A Day at the Bottom of the Grand Canyon
[Grand Canyon National Park, Sat, Nov 25, 2017]
We booked two nights down here at Phantom Ranch, so that means we had a full day on Saturday to do whatever we pleased. We decided to do a little hike, then check out the beach we saw on our way down yesterday.
There were several hike options at the bottom of the canyon. One option was to go up the North Kaibab trail until we reach either a narrow place in the canyon called “The Box”, which did not sound very exciting, or Ribbon Falls, which seemed bit far (6 miles one way). Instead, we went up the Clear Creek trail.
The trailhead was just a quarter-mile up from Phantom Ranch and had a clearly signed turn off from the North Kaibab trail.
The trail ascends for the first 3/4 mile to Phantom overlook, named so because we were directly above Phantom ranch.
There was also a bench here, built from slabs of local Vishnu Schist rock by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. They also built the trail itself. The CCC was a work relief program, which provided employment for men during the Great Depression.
Further along the trail, there was a point at which we could see the entire set of switch backs leading up to Black Bridge and Phantom Ranch. We couldn’t believe we had done that brutal descent yesterday!
At another point, a gorgeous view into the inner gorge of the canyon opened up. For the first time, the Grand Canyon reminded me of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which I’d visited in July – but much, much bigger!
The trail continued along the edge of the cliffs. Different views kept opening up both in front and behind us.
When the trail finally leveled off, we could see a formation called the Zoroaster temple straight ahead. It is one of the most recognizable peaks in the canyon and turns out to be a popular destination for climbers. The long approach from the rim makes this climb popular only with the craziest of climbers. When I read about this sandstone giant online, I found stories of people starting their descent at midnight, reaching the rock at sunrise, climbing it, coming back down and hiking back out of the canyon – a 20+ hour adventure with 20,000 ft of elevation gain/loss. The less crazy people descend and camp at Clear Creek trail, then climb Zoroaster at sunrise the next day and hike out. All we did was take plenty of photos with the giant rock formation. 🙂
We were over 3 miles in already and we decided this was a good turn-around point. We sat down for a snack and then headed back down the trail. Our legs really hated going downhill! The uphill didn’t hurt at all, but the downhill had our calves screaming. We were extremely happy when we were finally back down to the river.
Once we got back, we ate the sack lunches we had picked up from the canteen, then checked out of the dorms and into a cabin. I didn’t intentionally book two different accommodations for us. I wanted a cabin for both nights, but they were sold out for our Friday night stay, so that’s why we were in the dorms that night. The cabins sleep anywhere from 4 to 10 people and are still outfitted with bunk beds. We had our own toilet but only a cold-water sink and no shower – we had to use the community shower instead. In retrospect, it was great experiencing both types of accommodations. We enjoyed meeting everyone in the dorms the night before but it was nice to have our own space in the cabin.
Next up – beach time! Boat Beach, as it was called, was about a 20-minute walk away. The most beautiful aspen tree was showing off its fall colors for us. These photos are courtesy of Olivia. I was so unplugged from tech, I brought neither my phone nor my camera with me. 🙂
The first thing we noticed when we got there was how extremely soft the sand was! Both of our sets of hiking friends were there – the Redondo peeps and the Pennsylvania peeps. They shared their wine and convinced Laura and Olivia to take a full dip in the ice cold river. I could not be convinced to join, so I filmed the exploit instead.
While we were there, we saw some people coming down the Kaibab trail on mules. Laura, who hates bridges, completely understood when one of the mules refused to go across. The wrangler had to get down and run with him across the bridge. As we were walking back to the ranch from the beach, we passed the stables and found the mules there getting situated for the night by the wranglers. One of the wranglers said the mule, named Wesley, was apprehensive because it was his first time across the bridge! Laura, who grew up with horses and loves animals, bonded with Wesley over their shared apprehension of bridges, and he took a liking to her too. 🙂
On our way back from the beach, we showered in the community building. There were three shower cabins and they were all free, so we all got to take a shower at the same time! You can imagine how long it takes for three girls to shower if they have to go one at a time, so this was a major time saver! Here, as everywhere else in Phantom Ranch, we were reminded that we should make extra effort to preserve scarce resources. The shower cabins came outfitted with a little hourglass timer to help you take your shower quickly – the timer was for 5 minutes. We all tried – and failed – to make it in the time allotted, but only by a minute!
We had some time to relax before dinner, and we actually found ourselves a bit… bored! We had no cell signal, so phones were not an option. Olivia had sacrificed taking her kindle due to her small pack, so she put on some music instead. This must have been the first time Celine Dion music could be heard at the bottom of the canyon ;). So, we just hung out in the cabin and let ourselves be bored. Do you remember the last time you were bored? I don’t. There is an never-ending list of chores and errands and things to do in “real life”, while here my brain was completely… empty, in a good way. There is nothing to do but just be. I wish I could bottle up this feeling and go back to it whenever I want to.
Alas, eventually, it was time for dinner. We had the same steak dinner again, which was still as delicious as the night before. Afterwards, we went to a little community area near the canteen where the mule wranglers played guitar, sang songs and answered our questions about the mules. The wranglers perfectly matched the images of cowboys I had in my head from American movies – the hats, the jeans, the boots, the accents, the whole thing. We learned a lot about mules from them. Mules get a bad rep because they are not as easy going as horses. They make you work for their affection and obedience. While horses will do whatever you say, mules will think it over first and only do it if they trust you. If you try to force them, that’s when their donkey stubbornness kicks in. But they are more intelligent than horses (they learn at the level of a 3.5-year-old-child, while a horse learns at the level of a 1.5-year-old-child), and they are stronger. We appreciated the bond these wranglers had with their animals. The deer in the area must have liked their songs too, because several of them hung out just across from where we were sitting. It was such a unique and beautiful experience!
Our night ended with a card game (Cards Against Humanity) in the canteen with our Redondo Beach and Pennsylvania friends.
Those of you who are familiar with Cards Against Humanity know the hilarity that ensues, especially after a few drinks have been consumed. It was a great time that ended with someone trying to take a picture of the night sky with their phone. I will always remember this as one of the most hilarious things I have seen a tipsy person try to do. 🙂