Grand Canyon Backpacking – Days 1 & 2

Our five day Grand Canyon backpacking adventure began on the South Kaibab trail. We caught the 8am hiker express shuttle at the Backcountry Office where we parked our car. An earlier shuttle would have been nice, but we had to break camp at the Mather Campground. This takes about 90 minutes and would be even slower in the dark.

This trail is known for being a bit shorter but steeper than the alternate corridor trail into the canyon from the south rim – Bright Angel trail. We loved how it followed Cedar Ridge, giving expansive views to both sides.

We encountered several mule trains coming out of the canyon from Phantom Ranch. Some carrying people, some carrying supplies.

We took our time going in and took breaks to read and study the rocks, culminating in the over 1 billion year old Vishnu schist rocks as we tumbled down into the river canyon.

We lucked into a spectacular spring bloom the would last through the rest of our time in Arizona.

We crossed the river at the black bridge and setup camp at Bright Angel campground.

We happened to land in the canyon on the first 90+ degree F day of the year so it was nice to cool off at boat beach in the Colorado.

The wind really picked up and we spent most of the night trying to sleep with layers of fine red sand coating us.

Day two we took the short-ish hike up to Cottonwood camp, with a ford of Wall Creek along the way.

We mostly hung out inside our tent the rest of the day and read – it rained steadily all afternoon and into the night. We didn’t mind – it nice to rest up going into our biggest hiking day of the trip.

Grand Canyon Rim Trail and Grandview Trail

We made it to our final hiking and camping destination – Grand Canyon. We spent day one setting up camp and being tourists around the south rim trail.

I’ve been here once before, in 1984, but only remember seeing the view from the rim. It was nice to see more of the architecture and different viewpoints around the village.

And see a nice sunset. Air quality is very good right now.

Today we hiked the Grandview Trail to Horseshoe Mesa, a drop of about 2,500 feet in 2.5 miles. Similar to the Bear Mountain hike we did in Sedona, but backwards.

I’m playing amateur geologist on our hikes, pointing out the different strata and the very-old-ness of the terrain we are on (250 million to about 320 million on this hike – older than dinosaurs!). Down at the mesa were the remnants of an old copper and uranium mine. On the rocks you can see azurite and malachite.

Tomorrow we descend into the canyon for five days. See you on the other side!

We Love Sedona

I have a confession: one side goal of all this travel to the SW USA is to scout out a possible future residence that would have winters more amendable to our outdoor lifestyle than the Pacific Northwest. So far Sedona (maybe Flagstaff) is the only town that seems worth a second look.

We visited a few sites around the area in addition to taking a few outstanding hikes. The above photo is from Fort Verde.

We greatly enjoyed seeing Montezuma Well (as poorly named as Aztec Ruins). The ecology and geology are fascinating.

The first photo in this post is from Devil’s Bridge. The photo above is from the West Fork trail, a beautiful 6 mile out-and-back hike in the canyon above Sedona.

The hiking highlight was the climb to the top of Bear Mountain, a 2,000+ foot climb in about 2 miles.

The views were pretty sweet.

Next stop: Grand Canyon.

Canyon de Chelly

We took a break from camping and spent two hotel nights in Chinle, AZ to get a deep dive tour of the Canyon de Chelly. The canyon and park is within the Navajo Nation, and most parts of the canyon are only accessible via tours from certified Navajo operators.

Julie and I have mixed feelings about this visit. The tour was average at best. The Jeep four wheeling through the river and mud may have been the highlight. The river was flowing fast and hard and we were glad to have an experienced driver.

The rock art was ubiquitous, a beautiful mix of petroglyphs and pictographs ranging from ancient to modern.

The ruins were also plentiful, though inaccessible and only viewable from a distance.

Our tour guide started off strong, but deteriorated to personal stories for the last 2-3 hours, forcing us to interrupt just to ask questions about what we were seeing. At times she seemed annoyed that we were asking.

We also developed some strong opinions about the town of Chinle, AZ. It is the reservation town closest to the canyon and launching point for tours. Julie and I both wonder about the value of these large reservations. Our take: high poverty and a slow drift further and further behind the USA in technology and infrastructure. How is this good in the long term for the children born into this situation? Maybe it is time to revisit this model.

Pueblo Pintado, Salmon Ruins, Aztec Ruins

Leaving Chaco Canyon there were three additional sites for us to check out. The first was Pueblo Pintado, an outlier site that is part of the Chaco National Park. We like these outlier sites as we often have them to ourselves.

Many of these sites have middens rife with pottery sherds. We love walking along the trails and scanning the adjacent terrain for these sherds. Some folks like to gather sherds and arrange them on large rocks, which is strictly verboten. The sherd above (which I placed back on the rock where I found it) is an example of the black and white Chaco style pottery.

Next we found some awesome burritos at this food truck.

Salmon Ruins is a very well done county museum in Bloomfield NM. It is named after a settler and has a great mix of Puebloan ruins and example dwellings of other more recent tribes native to the area. Above you see a large partly reconstructed kiva.

The above color coded bricks have some significance that is currently unknown, possibly sun spotting.

Our final stop before crossing over to Arizona was Aztec Ruins National Monument, a tidy little site with a friendly visitor center.

Aztec is possibly notable for the Chaco meridian hypothesis, which espouses that a single contiguous (in time and location) Anasazi empire may have existed from southwestern Colorado down to Mexico, with key sites laying on the same longitudinal meridian.