell and saw a thunderstorm sweep across the desert, sat and looked down upon our turn around point at Horseshoe Bend, and discovered that there were more hidden wonders at Antelope Valley. Now we knew we would have to plan another trip just to explore this area.
Day 4, up early again, but not for a relaxing float, but for getting down and dirty exploring the canyon. It is the day for the planned 15 mile hike we had read about in Backpacker Magazine. We had been preparing ourselves for months of endurance and weight lifting exercises at the YMCA and P90X videos to be able to make this trip. Even so we still doubted our abilities and considered wavering from our itinerary. 5 miles down South Kaibab, 5 miles across Tonto trail, stop at Indian Garden for lunch, fill up on water and then back up Bright Angel trail to the top. Researching and preparing was crucial to make this hike, we needed to know the weather, temps for spring and what the trails were like. It was 20 degrees F on the south rim and we knew it would get into the 70s or low 80s at mid-day in the canyon. We also read that there would not be a water source until we reached Indian Gardens, a backpacker’s campground in the canyon.
Off we go, a cold wind is blowing but we feel we are ready and prepared for the day ahead. Again we are amazed at the largeness and beauty of this place. What we were looking at from above changed shape and colors as we hiked down into it. It became more of the desert terrain we had expected but with the native flowers all in bloom; reds, yellows, white, orange, cacti and other more delicate flowers all meeting the cloudless day and welcoming us into the canyon. After about an hour of hiking we began shedding, first off were the gloves, then 1 layer of jackets. We only met a few other hikers on South Kaibab including a caravan of mules coming up the trail. We stopped and oohed and aahed at Ooh Aah Point, which is appropriately named. I believe the hardest part of the hike was hiking down South Kaibab trail, it is narrow and rocky, and knee busting. No matter how many times I stopped to stretch, it still strained my knees to screaming. Paul always will say the uphill is the hardest, to me the hardness rating is about pain endurance, not physical endurance. We made it to the Tonto trail and were relieved to find it was a 5 mile level trail across to Bright Angel trail. We only met 1 other person on this segment of trail, and were surprised to find little springs of water and tall cattails in a couple of areas surrounded by desert blooming flowers. As we hiked around a large cliff area, Indian Gardens Campground came into view. The beauty of this area was unexpected. Not only were the canyon flowers in bloom, but the area was filled with red bud trees in full bloom. We took our time here to refill our water and eat our lunch and enjoy the beauty of the area. All too soon we knew we needed to start heading up the side of the canyon to get to the top before dark. You may read of people who jog rim to rim and maybe back in one day, that is not us. It’s a slow go, one foot in front of the other. Feeling left behind by all the other Bright Angel hikers passing us, I began to wish that just once we could pass someone, Paul was wishing for “New York strip and baked potato”. Finally I got my wish, we passed someone! But then, I worried that the guy had a heart attack or something, because we never did see him come on up. As we climbed Bright Angel trail, we would stop, which we did often, and look back and see how the trail would wind down through the canyon walls like a snake to the flat area of Indian Gardens. This is an easy trail, beside the fact that it is a reverse mountain you are going down or up, it’s sandy and wide and not the knee busting rockiness of South Kaibab, just hamstring, quad and glute busting. As we hiked to the top, we noticed the temperatures dropping and began to put our clothing layers back on. When we finally made it to the top the cold wind hit us just as the sun was setting over the canyon. What a day! 12 ½ hours of endurance and beauty beyond anything we had ever experienced. Now off to get that “New York strip and baked potato” which Paul said was delicious.
I do have to admit that moving any part of my body the next day was difficult. We took a down day and let the car do the work for us. This day we were drive by tourist. The Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Parks awaited us. They were truly places to feast your eyes upon. Yellows, reds, browns, oranges and the amethyst crystals in the large petrified logs made up an unique landscape as far as the eye can see. We drove through Flagstaff on the way back to the Grand Canyon so Paul could pick up new hiking boots; we discovered that hiking steep mountainous terrain is not the same as the hills of Ohio. Our feet needed more toe space. While there, we were determined to find out more about the white mountain we saw on Easter morning shining in the sunrise on our way to Page. We were told it was a volcanic mountain called Mt Humphreys with skiing year round at the top called the Snow Bowl. Snow? Year round in Arizona? Yep, it’s there. We went as far up as we could go to watch the sun set over the western desert.
Wednesday finds us back on the south rim. Exploring the length of the rim trails by car, bus, and hiking, it felt good to be moving again. This was a day to soak it in as much as possible, to eat lunch overlooking the canyon, watching the elk and birds and exploring old native ruins. This was our last day overlooking God’s architect. Standing there, gazing upon it, it was still unbelievable, and is to this day as we look at the pictures, proving it is there and we were truly there with it.
Thursday is starting a new adventure which I will finish in The Grand Canyon Part 2, Havasu Falls. On our way to our overnight stay to begin our backpacking trip, we visited Flagstaff again to see Walnut Canyon. It is an amazing place layered with cliff dwellings from the ancient Hopi. It was easy to imagine a 1000 years ago, as families lived on these cliffs, possible ropes to climb or swing to different levels, and the light of hundreds of fires lining the canyon walls at night.
After backpacking and a shower at the Peach Springs, AZ (aka Cadillac Springs from the movie ‘Cars’ ), we completed our circle around the Grand Canyon and headed back to Zion. We bypassed Hoover Dam, man’s work, to spend time watching the sun set in the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. It was filled with red arch formations of various shapes and sizes. It was interesting to read the historical markers of the first Americans’ trying to cross it not knowing where to find water and how they were found after their death just yards from a water source. Such a reminder of how fragile life is and that we never know what lies just around the corner and how we should never let go of the promises of God.
On Monday morning we head back to Zion National Park, intending to hike The Narrows. Instead of the beautiful 85 degree weather we encountered the week before; it was 30 degrees and soon turned to a white out snow storm. Disappointed, but not discouraged, we know we need to revisit this wonderful place, for we have unfinished business. We head back to Las Vegas to walk the mall and prepare for our flight back. Needless to say this adventure was a life changing event in our lives. One of the changes was that our feet are never to be the same size. Both Paul and I are now one shoe size larger than before the “Big Ditch” experience. Mostly changed is our perspective, the perspective of life, size and the wonders that God has in store for us.