May 30, 2008
On my first day off of work after arriving at the South Rim, I caught sunrise at Yaki Point and hiked as much of the Rim Trail as possible – from Pipe Creek Vista to Hopi Point.
Pipe Creek was the eastern terminus of the Rim Trail at the time. It had not yet been extended to the South Kaibab Trailhead or Shoshone Point.
Likewise, there was a road construction project along the Hermit Road through the summer. So the rim to the west of Hopi Point was closed.
In my true methodical fashion, the next step was to venture below the rim. It’s often stressed (for good reason) that hiking below the rim in the summer months is dangerous, due to the excessive heat. With fine literature like Death in Grand Canyon placed front and center in all the shops, one gets the impression that simply looking at the Grand Canyon is akin to flirting with the reaper.
So I did the prudent thing and slated a 6-mile round trip for my first hike in the Canyon, to Bright Angel’s 3-Mile House. I of course wanted to hike to the bottom – to the river and back up. Such a hike is the equivalent of hiking “to the top” of other locations, so such a disposition is only natural. Still, the warnings had made their impression.
The Grand Canyon’s most celebrated trail is the Bright Angel Trail. It starts at the Canyon’s central hub of activity (the South Rim Village), and leads to its most popular destination at the bottom, Phantom Ranch. With its high traffic, ample water supplies, and relative shade, the Bright Angel is the safest choice for your first steps below the rim.
The upper segments of the trail are dotted with rest stations and seasonal water spigots. At 1.5 miles below the rim, and farther at 3 miles below the rim, there’s individual shade structures. They’re reminiscent of the lean-to shelters you’ll often find on east coast trails. Each has a composting toilet and piped, potable water in the summer, but there’s no camping allowed.
At the next interval lies Indian Garden, approximately 4.5 miles below the rim. Indian Garden has an overnight campground in addition to shade structures. It’s also the psychological halfway point on the Bright Angel Trail.
On this day (May 30th) I hiked to the 3-mile house and returned to the rim. I started in the late afternoon and finished near sunset. The hike went well, so I began to plot to hike to the bottom for my next trip.
I stumbled upon this ranger program while on my way to the trailhead. The talk was about the endangered California Condor.
I discovered how Grand Canyon’s trails are all about switchbacks.
Switchbacks, switchbacks, and more switchbacks.
Did I mention switchbacks.
Ah yes, the ferocious Rock Squirrel of Grand Canyon. I grabbed this photo at the 1.5-mile rest house, and to date it remains my best photo of a squirrel in the Canyon – probably because I quit bothering to photograph them after this first day.
Still, it tickles me that I have photographic evidence of how I was enamored by the squirrels on my first hike.
For the record, the squirrels are not to be meddled with. They behave like velociraptors – one of them poses for photos and attention. Meanwhile, its friends sneak around the sides to ambush your food!
Statistically speaking, they are the most dangerous animal in the National Park. When you try to feed one out of your hand, the squirrel often takes a chunk of your finger, too. Thus, the Grand Canyon Clinic sees more visits as a result of squirrel bites than anything else that’s animal-related.
Here’s a classic view of the Bright Angel Trail’s route as it ascends the Canyon. It climbs the slopes in the center of the photo, breaching the red and white cliffs.
This section of tiered rock caught my eye near a spot that’s called 2-mile corner. It’s a notable landmark along the upper stretches of Bright Angel Trail. Locals will sometimes call it “the amphitheater.”
As I look back on these images nearly 14 years later, what strikes me most is all the greenery. The majority of my latter Canyon hiking has been done in the spring, fall and winter (wisely), so I’m not accustomed to seeing so much vegetation down there.