Sunday, November 12, 2017

First Car to the Bottom of the Canyon

Throughout the summer and fall of 2017, Grand Canyon or Bust has had the pleasure of hosting stories by veteran hiker and camp cook Johnny Benavidez. Johnny has given me two more stories, and I intend to post them before taking a hiatus. In this post, Johnny tells us about the first car that drove to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Think that’s impossible? Read the story below.—Dave A.

By the time you read this, you’ll have completed your epic journey down the North Rim, across, and up to the South Rim.  I’m absolutely sure that you beat my time of +20 hours to cross.  You saw a lot of footprints, people, and mules along the way, but you likely did not see any motorized vehicles on your journey.  As you’re riding in the air-conditioned shuttle back to the North Rim or driving home in your own vehicle, you probably can’t imagine a car driving into the Grand Canyon. 

But, did you know that in 1914, a car was driven from the South Rim all the way to the banks of the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The trip was concocted as a publicity stunt.  L. Wing and A.K. Parker initially travelled from Los Angeles all the way to the South Rim of the Canyon, driving a Metz Roadster.  This was all done to promote the Metz Automobile Agency.  The car was a 22 -horsepower demon of a vehicle with bucket seats.  It looked like a go-kart with bicycle tires. 

The Grand Canyon leg of the trip began at Peach Springs on the Hualapai Indian Reservation, west of what is now Grand Canyon National Park.  The duo in their Metz Roadster bounced down the gorge over 21 miles and a mile deep, across a boulder-strewn terrain.  They drove over and around boulders up to 3 feet high.  At the end of day one, they encountered quick sand and boulders larger than the car itself.  They piled smaller rocks and brush against these large boulders and actually drove the car over them.  On day two, at around 11:00 a.m., they arrived at the Colorado River.  This was the first car ever driven into the Grand Canyon and all the way to the river.

Today it is possible to drive a similar route that has been vastly improved.  The Hualapai Indian Tribe offers River Rafting, the infamous Sky Bridge, and other amenities in this area now known as Grand Canyon West.
Yours truly, 
Chef Johnny
P.S. Next post will be my last one in 2017.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

An Overview of Our Hike

Chef Johnny Benavidez has taken us on a virtual hike from the North Rim to the South Rim. Now, just days from our real 2017 hike, Johnny shows us where we have been, virtually, and what we are about to accomplish in real life. Take it away Johnny.
Johnny near the top of the North Kaibab Trail, headed down.

You did it!!!  There are over 4 million visitors to the Grand Canyon annually. Of this total, less than 3% of these visitors actually hike into the Grand Canyon. Fewer yet hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim as you just did.  You should wear the title of “Rimmer” proudly.
Here are some of the bare statistics:  We hiked 23.5 miles.  We hiked 5,761 feet down to Phantom Ranch, and up 4,370 feet to the top of the South Rim.  That is over 10,131 feet of elevation change.  That is well over 24,000 steps.  Check that on your Fitbit!!

When you wake up Saturday morning, you’ll be very sore and tired from the hike. As you walk around throughout the day, you’ll be doing the “Kaibab Shuffle” or the waddle as I call it.  In particular, you’ll find it a challenge to climb up and down steps.  No doubt your bus mates on the shuttle will notice your shuffle and assume that you walked from the North Rim to the South Rim all in one day.  They will be duly impressed, as should you be!
The rest of this post is intended as inspiration or reassurance that you can and will be able to accomplish this hike in real time on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017.  It’ll help get your mind in the right place regarding our epic hike.  Our group has been doing this hike for over 12 years now.  By my estimation, we have had over 150 hikers do this hike. Every single one of our hikers has completed the hike under their own power, meaning no one has been evacuated out.  I’m sure our upcoming hike will continue this streak.

I start every single RTR hike with a mixture of dread and excitement. I wish that I had trained more
Sunrise on the North Kaibab Trail.
or prepared better. But I always make it, and so will you.  That’s not to say there won’t be challenges; For instance, a few hikers have taken more than one day to complete the trip, and one member of our group (yours truly) did the hike one year in just over 20 hours (yikes).
Just to verify the fact that I did make it out, I’ll recount my story for you.  With all the difficulty and challenges that I faced, there was still plenty of trail magic, and a Trail Angel did make her appearance to me just when I needed her most.

Here is how it happened: Due to some difficulty with my water bladder I ended up drinking some poorly diluted Gatorade, which made me very nauseous.  I spent the rest of the day and night severely dehydrated and unable to take in any nutrition.  This made any progress on the trail painfully slow.  My good friend Ernie Martinez and his two sons were Trail Angels for me.  They walked with me, fixed my water bladder, lifted my spirits, and all but carried me out of the Canyon.  Without them, I’m thinking I might have been the first and only evacuee from our hike.
Tip #1:  When a problem arises, fix it right away.  If your water bladder is not working, address the problem now.  If you have pebbles in your shoes, stop and take them out.  If you’re getting hot spots on your feet, stop and fix it.  Remember the old seamstress saying “a stich in time saves 9”.  Tip #2:  Hike with a buddy, and commit to check with each other frequently on how they’re feeling.  A simple “How’s it going?” will usually suffice.

Rachel Louwsma with her dad, Jim
Now for my nominee as our Official Rim-to-Rim Trail Angel.  Rachel Louwsma has been an integral part of our Rim-to-Rim hikes for several years now.  I wouldn’t be able to put on our spaghetti feed without her able help.  In addition, she is always willing to shuttle camping gear from North Rim to South Rim for those of us who are camping.  This gear shuttle is where my nomination of Official Trail Angel comes in. 
On that epic 20-hour rim-to-rim hike, Rachel had agreed to carry our camping gear and meet us at the South Rim with it.  However, none of us anticipated that we’d get to the top of the South Rim at 2:30 a.m.--20 hours after we started.  How in the world were we ever going to find Rachel and our gear?  I didn’t know which lodge Rachel was staying at.

The first lodge we approached was the Bright Angel Lodge.  I asked the desk clerk if by some chance Rachel was registered there. He told me no.  I consider it divine providence, and maybe some trail magic, that somehow through their system I was able to find out which hotel Rachel was located at. Within minutes I was connected with Rachel’s room and heard the most angelic voice on the other end of the line saying “Johnny is that you.” 
Believe me when I tell you that even now, as I write this, I can hear her magical voice.  Ok, maybe I even have a tear in my eye.  Within minutes, Rachel picked us up in her car and delivered us to Mather Campground.  Despite all our challenges, Ernie, Joshua, Luke, Nathaniel and I made it rim-to-rim all in a day, thanks to our Trail Angel Rachel.

See you at the North Rim.
Chef Johnny

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Kolb Studio and a Famous Canyon Crash

Having brought us to the Bright Angel Trailhead, Johnny Benavidez takes some time in this blog post to talk about just two of the many sites we will see on the South Rim. He describes two unique attractions: a crash and a 75-year photography business. Take it away, Johnny.

Dave Aeilts & Pete Blomberg on trail below Kolb Studio.
 As you walk out of the Bright Angel Trail, the first building you will pass is Kolb Studio. This is arguably the most historic building on the South Rim. The Kolb brothers, Emery and Ellsworth, were pioneering frontier photographers.

In 1904, the Kolb brothers made an agreement with Ralph Cameron to build their studio on one of his mining claims. They agreed to charge $1 per head of livestock entering the canyon. This hefty fee for those days was paid directly to Cameron. The Kolbs made their money by photographing tourists on their rides. The significance of the studio is where it is located at the edge of the Grand Canyon, at the Bright Angel trailhead.

The Kolb Brothers ran a successful photography business from this site for over 75 years.
Kolb Photographic Studio on South Rim.
The Kolb Studio in fact predates the national park designation for the Grand Canyon. Some good words to describe the Kolbs are ingenuity, perseverance and character. For example, they initially used water from a cow pond to develop their film. Later on, they would make the trek to Indian Garden sometimes twice a day to develop their film. They used old mine shafts as rudimentary darkrooms, etc.

Only 32 years after John Wesley Powell made his historic survey trip through the Grand Canyon, the Kolb Brothers in 1911 and 1912 set out to recreate and film that trip. Against all odds and with rudimentary equipment, this film was completed in 1912. After a tour of the United States showing their film, the Kolbs returned to show the film at the Grand Canyon. The film was shown daily at the Grand Canyon from 1915 until 1976, with narration by Emery himself until 1932. The movie still holds the title of longest continually running movie in U.S. history.

The Kolbs had a long and contentious relationship with both the park service and with the Fred Harvey Company over concessions at the park. The most significant arrangement was that Emery Kolb was able to maintain ownership of the Kolb Studio until his death in 1974. At that point ownership passed to the park service. The studio is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Kolb Studio is a must-see if you have time. There are many iconic photos displayed on the walls of the studio, and there are lots of prints available for purchase.

Death in Grand Canyon
The next story is about a 1956 Grand Canyon mid-air collision. On June 13,1956, a United Airlines DC-7 airliner struck a Trans World Airlines L-1049 airliner while flying over the Grand Canyon. A common practice of the day was what was called "flight seeing" or sightseeing from an airplane. At the time, there was very little flight regulation and these separate flights fatefully met in the skies on the eastern side of the Grand Canyon.

All 128 passengers on the TWA flight, and all 53 passengers on the United flight perished. At the time, it was the deadliest commercial airline disaster in history. Due to the severity of the crash, no bodies were recovered intact.

On July 9, 1956, a mass funeral was held at the South Rim. Unidentified victims of the tragedy are interred in four coffins at the Grand Canyon Pioneer Cemetery and many others killed are interred in a mass grave at Citizens Cemetery in Flagstaff.

This horrendous crash was a catalyst for change. In 1958, the Federal Aviation Act was passed, and the FAA was established along with a more comprehensive air traffic control system.

In 2014, the crash site was designated a National Historic Landmark. The plaque and memorial is located at the Desert Watchtower on the eastern side of the Grand Canyon. There is still some wreckage visible from near the Watchtower. As a bonus, the Desert Watchtower is one of Mary Coulter's iconic building designs--a must see. There is no shuttle bus service to Desert Watchtower. However, it is well worth the car ride to the site. If you are flying to and from Phoenix, you can take the east drive toward Cameron, and then to Flagstaff and Phoenix. It is the same distance as driving south from Grand Canyon.

Happy Sightseeing,

Chef Johnny



Monday, August 14, 2017

Conquering the Bright Angel Trail

Perhaps the most difficult segment of a North-South hike of the Grand Canyon is the final push. Exhaustion sets in toward the end of this long trek, and the air thins as the hiker nears the Bright Angel Trailhead. In this post, our guest blogger, Johnny Benavidez, guides us from Indian Garden to the South Rim, with a surprising ending. Take it away, Johnny.
The oasis known as Indian Garden.

When you arrive at Indian Garden (elevation 3,800 feet) you’ll have hiked 19 miles.
As mentioned in my last post, Indian Garden was originally the Havasupai Indians’ summer gardening spot. At some point, Ralph Cameron took ownership of the area.
When you start to see cottonwood trees lining the creek, you'll know you're approaching Indian Garden.  Mr. Cameron is responsible for planting all of the cottonwood trees in the area.
The National Park Service has stationed interpretive rangers at Indian Garden.  Their primary role is to insure your safety. In recent years, a husband and wife ranger team has been stationed here. One of them in her previous life was a singer in a famous European opera house.  If you happen to see a female ranger, perhaps you can convince her to sing for you.  It doesn't hurt to ask.
Take a long break, camel up, cool your feet in Garden Creek, and steel yourself for the trail ahead. You only have 1.5 miles to the next source of potable water, so no need to overload. Water weighs 2.2 pounds per gallon, so 1.5 or 2.0 liters will get you to the Three-Mile Resthouse. There are only 4.5 miles left of this glorious hike.
          As you depart Indian Garden, look up towards the South Rim.  Look closely, and you'll see the El Tovar Lodge.  It will seem like you're never going to get there, so look up only occasionally. 
You’ll gradually ascend through the Bright Angel Fault, followed by the much steeper switchbacks of Jacobs Ladder, before reaching the Three-Mile Resthouse (elevation 4,748 feet). Camel-up here. You’re almost out.
A few more switchbacks will bring you to the Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse (elevation 5,729). Take a quick break and camel up. Like a horse heading home, you will probably be able to smell the barn (the South Rim) which, at this point, is only—you guessed it—1.5 miles away!
From the Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse to the Bright Angel Trailhead, you will pass through two tunnels. The first is .75 miles from the top. The second is just .18 miles from the top. 
Before you pass through the second tunnel, look up at the cliff wall and
Ancient rock art
underneath the ledge.  If you look closely, you’ll see petroglyphs (ancient rock art). It is amazing to think that the ancient Puebloans, who were ancestors of the Havasupai, walked on the same trail you just hiked. That was over 800 years ago. They stopped here to scrawl a picture story for all who followed them to see. NOTE:  If you reach this point in the trail after dark, come back to see the petroglyphs in the daylight.  It will be well worth your time.
You have just hiked 23.5 trail miles down, across and up the Grand Canyon. In addition, you’ve hiked down 5,761 feet and up 4,380 feet.  Your total elevation change has been 10,141 feet. AMAZING!!!!  Almost like climbing Mt Everest!
Always be on the watch for trail magic: On a recent hike, the scene at left greeted my buddies and me as we made a last push for the top--a single cloud with a rainbow smiled over us and our Grand Canyon.  There’s something spiritual about that, don't you think?
In my next and final blog post, I'll tell you about some interesting sights visible from the South Rim. For example, in 1956 two airliners crashed while flying over the Grand Canyon.  At the time, it was the deadliest accident in U.S. aviation history.  More details next time on this and other trivia.  I’ll also offer some closing thoughts on our soon to be GLORIOUS hike.
Happy Trails,
Chef Johnny

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Up the Bright Angel Trail - To Indian Garden

Having described several canyon critters in his last post, Johnny Benavidez, returns to his blow-by-blow description of a one-day hike from the North Rim to the South Rim. In this post, Johnny guides us up the Bright Angel Trail from Phantom Ranch to Indian Gardens. Take it away, Johnny.
Now we’ll begin the uphill hike of our upside-down mountain—the Grand Canyon.

First, a tip or two: Did you camel-up and are you fully nourished? What works for me, as I walk, is to take a big sip of water every 15 minutes and to eat an energy bar, an energy chew, or a handful of trail mix every hour. I developed this routine after seriously “bonking” on one of my early hikes. Bonking, by the way, is when you are totally depleted of energy. You may be nauseous, and you most definitely have trouble moving up the trail.

If you decide to eat energy bars or energy chews, make sure you practice ingesting them before traveling to the Grand Canyon. Some people can't tolerate some of the products, and you will want to know this before the hike.

           As you leave Phantom Ranch, you can detour through the Bright Angel Campground if you like. There is potable water and restrooms on both ends of the campground, if you need them.

 Once you pass the campground, you will have hiked 14 miles and dropped 5,761 feet in elevation.  From the North Kaibab Trailhead, you’ve descended over one vertical mile. Do you feel it in your knees and quads? 

Next, you’ll notice the Colorado River and the two bridges that cross the river to the south.  When you see it, you’ll understand why the river is named Colorado, which is Spanish for red.  Here's a little history on the bridges. 

The Black Bridge
These are the only two bridges that cross the river for hundreds of miles. To the east is the Kaibab Suspension Bridge, more commonly known as the Black Bridge. This Bridge was built by the National Park Service in 1924.  The South Kaibab Trail and resultant bridge were built as an alternate to the Bright Angel Trail which was owned by Ralph Cameron.

  Employed by the U.S. government, 42 Havasupai tribal members carried eight steel cables one-at-a-time in order to build the Black Bridge. Each cable was 550 feet long, 1.5 inches in diameter, and weighed 2,320 pounds.  Thinking about this heavy load will make your pack feel lighter as you begin to hike out of the abyss.

The Silver Bridge
The Silver Bridge, on the other hand, was built in the 1960's to connect the Bright Angel Trail coming down from the South Rim to Phantom Ranch. The primary reason for constructing the bridge was to support the Trans-Canyon Pipeline which I mentioned in a prior post as the lifeline of the entire Grand Canyon.  You'll notice the pipeline crossing under the bridge as you walk on it. 

An interesting fact about the bridges is that mules and the mule trains will only cross the Black Bridge. Walking across the Silver Bridge, you'll note its meshed steel deck.  This spooks mules as they can see through the mesh to the rushing water below. The Silver Bridge would also be a tighter squeeze for mules versus the wide, opaque deck of the Black Bridge.  In any event, mules always cross to and from Phantom Ranch on the Black Bridge.

          Having crossed the Silver Bridge, you are now on the River Trail. You’ll walk 1.5 miles west, along the south bank of the Colorado River, to the River Resthouse. This stretch is very sandy. For greater stability, stay to the sides of the trail where the sand is firmer

Once you reach the resthouse, you may decide to use its toilet before pressing on. There is no potable water here. Consider soaking your hat, shirt, or bandana in Pipe Creek. It’s going to get hot.

          Turning south from the River Resthouse and away from the Colorado River, you are now on the Bright Angel Trail. You have 8.0 miles left in your epic journey.

The Bright Angel Trail was originally a footpath used by Havasupai Indians to reach their seasonal gardens at present day Indian Garden, which we'll pass through on our way to the South Rim.  The Havasupai and their ancestors began walking this path at least 13,000 years ago. 

For Northern Europeans, this route became known as the Cameron Trail, named after Ralph Cameron. He owned the trail and charged $1.00 toll to anyone riding or hiking into the canyon. He also owned the accommodations at Indian Garden and Phantom Ranch.  In 1928, the National Park Service wrested control of the trail and all accommodations from Mr. Cameron, who incidentally went on to serve as one of Arizona’s first U.S. Senators.

Beginning of the Devil's Corkscrew
We're going to be hiking up Pipe Creek Drainage, through the Devil’s Corkscrew (with an average grade of 15 percent), up the Tapeats Narrows (with a more gradual slope) and into Indian Garden.

The Bright Angel Trail winds up through Pipe Creek Drainage, crossing the creek several times. Some of the trail is shaded. However, the Devil's Corkscrew is 1.5 to 2.0 miles of very steep switchbacks. Most of the hike is along the west-facing wall.  If you get to this point after 11:00 in the morning, you will be fully exposed until you get to Indian Garden. Either plan to be at this point in the trail prior to 11:00 a.m. or be mentally prepared for a hot climb. 

Some rim-to-rim hikers strategically shorten their break at Phantom Ranch to 20-30 minutes, beat the heat through Devil’s Corkscrew, and then take a long leisurely break at Indian Garden.

I’ll cover Indian Garden to the top of Bright Angel Trail in my next post.

Happy Trails,
Chef Johnny

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Critters of the Canyon

In this post, our guest host John Benavidez, a frequent Grand Canyon hiker, will talk about the critters we may see on the rims and on the trail. Some of these critters are unique to the canyon. One is on the endangered species list. One does daily duty carrying travelers into the depths of the upside-down mountain. Take it away, Johnny.

Mule train starting down Bright Angel from the South Rim.
Mules and Mule Trains
The first critter is the Grand Canyon Mule, and the frequent mule trains you'll encounter as we hike up to the South Rim. 

A safety tip: Mules always have the right of way on the trail. As a mule train approaches, step off the trail on the uphill side.  Allow the mule train to pass, and don't get back on the trail until there is a minimum of 30 feet between you and the last animal.

These mules and their descendants have been ferrying people and supplies into the Grand Canyon for well over 100 years and there has never been a human fatality due  to a mule fall. They are what I consider to be Olympic-caliber athletes. Animals for mule trains are culled from the larger herd, much like Russia selected children for their Olympic programs and then trained them for much of their young lives. In fact, these mules will go through 4-5 years of training before they ever carry a human passenger. On the downside, you'll undoubtedly notice and smell the stench of what the mules leave behind. There is nothing like the smell of mule dung.
Mule Deer
Mule Deer
On your car ride from Jacob Lake to the North Rim, you will notice the Kaibab Mule Deer. These mule deer live only on the Kaibab Plateau. Think of this plateau as a “sky island”.  The natural barriers to this sky island are the Grand Canyon to the south, and desert to the north. These Kaibab Mule Deer, whether because of geographic isolation or maybe even the minerals in the water, are world-renowned for the size of their racks (antlers). 

This area was originally known as Buckskin Mountain because of the proliferation of the buck mule deer. It has long been recognized as the finest mule deer hunting range in the country. Teddy Roosevelt was the first big game hunter of prominence to discover this. After becoming president, he set aside Kaibab Mountain as the Grand Canyon National Game Preserve and defined its primary purpose as being the production and preservation of the mule deer. This was a precursor to the establishment of Grand Canyon National Park.  If you are lucky enough in the Deer Hunting Lottery, odds are good that you will bag your own "trophy buck".

A side story concerning the mule deer: This is unbelievable but true. In the late 1800's and early 1900's, Uncle Jim Owens was credited for ridding the Grand Canyon of mountain lions. He alone was responsible for shooting 532 Mountain Lions. What Uncle Jim and others did not consider was the disruption in the food chain that this would cause. Mountain lions are natural enemies of deer. The size of the deer herd grew from 3,000 head to as many as 40,000.

Without a formal plan to manage the herd, they overgrazed the plateau. Into this breach, in December of 1924, rode George McCormick. His grand plan was to drive a deer herd of up to 10,000 down what is now the Nancoweap trail, across nearly 300 feet of river, and up to the South Rim on what is now known as the Tanner Trail. 

McCormick was described by some as a horse thief and by others as scoundrel. He was also described as a romanticist and a salesman. He sold movie rights to the motion picture company Famous Players-Lasky Corp and film director D.W. Griffith.  FYI: D.W. Griffith was the director of the 1915 film classic Birth of a Nation.  Zane Grey, the western novelist, was also part of this proposed deer drive. Based on his experiences with the drive, Zane Grey wrote the novel The Deer Stalker, published in 1925. 

From the start, this entire project was doomed and was described by nearly all participants as impossible. Deer were stampeding everywhere—through and between the army of Navajo herders.  When one Navajo guide was asked if they had driven the deer, he said yes. When asked where they drove them to, he simply waved his arms in a semi-circle. The fact is, they were driven everywhere but down into the canyon. Meanwhile, other Navajo herders who took refuge in the treetops laughed hysterically. Apparently, trying to herd deer is like trying to herd cats. It’s just not going to happen.

One mule deer did make it to the South Rim. A young fawn, abandoned by its mother, was taken in by Forest Ranger Fred Johnson. Johnson feared the fawn would not survive the North Rim winter, so he transported the animal to the South Rim in his vehicle. Now that's valet service!

The Kaibab Squirrel
The Kaibab Squirrel
The Kaibab Squirrel is native to and found exclusively on the North Rim. Again, think of this plateau as a sky island bordered by desert on the north and canyon on the south.

A sub-species of the Albert Squirrel, the Kaibab Squirrel is known for its tassel ears and bright white plume-like tail. At a quick glance, you might imagine a treetop rabbit or a mini-donkey.  Don't be confused. It’s a Kaibab Squirrel.

The California Condor
The California Condor
This very large bird has more recently taken up residence in the Grand Canyon.  It’s the largest land bird in North America. The condor weighs up to 26 pounds and has a wingspan up to nine feet.

When they were added to the endangered species list in 1982, there were only 22 California Condors on the planet. Starting in 1996, condors were introduced along the Vermillion Cliffs--just to the east of the North Rim.

These birds are basically vultures. If not beautiful, they are certainly magnificent. They dine almost exclusively on carrion (roadkill). They are very susceptible to lead poisoning, primarily from wounded animals or gut piles left by hunters. Lead ammunition and lead poisoning is the leading cause of death for California Condors.

In 2011, there were only 190 California Condors in the wild. Of this total, 73 lived in Arizona. As you hike the trail and you see a huge bird flying overhead, you are undoubtedly seeing a California Condor. 

In fact, if you take the bus tour along Hermits Drive on the South Rim, you can see a condor nest along the cliffs at one of the bus stops. Ask your driver, and I'm sure he or she will point out the exact location. Once, I was at the overlook when another tourist asked me where the condors lived. I said, “They live in some condominiums on the side of the cliff.”

“Yes,” he replied, “I can see them.” I could barely stifle my laughter.
The Grand Canyon Rattlesnake
The Grand Canyon Rattlesnake
The last critter that I'll talk about is the Grand Canyon Rattlesnake. This rattler is a sub-species of the Diamond Back Rattlesnake.  It has a pinkish/red hue very similar to some of the surrounding red rocks. On a past hike, I saw one of these rattlers. I was filled with a great deal of both excitement and fear. Yikes!  I must confess to a snake phobia! Note: In my 40+ hikes into the Canyon, I have personally only seen one of these elusive creatures.

If you ever do encounter a rattlesnake, give them a wide berth. They only strike defensively. Given a chance, they will just slither away from you.

In my next post, I’ll lead you across the Colorado River, and we'll head up the Bright Angel Trail. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, we're hiking an inverted mountain.  First, we hiked down the mountain (from the North Rim). Next, we’ll hike up the mountain (to the South Rim).

Happy Trails

Chef Johnny


Monday, June 5, 2017

Rim-to-Rim Blog No. 3: Cottonwood, through the Box and on to Phantom Ranch

In this blog post, we’ll continue our virtual hike from the Manzanita Rest Area to Phantom Ranch.  Are you well-hydrated and rested for this next stage of our trek down the North Kaibab Trail?

Before we start, let me share an additional hydration tip.  I call it “cameling up”.  A unique characteristic of camels is their ability to go for an extended period of time without drinking water. When water is available, camels tend to drink lots of it. They store it in their humps. That’s the origin of my term “cameling up”.

As we approach each water stop, I recommend drinking all of the water you have left. Next, drink one-half to one full liter of water at the stop. Finally, refill your bottles or Camelbak® as you are getting ready to get back on the trail.  Camel up!!!!  Note: You’ll see evidence of the Trans-Canyon Pipeline all along the trail, from Roaring Springs down to Phantom Ranch and up to the South Rim. It’s the “life blood” of the Grand Canyon.

As we leave the Manzanita Rest Area, we've already hiked 5.4 trail miles, and we're at an elevation of 5,220 feet. That means we've already descended 3,000 feet.  In 1.4 trail miles, we'll arrive at the Cottonwood Campground (elevation 4,600 feet).  Drink up and top off your bottles here. It is the only established campground on the North Kaibab Trail, and there is a ranger station located here. 
In the general area around the Cottonwood Ranger Station, you can glimpse the North Rim Lodge.  Look to the west, and keep looking up until you see it. You have hiked 6.8 trail miles to get here, but overhead (as the crow flies) the lodge is less than a mile up!

Another 1.6 trail miles beyond the Cottonwood Campground and one-quarter mile off the North Kaibab Trail is Ribbon Falls. At an elevation of 3,720 feet, Ribbon Falls is a small waterfall with pools that are very inviting to take a cool dip. However, you may or may not want to visit Ribbon Falls, depending on the time of day you get to this point.  Shortly after the trail junction to Ribbon Falls, you will enter the "Box" which is a part of the inner gorge.  This gorge of black rock can be extremely hot. Its narrow walls radiate heat as if you were in an oven.  Once the sun moves overhead and heats up the rock even more, it can be stifling. So, I recommend that you bypass Ribbon Falls if it's after 9:00 A.M. when you get to the trail junction.

The North Kaibab Trail continues gradually downhill for 5.0 trail miles as you enter and hike through the Box. You'll be fully exposed to the sun now, with no shade anywhere.  Welcome to the desert!!

As you exit the Box, you will be in the heart of the inner gorge.  You'll notice many rock formations and spires all around you.  Many of these have names originating from Greek Mythology.  For example, there is Wotan's Throne, Zoraster’s Temple, Cheop's Pyramid, and so on.  For me, these stone temples add to the allure of this magical place.

Onward to Phantom Ranch, which is 7.0 trail miles from Cottonwood Campground.  Once you reach Phantom Ranch (elevation 2,480 feet), you’ll have hiked 14 trail miles from the North Kaibab Trailhead. Yahoo!!

At the ranch, take a little time to soak your feet in Bright Angel Creek.  Make sure you eat lots of carbs, trail mix, and/or energy bars, and don’t forget to “camel up”. Below is some history to take your mind off your tired, sore feet.

The first documented visit to this area by non-indigenous peoples was a river expedition led by John Wesley Powell  in 1869.  Powell chose this spot for a camp due to the clear running water of Bright Angel Creek, as opposed to the murky, silty red water of the Colorado.  Note: The Spanish word “Colorado” translates as “red” in English. 

In 1903, the area was named Rust’s Camp. David Rust built a cable car trolley crossing the Colorado from the South Rim side. Ten years later, it was renamed Roosevelt’s Camp. In 1913, after failing to win re-election to the presidency, Teddy Roosevelt visited this site on a mountain lion hunting expedition. Hence the name Roosevelt's Camp. As he was crossing the river for the first time in a cable car, President Roosevelt was heard to say something like "a jolly good ride".  

Ralph Cameron was an early pioneer explorer and entrepreneur who also happened to be one of Arizona's first senators. In the early 1900's, he lobbied for a spur-line of the Santa Fe Railway to be constructed, terminating near what is now the Bright Angel Trailhead. The train is still operational to this day. You can see the depot in front of the Bright Angel Lodge in the South Canyon Village. 

What Ralph Cameron had in mind next was to improve and commercialize a trail to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, ending at what is now Phantom Ranch.  The idea for railroaders in general was to build these impressive lodges  at the end of the rail line and give wealthy easterners, celebrities, and socialites a reason to ride the rails. A bonus at the end of the rail line was a mule ride down to Phantom Ranch..

The Fred Harvey Company was the concessionaire for the Santa Fe Railway, and the company also took ownership of the area that is now Phantom Ranch.  Mary Elizabeth Colter worked for the Fred Harvey Company from 1902 until 1945.  Colter was originally trained as an interior designer, but made her name as an architect. She is famously known for designing buildings with an eye to maintaining the integrity of the local indigenous people and their structures. She is responsible for nine building designs on the South Rim.  Note: Plan to tour Hopi House, Hermit's Resthouse, and the Desert Watchtower to really appreciate Colter’s work.

Colter also designed the buildings of Phantom Ranch. As mentioned earlier, Phantom Ranch was 
Phantom Ranch swimming pool pre-1960s.
originally designed for the rich and famous. Very few people actually walked into the Canyon.  Mule trains were the transportation of choice. At one time, a swimming pool was located in front of the dining hall, and a pianist in a tux with tails played a grand piano nightly.

In the 1960's, Phantom Ranch was renovated. The customer base was changing, and the swimming pool and grand piano were not relevant anymore. Instead of dismantling the piano and carrying it out of the Canyon, workers placed it inside the empty swimming pool and filled it in with dirt. The piano and swimming pool are still there—underground.

Spending the night at Phantom Ranch is on many people’s bucket lists. However, the ranch is fully booked up to a year in advance.  Dave Aeilts, a member of our group and the owner of this blog experienced the ultimate “trail magic” on a recent rim-to-rim hike. As a result of unfortunate circumstances, he needed to spend the night at Phantom Ranch. Due to some divine intervention, I’m thinking, there was space for him in the men’s bunkhouse. He even enjoyed a steak dinner in the dining hall. 

I’ve also heard of a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend who knew someone who had the “keys to the castle”--in this case, the keys to the Phantom Ranch Bathhouse. Only Dave and this unnamed person from our group know how luxurious the hot water is, and how fluffy the towels are. You go Dave!

Ring-tail cat at Harvest Moon.
As you leave Phantom Ranch, you'll pass Bright Angel Campground.  You need a permit to camp here. On one of our first rim-to-rim hikes, we spent the night of the Harvest Moon at that campground. This is the full moon nearest the autumnal equinox, and the point where the moon is closest to the earth. We talked to many people in the campground who had planned their trip to be in this spot on this very night, because of the Harvest Moon. As good fortune would have it, we just happened to be there—another bit of trail magic.

The Harvest Moon was spectacular.  As the night progressed and the moon moved east to west, it was so bright that it cast shadows. What an eerie view of the world from the inside of the Grand Canyon.  “Moon Shadow”, a Cat Stevens song from the 70s comes to mind. Side Note: With the full moon came the invasion of the ring-tailed cats. These critters live in the rock ledges all around the campground. They are nocturnal, and they were 
Grand Canyon Rattlesnake
everywhere. Ringtail cats are not cats at all. They're part of the raccoon family and are scavengers. I was sure glad we had taken steps to store our food. 
Ringtail cats are unique to the southwestern deserts.  In the 1960's, the ringtail cat was designated by the Arizona State Legislature as the State Mammal.

In my next blog post, I’ll give you a break from the hike to talk about some other critters that make the Grand Canyon their home. Some are endangered and others are found nowhere else in the world.  Have you ever heard of the Grand Canyon Rattlesnake? 

Happy Trails,

Chef Johnny