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Trail Description : Utah Flats Route

This trail is also referred to as the Banzai Route and once you have come down it into Bright Angel Campground you will understand why. This trail is incredibly steep and you will feel like a World War II Kamikaze pilot making your final approach.

The Utah Flats Route begins on the north side of campsite number 1 in Bright Angel Campground. The lower portion of the trail is not cairned but considerable use has made it very easy to follow. It climbs generally northwest on a steep talus slope until it reaches the base of a small 15-foot cliff. At this point you have the option of either climbing the cliff or taking a short and steep detour around it to the right (south). The climb is very steep (almost vertical) but has sufficient hand and footholds. You should not attempt this climb with your pack on and it is advisable that you remove it and haul it up after you using a length of rope. The detour around the cliff has its own shortcomings and has an exposed section that anyone with a fear of heights will probably not enjoy. Once above the cliff the trail continues to the north and west until it reaches a more level section that provides a good rest stop.

From here the trail heads northwest again to the base of Piano Alley, a narrow break in the Tapeats Formation that is filled with huge blocks of sandstone about the size of grand pianos. The trail leading up to Piano Alley is also well worn and fairly easy to follow.

The trail through Piano Alley requires some route finding abilities to locate the easiest and most direct route through it. Some climbing, over and around, the huge sandstone blocks is required in this section. The official NPS route description claims that this section is well cairned but I saw no evidence of this when we did it in December 1998.

Once above Piano Alley you are finally on Utah Flats itself. Utah Flats is so named because of the many slickrock formations that are located there which are also common to many regions of southern Utah. Across Utah Flats the trail gets somewhat more difficult to follow. Since it crosses the slickrock in many places the trail is not well worn and very indistinct. There are some cairns but these are very few and far between and good route finding ability is a must up here. The trail climbs out of the drainage, which leads down into Piano Alley on its western, end just as it begins to swing north. If you try to stay in the drainage you will come to a dead-end and will need to backtrack to find the correct route out.

Once out of the drainage the "trail" begins to head more or less to the north, along a narrow spine of land between the drainage you have just climbed out of and another, larger one, to the west, which drains the east side of Cheop's Pyramid. You will be off of the slickrock at this point and terrain will be cluttered with numerous Prickly Pear and Hedgehog cacti. Some people refer to this stretch of the route as Cactus Alley. As you approach the top of the western drainage the "trail" will begin to swing more westward and will begin to climb a small hill to the east of Cheop's Pyramid. Look for a patch of grassy vegetation on the hillside. The trail will cross this patch of grass to the northwest. If you continue north you will come to a sheer drop into Phantom Creek and will again be dead-ended.

Once over the hill the "trail" becomes somewhat easier to follow again and begins to head more westward before turning northwest again. The trail follows a contour at this point and crosses a couple of small side drainages as it approaches the southeast arm of Isis Temple. There are a couple of nice campsites in this area that overlook Phantom Canyon. Once the "trail" reaches the southeast arm of Isis Temple and this arm is almost directly above you, it will begin its descent to Phantom Creek.

The top part of this descent is steep, loose and rocky and is not a lot of fun with a heavy pack. The trail is still fairly easy to follow and you should just take your time and make sure of your footing as you descend this section. After about a quarter mile of this nasty descent the condition of the trail improves greatly and levels out somewhat but also becomes less distinct and more difficult to locate. You will now have a good view of Phantom Creek and should be able to hear it below you. After another half mile or so you will be deposited in Phantom Creek just above a waterfall. There is a very nice campsite just across the creek on the east side, at the base of a large cliff.

To continue on to the Overhang Camp near the head of Haunted Canyon follow the creek north a little on the east side and then cross to the west side and follow the "trail" north for a little more than a mile. The Overhang Camp cannot be missed and will be located on the west side at the base of a large cliff.

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