I love spending time with my family. When I was little, I assumed that all families were like ours. But I remember a moment in second grade when our class was making something special for Mother’s Day – and seeing a classmate with his head buried in his hands, sobbing because he didn’t have a mom. That was the first of many lessons over the years that have taught me to appreciate what we have.
In the Spring of 2009, I convinced my brother to go to Arizona with me and hike part of the Grand Canyon with Dad. Dad had hiked it several times and I wanted us to experience it with him. It was just after this blog was born and was the first travel story that I shared that didn’t involve a show.
Ever since, Dad has mentioned occasionally that he would like to hike the Grand Canyon from Rim-to-Rim with his sons. At first, neither of us was sure that we wanted to experience that soreness again – but as time passed our position began to soften. When we were hiking with him in Arizona last March, he mentioned it again – along with the reminder that it was a “limited time offer”. That got us moving, and Blake and I discussed going to Arizona in late May 2014 after the North Rim opened for the season.
Then my son got engaged, and Blake’s oldest son got engaged – and by July it was obvious that Spring 2014 was going to be filled with wedding plans. So when? Fall 2014 seemed a long time away, and with Dad already 77, “limited time offer” kept echoing in my head. So I called Blake and told him -- “We have to do this NOW.” Within two days, the plans were made – Mom and Dad would go back to Tucson a few weeks early, Blake and I would fly into Phoenix, and Dad would pick us up there and head for the Grand Canyon.
As with any trip, the last few days before we went were hectic. Blake and I both had plenty to do at work, and I had a big rivalry game to announce on Friday night before we left in the predawn hours on Saturday. We had been watching the weather forecast ever since the 10-day included the first day of our trip – of course the weather weasels have no idea what’s going to happen ten days in advance. So the closer we got to the trip, the weather forecast went from “sunny and pleasant” to “isolated thunderstorms” to “thunderstorms likely”.
No kidding. This is what we encountered when we got to Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. It had been pouring rain for days and there were rivers of water running along, between, and across the roads. One of the rangers’ equipment buildings was flooded and crews were trying to pump out the water faster than it was pouring in. Out on the rim, all of the gift shops and public areas were packed with people, and as the rains lightened they would wander out and look over the rim into the canyon. Occasionally we would see a hiker or two come off the trail, soaked to the skin.
The elk didn’t seem to care, though.
We wandered out to the rim, too. The clouds were thick and there wasn’t as much of a view as there would be on a sunny day. See that notch in the background in the picture on the left? The North Rim Lodge is just to the left of that – and that’s where we were headed. I started spewing some pseudo-logic in the evening -- “Since the trails near the South Rim are mostly sand, if we don’t get much rain overnight maybe the soil will drain and we won’t hike through slop all day.”
And at 4:38 the following morning, that’s exactly what we found in the view from our headlamps at the South Kaibab Trailhead. Other than occasional puddles that we had to dodge, the ground was dry and the footing was sound. But a lot of recent repairs to the trails had washed away – actually “flushed” is probably a better term. We didn’t see a footprint or a hoofprint – or any mule droppings – along the trail.
Blake got a better picture of our headlamps when we made the first of many many stops for food and drink. But soon we didn’t need the headlamps anymore. Once we could see the sky, we noticed that it was overcast and it looked like it might rain at any time – but other than occasional sprinkles, it was dry and comfortable all day. The conditions also kept the temperatures low – we expected temps near 110 on the canyon floor, but it never got past 82. So we traded heat for humidity.
My favorite picture from the trip. And some places, we found more puddles than others and had to hop from one rock to another at the side of the trail.
Our first view of the Colorado River, and our first view of Bright Angel Canyon, which leads from the river most of the way to the North Rim. Once we got past Phantom Ranch, this would be new territory for Blake and me.
We knew that the mule train taking supplies to Phantom Ranch usually left the South Rim between 5:00 and 5:30, so it wasn’t a surprise when it came up behind us. Mules have the right of way, so we moved up against the canyon wall to let them pass.
And the look of the trail immediately changed. Hoofprints here – droppings soon. And soon other hikers passed us – several of them were running from rim to rim.
We were able to watch the mule train navigate the switchbacks into the lower canyon as we continued.
Loved this picture of Dad with the colorful rock in the distance. Soon it got warmer and we started peeling layers.
Another picture that Blake took that I really liked . . .
Second view of the Colorado River – and of Bright Angel Canyon. It’s still a looooong way down there.
Blake went right out to the edge to take those pictures. I wasn’t that far away, but the canyon in the background makes him seem small and insignificant by comparison.
My brother the Great Explorer . . .
Another view of the Colorado River, but this time I took it – while Blake took a picture of me at the edge. Anyone who knows about my fear of heights understands that I made sure my footing was quite secure and reached out as far as I could to get a picture that looked like I was standing on the edge.
Just for the view . . .
Saw this mountain goat below us on the trail. We found out later that mountain goats don’t usually venture below the canyon rims because there is no food or water for them. Felt sorry for him as I posted these pics.
This is the only other way to get to the canyon floor and back – by mule. And yes, that’s an albino mule off to the right – one of the tour leaders was riding him. First view of one of the two bridges that cross the Colorado River – you have to go through a small tunnel to get on the bridge. This is a suspension bridge – it was built during the Depression and when the designers discovered that mules couldn’t handle the cables, a train of workers carried them down the trails by hand.
This is the same mule train that passed us on the way down – it has already been to Phantom Ranch with supplies and is now headed back up with trash, luggage for the people riding back up on mules, etc. The last mule’s rope came loose from the mule in front, but he/she kept right on following.
This picture is significant – it’s the last one we took before Dad stumbled going around a switchback and sprained his ankle. It could have been much worse – when he fell and his leg bent underneath him all sorts of thoughts went flashing through my mind, thoughts like “broken leg” and “blown out knee”. Of course, he bounced right up and said “I’m fine” – but he also got quieter and his pace slowed as the day wore on. Every now and then he would step awkwardly and moan a little – but we never knew how bad it really was until we got to the North Rim (19 miles later!) and he took off his boot and sock. I took pictures, but I won’t share them – suffice to say that his lower leg was bruised and gruesome. Always a tough guy . . .
Into the tunnel and onto the bridge – and over the river we go . . .
This was our favorite picture from the original Grand Canyon hike (it’s still the image that I see when I turn on my phone), and we wanted to recreate it this time. Unfortunately there was no one at this bridge near the Bright Angel Campground to take it, so Blake put his camera on a rock and set the timer. I tried to crop what we got, but it just wasn’t the same.
The area between Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch is grassy and flat. And the canteen at Phantom Ranch is a great place to relax and eat food from our packs (to get a meal, you have to order it a day ahead and it comes down on a mule). Blake couldn’t wait for a cold iced tea. And I suspect that on a 110 degree day, an air conditioned room is hard to leave when it’s time to get back on the trail.
This little fellow watched us as we started out on the North Kaibab Trail, headed from Phantom Ranch toward the North Rim. I did not zoom to get this picture – he was on rocks beside the trail and never moved. And this cactus had fruit on it – it was the first one I saw on the trail and I thought it was unique, but we saw quite a few more along the way.
Bright Angel Creek was roaring through Bright Angel Canyon as we hiked. Sometimes it was hard to hear each other – I love babbling brooks, but this one was screaming. Apparently these rock walls radiate heat like a convection oven, so a 110 degree air temperature can feel like 130 or more. But 82 and overcast felt like 82 and overcast . . .
Two interesting things I noticed along the trail. I have no idea how a peace sign came to be used in this manner. But I suspect this telephone pole was bent to the ground during a flash flood at some point over the years.
Note that Blake is smiling? He just ate – Blake is always happier after he eats . . .
It’s hard to describe just how steep (and how high) these canyon walls are. There are nine of these bridges going back and forth across Bright Angel Creek – before the trail was rebuilt when the water line was put in back in the late 1960s, hikers crossed the river more than 60 times!
Lots of little waterfalls along the creek . . .
Occasionally, I eat – just not as much as Blake and Dad. Eventually we started climbing and it got cooler – also got more strenuous. Yet Dad kept right on going and never complained.
Sometimes I wondered if the clouds were coming down to meet us, or we were climbing up to meet them . . .
My favorite of the many little waterfalls we encountered. And Roaring Springs off in the distance is the source of all the water in Bright Angel Creek – and all drinking water in the canyon, all the way to the South Rim.
The calm before the storm – we are about to start hiking up the canyon face for several hours before we get to the North Rim. One last look back before we head up.
As we climbed, we could often see the little bridge in the lower right of the left picture. It’s in the right one too – it’s very small just right of center at the bottom of the picture. Even though we kept climbing upward, we kept feeling like we hadn’t accomplished anything since that bridge was still in sight.
Blake shot the picture at left and then said “Try to make it look like you’re happy to be here” and tried again.
Closeup of the facial expressions. Yes, my face is beet red – I don’t sweat much so it does that when I get hot. It worries people who aren’t familiar with me and think I might be on the verge of a heart attack. Relax – for me, it’s normal.
Supai Tunnel – the last landmark before the 1.7 mile climb to the North Rim. It’s also the last picture we took on the trail, for several reasons. My camera adjusted for the available light – it was getting dark. And once we got through this tunnel, we entered an evergreen forest – and ground that was clay instead of sand. The trail became a slippery, sloppy, muddy soup of muck – mixed with mule droppings. Without hiking poles, I don’t know how we could have navigated it without slipping and falling multiple times – and there were areas where a slip could have resulted in a fall of several hundred feet straight down. We would hike a couple of switchbacks and stop to catch our breath – rarely talked. Eventually, we put our headlamps back on – and that made it even harder to find solid footing.
Our original intent was to hike back the way we came the next day, but the combination of Dad’s sprain and the treacherous footing convinced Blake and me that it would be smarter to take the shuttle 200+ miles back to the South Rim the next day. The question was “Could we convince Dad?” When we finally reached the North Rim at 7:54 – 15 hours and 16 minutes after we started, the first words out of Dad’s mouth were “I think we should take the shuttle back in the morning.” We were thrilled – Dad’s wish was to hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim with his sons. Hiking back was just a way to get back where we came – there was no disappointment in going back in a shuttle van.
It is nearly two miles from the trailhead to the North Rim Lodge – I tried and failed to get a couple of pictures while we were hiking. I did get a strange view of the reflectors on Blake’s pack in the picture at right. After about a mile, a very nice guy in an Econoline van with some teenagers picked us up and took us the rest of the way.
Next morning – wouldn’t have gotten this view if we had been hiking back, since we got in well after dark and would have left well before sunrise. I talked with a lady at the desk who told me that it had poured rain on both rims the whole time we were hiking the day before – and yet we experienced only sprinkles in the canyon.
The lodge at the North Rim was built in the late 1920s or early 1930s, burned to the ground about two years after it was built, and then the current lodge was constructed. From the dining room, you can look out into the canyon – also from a sitting room that literally feels like it’s hanging out over the rim.
Several people (including me) were taking pictures of the view.
Two views of the lodge from the overlook below . . .
I love to take “what he saw/what I saw” pictures . . .
One last look at Bright Angel Canyon – running from lower left toward upper right – before we left on the shuttle. Yes, we really hiked through that yesterday. And those skies look really threatening . . .
Lots of scenery along the way back around the canyon. And this is the view as we crossed the Colorado River – by comparison, it looks like a creek here . . .
This deer was only 100 feet or so from the door to our room at the Yavapai Lodge on the South Rim – again, it seemed accustomed to having people around and didn’t seem to be in a hurry to move.
Blake and I went down and wandered through the hotels along the rim, and along the way tried to recreate a picture from our previous visit taken on the porch swing at the El Tovar Hotel. I think we got a better picture this time.
And we hit the gift shops looking for the perfect souvenir. I liked this one – but $28.95 seemed a little steep. So we left only footprints and took only pictures . . .
Before we left, Blake and I went back down to the South Rim one last time to see if the view was different. It was – see those clouds dipping down into that “V” in the middle of the picture? That’s Bright Angel Canyon – it was pouring. We were quite pleased that we weren’t experiencing that in person.