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’…

Qabab

Yes, it really is a word. It is the name of a dish consisting of pieces of seasoned meat. However, it has nothing to do with the Grand Canyon. I’m hoping the alphabet police won’t notice I’m going off theme.

I could only come up with one Q word having something to do with the canyon and that was quartz.  I didn’t even want to try to make quartz an interesting subject, although I’m sure some would be able to do that. So instead I chose qabab, which interestingly, is kind of like the Grand Canyon word Kaibab – that’s my excuse. There’s not a lot to tell about qabab either, except that it is more commonly spelled kebab. Shish kebab. We all know what that is and have probably enjoyed those seasoned pieces of meat roasted on skewers with vegetables stuck between them.

What I would really enjoy writing this post about is this A to Z exercise of researching my coming adventure.  It has been so helpful to me, as I learn ahead of time about the things I will be seeing and experiencing.

In some ways, it has dispelled the fear of the new and unknown. I have looked at the details of the trails I’ll be walking. The history of the buildings, the inhabitants of the area, the development and tourism aspects, the geography – all of it is a bit familiar now.  I’ve thought through all the travel arrangements and rehearsed mentally what each day will be like. Some of it may turn out differently, but I at least know one way it could turn out.

The only unusual and unexpected result from my posts has been comments from friends and relatives who are now worried about me going on this hike.  I am having to explain why I would want to do such a thing. The husband looks at me and says “you’re not 25 anymore, you know”.  It’s like people are thinking I’m going to run my wheelchair off the edge of the trail.  I’m not going to start having second thoughts about this – that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

And as long as my Q word is unrelated to the Grand Canyon hike, I thought I’d post a couple pics also unrelated to the Grand Canyon. They are from my first extended hike on the AT with four lovely young women. Now that was an adventure. The first one was taken by the gentleman who gave us a ride to our starting point (we hiked back the 30 plus miles to our car). Our packs were so heavy, and we were so “green”. I’m sure he thought we would never make it. But we did.

Julie, Maura, me Esther, Kim
Me in my dork costume.

The countdown has started, 24 days to go… I CAN’T WAIT. Well, I can, but you know what I mean. 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.

Indians

Indians or Native Peoples of the Grand Canyon area

My first visit to a pueblo was several years ago at Mesa Verde in Arizona.  Pueblos are multi-room dwellings made of clay and the ones at Mesa Verde were built in the clefts of a canyon wall. The native people who lived there were most likely Anasazi, who left the area in the 1300’s A.D. during years of drought. They vanished, leaving behind these remarkable dwellings. They were named Anasazi, or Ancient Ones by the Navajo people north of the canyon.  It is an amazing place to visit.

There were different tribes of the pueblo peoples who inhabited the Grand Canyon, most of whom were semi-nomadic farmers and hunter gatherers. They traveled back and forth from rim to lower canyon to rim, depending on the season. Many of their trails are still present and used by visitors. Indian Gardens is a campground on the Bright Angel Trail but was once an area farmed by the Havasupai tribe.

Presently, one place to experience Native American culture is on the Havasupai Reservation in Havasu Canyon. That is one part of the canyon that my brother has not visited yet and still hopes to. We tried to get reservations to visit there last year but could not. The Havasupai have their own tourist bureaus and quotas of visitors. I love what their name means – “people of the blue-green water”.  They and the Walapai tribe (“people of the pine tree”) live in the western region of the South Rim.

The Grand Canyon Skywalk, on what is called the West Rim of the canyon, is actually on the Hualapai Reservation and outside of Grand Canyon National Park. It is an amazing cantilever bridge, out from the cliff in a horseshoe shape, and 4000 feet above the canyon floor.  Add to that a glass walkway and you have a real tourist attraction.  I have seen pictures of people who became paralyzed with anxiety as they looked down and had to be carried off the walkway. 

There is a lot of controversy within the Hualapai tribe and outside of the tribe concerning this bridge. There are people on the environmentalist side who aren’t sure it’s a good way to preserve the canyon. There are others on the practical side who feel the bridge is a way to raise money for serious needs of the tribe. It’s complicated.

The Hopi people live in the eastern section of the South Rim, and to the southeast are the Zuni tribes. North of the canyon is the Paiute Reservation in the west and the Navajo Reservation in the east. The Navajo were latecomers to the region and lived in the canyon itself only in the 1860’s when being pursued by the U.S. Cavalry. In addition to farming and herding, many of the tribes are craftsmen/women in cloth weaving, basketry, pottery and jewelry making.  You’ve probably heard of Navajo blankets and rugs, right?

Fletcher, Colin

Fletcher, Colin – writer and hiker

I’m including a post about Colin Fletcher, yes, because his last name begins with F, but also because he was somewhat famous for hiking. In spite of being interested in hiking for quite some time, I had never heard of Mr. Fletcher, so I was surprised and intrigued to find out that he’s considered the grandfather of backpacking. He was one of the first persons who thought long and hard about where he was hiking, how to get there and what to take along. His book “The Complete Walker”, a sort of hiker’s bible, has sold over 500,000 copies and is still in print. So, as a result of studying up on him, I now have a new reading list that I can’t wait to get into! See it at the end of this post.

Fletcher was born in Wales, educated in England and did time in the military in World War II. He also spent time teaching in a Mountain Warfare Training Camp and living in Africa, surveying and helping to build roads. He did some prospecting in Canada, which led to a move to San Francisco in 1956. He hiked the nearby mountains. By this time, exploring and getting out alone into the wilderness was in his blood.

This is funny. His first extended backpacking trip in 1963 was from Mexico to Oregon, all along the eastern coast of California. He did what he called “contemplative walking”.  According to the NYT obituary, he took this hike to think over whether or not to marry his girlfriend. He did end up marrying her but it only lasted a few weeks. He probably should have taken a longer hike and contemplated more.

Daughter Julia and I are out for a “contemplative walk”.

He wrote his first book about this experience and called it “The Thousand Mile Summer”.

His second book, “The Man Who Walked Through Time” was written about his hike from one end of the Grand Canyon National Park to the other. He was the first to do the complete length in one hike.  The park at that time didn’t include the entire canyon but it was 200 miles in length. Apparently, with all the zigzags and explorations, he walked closer to 400 miles.

Not many have done this hike even today. It is incredibly difficult to cross the many deep tributary canyons. In an interview with NPR, Chip Rawlins, who co-authored the latest edition of Fletcher’s book “The Complete Walker”, said that Fletcher had devised a sort of life vest that would float him across some of the rivers he had to cross.  One of Rawlins friends, a river guide, said Fletcher must have been “nuts”. Here is a quote from “The Man Who Walked Through Time”:

“I saw that by going down into that huge fissure in the face of the earth deep into the space and the silence and the solitude, I might come as close as we can at present to moving back and down through the smooth and apparently impenetrable face of time.”

The Man Who Walked Through Time, by Colin Fletcher

Colin Fletcher also traveled the complete length of the Colorado River, from source to sea, when he was 69 years old. His book “The River” is said to have his reflections on growing older.  It sounds like all of his books, in addition to having detailed guidelines on wilderness backpacking (solo), have a lot of philosophical musings. A bonus, all of the reviews say his writing is witty and enjoyable as well. I can’t wait to read these books!

The Thousand Mile Summer (1964)

The Man Who Walked Through Time (1968)

The Complete Walker (2002 edition)

River: One Man’s Journey Down the Colorado, Source to Sea (1997)

Elevation!

Yes, ooh aah!

I am not going to give a lot of statistics on elevation in this post. What is significant about elevation, as you would expect, is that this is a very deep canyon. Viewed from the rim, the Colorado River at the bottom looks like a tiny ribbon when, in fact, it is quite wide in all the places that you can see it.

Standing at various lookouts on the rim during my first brief trip, I remember feeling that rush looking out over the cliffs. You almost can’t help but think of what it would be like to fall, or jump. The drops are so extreme.  ( I was saddened to hear the news last week of a tourist who fell to his death. Taking pictures can be hazardous. )

The rims vary from 6000 to 8500 feet above sea level. The drop down to the river at the bottom of the canyon varies from 3500 to 6000 feet. Our gain/loss of elevation on Day 2 and Day 4 of the hike will be about 5,000 feet. That is enough difference in elevation to produce a climate change. It is often much cooler up on the rim and quite warm to very hot at the bottom.

That might make it tricky to pack the right clothing. In May, when I am going, it should not be oppressively hot at the bottom and hopefully, it won’t be snowing up on the rim.

This is what I can expect for May weather:

South Rim (where we start) Max 70 degrees, Min 39 degrees, Precip 0.66 inches

Inner Gorge (lowest point) Max 92 degrees, Min 63 degrees, Precip 0.36 inches

One very curious fact – the plateaus on both sides of the canyon are higher than the elevation upriver. Why did the path of the river run from low to high elevation when it first began cutting the Grand Canyon? Of course, it didn’t. There are several theories about why it appears this way. None of them are certain. Geology is sometimes very strange and although it has stories to tell, we don’t understand them all.

I will end with a picture of one of the bridges that we will cross at the bottom of the canyon – a bridge that still seems scary high, even though it is dwarfed by the walls of the canyon.

It’s difficult to see but there is a mule train crossing the Black Bridge to Phantom Ranch. This footbridge has a solid floor to keep the animals from looking down and freaking out.

Colorado River

Colorado River – I have a huge poster of the Grand Canyon, a gorgeous picture, that I bought on that first, brief trip past the canyon. Since then I’ve learned that it’s actually the book cover of “Time and the River Flowing” by Francois Leydet. The book is full of photos of the canyon, and quotes and stories from its explorers. The “river flowing” is the Colorado River, and I thought I should know something about it before the hike.

Beautiful pictures with quotes and excerpts from those who have written about the river from the conservationist viewpoint.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by facts and numbers about this river, because there are so many. Here are a few that I found informative:

  • It’s one of two major rivers that cross the southwest of our country, the Rio Grande being the other one.  
  • It’s part of amazing scenery everywhere it runs as evidenced by the 11 national parks that it goes through.
  • It starts in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado where 90% of its water is snow melt, the rest coming from tributaries along the way.
  • It’s a very managed river in that there are many dams, reservoirs and claims on its water for irrigation of crops.
  • By the time it passes the surrounding crop areas in Mexico, on its way to the Gulf of California, every bit of its flow has been apportioned. The last 100 miles are dry most of the year.
  • There has been much controversy surrounding the building of dams and restriction of the flow. ” The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.” Theodore Roosevelt
  • It used to have a delta and tidal bores much like other larger rivers.
  • It provides the water needs for 40 million people in towns and cities along its course.

The Colorado River was one of the forces creating the Grand Canyon. It’s mind boggling to view the depth and breadth of this chasm and realize that the water, way down there at the bottom, was responsible for this wonder of nature. It took a long, long time. I found this quote that illustrates just how long it took to form the many layers of rock, compared to the time the river has been doing its work.  

  “if the two billion years that have elapsed since the creation of the schists of the Inner Gorge were telescoped into a single day, each minute would represent about 1.4 million years. If the schist formed at 12:01 am of that day, the Paleozoic Era began about 6 pm and ended three hours later. Shortly after 11:00 pm the Mesozoic rocks were eroded away and the Paleozoic strata were uplifted. The Colorado River began to carve the Grand Canyon sometime between 11:45 and 11:58 pm. The entire span of human existence has occurred in the last minute before midnight. “

A Field Guide to the Grand Canyon by Stephen Whitney p.242

I’m told the river is cold, swift and has lots of exciting rapids. We will get to hike along it, perhaps wade in it a little on the day we explore the bottom of the canyon. I can’t wait to see it.