When I left our adventure last, Louie and I were driving a borrowed Honda Civic (with stick shift) towards the Grand Canyon.
We took a slightly scenic route from Flagstaff to Williams and enjoyed seeing the forests and the various bushes and whatnot in the landscape. I don’t know everything, I’m sorry.
Anyway, we got to the Grand Canyon and entered the park for FREE using our National Parks Pass from the previous summer. We paid $80 for a year long pass, and we have more than covered that amount of park fees. It’s wonderful.
We decided to hit up our campground first, Mather Campground. I remember staying there one night as a young child, and the name stuck out at me. I think I’d seen the word Mather on some notes my dad had made and I thought it was a weird spelling of mother or something. I also remember they had pay showers and you had to put quarters in for the water which absolutely blew my mind.
The ranger at check-in told us that we didn’t need to worry about bears but that the ravens were the real problem. She used a funny word for them but I’ve lost it. Louie?
Our campsite looked pretty nice. (Site 293, in case you are interested). We quickly set up the tent and did a few other things then headed to the Grand Canyon itself!
Like I’d said before, Louie had never been, but I had. I remember thinking it was different than I’d thought it would be. I pictured a canyon as a deep, deep hole, and instead it was more spread out with various juts and crevices and rocks and all different colors.
Almost like a mountain range, except we are on top of it.
We walked along the rim trail from the visitor’s center and Mather Point, probably a mile each way. Then we remembered we had a big hike planned for the next day and probably ought to get some rest!
Dinner was beans and tuna and couscous, one of our favorites for some reason. You mix white kidney beans with tuna (at home I’d add salt and pepper and maybe lemon) and then our favorite camping trick is to put that on top of a serving of those flavored couscous you can buy in a box. Sounds odd, but it was delicious.
One of the odd things about being out in the wilderness is the lack of cell phone and internet service. I’m used to (as we probably all are) just looking up odd facts on my phone and never having to worry about things too much in advance, like weather forecasts, or sunrise times. It’s nice being disconnected, for sure, though sometimes it means you get things wrong.
We planned to wake up at 5 am with the hopes of being on the trail right around sunrise. Except we didn’t actually know when sunrise was, we just assumed it was around 5:45 because that seemed like a normal sunrise time.
Oh, I should digress. In the middle of the night (well, around 11 pm, which is the middle of the night in a National Park Campground) I had to use the bathroom. I managed to get out of the tent, I had my headlamp on, and I headed for the facilities. (Flush toilets, cold water, hand dryers.) As I got closer, I saw a group of about 4 deer in the bushes right in front of the bathroom. I assumed my approach would scare them off, but they showed no real fear or surprise. I wasn’t sure what to do—I tried shining my light at them but they made no move. I heard what I thought was another person approaching and was about to whisper to them about the deer, when I realized it wasn’t another person. It was a giant, huge, deer, and it was very aware of me and was in the middle of the road. I was a little scared, but just then the other deer moved so I went into the bathroom.
However, when I came back out the giant monster deer was still there, blocking my path back to the tent! I tried to approach it, hoping to scare it off, but it took a few steps towards me instead, with an ominous clomping sound. I pictured getting attacked by a deer, and wondered if this was something that happened to people? I wasn’t thinking clearly, but I was scared. I knew our camp area was a loop of sorts, so I decided to be safer and walk back the long way, along the loop.
After what seemed like forever but was probably 2-3 minutes, I realized it was a REALLY big loop, especially at night, so I turned back around. By then the giant monstrous beast had moved off the roadway—I could see the deer off to the side but I moved quietly and firmly ahead and did make it back safely to the tent.
I kept hearing noises all night and figured it was the deer, looking for me and planning to attack if I left the tent.
In any case, by around 4:30 am our neighbors made a bit of noise packing up their tent. Oh, and it was completely bright outside. By the time Louie and I got up at 5 am most people around us were awake, making breakfast, or had already left. People get up early there, evidently, and the sun rises MUCH earlier than it should. In other words, the Grand Canyon is in the wrong time zone.
Our hike plan: to hike down the Bright Angel Trail to the Colorado River and back. Warning: all the rangers and signs warn you not to do this, that it is too far for one day. Our friends all told us we could and should do it, that it is awesome and we will be fine. We packed food and water, and knew there were multiple places along the trail where we could fill up our water as well.
The Bright Angel Trail is the one that heads down, FYI.
The way down was easy. The trail is wide and well graded, and mostly just sandy. There were resthouses with water and vault toilets at 1 1/2 miles and 3 miles down, which seemed like a lot to us. (We learned why later, spoiler alert).
We’d started down the trail right around 6 am, and by 8:30 am we were resting on a bench at Indian Gardens, eating trail mix. Indian Gardens is about 4.5 miles down, and generally where rangers tell you to turn around for a day hike. We said, that’s for amateurs, not us, and continued down to the path to the Colorado River, 3 more miles.
I didn’t take as many pictures from that point on. First because I thought, well, let’s hurry and then on the way back we’ll be slower and take more pictures. But then my toes started hurting, and I was tired, and it was hard to hike. There was a part where you go around a corner and then you just see the trail, going down and around, deeper and deeper into the canyon, and I wish I had taken a picture. I remember though, I was both terrified and awed. Truly awesome, I guess.
But we made it to the river! The Colorado River, which was the whole reason the Grand Canyon exists. It was windy down by the river, and there were several rafts, one of which blew over and practically knocked Louie over. (he was trying to dip his feet into the river.)
I started getting really worried about getting back. I do this on hikes, I worry about finishing. I shouldn’t, I get into my head too much, and I don’t enjoy the moment. But in this case, I started really worrying. And I didn’t feel like eating, but I was hungry. We started walking back, and I realized I was nauseous and hungry, and we might have 8 hours ahead of us, and I just sat down and started crying and panicking. I worried I’d have to be picked up by mule or helicopter, and it would be awful and embarrassing, and that we made a huge mistake and that I am NOT like other people, hiking is hard, and I should have turned around at Indian Gardens.
Then we got passed by a group of men, going really slowly. Slower than we had been going. And I thought, okay, I can do that. I can go that slowly.
So we did. Bit by bit. We took a lot of breaks. The sun was hot, and high in the sky, and I’m sure Louie didn’t want to go so slow or stop so often, but he did, because he was with me. And we made sure to drink more water than we had been. And we made it back to Indian Gardens.
At Indian Gardens (10.5 miles so far) we ate a bunch of peanut butter pretzels from Trader Joe’s, made a Hammer Fizz drink with tablets in the water, and I really started feeling better. Only 4. 5 miles left.
After Indian Gardens, the path is really just up. Before that it mostly was up, but now there was no flat parts. We continued taking lots of breaks, and it was still hot, but we started to notice that everybody around us was also suffering, which made us feel better. Ha! Funny how that works, right? We finally made it to 3 mile hours, and enjoyed more Hammer Fizz, more snacks, and another long rest (15-20 minutes?). Then we set off again. Relentless forward progress. One foot in front of the other.
The last 3 miles were the hardest. 1 1/2 mile house seemed so far away…vault toilets were never such a wonderful beacon in the distance. This rest house smelled like urine so we didn’t stay long. And then the final ascent. As we got closer we’d run into folks just wandering down a bit from the rim, which was annoying in a way. Here we are, exhausted, sunburned, smelly, having been to hell and back, or that is, the River and back…and these folks are just out for a little stroll. And then closer yet, wearing sandals and drinking wine, or taking up the trail posing for pictures. Closer still. The rim was in sight, but still so far. More breaks, more catching of my breath (hard to do, but not as hard as earlier in the day when I was perhaps dangerously close to heat stroke). And then. We cleared the top!
You’d expect bells and whistles, or a brass band, but instead there were just tourists everywhere. Nobody we knew, nobody to celebrate our victory.
For some reason I’d carried a selfie stick this whole way. We set up for a picture with the Trailhead dedication rock. Some guy was trying to take a picture while we were setting up our picture and he seemed annoyed we were in the way—I think we deserved a minute with the rock after our day!
I’d told Louie during the hike that I would never do it again. And that’s a good idea, but of course as time goes by you start to forget how hard things are and you only remember the fun and the beauty and the feeling of accomplishment.
After the hike we went to take showers. Glorious! Even though honestly, the showers were pretty gross. Still, we were covered in so much red dust that it was wonderful. And then we bought a few things at the grocery store and then we ate and drank and rested and it was a wonderful night.
Our campsite at Mather.
We had new neighbors for the second night and it looked like quite a few people were staying longer. Unfortunately we had to leave the next day.
We woke up a bit later, closer to 7 am (decadent sleeping in!). We packed up camp and went to check out more of the canyon rim views. Basically there are two ways you can go, west or east, and we decided to check out east side viewpoints and then leave the park that way and head back to Phoenix. The west side would have awesome too but we had to make a choice.
We stopped at almost all the stops along the way, including the Tusayan Ruins and the Desert View Watchtower. Louie even hiked down the Grandview Trail a bit (there are actually many trails into the Grand Canyon, and I guess another day, another year, we’ll have to do something again.) Oh, and Moran Point, which was absolutely gorgeous but also fun to say…well, fun to mispronounce.
We were sad to leave, and my legs were sore, sore, sore. But we were expected back in Phoenix for a concert that night and needed to get back to clean up. We left and drove through Cameron to Flagstaff to Phoenix. It was a wonderful trip, and hopefully we’ll get to do it again!
We are planning a bit road trip for later in the summer. Colorado, Utah, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It doesn’t cost that much to camp and cook our own food, gas is on the cheap, and so the only real cost is taking the time off. Since Louie is on an academic calendar he doesn’t work during that time, and I’m self-employed and summer is definitely a lighter time. Some people wondered last summer how we could afford it, and that’s the answer: if you drive, and mostly cook your own meals, and camp, it’s really pretty affordable to travel. This trip was more expensive since we flew to Phoenix, but it didn’t cost much more to see Sedona and the Grand Canyon!
If you have questions, let me know—I’d be happy to help.