The Grand Canyon offers many views. Each and every stop on the south rim has a different feel. Color and texture vary. The sunlight plays with your eyes. Stone really can’t change color. Well, here it does. Sometimes by the minute, sometimes by the hour.
The canyon offers few easy hikes. The canyon isn’t easy on you. The hike that I’ll describe will be three miles one way. The trip is a very long dayhike, or a challenging backpacking trip. Six miles in the canyon compares to 12 miles in the mountains of Texas, or 15 mikes in the Smokies.
You confronted first with elevation. At elevation over 7000 feet, oxygen is not as plentiful as us low elevation dwellers are used to. Your body can not be effecient if you don’t spend a couple days near this level. Your muscles will thank you later.
The Grand Canyon is part of a desert climate. Moisture will be robbed from the air you breath. The sun offers all the heat you need, more often too much. Hats are great idea. You’ll need plenty of water even for a dayhike. Temperatures will likely be ten to fifteen degrees warmer when you arrive on the Horseshoe Mesa. Plan on at least a liter for dayhike and three per person per day. Seasonal water is available about 3/4 mile from your arrival upon the mesa. That’s not an easy hike and you will need to treat the water.
So why would anyone even come here? In a park where you may need to take a shuttle to get from your car to your hotel, peace and quiet. The feeling of solitude is here. It’s not free, the next day your muscles will tell you the cost. But the views are staggering. Plants and animals are here. Some seen, mostly unseen.
The hike descends from the parking lot of Grandview Point. The trail reaches back over one hundred years. You will follow a mule trail that once lead to several mines of copper ores. The upper reaches switchback. The trail pinned together with wooden cribbing. Logs made boxes that backfilled with rock and gravel to provide a trail wide and stable enough to provide a means to bring the copper to market. The steep trail takes twice the effort to come back out. Fear of heights will keep some out. Steepness also gives clear views. Trees may rise over seventy feet, but often their bases are not seen from the trail. Limestone and sandstone blend in pale yellow to whote stone. Details in the stone may contain fossils of shells and corals in places near top. As you descend calcite mini geodes bedazzle the plain rock face. Clear crystals form dime sized geodes with white bases.
The first mile will skirt two ridges before crossing a saddle. The views of the intercanyon have brought more height to places in the distance, the light appears softer, color becomes more intense away from the strong daylight. The last of any people that have come out of curiosity have turned around. Dayhikers are about an hour in the canyon, backpackers about 1 1/2 hours.
Saddles are the term for the separation of river/creek drainage areas. Here we have left the drainage of Grapevine Creek, and will enter Cottonwood Creek’s drainage. The Grand Canyon is really hundreds of smaller ones. Unseen water wears away at the sides. Snow and ice split beads of sand and lime away during the winter. Wind pick up fine particles sandblasting walls to help carve out the vision around you.
Below the saddle, man left another improvement to the trail in the form of cobblestones. On the front of the cobblestones mules left strike marks. The idea was prevent the trails from washing out. Descending around corners, round drill holes show where dynamite was used to widen the path. The first two cobblestone switchbacks also have blast pattern on the walls. They will look like lines through broken glass, each pointing back toward the point wall and trail meet.
Footing can be slick here. The trail is partially shaded. The red walls below you grow. Distance doesn’t change quickly. Above you to the east is Sinking Ship Butte. The features here reflect what was common to the people of the time. The image of a steamship is alien to us.
The trail lowers into parts of red rock. The switchbacks lead to another saddle. This one marked with a vast red valley. Its color appears deeper, Hance Creek works in the shadows. The nature AC effect is strong here. A great rest stop.
The next section of trail has been gully washed. Meaning its lost a lot of flat places and has been narrowed to less than a foot in places. Rock hopping is part and parcel of the climb down. Drops are up to eighteen inches and come back to back quickly. Dayhikers are here in two hours, backpackers are dragging themselves here in closer to four hours.
You are in a life zone. Lizards rock hop with you. Small birds fly around you. Hawks call out. Condors circle above you. Plants and flowers appear in places where the sun filters through. The barren landscape viewed from above isn’t barren at all.
The end of the ridge brings you past some old mines. As the trail washes out coming down the hill, you will see warning signs for radiation. This was the old path that went past Pete Barry’s Lost Chance Mine. The white tailing pile still contain bits of copper ore. The opposite side has mining equipment still in place. Avoid going in the mine! The mine has shafts. There are no natural light siurces inside. The illegal part may not stop you, but there’s safe caves upon the Mesa if you must go underground.
The intreped dayhiker is a little over three hours in. The backpacker maybe pushing five or more hours. Down the hill on the Horseshorse Mesa are the cabin and some artifacts of the people who worked here. All historic pieces, let here by everyone to be seen by the next person. Take only pictures. The doorway makes great shot. Backpackers stay above three hundred feet to the East. There’s a pit toilet even!.
Campsites offer views and little else. One has a “hiker’s tree”. The place where you can air out clothes. The views are 360 degrees. Only the Mesa and shrubs interupt the landscape.
The fun part is over. If you don’t stay the road back is four to five hours long. The backpacker has six to seven hours left.