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

Friday, May 19, 2017

Supai Tunnel, Roaring Springs and the Pump House

In this and future blogs, John Benavidez will be our virtual guide from the North Rim, down the North Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch, and up the Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim. Read his first post made on May 2, 2017, and then enjoy the one below. Take it away, Johnny!

On September 29, 2017, at 6:00 a.m., our unofficial group of hikers will begin our next rim-to-rim trek. Are you ready for it?  It will be epic!  At a trailhead elevation of 8,241 feet, it will be in the upper 20s or low 30s temperature-wise.  Dress in layers. You can remove some clothing once you get to Supai Tunnel.  I suggest everyone carry 1 to 2 liters of water.  There is potable water available in three places before we get to Phantom Ranch, and you should refill your water at each spot.  Drink before you get thirsty.  It is a very hot and dry climate in the Grand Canyon, and you will need a lot of hydration.  My personal strategy is to take a big drink of water every 15 minutes.

Supai Tunnel
From the North Kaibab Trailhead, we’ll hike 1.7 miles to Supai Tunnel, and at the same time we'll drop some 1,400 feet in elevation.  However, in less than one mile, we’ll stop at the Coconino Overlook to watch the sun rise at 6:22 a.m. Then, on to the tunnel.

Supai Tunnel was blasted from the rock in the 1920's to accommodate a newly constructed North Kaibab Trail. This new route greatly increased the hiking experience by limiting the number of river crossings you need to make along the route. There is potable water at the tunnel, and restrooms.  It’s a great opportunity to water-up and fine-tune your clothing and pack.  But don’t dally. Right after you pass Supai Tunnel, the Canyon opens eastward, and the light streaming over the Canyon walls will offer your first look at the "Grand Canyon Cathedral" as I call it. 

You're actually hiking in Roaring Springs Canyon, heading towards the Inner Gorge.  Another 1.3 miles down the trail and another 800-foot drop in elevation and you'll cross the Redwall Bridge. Now you are entering the Inner Gorge. Shortly you’ll hear and then see Roaring Springs.

At an elevation of 5,220 feet and 4.7 miles down from the trailhead, Roaring Springs is located on
the east side of the canyon. NOTE: You will walk on the west side of the canyon, but you will have no trouble hearing the roar.  Many geological forces work together to create the water flow down though the sandstone layers until an impermeable layer forces the water out of the canyon wall and voila: there is Roaring Springs.

Redwall Bridge
Roaring Springs is the water source for all of the Grand Canyon National Park.  A pipeline runs near or under the main corridor trails, all across the canyon. It even runs beneath the silver bridge on the Colorado River and up to the South Rim, where it provides water to Grand Canyon Village. This pipeline was completed in 1965, and infrequently springs a leak, which can impact water availability in the canyon. We will check the pipeline’s status prior to our hike.

There is a side trail to the source of Roaring Springs, but I don't recommend it due to somewhat dangerous footing.  Next stop, at 4,600 feet and 5.4 miles down from the trailhead is the Manzanita Rest Area. This is where the original pump house and the pump house operator lived and worked. 

For several decades operator Bruce Aiken worked and lived with his family at the residence here. His wife home-schooled his children, and the children would offer up "the best Lemonade in the Grand Canyon" to passing hikers.  Although it's not always provided nowadays, on a few of my recent trips past Manzanita I've been lucky enough to find some “trail magic” and an ice-cold glass of lemonade.  Maybe we'll luck out this year. 

Roaring Springs
In a USA Today cover story a few years ago, on the most unique/unusual professions in the world, the pump house operator at Roaring Springs was listed as one of the top jobs.  It sure would have been on my wish list of unusual professions.  But that's not all. Over the years that he lived there, Bruce Aiken became known as the “pump house artist”.  He was a very prolific artist who painted many incredible landscapes of the Grand Canyon.  NOTE: If you'd like to take home one of Bruce’s prints, they are available at some of the gift shops on the South Rim. 

Today, the pump house is automated. The house of the pump house operator serves as the residence of a backcountry ranger. There are water, restrooms, picnic tables, and shade available here.  You can even cool your feet in the creek if you'd like. 

A Side Note: Trail magic happens at the most unexpected times. For example, one time when I stopped at the Mazanita Rest Area, I was just getting ready to leave when the ranger came out of her residence. She offered me and my hiking buddies some of her birthday cake to go along with the lemonade. Her sister had hiked over 12 miles the day before to celebrate her birthday and bring her a cake.  That was quite simply the best cake I ever ate!!!

Our next stops along our journey will be Cottonwood Campground, the Box, and Phantom Ranch.  A Teaser: Can you believe there is a grand piano buried in front of the Phantom Ranch store at the bottom of the Grand Canyon?  It’s true!

Happy Trails,
Chef Johnny


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Starting at the North Rim

For the next few blog posts, I’m going to yield the podium to Chef Johnny. By all accounts, he is the member of our unofficial hiking group who has adventured below the rim of Grand Canyon the most times—over 40! In his guest posts, John Benavidez will guide us from the North Rim, down the North Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch and up the Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim. I know you will enjoy his perspective. Take it away, Johnny!

A little background: In this and future posts, I’ll lay out for you, both newbies and seasoned hikers, a travelogue of facts and features describing this Most Wonderful Place on Earth. We’ll move from a first view of the Grand Canyon at the North Rim Lodge, into the depths of the Canyon, and up to the South Rim. Hopefully, I'll paint a picture that will take your mind off the rigors of the hike and give you a better appreciation of this magical place.

The first view that you'll get of the Grand Canyon will be from the North Rim Lodge.  Even if you're camping, I suggest you spend some time at the Lodge.  The views are amazing.

North Rim Lodge
Here are some facts about the Lodge itself:

·         The original Lodge was completed in 1928, and built of native stone and timber. 

·         In 1932, a devastating fire that started in the basement destroyed much of the structure.

·         The Lodge was reconstructed in 1936-1937 and reopened shortly thereafter. 

·         In 1987 the North Rim Lodge was designated a National Historic Landmark. It is the views out its massive windows that will define the word “sublime” for you

Brighty the Donkey
Take a few minutes to walk through the lobby and view the pictorial history of the North Rim and the North Rim Lodge.  It will be well worth it.  Along the way, you’ll see a couple of pictures and a statue of "Brighty" the donkey. Brighty (his original name was Bright Angel) lived from 1892 until 1922 at the North Rim. The Bright Angel Trail, Bright Angel Creek, etc., are named after Brighty. 

In his day job, Brighty carried water and supplies along the newly built North Rim trail. Brighty even accompanied Teddy Roosevelt in 1903 on his historic trip into the “yet to be designated” Grand Canyon National Monument.  Brighty became legendary because he was so popular and friendly with children staying at the North Rim Camp, a precursor to the Lodge.
Chef Johnny just below the North Rim.

A mental picture of "Brighty" was formed in my mind at 11 years old, when I read the children’s book titled Brighty of the Grand Canyon.  The author of the book was Marguerite Henry, and the book was published in November 1953. (An interesting side note: that was the month and year I was born.)  The book is a fictional account of Brighty the donkey. The story contained mystery, intrigue, and deception. For me, it painted a magical picture of the Grand Canyon. A work of historical fiction, the book mentions the Indians who live at the bottom of the Grand Canyon (the Havasupai) and other interesting facts.  The story impacted me so deeply that I still remember these details over 50 years later. The book and my mental picture of Brighty sowed the seeds for my life-long love affair with “My Grand Canyon”. I know it’s a children’s’ book, but it might be worth your time to read it.

North Kaibab Trail at Sunrise
You'll have a very personal experience hiking Rim to Rim.  It will become "Your Grand Canyon".  It will be very strenuous, but it will be GLORIOUS as well.  In my future posts, I'll talk about the sights you’ll pass along the way.  A TEASER: At 6:00 A.M. on September 29, 2017, you'll start hiking in the dark, and it will be in the low 30's temperature-wise.  Dress in layers.  In less than a mile, you'll come to the Coconino Overlook where very shortly you'll witness one of the best sunrises ever.

Thanks for reading.--Chef Johnny


Saturday, April 8, 2017

Many Questions at Midwest Mountaineering

Rachel Louwsma and Nanci Aeilts at Bright Angel Trailhead.
Rachel Louwsma and Dave Aeilts, three-time Grand Canyon rim-to-river-to-rimmers conducted a clinic at Midwest Mountaineering in March entitled YOU CAN Hike Grand Canyon. Thirty people crowded into the small Expedition Room at 309 Cedar Avenue in North Minneapolis. Most had never hiked Grand Canyon, but were very interested in the possibility. For 75 minutes, Rachel and Dave told stories from the trail, offered advice and answered many questions.

They kicked off the Clinic with a video created by Jason Womack, nine-time rim-to-river-to rim veteran, who encouraged the audience that these hikes are hard but amazingly possible.

We thought you might like to hear Jason's presentation. Click the link below and enjoy!

As you have time, check out Jason and Jodie Womack's Get Momentum Leadership Academy at GetMomentum