The GRAND Tour | Part 2

If you haven’t read Part 1, start HERE.

When we left off, Jeff and I (and Dave, Cathy, and Jerry) had just drifted off to sleep at Phantom Ranch in the bottom of Grand Canyon.

| DAY 3 |

The next morning we awoke to the sound of Bright Angel Creek, and were delighted to invite this little guy over for breakfast and coffee.

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Phantom Ranchers are early risers, whether they are backpackers headed out of the canyon or staffers working to keep the place stocked and running. As we broke camp and packed our gear, we saw one of the daily mule trains loaded down with supplies. All supplies are packed in this way — and likewise all trash is packed out this way.

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Here’s a shot of our camp at Phantom Ranch, as everyone was finishing breakfast and packing to leave. In addition to the deer (above photo) we also shared our breakfast table with a fat squirrel enjoying a piece of fruit from a nearby prickly pear cactus.

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And then we were back on the trail. Bright Angel Trail, coming out of Phantom Ranch, has some spectacular views of the river and is not terribly steep. We enjoyed scenery like this most of the morning.

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I really can’t tell you enough how much we enjoyed meeting and getting to know Jerry and Cathy during the trip. Jeff and I agree that it’s been one of our favorite things about these trips — meeting some really, truly fun people. From the first few minutes of our trip orientation to our pizza supper the night before the hike — we knew we would hit it off with these two. Jerry is a firefighter (which we couldn’t WAIT to tell Little Guy) in Henderson, Kentucky and Cathy was a professional clown for 20 years! They were a hoot!

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After a bit, the trail dipped back down and followed the river more closely. Dave informed us that while we had spent the night at Phantom Ranch — the traditional “bottom of the canyon” — we weren’t technically at the bottom of the Grand Canyon until we touched the Colorado River. So – we dropped our packs and headed to the water. The muddy, cloudy, chocolate-milk water.

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Jeff seemed to get onto this nice big rock with little problem, so I handed our camera to Cathy and asked her to get a shot of the two of us on the nice big rock. She captured this series of photos as I tried to get onto the rock without falling in the river. (That gap is bigger than it looks!)

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Yay! Cute picture on a rock in the Colorado River!

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But I hadn’t really thought it through — and quickly realized I was going to have to get back OFF the rock, too. Cathy captured my slight panic attack… Stupid rock.

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As we saw various birds, wildlife and plants, Dave was really great to point them out and tell us their names. It became a running joke during the trip that all you had to do was put the word “canyon” in front of something and you had the answer to, “what’s that?” For example, “ooo – cool bird. What is it called?” … “Ah, yes. That’s a Canyon Wren.”  The Grand Canyon is so dang big it has its own bird species!

And here we are checking out a not-so-specific-to-Grand-Canyon element of wildlife.

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A Kingsnake!

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On the trail, hikers yield to mules and we saw two or three mule trains each day. The trail is mostly wide enough that we could just keep to the inside and wait for them to pass, but the loveliest part of the mule traffic was the dung they left behind for us to dodge. Thoughtful, right?!

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I took about 20 photos that are more or less variations of this one.

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As we hiked 5 miles back toward the South Rim we saw incredible views that cannot accurately be captured with any camera. It was absolutely amazing. The angles of the ridges and canyons, the light, the shadows, the depth and texture — it all shifted with every step we took. Every minute was a completely new view.

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Here’s a shot of the switchbacks that make up what’s called “The Devil’s Corkscrew”. It really wasn’t that bad, but it’s pretty steep and fully exposed to the sun — so we earned ourselves a nice snack break when we were done.

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The South Rim is the more popular of the two for tourists and such, so we saw far more day hikers the last few days as we hiked out. Most of them had no idea what they’d gotten themselves into and we quickly realized there is a VERY good reason the parks service posts signs like this.

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While I’m at it, here are two more signs that we got a good giggle out of. Those dang CANYON squirrels.

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We were pretty lucky with weather — and, honestly, we scheduled our trip in September on purpose, to avoid the crazy summer heat — so this thermometer didn’t scare us too badly, but it serves as a friendly reminder of reality for day hikers and backpackers alike.

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And more wildlife! This one is none other than the Grand Canyon Pink Rattlesnake. (By the way, we were FAR away from this snake – don’t worry. The zoom makes it look like we were 6 inches away from a 6 ft rattlesnake…)

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Shortly after lunch on day three, we reached camp at Indian Gardens. As campgrounds go, this one was fancy. We were about 30 feet from a water spigot and composting toilets — and we had a small wooden shelter. Little did we know how thankful we would be for that little wooden shelter!

Because it rained.

We got to camp, had a snack, and we were just hanging out in the shade — and it started to sprinkle. We quickly set up tents and just as we were finishing it started to RAIN.

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CLICK HERE if you don’t see a video.

That evening we had plans to take a short hike out to Plateau Point for supper and a sunset — but it just kept on raining. What we thought might last 10 minutes actually lasted more than 4 hours. So no Plateau Point – which was a bummer. But we all got some good, quality nap time during the downpour!

| DAY 4 |

The next morning, we woke up early. Indian Gardens doesn’t have the white noise of a creek nearby so it’s very, very quiet. Quiet enough to hear campground neighbors loudly breaking camp and packing up to hike out…

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During the storm the day before, Dave had saved all our packs and gear by hanging them on pegs underneath the wooden structure so all of our stuff was mostly dry. As we packed, we were bittersweet about leaving camp. We were excited to finish the trip we’d started and get to the rim — but sad to see the hike come to an end.

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Day 4 was switchbacks, switchbacks, and more switchbacks. Steep, steep switchbacks. And – to keep it interesting – it rained some more. Not hard and not long, but enough that we stopped to put on rain gear at one point.

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The rain was a blessing in disguise. While it made things a little slippery, if it hadn’t been for the rain and dreary skies we would have been exposed to the sun all morning — there is very little shade as you get closer and closer to the rim.

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Looking at these photos it’s hard to tell, but we were sweaty, gritty and stinky by this point. The cool creek water had served us well during the trip for rinsing off when we could, but by day 4 we were REALLY needing a shower.

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As we neared the rim, the tourists were getting thicker — and we walked up on this scene:

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Sheep! I don’t know how many we got in the photo, but there were probably 20 of them all over the cliff. Even babies!

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One foot in front of the other — over and over — and we made it. The South Rim. Believe it or not, it was actually pretty chilly at the rim so we had to pull on another layer as we took a few photos and waited for our shuttle van.

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Here’s the whole gang: Dave, Jerry, Cathy, Sarah, Jeff. Rim-to-rim!

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We LOVED this trip. Everything about it. And we can’t decide if it was the relaxed, half-day hiking schedule or if we were just in better shape this year — but we felt great the whole time. Our feet held up, our legs were sore but nothing crazy. I would recommend this trip to absolutely anyone — it was a perfect first impression of the Grand Canyon and a really fun hike.

After lunch at the Rim we piled into the van and did this — all the way back to Flagstaff:

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We took a bit of video during the hike, but I realized as I edited it together that Jeff took almost 100% of it — so he’s not really on camera. I promise he was there! And if you look VERY closely at 0:38 of the video, he’s in the background wearing a red shirt. (So maybe we’ll have to do a better, more equitable job of filming next time…) Either way – enjoy!

CLICK HERE if you don’t see a video.

We had a great time, but couldn’t wait to get home to the Little Guy. We couldn’t wait to tell him all about it and tell him about hiking with a firefighter!

And while I haven’t talked about it much lately, once upon a time (in 2010) I drafted my Life List — and I knew even then that I wanted to make this trip. I have a lot of progress to make on that List, but I can officially cross off #21!

Link: Four Season Guides

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One Response to The GRAND Tour | Part 2

  1. Dad September 27, 2012 at 5:28 pm #

    Quite an adventure :) Wonderful pictures and story. Well Done!

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