The October 2002 Grand Canyon Trip


A group of us had discussed a backpacking trip of significance for some time.  Eventually it became obvious that the first backpacking trip as a group should be The Grand Canyon.  But during the planning 2 people dropped out and then one person jumped in.  So we ended up with 4 hearty souls ready to risk it all in the wild.  Well maybe, 4 hearty drunks ready to risk flying Southwest Airlines to Las Vegas and then driving hours longer to get to a really large example of a lack of erosion control.  Then carry far more crap than they need down into this hole and walk around for a few days before dragging themselves back out that weekend. After at least a ten minute discussion the decision is made to try a rim-to-rim hike.  In our infinite wisdom, we decide to hike down the north side and then back out the south, since the south side is approximately 1000 ft lower than the north.  We figure less up is a good thing.  I can honestly say that is not true at least for me.  Going down tortured my knees, and going up the south side was a breeze, except for the crowds as we approached the rim.  But on with the tale....

or please no more reading just show me the pics!

first a warning - Some of these photos are several MBs.  This incredible journey should not be attempted with a dialup connection!

Now we get to drive to Grand Canyon National Park. A little over 200 miles away. We take a short break at the Hoover Dam, but mostly just try to get to the canyon. We make pretty good time by ignoring posted speed limits and endangering the lives of most of the drivers in NW Arizona. But once we get north of Williams we run into a problem. Today is the day of the big repaving of AZ-64. Everything comes to a stop. Everyone piles out of their vehicles and meets their neighbors. It's like a big reunion, there are dogs running around with no leashes and people sitting on the road itself. But that much fun can only last so long. Thirty minutes later all is right with the world again, since we are back in the Family Truckster and cruising at a mind-numbing 30 MPH down the one open lane. But even at the current pace we should reach the GCNP in under an hour. So we pay our $20 and enter the park. And once again I am stunned when I realize that we must have missed out on a big run at the RV rental place since we are the only people in the park not driving one. Feeling a little left-out we head east down AZ-64 to do a little sightseeing while moving towards our first camping destination - Desert View Campground.  We do see a coyote and some elk on our way east.  So the first day is not a complete waste.

a couple of sunset shots here - but just can't keep the tourists out of the pics!

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The campground is full of RVs which I discover later are mostly driven by Europeans. So when we arrive it is dark and all you can hear are generators running. Peaceful. Fortunately, the generators must be turned off by 8pm. So we go about setting up tents, drinking and starting a fire for warmth. We mostly stand around this small fire and admire the clear skies. You can see the Milky Way and every plane that happens to fly by. Also, there are shooting stars and even a satellite happens by from time to time. The next morning comes and a few of us head out to catch the sunrise. It is cold. The thermometer we have with us is reading below 30F. And most of the group are in shorts and sandals. NICE!

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This morning is the morning for sightseeing on the south rim and buying a few things that we did not bring with us. All of us need fuel, since the airlines frown on shipping explosives in your checked bags. We have several hours before we must meet our shuttle to the north rim at 1pm. We will catch our shuttle in front of the Bright Angel Lodge, which is a really cool place to just walk through if you have a few minutes (which we did). So we catch our shuttle, which I thought would be a van or something worse. It ended up being a full-size tour bus with TV monitors and the works inside. But after 4.5 hours on it, I think Trans-Canyon Shuttle should have spent some of that money on better seats and less on DVDs to watch during the trip. I've ridden in turbo prop planes that were more comfortable. Hell, I've ridden in truck beds that weren't any less comfortable. At $65/person though we are still discussing why it wouldn't be cheaper to fly people across the canyon in a helicopter or small plane, 4 or 5 at time, than using buses. But there must be a reason and we are too numb from the ride to care by the end. We did get to see some wildlife on the trip and some not so wild life also. We saw at least a hundred deer during the last hour of the trip. Also a few dozen wild turkeys plus a lot of cows, alive and dead. None of us had ever been to the north rim before and the plants on that side of the canyon are completely different than what we had seen on the south side. There are lots of aspen and ponderosa pine. Its almost like you left the desert and entered the Rockies. Everything is very green and very crisp and defined. Where the south rim seemed to be more subdued and at least to me a little more ordinary. After viewing portions of a very boring movie and being informed of the type of wildlife we might see if we venture into the canyon from this side, we arrive at the North Rim Campground. I walk over to register with the ranger since I made a reservation for a rim-view site several months earlier and have to listen to some idiot bitch to the ranger about the showers closing at 7pm. I am now upset that the campground has showers, since I see this a sign of girly camping. Camping should be dirty, that is one of the things that makes it so much fun. It is ok to be like a 10 year old and refuse to bath for a few days when you are camping. But eventually this clown decides that he isn't getting a shower tonight and leaves. So I get quick directions to our site. And once again we will be setting up and eating in the dark. But first we have to carry all of our crap to the site. Which is no small feat since it now consists of a large cooler (with beer, ice, OJ, apples and hamburgers for tonight's dinner), firewood (since we damn near froze last night), 4 backpacks weighing between 40 and 60 lbs each, and a grill (for the hamburgers). So we are traveling light.  We setup a small lantern and get the tents setup real quick before starting on food prep. Then it is time to get the grill going and get some grub. After dinner we're back to sitting around drinking a few beers and telling lies. General camping stuff.

The view from our campsite into the canyon-

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Upon waking the next morning we realize that somehow there is still beer left in the cooler and it would be a travesty to leave it here (which is what we will do with the cooler and grill). So our already overstuffed backpacks will need to  be retrofitted to hold beer now. No one seems to care that this beer will be a little warmer and well shaken by the time we stop to camp 8 miles or so into the canyon. No one seems in a hurry to strap on a pack this morning, so we spend a lot of time taking photos from the rim at the back of our campsite and admiring wildlife all around us. We saw a few odd creatures, such as a California Condor and a Kaibab Squirrel. The condor was huge but still a youngster since it had not shed the feathers on its head yet (thanks for the pic Bruce). And the squirrel has a huge white tail and big round ears. Very peculiar looking. Then after a little breakfast we're off to the North Kaibab Trailhead with the day ending at Cottonwood Campground. Getting to the trailhead requires a hike across the campground and down the road a ways. Once at the trailhead we make a few equipment adjustments and we're ready to go. But first we must make room for some mid-morning joggers. How anyone's knees can handle jogging on this trail is beyond me, but this is obviously a popular jogging trail. So now we're off, at the crack of 10am or so. So it is not an early start but it is a start. Two hundred yards down the trail the gorgeous views are already beginning with the first opening in the trees. We begin in Roaring Springs Canyon and then turn in to Bright Angel Canyon. Along the way are some nice overlooks, including Coconino Sandstone (you can see our trail in this one) cliffs and brick red Hermit Shale. The first days stretch of North Kaibab Trail (add'l photos), about 8 miles, includes a walk through Supai Tunnel and a trip to Roaring Springs, which supplies most of the water to everything down here. The Supai Tunnel is about 2 miles down the trail and is cut through a layer of rock that is about 300 million years old. The Visnu Schist layer at the river is about 1.7 million years old.

After the first 8+ miles I realize a few things; 1- this place has some great views that can't be appreciated until you leave the rim, 2- you really can't wrap your mind around this huge hole while looking down into it, you must look up out of it, and 3- going downhill is going to be the painful part.

By 4:30 we reach Cottonwood Campground and find a site. Here we see the only snake of the trip. A not so fearsome Wandering Garter Snake. And since the campground is right on the creek several of the group decide a dip in the creek would be a good idea before an early dinner. Of course every dinner is early unless you want to eat in the dark since there is not even a quarter moon this week and the sun "sets" in the canyon well before it sets outside it. We also sat a few beers in the 50-degree water and chilled them. At Cottonwood we make friends with a few mice that are not the least bit afraid of humans. And apparently know that we bring food with us without fail. The entire night you can hear them scurrying around looking for a morsel.
The next morning we've learned 2 things: our legs are a little sore and someone in our group snores. A lot. So we grab a quick breakfast and visit the creek again and then head out towards Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch at the Colorado River. On the way we take a side trip to Ribbon Falls, that is well worth the effort. It was less than a 1/2 mile and was beautiful. There are large rocks at the base where you can rest/nap or you can climb on either side of it and even go behind it. Definitely worth a visit if you're in the area. A great place for a lunch break. There is a lot of vertical exposure on this trail and eventually you end up in an area called The Box. The Box is the area of sheer walls where Phantom Canyon and Bright Angel Canyon meet. It is a little unnerving for some I assume but it is awfully impressive for sure. And you are greeted by a great view around every turn. So after another 8 miles we end our day at Bright Angel Campground, where the temperature is over 90 and climbing, by dumping our packs and heading to the Cantina for a few beers. The choices are Bud and Tecate, so we go Mexican. Also this is the place where you can mail a few postcards since they carry 'em out packed on mules each day. So a few of us get to that and others make phone calls. Now that I think of it, this place has everything you need - A/C, telephone, beer, food, and the US Postal Service. But since it's early still (and they threw us out to make room for the dinner crowd) we exit the Cantina and head off to look at the Puebloan ruins down by the Colorado River just a short distance away. We also fooled around on the silver bridge and black bridge and checked out some side trails that are all around the river area. Then it was time for a little more dehydrated food. I think everyone had chicken in some form that evening. But basically we were just waiting for the Cantina to reopen since we had been teased with A/C and beer earlier in the day. While hanging out waiting though we get several glimpses of a gray fox out looking for a meal. I was not quick enough to catch him on film though. But there are more mule deer just standing in the campground eating while we wait also. After a short visit to the Cantina we return back to our campsite to find another fox checking to make sure we had not left any food unattended. The trip back also includes contact with some small bat-like creatures that we believe to be Western Pipistrelle.  We hang out for a while and then retire to the tents - I'm sure the temperature was still in the seventies, at least. During the night we have our first encounter with a ringtail. He is sitting on the pole holding our packs looking for food. Apparently he found nothing and left.
The next morning we mess around for a while since this should be our easiest day of hiking. We are not hiking all the way out today, but instead will camp at Indian Garden and finish our vacation the following day. So today we cross the silver bridge and head up Bright Angel Trail. After just a short journey we walk up on 3 bighorn sheep, one of the animals we were all hoping to see. These were close enough to touch. They are not the least bit interested in seeing us though and quickly trot away. We didn't see any boats along the River Trail, but maybe the season is over. Today is the day for the Devil's Corkscrew section of trail also.  But once we get to Garden Creek we get a nice look at Plateau Point, which we will walk to after dropping our stuff of at the campsite. We see many more mule deer along the creek and a lot of lizards. There are lots of caves/mines along this stretch also. And then suddenly in the middle of all this rock an oasis of green appears. And in all this green is Indian Garden Campground. So we drop off our packs and grab a snack and some water and head off to Plateau Point. I think this is probably the best view of the trip. From the point it is a 1000 feet drop down to the Colorado River and 100 miles of visibility so that you can see everything in all directions. But it is hot out there, even in October. And since we really thought this out we were out there about 3:00 in the afternoon. But we still stayed for some time, the view was just too much. And there were just too many people & mules back at the campground/picnic area. This is a little disturbing since we had not seen this type of crowd for a few days now. We determine that from here on the atmosphere will change considerably. And we were right.

The next morning we leave the campground a little after 8 and people are already scurrying around. And mules have already come through. We are thinking that the hike out will be a little bit rough because of the altitude and the trail being all uphill today. This wasn't helped by the name of the sections such as the Jacob's Ladder. And you can see whole sections of these switchbacks while you're still finishing the one you're on. But fortunately, for most of us this was not true, this was by far the easiest day. If we had to do another day of downhill some of us would have abandoned our packs I think. By the time we get to the first resthouse, 3 miles from the rim, there are people and mules everywhere. At the next resthouse there are even more people and the trail is looking more like a line at a theme park. This resthouse has a toilet and there is a line. It is getting a little crazy. People stopping in the middle of the trail and children, apparently unsupervised, hopping on rocks at the trail's edge. Mules going down, people not understanding how to get out of these mules' path, joggers. It being a Sunday probably makes things worse, but all the relaxation of the past days has now been replaced with just wanting to get away from these people. So we make pretty good time and are easily off the trail before noon. 

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So after a few high-fives we change out of our incredibly dust-covered boots and throw our packs in the minivan. Now to more sobering thoughts - buying souvenirs for friends/family and coming to the realization that it's over. All that remains now is a long drive back to Las Vegas, a hot shower or two, a night on the Strip, some food that has never been dehydrated, and a long flight back to NC. 

103-0384_IMG_2.JPG (402269 bytes)  someone's had a bit too much grog..  

But at least Bruce found a nice talkative friend on the 3.5 hour flight to Nashville. I finally remembered what he said that brought tears to my eyes. "What would anybody do with 6 gallons of popcorn?"  and the earlier one was "they have to retract the landing gear or the plane will stall on takeoff."


trip critter list:

coyote(sr), elk(sr), pronghorn antelope(sr), gray fox(phantom), ringtail(phantom), western pipistrelle(phantom), kaibab squirrel(nrcg), wild turkey(nr), mule deer, wandering garter snake(cottonwood), california condor(nrcg), raven, desert bighorn sheep(river trail), roadrunner(sr), deer mouse(cottonwood), pinyon jay(nrcg), large gray squirrel(nkaibab), skunk(cottonwood), southern plateau lizard(bright angel trail)


And lastly, as with every trip, I ask myself what did I learn from this expedition?  

    1 - a small lantern is a nice luxury

    2 - there can't be many better places to spend a week of vacation

    3 - this was a great excuse to buy an overpriced digital camera

    4 - never speak to anyone on an airplane unless you can deal with the consequences

    5 - some people are even too stupid to smoke correctly

    6 - and most importantly - mule urine smells far worse than mule dung

the end

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