About Me

Tired of the mundane and craving an adventure, on Saturday, May 22nd, 2010, I embarked on the ultimate American road trip through all fifty states. After nearly a year and a half on the road, on a budget of less than 50 bucks a day, this is my story...

Arizona Chap 2: Grand Canyon South Rim

Friday, June 24th
I left Red Rock Country at about 4:30pm taking scenic highway 180 North traveling up to the Grand Canyon's South Rim.  The drive up through Kaibab National Forest was beautiful, with groves of ponderosa pines, the quirky Chapel of the Holy Dove, and views of old volcano craters in the distance.

I arrived in the little town of Tusyan two miles south of Grand Canyon Village at quarter to 6, and pitched my tent in the national forest just across from Best Western.  There's no designated campsites or facilities, but it's quiet, secluded, shaded and free - It's waaaay better than any established campground and I'm going to sleep like a baby tonight :)

Sunset over the Grand Canyon South Rim
Saturday, June 25th
Does a mule deer shit in the woods?  Yep!  I saw one do just that this morning only yards from my tent (kindly keep your distance, please, lol) as I was driving away.  When I got to the Grand Canyon main visitor center I took the little walk to Mather Point Overlook stood in awe at the edge of the massive chasm (before grabbing my eager camera, lol).  277 river miles (446km) long, up to 18 miles (29km) wide, and a mile (1.6km) deep, it certainly had my attention, I was captivated.  After picking up my jaw I stopped into the Visitor Center for some general information and tips, and watched the terrific orientation film.

The South Rim is the most popular place along the canyon with about 1 million visitors a year, so they've implemented a fantastic shuttle system that is fast, easy, free and convenient.  The few minutes I waited for the Hermit's Rest Shuttle Bus at Bright Angel Trailhead I was able to spend gazing at a "solar prominence" on the sun through a special telescope.  I boarded the shuttle and and stopped at all nine stops - Trailview Overlook (view of Bright Angel Trail), Maricopa Point where I watched a squirrel approach a group of foreigners and literally "beg" for food on his hind legs - no kidding!), Powell Point, Hopi Point, Mojave Point, The Abyss, Monument Creek Vista, Pima Point and Hermit's Rest.  The views became not so easily distinguishable in my head so I started noting the stops in my pictures :)

Afterward I stopped into Kolb Studio, "once the home and business of the Kolb brothers - pioneering photographers and filmmakers at Grand Canyon, this rambling, Victorian era building (1905) has been restored to its original splendor.  Here I walked through the exhibit of photographs, artifacts, and information on some excavations of ruined dwellings at the canyon.

View from Yaki Point
I went to the Backcountry Information Office with questions about hiking down to the canyon floor.

I attended the "Condor Talk" led by the humorous ranger Kris.  In the early 80s the park began a project to repopulate the endangered California Condor, which was down to only 22 in '82 due to human impact.  Over recent decades they have successfully brought the population up to a total of 369! :)  Best of all, we actually saw a condor fly up and circle overhead during the talk!  It was #23 - a 17 year old male with 9.5-foot wingspan!

At the condor talk I got to talking with the woman next to me, Liz Roth, who I learned is the current Artist In Residence at the park (selected out of over 100 other applicants to practice her craft (painting) at the park for a month!  She currently lives in Oklahoma (moved from Seattle for a professor position at a college/university.  She read my mind and asked if I wanted to grab ice cream, then she invited me to check out her spacious 3 bedroom pad above historic Verkamp's Visitor Center, constructed in 1906.  We got to know each other over a couple cold beers on her balcony, which you can see in the previous link!  What a view overlooking the canyon!

I took a little walk through the Hopi house - a pueblo style building built in 1905 filled with Native American crafts and souvenirs for sale.

I checked out the rustic, hunting lodge-style lobby inside the historic El Tovar Hotel, opened in 1905.

Attended the "Colorado River Runners" ranger-led talk at Mather Campground, and learned about the early days of exploration and tourism inside the canyon on the Colorado River.

Took in a beautiful sunset at Mather Point.

Pipe Creek Vista Overlook
Attended the "Star Party," where dozens of astronomers provided use of their telescopes for viewing the night sky behind the main visitor center - lucky for me, because this was the last night it would be held in the one week per year they do this!  I saw Arcturus (the brightest star in the summer sky), M11 (aka Wild Duck Cluster in the constellation Scutum; described as one of the richest and most compact open clusters, lying 6,000 light-years from Earth, composed of more than 2,900 stars), Mercury, Albireo (set of binary stars), Saturn and 4 of its moons, M57 (aka Ring Nebula, "one of the most prominent examples of the deep-sky objects called planetary nebulae" and "was once as big as the sun, but collapsed upon itself")  and M4 (located about 7,000 light-years from the Earth, one of the closest of the globular clusters.)!

Sunday, June 26th
I woke up to my alarm clock at 5am and called to get on the waiting list for the dorm room at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon - placed first on the list, yay!

I took a shower at Camper Services ($2 - 8 minutes), where I had breakfast at the picnic table and watched two young mule deer have their breakfast, too!

I attended the 9am ranger-led "Fossil Walk" to discuss and explore a few fossil beds covered with Brachiopods, Bryozoans, Corals and Sponges; part of the thriving sea life that once inhabited grand canyon, which was  covered with water hundreds of millions of years ago.

I had lunch at the Arizona Room inside the Bright Angel Lodge; the food left something to be desired, but I got to try prickly pear cactus syrup for the first time (sweet!) and had a window seat with unobstructed views of the canyon, and the service was great.

Desert Wildflower on the Canyon Floor
After lunch I checked in with the Xanterra Resorts desk to follow up on my request to stay at the Phantom Ranch - good news, I have a spot!  I can go hiking tomorrow, woo-hoo!  *"Less than 1% of visitors to the Grand Canyon each year visit Phantom Ranch!"

I attended a 20-minute ranger-led talk at the Mather Point Amphitheater about how the grand canyon was formed and we passed around different kinds of rocks and stuff.

Then I went to another 20-minute ranger-led talk, lol, at the Yavapai Observation Station, this time with my favorite ranger Kris again; the program was called "Geo-Glimpse" and basically talked about the same thing, but this one was way more fun and kept me interested.  I learned DUDE!  The canyon was formed by Deposition, Uplift, Down-cutting and Erosion!  =)  I requested an activities booklet to become a Grand Canyon Junior Ranger from Kris, which prompted about 5 other grownups (some much, much older than me) to ask for them, too!  :)

I took the Kaibab/Rim Shuttle to all 3 stops - South Kaibab Trailhead (I'm going to hike this tomorrow, woo-hoo!), Yaki Point (great views!) and Pipe Creek Vista.

I went to the General Store at Market Plaza to stock up for the hike tomorrow (electrolyte supplements, energy bars, etc).

Grabbed a slice of pizza at Yavapai Lodge Cafeteria

"Rock Squirrel" - Watch out they're hungry!
Was completely mesmerized by a stupendous sunset at lesser-known (and unmarked on the park maps) Shoshone Point that ranger Kris recommended to me.  It was a 1.5 mile hike to the point and only me and one family was there - we had it all to ourselves!  This experience alone was worth the trip to the Grand Canyon - WOW.

The father of the family from my unforgettable sunset experience told me the hike tomorrow really only takes about 2.5-3 hours; he's done it and it's all downhill and you don't really exert yourself, therefore I really don't need to hit the trail at 4 or 5am like the rangers urged me; I don't need to start 'til 7 or8 :)  And he recommended that once I'm down at Phantom Ranch with nothing to do all day I should consider exploring the North Kaibab Trail to cooler, shady areas and waterfalls!

Agave Plant - Like Something From Willy Wonka!
Monday, June 27th
I got up at 6am (naturally!) and headed to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, seeing a big elk with huge rack (yeah, sexy haha) cross the road in front of the car ahead of me into the woods - COOL!  Upon reaching the visitor center I hopped onto the shuttle and there was the man from last night's sunset experience and his son!  I filled up my camelbak and started my 7.6-mile decent down the South Kaibab Trail at 7:15am.  He was right that it didn't really take any work or much time getting down the trail, and I made it Phantom Ranch area about 3 hours later :)  While traveling down the sun-exposed ridge-line I saw great views, agave and other desert plants, pinon jays, squirrels (they would run off as soon as they saw me unlike the more curious, unafraid ones you get up at the rim with all the people), lizards (some with lengths of 12 inches or so!), mules and riders, a natural stone window and white water rafts as I reached the Colorado River.  I got to Phantom Ranch over the river via a blasted tunnel and long suspension bridge (fun!).  Nearing the ranch at "Boat Beach" I saw ruins of the pit dwellings of the canyon's old inhabitants.

Reaching the registration building and canteen I checked in, tipped back an ice cold cup of lemonade and got situated in the dorm room (#13).  I was the first one to the dorm, so I got to take my pick of the beds (it's the little things :)

I had the whole day to do whatever I wanted, so what did I do after hiking 7.6 miles down here?  I went hiking, lol!  I headed up the North Kaibab Trail, destination: Ribbon Falls.  I saw it on a postcard in the canteen and it came highly recommended by the staff.  It was a nice hike in "The Box," a relatively narrow part of the canyon that gets pretty hot, but follows a creek the whole way, so you can take a dip and cool off whenever you want.  It was mostly flat with a few moderate inclines in places.  I crossed numerous bridges (about 10?), saw lots of prickly pear cactus and other plants.  I didn't have enough water with me and seriously nearly keeled over from heat exhaustion.  Cottonwood Campground was only 1.5 miles past the turn for Ribbon Falls, so I took a breather and got to the campground, and drank 2 and half liters of water!  I had a snack and talked with some friendly campers about our trips.  After re-hydrating myself I turned around and headed back down the trail about 1.5 miles to the turnoff for Ribbon Falls - which was stunning, rivaling even a few I saw in Hawaii!  Let's just say the heat exhaustion was worth it, lol.  I climbed around and explored a little while, snapped some photos and carefully took a little shower in the cold, pounding fall.  I saw some colorful Desert Spiny Lizards about 8-10 inches long with red-orange heads and black and white striped tails - even one without a tail, lol!  I saw other lizards too, about the same size also with a bit of orange and very shiny, almost metallic-looking.

"Hangin' Out to Dry"

On the way back to the ranch it was late afternoon, which provided some much welcomed shade and the true colors of the mountains were much more visible than in broad daylight.

I made it back to the ranch around 7pm.  I went to my dorm to get some dinner to find that the lights were off and nearly all the beds were full of people sleeping.  As I was trying my best to move around quietly and rattle the metal ammo box where the food was stored as little as possible, I felt like everyone hated me, lol.  I grabbed a nice, warm shower, some dinner (oysters, cereal bar and some water with electrolytes).  Then I caught a ranger talk at 7:30 about the Kolb brothers, early thrill-seeking photographers of the canyon - very good program!
22.2 MILES OF HIKING TODAY - More than hiking from rim to rim!
South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch = 7.6 mi
North Kaibab Trail to Cottonwood Campground = 7.1 mi
Cottonwood Campground to Ribbon Falls = 1.5 mi
Ribbon Falls to Phantom Ranch = 6 mi

Incredible Ribbon Falls
Tuesday, June 28th
Slept in, was second to the last one out the door, lol.  Had some breakfast at the picnic table and started the trek back up to the canyon rim at 7am, this time taking the popular Bright Angel Trail, approximately 9.5 miles, with 3 drinking water stations along way, unlike the South Kaibab Trail I took down, which has none.  Leaving Phantom Ranch, I crossed Silver Bridge (built 1970) over the Colorado River, hiked through the sandy portion of trail through some dunes about a 1/2 mile or so (grueling!), started rock-hopping  over creeks and up the boring, arduous sun-exposed switchbacks, peeked inside an old cave/mine shaft, and made it to the lush oasis of "Indian Garden" about 5 miles into the hike at about 10am.  This halfway point is the first of the drinking water stations, along with a campground, ranger station and programs, mule coral, picnic shelters and a refreshing spring.  I re-hydrated myself while mingled with some friendly folks from New England, while fending off the bothersome squirrels that nearly reached inside a guy's pack on the bench next to me.  You see along the trail these"Rock Squirrels" bolt off as soon as you come into view, but here they're used to receiving food from tourists, then they lose their natural survival skills along with their fear of humans, which can make them aggressive.  I heard the rustling of Desert Spiny Lizards (and babies only a couple inches long!) in the grasses and saw them basking on rocks bulging their throats out to attract mates or display dominance.  I took a lovely dip in the cool spring and watched the neon blue dragonflies and water-striders (and their babies, too!) as I chatted with a man who was waiting for his wife to join him from her rafting trip.  Then I enjoyed some quiet time and rested my eyes on a picnic table under the shade trees, and had some garlic pistachios as a male mule deer snacked right along with me 20 feet away in the shrubs.

View from Bright Angel Trail
I left Indian Springs around 1pm, ascending up the tough switchbacks exposed to the unforgiving sun, and finding little relief in the shade of the boulders sparsely scattered about the trail.  At "3 Mile Rest House", a stone shelter approximately 6 x 12 feet, I was met by a full house of social folks catching their breath and cooling off.  And who other than the friendly New Englanders from Indian Garden were there to make sure I filled up my camelbak and got plenty of salty snacks?!  The one woman was thrilled to see me, and shot question after question at me about my trip, and offering handfuls of food, lol.  She poured water over my head to keep cool (but I think it's mainly because she loves throwing water at people, lol).  She made sure I was taking all the necessary precautions to stay safe, and I could find nothing more appropriate than to call her "Mom" (which she loved, lol).  She in turned claimed me as her son, haha.

After 15 minutes of rest in the shade I continued up the switchbacks in the blazing desert sun, met a ranger who made my dream come true (PRINGLES!), and after a slow hike (compared my usual pace) made it to "1.5 Mile Rest House" for a brief break before finishing out the remaining 1 and a half miles to the top.

Along the way, I saw orange and fuchsia wildflowers, passed though a couple of blasted-through stone tunnels, took in some more amazing views and finally made it to the trail-head back to civilization!  I DID IT!  I didn't die, Mom!

Upon completing my 2 day, nearly 32 mile sun-drenched hike in the 107 degree heat (and that's in the shade - it's another 20 degrees hotter in the sun!), I rewarded myself with a shower (hallelujah!) at Mather Campground and Italian food (well, American-Italian that is: cheap slice of pizza and big bowl of mac n cheese, lol) at Yavapai Cafeteria.

I don't think I've been so tired in all my life!  I went to bed at 6:45pm - no kidding!

Mules on South Kaibab Trail, carrying people's stuff back up.
Wednesday, June 29th
Packed up the tent and left Kaibab National Forest.  I saw two elk (young males) crossing highway 180 right in the middle of town!  Luckily it was early (before 7am) so there wasn't much traffic.  I slowed down and shot a couple of quick pictures then did a u-turn and parked at the gas station where they decided to graze and took some more photos - WOW!
I took Desert View Drive heading East, stopping for photos of the amazing views at the several pullouts/overlooks, including Grandview Point and Moran Point.  It seems kind of foreign peering down into the canyon from so far away when just yesterday I was on the canyon floor looking up, surrounded by it's massive walls.  What an adventure :)

I made it to Desert View Campground around 8am.  It wasn't at all the barren desert I had expected, but rather surrounded by many trees throughout the entire campground.  I did a little drive around the loop and picked a campsite I liked (#42) and pitched my tent.  It felt great getting it all squared away so early in the day.  Many of the sites here are first come-first served and they fill up every day, so it was a great security to have a guaranteed place to sleep tonight.

Then I drove back down to the greater Flagstaff area to check out the national monuments and pick up some stuff I left at the hostel.  See blog entry: 

I got back to Desert View in the Grand Canyon just in time for the beginning of the Ranger's "Sunset Talk," which didn't keep my attention or presence very long, as the sun started its descent and the colors of the canyon started changing and revealing their vivid colors as they broke through the heavy daytime air (I was in the front row and the ranger started developing that white saliva crust around the edges of her mouth - you know the stuff - I guess peoples' mouths get dry or something?  I had a couple teachers in grade school that were notorious for that.  Gross, and I refuse to look at it.  Refuse, lol).

Creek Running Parallel to North Kaibab Trail
I walked around the edge of the canyon and up inside the beautiful stone watchtower (built 1932), inspired by Anasazi architecture found in the Four Corners region.  A little while later I sat perched on a rock below the tower, and took in the natural light show and brilliant display or yellows, oranges, pinks and purples - the last sunset I would see on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on this trip.

I got back to the campground, had some wine while spying on the neighbor's campfire through the bushes, lol, journaled, and went to bed around 10:15pm.

Thursday, June 30th
This morning I packed up my tent and bought postcards from the gift shop at the Watchtower.  Then I drove to Navajo Point, Lipan Point and the Tusayan Ruin & Museum, where the ranger told me to stop at the cafe in Jacob's Lake for delicious cookies on my way to Grand Canyon North Rim (oh, and the ruin and museum was very interesting, too!)  Before leaving the south rim of the Grand Canyon, I had some lunch at the cafe at Desert View (vegetarian chili and a black bean burger - both were mediocre).


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