Category Archives: Canyons

Grand Canyon’s South Rim ~ October 22-24, 2014

We’d first visited the Grand Canyon in 1992, when our daughters were six and nine. With only a half-day, we spent most that time on the Bright Angel Trail for a three-mile roundtrip hike. Quite a feat for kiddos!

Tusayan, Arizona

With this trip, our second, we’d hoped to hike into the canyon once again, but didn’t know if we’d be able to work in a full day’s hike.

South Rim Selfie, Grand Canyon

Since leaving Carmel, we’d been traveling in “we will figure it out” mode, so had no camping or hotel reservations when we rolled into Tusayan, a town just a few miles from the park’s south entrance.

When the Holiday Inn Express offered a particularly low rate, we figured it out quickly… “Oh, can we actually have the room for three nights, please?”

Tusayan is a walkable town catering to tourists… it’s primarily hotels and restaurants aligning each side of Highway 64. A quick look at Gmaps showed that we were just a block from the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. We rode over after breakfast the next morning.

As we’d done at most national parks, we first watched the informational movie. This one, Grand Canyon, The Hidden Secrets, is quite different.

IMAX Tixs

It’s more of an over-dramatization of folklore involving cougars, hostile natives, and John Wesley Powell; not the historical account of the area’s geology and indigenous people we were expecting. We left a bit disappointed.

The Greenway Trail, a 6.6 mile pathway to the south rim, is accessible from the visitor center’s parking lot.

Young Elk, Grand Canyon SR
Young Elk, Grand Canyon SR

We were excited to ride our bikes through the pine forest to Grand Canyon Village, where we planned to peel off onto the South Rim Trail. At the time though, the Greenway Trail wasn’t paved. This wasn’t a problem until the path turned into gravel piled 2-3 inches deep. Our tires dug in and we went nowhere. Unsure as to whether the gravel lasted another half-mile or for the entire remaining 6 miles, we turned around and loaded our bikes onto the back of the Escape Mobile. (Note… current photos show the pathway to be paved, but I can’t find whether or not it’s paved for the full length.)

Greenway Trail, Tusayan AZ
Source: hikingproject.com

South Rim Trail

Cycling the 13-mile Rim Trail was exhilarating.

Riding the S. Rim Trail, Grand Canyon

On the east side there are sections where the trial is only feet from the canyon’s edge, and the views are amazing.

South Rim, Grand Canyon 3

We rode until we ran into the South Kiabab Trailhead and agreed it would be the trail we’d tackle the next day.

Around Rim Trail, Grand Canyon SR
Trey on the South Rim Trail, Grand Canyon

The Rim Trail’s west side is also a peaceful, worthwhile ride. It’s mostly wooded and snakes around lodges and campgrounds setback from the rim.

Back at the hotel we did some research to plan for the next day’s hike…  in the morning, after purchasing snacks and sandwiches, we’d fill our backpacks’ water bladders, pack some extra water, catch a shuttle from the village visitor center to Yaki Point, and hike 3-miles down to Skeleton Point – the deepest turnaround spot advised for a one-day down and up hike.

South Kaibab Trail

All the prepping took time so it was early afternoon before we reached the South Kiabab Trailhead.

White Shorts - Grand Canyon SR
White Shorts?

Although warm for October, it was a gorgeous day and we headed down the canyon’s wall with an excitement-induced quick step. The entire trail is steep, that should go without saying but I’m saying it anyway. It’s easy to get distracted by the surrounding beauty, lose a sense of your downhill pace, and over-estimate just how far you’re capable of hiking in a day. The Rangers’ motto, which they repeat often, is “What goes down, must come up!”

Heading down Kiabab Trail, Grand Canyon SR
Heading down South Kiabab Trail, Grand Canyon

One of the trail’s steepest points is just below the trailhead… a dizzying series of short switchbacks that lead down to Ooh Aah Point, about a mile in. A half-mile farther is Cedar Ridge, the halfway mark to Skeleton Point and a great place for a snack, bathroom break, and photos.

Mule Train at Cedar Ridge, Grand Canyon SR
Mule Team at Cedar Ridge, Grand Canyon SR
Cedar Ridge View, GCSR
Cedar Ridge View, Grand Canyon South Rim

It’s recommended that Cedar Ridge be your turnaround point if hiking during the summer months.

Although warm, we continued downward passing two couples at separate points that had Trey and me raising our eyebrows. They were heading back up, about our ages but not fitness levels, and as Trey noted, “They weren’t looking good!” We ended up passing both couples on the way back up. Not boasting, just noting that one should undertake only what their lungs, legs, and heart can handle.

Skeleton Point, Kaibab Trail -Grand Canyon SR

Successfully arriving at Skeleton Point, we were glad to exhale and slow down to rest, eat…

Lunch Break at Skeleton Point, Grand Canyon SR

take in the scenery, pose for photos…

Skeleton Point View, GCSR
Skeleton Point View, Grand Canyon SR

Posing at Skeleton Point, Grand Canyon SR

and imagine hiking the remaining four miles to the Colorado River, which we could now see.

InkedColorado River from Skeleton Point, GCSR_LI
Colorado River from Skeleton Point, Grand Canyon SR

Yet with our late start, we didn’t linger too long as we knew it would take us double the time to climb back out of the canyon. We kept a decent pace, and were grateful when we returned to Cedar Ridge for a break, more snacks, and photos.

Cedar Ridge Overlook, GCSR
Cedar Ridge Overlook, Grand Canyon SR

It was nearing the hottest part of the day when we headed up the final steep mile. We took our time and stopped often to enjoy the scenes that we’d scrambled by earlier.

Cedar Ridge Overlook, GCSR 2

Bird, Grand Canyon SR

Back at the trailhead we were dusty messes, but thrilled with the day’s challenge, and humbled by Grand Canyon’s grace and ruggedness.

Back at the top, Grand Canyon South Rim
Back at the top, Grand Canyon South Rim

 

Food:

Yippi-Ei-O Steakhouse in Tusayan is a fun and tasty choice to carb and protein-up the night before hiking into the canyon.

Yippee-Ei-O! Steakhouse, Tusayan AZ
Yippee-Ei-O! Steakhouse, Tusayan AZ

Reminiscence of the Texas steakhouses from our childhoods, Trey and I thoroughly enjoyed the food, great service, and cowboy ambiance. Oh, and the pecan pie was phenomenal!

More Pics…

Kiabab Trail, Grand Canyon SR
South Kiabab Trail, Grand Canyon
Yoga on the South Rim, Grand Canyon
Yoga on the South Rim, Grand Canyon

Last Sunset, Grand Canyon SR

Last Sunset, Grand Canyon South Rim

 

 

 

Utah / Arizona Border – October 20-21, 2014

Missteps: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument & The Wave

I don’t remember what prevented us from researching our next steps, which were to explore Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and hopefully hike Coyote Buttes in the Vermillion Cliffs, also known as “The Wave.” It was either our full schedule and lack of regular cell service or laziness and naivety.

02 Looking North Along Highway 89A

Either way, upon leaving Mount Carmel Junction we meandered along Highway 89 for 60 miles until we ran into a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) station and stopped to ask where in the heck we could find the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument.

We found out that we were already in it and had been for a while. At that time the Grand Staircase – a series of massive geological steps – sprawled out across 3,000 square miles of southern Utah and northern Arizona.

Grand_Staircase-big Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

The downward steps stretched from Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon’s northern rim. In 2017 the protected area was sadly cut almost in half.

We were also informed that there’s a lottery process for hiking “The Wave.” The sign-up and drawings take place in Kanab, Utah – a town we’d passed through forty miles back. Backtracking to the Kanab BLM Station we learned that only 10 hikers per day are allowed into the buttes, and that the “lotteries” take place each morning for the next day’s hike.

Should we stay or should we go? We contemplated this question over lunch at Escobar’s Mexican Food (authentic enough) and opted to try our luck and checked into a nearby hotel.

01 Sunrise, Kanab UT
Sunrise in Kanab, Utah

The next morning, we rose with the sun and walked back to the BLM office to stand in line. We were 7th out of 64 to register for the lottery, which was pretty good odds on a relative basis as the average day has well over a hundred registrants. But #7 was not lucky that day, so we checked out of the hotel, and after a breakfast at Nedra’s Too, we checked out of Kanab via Highway 89A South.

Route Map
The Day’s Route

The ranger who on the previous day clarified Grand Staircase’s massiveness had recommended we stop at Le Fevre Overlook, a rest stop along Highway 89A about 25 miles into Arizona. It’s unassuming and easy to miss but worth the stop.

03 Grande Staircase-Escalante National Monument from Le Fevre Overlook
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument from Le Fevre Overlook

From the overlook you can make out the distant cascading landscapes that inspired the monument’s name, gaining senses of both its beauty and magnitude.

Grand Canyon National Park – North Rim

Continuing south for just over eleven miles we cut down State Route 67 (also called the Kaibab Plateau Parkway) for the 43-mile drive to Grand Canyon’s northern rim.  Being late October, the north rim’s lodges and campgrounds were closed so we had the drive mostly to ourselves.

Along the way, I spied a California Condor perched on the limb of a dead pine and we were reluctantly received by a herd of buffalo on the return trip.

06 Buffalo Along SR 62, North Rim

A nip of winter was embedded into the breeze, but the clear sky and sun helped warm us as we strolled along the various paths and vantage points below the lodge cabins…

07 North Rim Cabins
North Rim Cabins – Grand Canyon Lodge

an environment and scenes that contrasted with what we would experience in the coming days on the canyon’s other side.

19 Bright Angel Point Trail 4

08 Grand Canyon, North Rim 2

Drive from Grand Canyon’s North to South Rim

Leaving the north rim we had a four hour drive ahead of us… plenty of time to circle around the east end of the canyon and make it to the south rim before sunset.

23 Arizona Highway 89A

But the drive, curving around and between the Vermillion Cliffs and Colorado River, is spectacular.

25 Colorado River Fork, East of Grand Canyon
Fork of the Colorado River, East of Grand Canyon

We stopped several times including at the unexpected site of abandoned rock dwellings sitting just yards off the road and scattered among mushroom shaped formations.

26 Abandoned Rock Houses Along Highway 89A 1

The legend is that a woman by the name of Blanche Russell was stranded there when her car broke down sometime in the 1930’s. She liked the area so much she settled there for a time.

Ten minutes down the road we stopped again to stroll across the historic Navajo Bridge that spans the Colorado River for 834 feet and parallels it’s replacement… a seemingly identical bridge that is actually wider and longer.

31 Navajo Bridges (Historic & New)
Navajo Bridges – Historic and Current

The “new” bridge was completed in 1995 to support larger vehicles while providing a safe alternative (the historic bridge) for those of us who want to walk over for the views.

33 Navajo Bridge Over Colorado River
Navajo Bridge Over Colorado River

With all the stops we lost our race with the sun.

35 Arriving at the South Rim
Arriving at the South Rim

It had set by the time we reached the south rim’s first overlook, the Desert View Watchtower…

36 Desert View Watchtower Overlook
Desert View Watchtower Overlook – Grand Canyon South Rim

but enough light shone over the horizon to paint the sky and reflect muted rays across the canyon.

37 South Rim at Dusk
South Rim at Dusk

A perfect welcoming gift to our stay on the Grand Canyon’s south rim.

 

More Pics…

09 Lookout at the North Rim
Lookout at the North Rim
20 North Rim 4
Window View of the North Rim, Grand Canyon
29 Mushroom Rock Along Highway 89A
Mushroom Rock Along Highway 89A, Arizona
32 Colorado River from Navajo Bridge
Colorado River from Navajo Bridge

Bryce Canyon National Park ~ October 19, 2014

The sun was setting when Highway 9 dead-ended into Highway 89. The intersection was labeled on the map as “Mount Carmel Junction.” We found the junction to be a quaint town with an awesome motel.

Thunderbird Motel, Mount Carmel Junction

The Thunderbird Lodge was a welcoming site after the previous night’s cheap Bates-like motel in Springdale. Even though the Thunderbird was more than 62 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park, we checked in for two nights recognizing our fatigue and yearning for a comfortable respite. Those two conditions had us sleeping in the next day and not arriving at Bryce Canyon until 1 p.m.

Bryce Canyon from Inpsiration Point 1

The gorgeous canyon is sprawling and includes some long looping trails on the northern and southern ends.

Map 1

But with only a half-day to immerse ourselves, we chose to stick to the heart of the canyon and the short, but steep, series of connecting trails near and below the visitor center.

The half-mile trek along Rim Trail from Sunset to Sunrise Point provides amazing photo opportunities.

Thor's Hammer from Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon NP
Thor’s Hammer from Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park

Queen's Garden Trail, Bryce Canyon NP 1

From Sunrise Point we cut down onto Queen’s Garden Trail which had us winding closely around and through the hoodoos and natural bridges.

Queen's Garden Trail, Bryce Canyon NP 11

Queen's Garden Trail, Bryce Canyon NP 4

The vibrant orange shades changed and gleamed as we passed through the hoodoo forest down into the canyon floor. Strolling along the pine-lined path was shaded and peaceful,  a great place to rest before ascending back up and out of the canyon.

Canyon Floor, Bryce Canyon NP
Canyon Floor, Queen’s Garden Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park

At the intersection of Navajo Loop Trail, we chose to take the outer section of the trail through “Wall Street,” so named, I assume, because of the towering slot canyon walls.

Wall Street 1, Bryce Canyon NP
“Wall Street” – Bryce Canyon National Park

In total, the 3-mile loop took us about two and half hours and that included many stops to bask in the geological phenomenon in which we were hiking, and to take photos of course.

We cooled our heals over a late lunch in nearby Bryson City before driving through the park’s northern border to Mossy Cave.

bryce-canyon-national-park-map
Source: National Parks Service

The cave, which we failed to capture, is what I would call a grotto and would have been more exciting, or at least worth the drive, if we had been visiting in the spring rather than a very dry October.

We did learn that the arroyo the trail follows was hand dug over a century ago by a community of Mormons. They’d dug the 15-mile trench to tap into the Sevier River as a water source for their town, Tropic.

Bryce Canyon from Inspiration Point 1=4
Bryce Canyon from Inspiration Point

With sunset nearing we backtracked past the visitor center to Inspiration Point. We’d been told that at dusk, spectacular colors cast across the hoodoos and canyon.

Bryce Canyon from Inpsiration Point 2
Inspiration Point View, Bryce Canyon National Park

Upon arriving, clouds rolled over the western skyline and blocked what I imagine would have been stunning views.

Bryce Canyon from Inpsiration Point 3
Getting inspired at Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon National Park

Our disappointment didn’t last long though. As we walked along the platform in awe of the canyon’s magnitude and beauty, the sun dipped below the horizon and the clouds rose slightly, alighting the distant hilltops ablaze with color.

Sunset from Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon NP 1
Sunset from Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon National Park

A perfect send off to a perfect day in Bryce National Park.

More Pics…

Trey on Queen's Garden Trail, Bryce Canyon NP

Queen's Garden Trail, Bryce Canyon NP 6

DSC06311

Queen's Garden Trail, Bryce Canyon NP 5