Travel

In late June 1998, Mary and I hiked from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to its floor, then hiked back the next day. Our trek to Phantom Ranch began on June 27, at 4:15 AM. We spent the night there after crossing the Colorado River on the Bright Angel Suspension Bridge.

A portion of the Bright Angel Trail. We've seen different estimates of its length, but it is at least 9.6 and perhaps 10 miles of hiking from the South Rim trailhead to Phantom Ranch. Elevation change is 4,460 feet. We wore light jackets when we set out; by the time we reached the river the temperature was 105 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade and around 120 in the sun.

The Bright Angel Trail is the most heavily-used trail here, not only for people but also for the mule trains that take visitors into and out of the canyon.

The South Rim is off the bottom of the photo. The patch of bright green near top left is Indian Garden, located about halfway between the South Rim and Phantom Ranch. We did not take the 1.5-mile trail to Plateau Point (seen to the upper left of Indian Garden), but continued to the right, descending into Bright Angel Canyon (seen at top center).
Tracks left in the dust included not only human footprints, but large and small muledeer and mule tracks. We also spotted "little critter" tracks like those you see here, to the lower left and upper right of center.
Between the bird's-eye and critter's-eye views shown above is that which we experienced during our journey. Here is one small portion of it.
Mary took this photo of me from the switchback above. In all, we each carried approximately 40-pound frame packs, most of the weight taken up by water, electrolyte drinks, and energy bars.
We are past the halfway point in our descent. Our photo (Mary's on the right, I'm on the left) was taken by one in a group of seven women who were hiking back up. They had hiked to Phantom Ranch via the North Kaibab Trail (which stretches about 14 miles from the North Rim to the ranch) and had almost fallen prey to "The Box," a narrow gorge flanked by towering cliffs that concentrate the heat.

A note to hikers: If you're planning to hike down the North Kaibab Trail, the rangers recommend resting during the hottest part of the day at either Cottonwood campground or Ribbon Falls. Shortly after Mary and I arrived at Phantom Ranch, someone who had taken the North Kaibab trail down was evacuated by helicopter due to heat stroke.
The Colorado River, at the floor of the Grand Canyon. It took us a little under 8 hours to hike from the South Rim to Phantom Ranch, which is located down the River Trail from here, across the Bright Angel Suspension Bridge, and past the Bright Angel Campground.
Mary calls this her "Glamour Canyon" photo. I took this at Indian Garden, where we spent 7 hours before continuing our ascent to the South Rim. We were joined by spiny lizards, hummingbirds, butterflies, and (on occasion) fellow hikers taking a respite from their walk in the heat. Temperature at our well-shaded picnic table ranged from 86 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit. When we left Indian Garden at 4:30 in the afternoon, the official thermometer on site registered 118 degrees Fahrenheit in the sun. Fortunately, we were not in the sun for long.
The day after our return to the South Rim, we let the bus move us. Our tour of West Rim Drive afforded us extraordinary vistas, including the bird's-eye view of Bright Angel Trail (pictured at the top of this page) and this homemade picture postcard.

We'd do it all again in a flash!

To a Squirrel on the Bright Angel Trail
(Grand Canyon, June 1998)

You --
You with the plastic in your mouth --
We were not put here to feed you.

Certainly, not to feed you
the inedible,
that colorful red stripped from bottle top,
so red it looks like berries.
So red it's irresistible.
So red it'll kill you.

There you go, begging.
Anything will do: jerky, granola,
cellophane...
Real food, your food, is an arm's reach away --
but ours is more enticing; there's less competition
to be brave, to be adorable,
to play on the sympathies
of creatures of plenty.

We came here
to see you in your natural element
of canyon walls, amidst raven call,
of tree sprouting impossibly from boulder,
of endless blue sky, butterflies and lizard's dance.
And there you are, chowing down on landfill bait,
eyeing us jealously,
clamoring for more.

You know: if not us, then the next to come along.
You don't know: our kind doesn't know, or care,
doesn't stick around to see you,
dead in your natural element
of unnatural causes.


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© 1998, Elissa Malcohn Version 3, 2005-07-31
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