South Kaibab Trail

We are on the homestretch of the A to Z this week with only eight letters to go. As in hiking, this final stretch is going to be challenging since I no longer have posts written ahead and am getting tired (and would rather enjoy spring outside than do writing inside). It feels like uphill all the way…

The South Kaibab Trail is the one my hike will start on – they call it a corridor trail, meaning that it is one of two or three that is regularly patrolled and maintained. It is part of the Arizona Trail system going all the way from Mexico to Utah.

After our first day of having our gear checked over and learning about the area we will walk through, I’m guessing we will meet early at Bright Angel Lodge and take the first shuttle bus of the day to the trailhead. It’s a ways away from Grand Canyon Village and there is no parking there for private vehicles. We will start our descent of 4,700 feet over the next seven miles. We will meet mules and other hikers on the trail. There are a couple restrooms on the way, but no water sources until we reach the bottom of the canyon. About the only shade will be from the canyon walls. The grade will be as steep as 22% at the final section and there will be many switchbacks. Doesn’t that sound like fun? But wait, it’s worth it.

There just aren’t a lot of ways to go down these amazing cliffs.  The South Kaibab was supposedly built to foil Cameron who had started charging $1 per person to use the Bright Angel Trail. It is steeper and shorter but has some of the most amazing views available.

  • One of them is .9 miles on the way and is called Ooh-Aah Point, because that is what most people say when they get there. I’m going to try to say something more original. It’s a good distance for a casual day hike.
  • Next is Cedar Ridge at 1.5 miles, another good point for day hikers to turn around.
  • Followed by Skeleton Point at 3 miles, where there is reportedly a 360 degree view of the canyon, and the first view of the river.
  • Followed by Tip Off at 4.6 miles where the steepest section of switchbacks starts, taking us down to the Black Suspension Bridge, Bright Angel Camp and Phantom Ranch. 

Although it is described as knee jarring, it is all downhill, right? I think I can do it.

The river – there it is!

Reservations

Even as I was typing the R word, I realized several applications of the word to my study of the Grand Canyon and my upcoming hike. 

Reservations #1

As I began reading “A River Running West” the life of John Wesley Powell, I found interesting stories of how the Midwest was settled and the Native Americans living there were forced west. They did not share the concept of land ownership that European settlers had, and eventually found themselves limited by government treaties to reservations. Most of the land surrounding the Grand Canyon is reservation land for various Native American tribes.  John Wesley Powell had very strong opinions about this and also a strong respect for and interest in Indian culture. When he later became influential in exploring and surveying in the western states, he was responsible for putting the Grand Canyon on the map and that is one of his big accomplishments.

I’m pretty sure the Indians didn’t always get a fair shake as this country was settled. I feel bad about that and I think John Wesley Powell did too.

Reservations #2

The other kind of reservation I need to mention is the kind you need for many of the special things in Grand Canyon National Park.  Visitors to the park number around 5.5 million each year. There are long lines of traffic, especially on holidays and other times when people vacation. Because there is limited parking space in the park there are services in nearby towns that include a shuttle bus ride to the park. Flagstaff, Sedona, Tusayan and other nearby towns also have numerous guided tours (do you want to ride in a pink jeep? they have it), helicopter tours, whitewater river rafting and other excursions.

There are five holidays when admission to the park is free. Otherwise, you must have a pass ranging in cost from $35 for a vehicle and all riders to $20 for an individual. All those passes are good for seven days. There are special passes for year long admission, for military families, seniors.  Trip planning suggestions and admission information for all kinds of park passes can be found here www.thecanyon.com/fees or at https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm 

Going into the canyon for more than a day requires a backcountry permit, no matter where you intend to camp. For the preservation of the canyon, the number of people allowed to go in is limited. We missed one whole year because we didn’t apply early enough. The reason we are able to go on this trip is because my brother joined the National Park Conservancy, and got immediate notice when the trips opened for application.

Most of the visitors arriving for a day take one of the bus rides along the rim or hike part way down one of the major trails and back. These ways of viewing the canyon only require a park pass, not any special permits and offer a good taste of the canyon’s beauty, but if you need a hotel for your stay, you had better make a reservation.

Reservations #3

Lastly, on the topic of reservations, are the reservations I have myself about doing this hiking trip. I wonder whether my knees are going to last, whether I’ll get by with little sleep, if I’m strong enough physically and mentally. So, I have them, but my reservations are not going to keep me from going ahead, just sayin’…

Phantom Ranch

Phantom Ranch is an exclusive place that I have been hearing about for years and have always wanted to visit. Exclusive it is, because there is a quota on how many people can get reservations there or in the campground in a season. There are no other places to stay in the canyon, except for hikers who have back country permits to pitch a tent elsewhere. There is a lottery reservation system and it has a 13 month advance timing. If you are randomly chosen and your requested dates fit open accommodations, you get to stay. If not, you start over.  This one of the reasons why only 1% of the millions of visitors to the canyon in a year will get to stay at Phantom Ranch.

The ranch is at the bottom of the canyon at the intersection of the Bright Angel Trail, the Kaibab Trail North and South, and the Colorado River. The buildings were designed by Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter (what happens when your parents can’t decide what to name you) and built in the early days of tourism to the canyon. They are really beautiful stone and timber buildings that almost disappear into the surroundings. When the designs were approved the plan was to name the buildings Roosevelt Chalets but Ms. Colter said “not if you want to use my design”. She had already named it Phantom Ranch and that’s what it stayed. The rich and famous rode mules down the trail and stayed there, sometimes for weeks. There are cabins housing from 2 to 10 people, and 2 dormitories for males and 2 dormitories for females. Dorms have five bunk beds each and a common shower and restroom.

Meals are served at the Ranch by reservation also. They are rather expensive but that is understandable when you realize that almost everything that comes and goes to the ranch has to do it by mule. Breakfast goes for about $24 and the early seating is at 5:30 am. If you like to sleep in you can catch the late seating at 6:30 am (hmm…). My food will be carried in my pack to the campground by mule so I have no reservations for a meal at the canteen, but I may stop in to buy a postcard or a drink while I’m there.

Bright Angel Campground where I will be tenting for two nights is only a short walk from Phantom Ranch. On this “in between” day we will be doing some day hiking along the river and some side canyons. I’ve heard this is supposed to keep us from getting stiff and sore before the hike back up to the rim again. We’ll see.

Approach to Phantom Ranch

The Park Service has a lovely video of Phantom Ranch and detailed instructions for the lottery reservation system at http://www.grandcanyonlodges.com/lodging/phantom-ranch/

Photos from canstock.com

Mules…

Thank you, Mule.

I’ve mentioned already that this hike, sponsored by the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute, is titled “Take a Load Off: Mule Assisted Camping 0514”.  My brother was being thoughtful of me and his wife, thinking that we would be better off having assistance from some friendly mules. The mules have agreed to carry a duffel bag for each of us which will lighten our load considerably.

On our first day we will meet at about 10 am to have our equipment checked over by our guide, and then our tenting equipment, some of our food and clothing – basically anything we don’t need on the descent – will be packed in the bag allowed us. I think our mule train will start that afternoon. I’m guessing they will go down the Bright Angel Trail, cross the Colorado on the Black Bridge and stay the night at Phantom Ranch (see this pic of mules crossing scary bridge). Almost everything that goes to Phantom Ranch goes by mule, including supplies for the canteen meals and goods sold in the store. Duffel transport is a common expense for hikers, especially ones going up who don’t want all that stuff on their own backs.

A lot of people ride the mules to Phantom Ranch too but the park video says the people getting off the mules are just as tired and sore as the ones who hiked the trail. Excuse me for laughing, haha. When you don’t ride for hours at a time as a regular thing, that is exactly what happens.  

Our hike guidelines give specific instructions to hikers who might happen to meet a mule train on the trail. We are to back up against the uphill side of the trail and wait quietly until the last mule has passed and is at least 50 feet away. Although the mules are well trained and mostly stick to business, if they are harassed or startled it can result in an accident. It is a real shame when a mule is lost off the trail, as you can imagine. And worse yet if a hiker falls, which is why we are given the uphill side. Lucky us.

Book Cover for Brighty of the Grand Canyon

Mules have a real history in the Canyon. An old children’s book which I read to my children years ago was “Brighty of the Grand Canyon”. It was kind of a history lesson of the prospecting days, when miners traveled the canyon looking for gold, with a mule carrying their provisions. Brighty, the mule, is the star of the book – kind of the Black Beauty of the mule world.  A great book about the canyon, and not just for kids. I loved it. Earlier this month a reader reminded me of this story that she had also read and loved. I’m not sure but I think Brighty might have been a burro (small donkey), which is different from a mule, but close enough for these purposes.

The little corral at Phantom Ranch looks just the same as it did when first constructed in the 1920’s. I’m hoping to hang out there a little and talk to some of the handlers because I’m curious about where the mules come from and how they are trained. I know they are very reliable and sure footed, which makes them a good fit for terrain in the canyon.

Kaibab

I have just been looking at the Grand Canyon on Google Earth. From a distance I could not tell what I was seeing. It was the crooked line of a river made broad by lighter borders unevenly stretching out on either side. Zooming in closer I suddenly saw height and depth. The dark areas were shadow of high cliffs. The light areas were less steep slopes with sparse vegetation. The trails were white lines zig zagging down the descents and they went on and on, seemingly forever, as I followed the route our hike will take.

Google Earth is a unique way of seeing the Canyon – vertically, looking straight down. Although it doesn’t compare to actually being there, it gives a dramatic view of how large and complicated the formations are. Look at it if you can.

I always have a hard time understanding the lay of land from written descriptions but I’m going to try to describe this larger area, and show you where Kaibab fits in. Stick with me here.

A high, mountainous plateau goes from east to west across the northern edge of Arizona. It is bisected by the Colorado as it winds it’s way southwest. It’s hard to believe that the river made such a wide, dramatic gash through the plateau that slopes toward the south. On the north side of the river, from east to west, lie the Kaibab, the Kanab, the Uinkaret and the Shivwits Plateaus. On the south side of the river there is the Coconino Plateau and the Hualapai Plateau.  Hundreds of tributaries run down into the Colorado, cutting their own canyons as they go, especially from the north side.  

The Kaibab Plateau “is covered with a beautiful forest, and in the forest charming parks are found…. The plateau has four months of the sweetest summer man has ever  known.” John Wesley Powell

As far as the word Kaibab itself, well, there doesn’t seem to be a known meaning of it on the internet. It is probably a Paiute Native American word and it’s attached to many things in the Grand Canyon area. There is the Kaibab National Forest, which is home to a herd of large antlered deer (well fed and well managed), there is the Kaibab squirrel which is nearly extinct but still holding on, there is the large Kaibab Plateau north of the canyon and, of course, the Kaibab Trail with its South and North branches. Our descent will be on the South Kaibab Trail, and that is for another post.

map of Grand Canyon National Park

Don’t forget to check out the Grand Canyon on Google Earth. It’s amazing!

Journey

The Journey, Getting There from Here

Although I haven’t taken this Grand Canyon hike yet, I have had to figure out how to get there. I did this quite some time ago to make sure that my reservations were in place.  For me, the hike itself was quite an investment and I didn’t want to risk not being there at the right time.

Driving by land is an obvious good choice. My brother and his wife who live about three hours from me, in Wisconsin, are driving and have room in their vehicle for all our equipment.  I am flying out and meeting them before the hike and will be traveling light. Since there are many great places to visit between Wisconsin and Arizona, including many national parks, my brother will be taking his time and may do some other shorter hikes on the way.

Flying into the Grand Canyon area usually means going to one of the nearby cities with an airport – Flagstaff, Phoenix or Las Vegas. Although there is a small airport in Grand Canyon Village, service there is  limited to private and charter flights. From the cities, car rental is the advisable travel means. My brother’s approach will be from the east which meant that Flagstaff was the most logical choice for me. It is, more or less, on his way to the canyon. We will meet in Flagstaff and drive to Grand Canyon Village the day before our trip starts.

Did I make it easy enough to see where the cities with airports are?

Our first day of the hike requires us to be present at 10 am, so we have arranged lodging in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim within the National Park. It is a small village and has limited year-round lodging. There are a dozen or more hotels including Bright Angel Lodge, El Tovar Hotel, Kachina Lodge, Thunderbird Lodge, the Motor Lodge and Yavapai Lodge. These hotels have been hosting visitors since the park became a tourist destination and several of them are quite famous. El Tovar is right on the Rim and built like a European castle!  Lodging is also available on the North Rim and at Phantom Ranch inside the canyon, which I will mention in a future post.

My brother was able to get a hotel room, but I was not. Instead, I have reservations at Mather Campground in Grand Canyon Village. I will be tenting the night of our arrival, the first night of the hike before the descent, the two nights at Phantom Ranch, and the night after we return to the South Rim. Hopefully, I can survive five nights of sleeping on the ground.

My airport nearest my home is 240 miles away in Minneapolis so I have transportation complications on that end as well. I will probably travel there the night before the flight and do a park and fly stay at a motel. Living in the wild of northern Wisconsin has its aggravations…

There is so much more that I could say about getting to the various destinations in the Grand Canyon. I didn’t even mention much about the North Rim or the West Rim. It’s a big place.

River Fascination

I am becoming more and more fascinated by a river that has been almost in my backyard without my paying much attention to it. The Mississippi. Most people don’t think of the state of Wisconsin when they consider the “mighty Mississipp” but they should. A good deal of the state’s western border is marked by the Mississippi and the geography it creates is often breathtaking.

Those of us in northern Wisconsin have always had to cross it on our way to the closest major airport in Minneapolis. I grew bit more familiar with it when I was in nursing school years ago, going back and forth from home took me through river cities like Red Wing and Stillwater where beautiful bridges afford views from the car windows. Most recently I’ve enjoyed the land around the river at La Crosse. It’s here that three rivers come together, the Black River, the La Crosse River and the Mississippi. Throw in some 500 foot bluffs, a wide alluvial plain and what early French traders called coulees and you have some pretty interesting terrain.

A few steps up the hill and I am above the roof line of my brother’s house.

My brother lives in Onalaska, which is close to La Crosse. His house is on the assent to one of the bluffs that looks out over the river valley. He and his neighbors all have wicked steep driveways and some of their houses hang on the sides of the hills in a precarious way, but the oak forests and the views are worth it to them.

We stayed at my brother’s house on our last trip and I decided to take a hike up the bluff in the late afternoon. There were still lots of leaves on the trees, but the view through them was good enough to be impressive. This kind of natural beauty is so refreshing to me that I have to share it. Hope you love it too.

First, you have to look at the forest floor. The trail was a bit steep in places and I had to watch my feet, but the leaves were so gorgeous I didn’t mind.

Somehow, trees are born knowing how to make these perfectly lovely shapes over and over every season. Thank you God, for trees.

I tried to get some good shots of the river down below, across the plain, but the trees made it difficult to focus in the distance. It’s a forest up there and it was getting dark.

Yeah, I know, what a mess. 

The sky was full of dark purple clouds that cast deep shadows over the landscape.

Trying to show the incline, lots of downed trees and rock outcroppings on the way.

 

And lots of mossy, green places. I know I said this was fascination with a river, and then had almost no pictures of it at all. But it’s the geography that the river produces that really catches my attention. The bluff was remarkable, even though I didn’t quite reach the top. I decided to turn back to honor the sign that said it was private property and to keep off.

Thanks for walking Wisconsin with me!

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Do Something Fun

Why not? Fun can be found anywhere if you are able to search for it. Yesterday’s excursion was to see a little of the history in the Rochester MN area, and to have a good meal for the day.

It is a challenge to eat well when traveling. Schedules are erratic, fast food is everywhere and may be the only thing we have time for, so we looked at the restaurant recommendations in the motel guide. The Hubbell House in Mantorville looked interesting and fun.

Mantorville is a small, historic town about 20 miles from Rochester. The Hubbell House was the first establishment in the town, way back in 1854.

On the one main intersection, the other three corners held down by a coffee house, an ice cream shoppe and a saloon.

The lobby much as it was when the stagecoach line was the main reason for the establishment.

We were there early, but others were already arriving. The various dining areas can hold over 300 people. We had an efficient, grandmotherly server with the authentic Minnesota accent, and a good knowledge of local history. She assured us that Garrison Keiler had never been there, although they do have record of many other famous guests.

Placemats showed signatures of all those famous guests.

Our meal was good, as was the service. We shared beef tips with wild rice. We took bread pudding with raisins and caramel sauce home with us for dessert. A quiet, reserved atmosphere, surrounded by antique decor, real oil lamps glowing on each table, white cloth napkins, all made the experience special. The familiar, but varied menu choices made it comfortable. The historic details made it interesting.

This country is full of small, interesting places to visit and experience. I’m glad we found this one.

“Up North” People

Meet “The Sisters” who are part of my extended up north family. Michelle, Susie and Judith are three women who have been near and dear for years now. Susan and Judith started out life in Vietnam but were adopted by a kind lady who was in government service. Michelle was the lady’s biological child. These three sisters have lived in several parts of the globe growing up. They have a delightful accent which is hard to place because it’s from all over. Even they don’t know what to call it.

The sisters have resided in Hayward for about 20 years, running a child daycare business in their home and various other jobs. They happily participate in any community event they can manage to get to. They especially did not want to miss the upcoming annual hospital picnic.

Michelle was talking to Mom, planning our Saturday outing together and in addition to the picnic, she wanted us to spend time at her house and also go out for dinner. Mom tried to say no because she doesn’t like to plan more than one “event” per day.  But as Mom says,  Michelle, who is only 91 “has more energy” than she does so dinner ended up in the plan too. (Michelle is amazing. She wants to cruise the Panama Canal next year. She has more energy than I do!)

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Does this look like the perfect picnic. Yes.

Our first event, the hospital picnic, was a genuine, small town, delightful event. I’ve never lived anywhere else where hospitals had picnics. The hospital personnel were great hosts and were giving out free health information at the welcome tables (the colonoscopy pictures were “to die” for…). They had a raffle and I won a prize, which happens almost never!!!. The food was really good. Games, music, pie and ice cream. Perfect.

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Judith, Susan, the husband and Mom at the hospital picnic!

Keeping the Christian sabbath on Saturday is routine for the sisters and they love to spend it with family and friends. We joined them this Saturday after the picnic, at their house. The sisters are gift givers and our family has been blessed many times over with their generosity. Sometimes it’s a chocolate bar, sometimes it’s a basket full of delicious food, or a book. They always think of something and today was no exception. We came away with so much! But I will tell you the really remarkable thing. Like most people I am more comfortable with reciprocal gifting, but I would not be able to keep up with Michelle, Susan and Judith. They truly give without expecting things in return and they do it to make their love evident. Their joy in giving makes me feel loved.

We went out for dinner. We waited a few hours, hoping we wouldn’t still feel stuffed from the picnic (didn’t work), and went for Chinese food. I don’t know how we happen to have a Chinese restaurant in Hayward – somehow it always seems a little out of place in this land of lumberjacks and Nordic skiers – but it is a welcome break from McDonald’s. Michelle does not have dinner out without treating everyone to dessert as well. We finished off the evening with a trip to Dairy Queen.

An eventful sabbath day with the Madison sisters left me knowing that Hayward is blessed to have them. This is not the last time they will appear in stories here. Some people fit so gracefully into a small town, a town that still has hospital picnics and Dairy Queens, a town with three stop lights and a park with a giant Musky, a town “up north”. Just sayin’…

 

 

Up North: Louie’s Landing

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Meet my brother Bob!

At our recent family reunion I had the happy opportunity to see all of my four brothers. In my “book” each one of them is talented, super relational and fun but each also has one or more claims to fame.  Bob is known for his motorcycle rides. People line up for them. There is no better way to see this beautiful country full of lakes and woods than to go with Bob on a motorcycle ride.  It was my turn and off we went.

As we got off the main highways, I realized that my knowledge of the area was limited to, well, … the main highways and what was lined up on the sides of them. I have no excuse for this. There are so many otherbeautiful roads and Bob knows them all.

 

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I thought it was kind of cool that I could get a pic of me in the mirror. I am easily entertained.

Much of this area “up north” has been affected by glaciers in the past. The way I understand it, the glaciers gouged ravines and as they melted river valleys were formed. Rocks were dropped here and there. Deposits called moraines formed hills. Small lakes are everywhere, along with some of the larger spring fed ones. The trees are awesome and much of the area is National Forest. The economy is based largely on the tourists from the nearby cities who come for fishing, boating, water skiing, hiking, biking and riding their ATVs. There is room for it all.

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Fuzzy, yes. We were going fast. 

I love trees and this northwoods is covered with hardwoods and spruce and white pine. The smaller roads are winding and tree covered, perfect for motor biking. I enjoy Bob’s bike rides (and biking in general) because I can feel the air going from warm to cool as the road dips into a hollow. I can smell grass when we pass a field with cut hay. I even appreciate the smell of new asphalt on the road.  Everything is experienced differently when I’m not encased in metal and glass. It’s true that there is less protection on a bike, but the roads are not crowded up north and we do what we can to be safe riders.

We took one of Bob’s favorite routes past Spring Lake, and east of Hayward on County Highway B. I’m giving specific directions in case you want to go there some day. We eventually came upon this sign.

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Evidently, in addition to elk, there have been moose in this area, or maybe the lake is shaped like a moose, if that is possible.

Arriving at Moose Lake, I discovered that one of Bob’s favorite places was Louie’s Landing, and that he was in the habit of stopping there for nourishment. We got off the bike and went inside to have lunch.

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It is a beautiful lake. This one is formed by damming a river, creating a flowage through a valley.

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The landing has been here on Moose Lake for years. Pictures inside show the original building and its additions.

We were slightly early for lunch so while the grill was heating up we had milkshakes and talked with the waitress and a customer. The hamburger I had was perfect, one of the best I’ve eaten. Sorry, no picture. But I did take a picture of the wall behind the bar and all the entertaining signs, typical of an area where people come to hunt, fish and get back to outdoor living.

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For me, the whole experience of getting time with my brother, seeing his favorite places, and having a new perspective on my home area made this a super enjoyable morning. You probably aren’t going to be able to duplicate my experience but if you are ever visiting Hayward, Wisconsin you might want to stop in and have a hamburger at Louie’s Landing. The milkshake was good too.