Monday , March 26 , 2001
While Pat enjoyed the classic phantom Ranch breakfast, Terri and Anna Marie elected to consume the last of the food they had carried for the past 30 miles. Leaving our cabin at 6:30 A.M., we crossed the Silver suspension bridge and stepped onto the Bright Angel trail at 6:42 A.M. The sway, exaggerated by the antics of several teenagers ahead of us made us stagger like dazed and confused wayfarers over the rapids of the Colorado far below.
As we climbed up out of one of the seven wonders of the world, we measured our progress against rock layers demarking millions of years of geological formation. Today we observed that some Cottonwood trees that were laded with grapelike clusters of seed pods, soon to bloom into clusters of delicate white flowers. We also sighted Miners Lettuce and Western Redbud near the Indian Gardens oasis.
Some of the striking contrasts between the South Kaibab and the trek up the 4500 feet of the Bright Angel trail were the vegetation and water resources. Although both trails are located on the South side of the Colorado River, since the Bright Angel faces a more northerly direction it is therefore subjected to harsher winter conditions that impede plant growth. However the snowmelt provides an abundance of water for the streams that run to the river below. We dipped our hats into each one of theses streams to cool down our body temperature as we pushed upwards towards the rim.
Pat’s blister discomfort index was also on the rise which added to the difficulty of the climb for her. Beggar squirrels skittered around every corner curious to investigate an abandoned pack, and scampered to within inches of snacking hikes as they rested in shady spots along the way. Interesting note: a hungry squirrel will eat a dropped wasabi pea! Ouch! A mule deer scurried into a shady wash faster than we were able to snap a photo.
We encountered some aggressive trail maintenance work in progress along the way. A two man crew was laying Juniper steps, layered by small rocks broken with a jack hammer, then hammered into gravel and covered with the natural sand terrain. A lady ranger, one of the four-person, year round maintenance crew… (there are 40 seasonally paid crew members,) was constructing a fifteen foot rock retaining wall. She chiseled the corners to fit perfectly. Anna Marie explained the volunteer program in the Smokies, but nothing like that exists in the canyon. We inferred that might be because of lack of local population to man the hours required.
A number of times we were required to step aside to allow the mule train to pass. On one occasion a young fellow dropped his crop. Anna Marie offered to go back and pick it up but the mule driver told her to stand still. He jumped off of his mule and jogged back up the trail for the crop. We commemted to him that his mule was well trained not to run off. He answered us, "If that 'ol gal had gone on without me I would have jest sent on down for a nuther...I warn't about to climb out 'o here on foot!"
Terri and Anna Marie spotted a Northern Oriole among last years grape vines which provided perfect protection from the sun. As they took a break and waited for Pat they amused themselves by challenging each other to a spitting contest. Feeling they both safely had water to burn, they filled their mouths and spit as far as they could into the Grand Canyon. Embarrassingly, most of the liquid ran down their chins and into their shirts, which was actually a very effective use of the precious liquid. Both improved with practice and soon Pat caught up and documented the event digitally.
Passing tourists gladly took multiple pictures of our group at "The Arch", the terminus of this grand six day backcountry adventure. This has truly been a walk through time, where one learns to thank God for a cooling breeze, a passing cloud, and a glimpse into the mystery of his creation.Pat counted our hiking time from the bridge to the arch as 5 hour and 22 minutes. Terri’s more honest accounting from the cabin to the top was 6 hours and 5 minutes. By either account we were proud but rather dusty and dry. We rested up with a snack and cool drink at the Maswick cafeteria but when we arrived at the mule barn we found we had still beat our packs up the hill. While we were waiting the driver who had retrieved the crop showed up. We joked with him about hiking out and asked him how the mules were managed. When we expressed concern about the mules workload, he drawled, "Ma’m, mules are like women. If we give them too much time off they start to think for themselves and that gets them into a heap ‘o’ trouble…so we jest keep em working hard, feed em good and give em a whole lot of loving!"
We soon collected our packs and bade farewell to Grand Canyon National Park at 2 pm. Despite our diligent scouting of each and every road sign…the 3 1/3 hour drive to Phoenix passed without locating a Baskin Robbins. Terri and Anna Marie are determined to find their yogurt SOMEWHERE before returning to Knoxville. After much needed showers and clean clothes, we followed the desk manager’s directions to the Rusty Pelican. We enjoyed a splendid seafood dinner-celebration, followed by a dip in the pool and lively conversation in the hot-tub. This was our latest night…we hit the sack albeit reluctantly at 11 pm.