After climbing out of that big canyon, we cruised south in AZ, stopping for a night to have dinner with a young man (former classmate and teammate of Matthew and son of close friends) in Mesa before heading south of Tucson. We had never visited my aunt and uncle’s place in Green Valley and were too close to miss this opportunity.
We loved tooling around their age qualified community. I didn’t get to play golf but we did head into Madera Canyon on Easter Sunday to hopefully do a bit of hiking. Sadly the park was so full we couldn’t even find trailhead parking, but we lucked into a short stay at a gift shop and inn where we were treated to some amazing birdwatching. On a return trip I suspect we could spend 3-4 days exploring this area.
We spent a few hours in Saguaro National Park on our way to San Diego and were still in full bloom season.
I’m not sure we would consider back country exploration of Saguaro but we do love looking at cactus and searching for reptiles. Sadly we found no Gila monsters.
Our concluding days in the canyon were some of the most relaxing we’ve ever had. It was a short, mostly flat 7 mile hike from Cottonwood camp to Bright Angel.
Right away we had to ford Wall Creek again, but this time we just went barefoot with good results. Dry socks and boots. We saw a lot of trail runners this day. They mostly just ran right through the creek.
We finally got close enough to a Yellow-backed spiny lizard for a good shot. Biggest lizard we saw in the canyon and we saw quite a few.
There was apparently an endurance race going on in Arizona that had several hikers schlepping bikes on their backs through the canyon, rim to rim. Oh my.
More geology! What you see above is an example of boudinage: sausage link shaped infiltration of Zoroaster granite into the Vishnu schist.
Back at Phantom Ranch we enjoyed two fun ranger programs (one on the California Condor, one on search and rescue) and a tasty veggie chili dinner with great company.
Julie mailed a postcard to our nephew using the mule post inside Phantom Ranch.
We departed very early on Friday morning to make the long climb out of the canyon via Bright Angel trail.
The water was flowing strongly through Indian Garden, an oasis on the south side with lush trees, blooming wildflowers, and plenty of shade and water.
Above is a view from above the Indian Garden area.
We hauled ass climbing out, even passing a group of trail runners three times (they ultimately beat us to the top) as we maintained a steady but fast pace. Things got a lot more crowded on the second half. We overtook a mule train climbing out that was apparently a training run for some out-of-shape mules needing to get into spring condition.
We escaped the canyon at about 11am, walking the extra 1/4 mile or so to the Backcountry office parking lot where we left our car.
We were very happy with the itinerary. Bracketing the big Wednesday hike with two virtual rest days (just seven miles flat) helped manage the pain of the big up-and-down day. Hanging around Phantom Ranch was better than expected, especially when the ranger programs were running.
If you want to experience the same hiking but aren’t into the backpacking elements, you can try for lodging at the Ranch and minimize the need to haul as much gear around. I wouldn’t advise a hike from the Ranch all the way to north rim unless you are staying in the lodge up there to break the trip up.
Day 3 was our planned “big day”: a day hike from Cottonwood Camp up to the north rim, then to the vacated Lodge, then back down to camp. By day hike I mean we left our camping gear in camp, carrying just 10 essentials, water, and food. While the hike to the rim is about 7 miles, it is another two to get to the lodge. And a 4,000+ foot climb.
The first part of the hike sticks to Bright Angel canyon where the water was still flowing rapidly.
We did not need to treat any water as we had key supply points at Manzanita rest area then again up top at the Backcountry admin building.
Trail takes a left turn about 4 miles in at Roaring Springs, a beautiful waterfall spring shooting out from the walls of the canyon. This picture doesn’t do it justice – the left side where you see a hint of flow was more like a cascade falling through the forest.
Two days before our hike the trail was closed for some blasting to work on the water pipeline from (we think) Roaring Springs up to the north rim. We lucked into seeing the NPS helicopter both drop off (morning) then pick up (afternoon) two workers doing the repair or build work. Looked like rock climbing pipefitters.
The climb was exhausting and transitioned quickly after the Cococino Overlook. Snow!
Even though there was some steep drifts to navigate, once we hit the rim the road to the lodge was plowed for some easy paved hiking.
Big payoff on the lodge back porch: not a soul in sight for our hot noodle lunches.
In addition to our usual rock strata exploration we did some fossil hunting. We found a fern!
I’ll leave you with a nice shot facing the south rim.
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.
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!