BootsnAll Travel Network

The Grand Canyon

Wednesday morning I left the hotel early to try to get to Hoover Dam before it got too crowded and too hot.  I took the interstate to its end and then crossed the mountains to get to Lake Mead. Before the dam came into view, I could see the new bridge that is being built to ease traffic congestion on Hoover Dam. The main span is growing from each side and still has a ways to go before connecting. I parked on the opposite side of the dam so I could walk across it. The water level in Lake Mead was very low due to drought so large portions of the intake towers were sticking out of the water. Once at the visitor center, I learned that the elevators were down for maintenance and no tours were being run. I returned to my car and resumed the drive into Arizona to get to Grand Canyon National Park.

Consulting a map, I learned that I could use Route 66 to go part of the way to the Grand Canyon. Route 66 is no longer a continuous roadway but parts of the historic highway are still around. It provided an interesting alternative to the interstate. The drive took me through lots of small towns with gift shops and Route 66 motels. Most of the time I had the highway to myself and found out that the rental Ford Focus had a top speed of 109 mph (which the little 4 cylinder engine took about 2 hours to reach). The terrain was mostly brown scrubland punctuated by equally brown hills. Occasionally there would be clumps of small trees.

As I approached the Grand Canyon the terrain changed. I was expecting barren desert on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Instead I entered a forest of gigantic Ponderosa Pine trees. The high elevation (about 7000 feet) allows these trees to grow here. Once in the national park, I found my campsite and then went to the backcountry office to get a number to try to get a permit the next morning to hike down into the Grand Canyon. I was number 22. That night, I attended a ranger program about the history of the Grand Canyon. It involved a rather eccentric ranger and SpongeBob Squarepants which the ranger abused quite a lot throwing him repeatedly on the floor. While this was going on, we did learn quite a lot about the geography of the canyon.  

The next morning I went back to the Backcountry Office. I was successful in getting a permit to do the route I wanted through the Grand Canyon. Most of the people ahead of me were getting permits to hike later in the year. I spent the rest of the day gazing down into the canyon, preparing my gear for the trip, and attending ranger programs. One was about the plants in the park and the other was about the history of one of the roads in the park. Neither involved sponge abuse.

I caught the 5:00 am bus in the morning to get to the South Kaibab trailhead. I had a 6.3 mile walk to do and the trail would descend about 4600 ft in elevation. As there was no water until the first campsite, I carried the recommend extra gallon of water in my pack. This added eight pounds to my backpack which was already on the heavy side as I also carried a lot of food. The early start was to try to make it down before it got too hot in the canyon. I began the hike with two brothers from Texas that I had met on the bus. We walked for a while but I soon left them behind as they stopped often to photograph the canyon. Usually once I get warmed up, I try to minimize how often I stop. The views from the trail were phenomenal as the trail usually clung to the canyon wall switchbacking its ways down.  The Colorado River could be seen flowing far below. It was a nice green color. Through other hikers coming up, I learned that three boys (two 16 and one 22 year old. Two were brothers) had died the day before near the campground I was hiking to after they tried to swim the river (which is about 45F with a very fast current). (By the time I had left the canyon, they had found one body but the other two were still missing.) I arrived at the Bright Angel Campground at 9:20 am. This was 4 hours after starting out. The campground was set in a narrow side canyon with a stream flowing through it. It was shaded by cottonwood trees growing near the stream.  The area was full of very bold squirrels looking for food. Deer also resided in the area. I ran into several near the bathroom. There was a girl taking pictures of them. She said she had left her father up the trail to come get him some water after he had run out. I guess it wasn’t too much of an emergency as she seemed to be in no hurry to leave the deer. I set up my tent and then went to the nearby Phantom Ranch which is a lodge near the campground. Its cabins are mainly used by people descending into the canyon by mule. After looking around I returned to my tent and took a nap.

Later in the day, I met back up with the Texan brothers and we went to a beach on the Colorado River. The beach was used as a resting point for people doing rafting trips down the river. There were numerous boats from different tour companies beached there. Despite the temperature of the water, it felt good to stick my feet in it. In the evening, a ranger came by to check permits. He told me that there would be a program that night about the geography of the Grand Canyon. I immediately asked if it would star SpongeBob. He gave me a really strange look like this was simply unheard of and then said no. True to his word, the program was very different from the one I had already been through and I did learn some new things about the canyon.

The next day I packed up camp and headed to Indian Garden (called so because the campground used to be a Native American farming area) which was my next stop. The hike this time would be about 4 miles and involve a 1400ft elevation gain as I was heading back up the canyon. I hiked most of the way with three girls from Florida who had camped next to me the night before (I helped them put up their tent) and one man from a campsite further down. The walk started out on a long flat section that followed the Colorado River and then turned into a side canyon to begin the climb to Indian Garden. There was a stream flowing past a good portion of the trail so there was lots of small trees and grass. We were delayed for a while behind a mule train carrying supplies which blocked the trail and for some reason wouldn’t move. We made it to Indian Garden about midday. Like Bright Angel, there was a stream and lots of underground water at the campsite. The area was virtually a forest of Cottonwood trees and grass. I again was very surprised as I had expected the Grand Canyon to be a lot dryer. Many of the desert plants that were around were flowering giving the area a lot of color.

The girls were hiking out of the canyon that day so after eating lunch, they left and I went and found a campsite. The Texan brothers showed up later in and set up in a campsite near mine. About 4:00 pm, I went to another ranger program. This one involved a trivia game testing peoples’ knowledge of the canyon. I learned that the number one injury at the Grand Canyon is squirrel bites. People let the squirrels get on their laps and feed them. When they stop, the squirrels get angry and bite them.

Right before sunset, the Texas brother and I walked the 1.5 miles to Plateau Point. The trail ended at a sheer 1200 ft drop down to the river below. It was a great spot to watch the sunset.

I woke up early my final day in the canyon as I again had a strenuous walk up the Bright Angel Trail. To get out of the canyon I had to climb 3000ft over about 4 miles. At least this time, I had eaten a lot of my food and didn’t have to carry the extra water as there were rest stations with water along the way. (For those of you, who followed the blog in the past, I did similar elevation changes on the Annapurna Circuit but it was usually over 10 miles or so and my pack was a lot lighter. I was also in better shape. )

I set out at about 5:40 am and the trail almost immediately began switch backing up the canyon wall. I managed to make the climb in 2.5 hours. Before heading to the car, I stopped at a store and bought a very expensive ice cream as I was very hot, wore out, and needed to rest. My calf muscles which had gotten very sore on the walk down into the canyon now felt totally shot and began to cramp up as soon as I stopped walking.  Before my trip began, I had been jogging to get in shape but in Louisiana there is really not a lot I can do to prepare my muscles to take the abuse that making these sorts of elevation changes with a 20-30 lb pack on produce. You really need some good hills or mountains nearby to get in shape to do something like this.

After the ice cream, I got on a bus to take me to the Mather campground where there were showers and a Laundromat. I met up with the Texan brothers and another lady from the Indian Garden Campground. They were also going to use the showers. After cleaning myself and my clothes, I threw everything in the car and began the long drive to Moab, Utah where I was to meet up with Tiphanie whom I had met in Nepal on the rafting trip down the Karnali River.

After leaving the Grand Canyon, I drove through Monument Valley in Southern Utah. Here I got my first real glimpse of all the eroded red rocks rising out of the desert which make the Southwest famous. They form all sorts of interesting shapes and pop up everywhere. The desert here was also less barren and featured a wider variety of plant life and more color than in Arizona and Nevada. The LaSal Mountains rose up in the distance. Their peaks still heavy with snow. This provided a great contrast to the arid desert I was driving through. I stopped that night in Monticello, Utah about fifty miles south of Moab. I was not supposed to meet Tiphanie until the next day and was totally exhausted as I had not slept much the night before. I checked into a Day’s Inn as I wanted a real bed to sleep in after four nights of either sleeping in the backseat of the Ford Focus or on the ground with a leaky air mattress. (My Thermarest had sprung a leak and I couldn’t find it.)

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