Prior to Utah’s Monsoon season this spring, Christina, Tess & I had ourselves a grand adventure on the Colorado Plateau including a multi-night stay on the south rim of the Grand Canyon.
Christina & I picked Tess up from the airport early afternoon on a sunny Sunday. Enduring an early wake up and long day of traveling we bee-lined it to the nearest In-N-Out burger. Stomachs now satisfied full of burgers, fries and milkshake we hit the road. Destination Mather Campground in Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) lay over 500 miles away. Soon after Tess declared “I can’t sleep while traveling” I looked back to this sight!
Heading East on US89 somewhere between Kanab, UT and Page, AZ the sun dipped beyond the horizon in a brilliant display of rich colors as is often the case with desert sunsets. It was pitch black as we entered Arizona, almost 6 hours and 400 miles into the trip we were finally exiting our state of origination. Quite the contracts from lil ole Rhode Island. Speeding along still on US89, blinded by the hi-beams of oncoming traffic I repeatedly asked Christina to check the GPS since Flagstaff was approaching quickly and I did not want to find out after an hour that we had missed a turnoff. We were still on course and soon we reached the turnoff for the park, after a ceremonious complete circle in the rotary we took our exit. Unbeknownst to us we were barreling past many breath taking overlooks of the canyon. Deflecting comments about taking corners to quickly and generally driving too fast (all I wanted to do was take my contacts out and get into bed as soon as possible) finally we arrived at the central area of the park>found the campground>located our reserved site>setup came>crawled into bed.
The morning came and ever so slowly we got moving, or in my case thawed out from a frigid night. Evening temps along the South Rim sitting at 7000′ dipped down to the mid thirties during our stay.
Eventually emerging from the tent a fire was lit and a hearty breakfast was prepared at a leisurely pace, but consumed quite hastily.
Finally feeling refreshed we packed our day packs and walked off to the shuttle bus stop with a smile on our faces and bounce in our step ready for a week of adventures. En route to the South Kaibab trail head all three of us viewed the canyon for the first time with our own eyes!
Covering over 1,900 square miles and ranging from 10 to 18 miles across rim to rim “Grand” is certainly an accurate descriptor. The river itself flows a mile below the south rim and stays hidden from many overlooks.
The South Kaibab trail winds all the way to the bottom of the canyon, however numerous signs warn against a round trip to the river and back in a day. Initially shaded from the morning sun we started stepping down.
In addition to typical trail obstacles we mule pies littered the path. Here’s a fresh one!
Mules are still used today to ferry supplies down to the camp on the river as well as tourists and their luggage.
The Colorado river cuts through the geographic region known as the Colorado plateau. This area, formerly the bed of a prehistoric sea, is made up of soft sandstones, which lends itself to erosion. This recipe has yielded a region with a high propensity for unique natural beauty and thus a high density of National Parks. Most of these scenic areas are guarded by miles of difficult desert terrain. The Colorado plateau was one the last areas mapped in the contiguous united states and it’s wasn’t until 1869 that the famed one armed Major John Wesley Powell set out to explore the area via the uncharted Colorado River. Today, river access still remains difficult by our modern standards. Mule, foot, and raft are the methods available to visitors who want to descend to the river.
We continued down passing alien landscapes.
Most locations on the trail were terraced enough that vertigo was never a concern however there were certainly locations where the especially sensitive to heights may have issue.
It was certainly odd starting off descending and bottoming out rather reaching a summit. We called it at the “Skeleton Point” overlook, where we able to spot the emerald flow still over 1500′ below us.
After eating about a gallon of trail mix, Tess set a blistering pace back up the canyon. We made it about half way up before her body reminded her that she had been at sea level about 48hrs earlier and was now over a mile above sea level with another 1000 feet to climb in scorching midday Arizona sun. Re-hydrating and moving at a more leisurely rate the rest of the way we still completed the hike rather quickly and had plenty of time to relax and enjoy cold beverages at the camp site before cooking up some fish and veggies for dinner.
On Day 2 we again hiked down into the canyon, this time via the Bright Angel Trail, only we went further and deeper into the canyon to Indian Garden. A literal desert oasis of shade and water where cottonwood tress grow on the banks of small creek.
I felt great when we reached Indian Garden, and was considering suggesting going a bit further down. After soaking up the shade and putting the feet up for a few the ole legs were not moving so well on the way back and was certainly glad we didn’t go any further into the canyon. By the time we reached the rim again we had all entered that zone of misery.
A shower followed by campfire fajitas and beer has us feeling much better and on our way to dreamland. The grand canyon may be most well known for it’s brilliant sunrises and sunsets. It looked overcast above us at the campsite, but I forced myself to get my camera gear and convinced Christina to join me. We ended up at Yavapai point, which has great views to the West and East with multiple focus points. Needless to say it was a popular spot for sunset as many folks had brought along their camp chairs and warm beverages in anticipation for the show!
As is often heard in the outdoor community “You don’t know if you don’t go.” I think it was certainly worth the effort!
It was so awe inspiring that I had to go back for sunrise. Shivering in my hat, gloves and puffy I set up the tripod in the dark and waited for our star to show itself.
Arriving back at the campsite, Christina & I jumped back into the tent. In a daze I hadn’t realized that our styrofoam cooler was in the tent and I moved it out of the tent on my way to my sleeping bag. While Christina & I were taking photos giant ravens had swooped in and shredded the cooler and water jug. Tess woke up at some point and rescued what was still sitting out on the picnic table. After resting until it was too warm in the tent we headed to the visitor center to pick up some fresh coffee on our way to the park entrance to see what we had missed on our night time entry.
We spend the morning driving along the eastern portion of the rim stopping at an overlook when we felt the urge.
Tess put on quite the performance at this spot.
She convinced me to join in the fun!
After lunch, souvenir shopping and hat purchasing we rode a shuttle bus along the park’s western rim route. Alternating between walking and napping on the bus between overlooks.
Tired from a full day of activities we conjured up a skillet of Mac’n cheese which will be forever known as the greatest there ever was.
It was our last night on the rim, and Tess had not yet witnessed a sunset or sunrise. So it was back to Yavapai point with wine and cookies!
A great day capped off by some s’mores construction and consumption.
In the morning we would pack up our camp and head toward Utah. We stopped just before the border in Page, AZ for a float on the Colorado. Once again we found ourselves in the dark, barreling down a tunnel along cliffs rising above the river at the southern end of Glen Canyon. When we emerged the Glen Canyon Damn at us like ants. The man made colossus holding back Lake Powell against the natural canyon walls. Quite the stark contrast of natural beauty and human industrialism.
The river provided much need cooling power. Page sits at about 4000′ similar in elevation to the lowest point we descended to in the Grand Canyon, Indian Garden. The water temp of the Colorado river downstream of the glen canyon damn hoovers at 46*F year round due to the controlled flow of the damn.
Petroglyphs along the river and our flotation device
After our river tour we got back on the road and took the scenic entrance into Zion National Park via route 9. It would be our last night in a tent for a while, but it was certainly a room with a view!
We ended up revisiting the observation point, one of my favorite so I had no issue with repeating the ascent.
The way down in 32 seconds!
And with that we hit the road back to Park City for some hot showers and beds.