Trip Report - June, 1998 - GCPS picnic, GC Star Party, Indian Gardens Hike
Over the weekend of June 13-14, 1998, a small group of us made our way to the Canyon to attend the annual picnic of the Grand Canyon Pioneers Society, to look at the stars and other heavenly bodies at the Grand Canyon Star Party and also to do a little hiking. The members of this little expedition were: my wife, Robin; her brother, Chris; his wife, Lucie; and myself.
The full set of photos only from this trip can also be found here.
Friday, June 12, 1998
We flew into Phoenix early on the 12th, rented a car and drove up to the Canyon. On the way up we stopped in Flagstaff, at the Flagstaff Brewing Company, for a light lunch and some very good beer. Not much happened that first day as a result of the early flight and the need to adjust to the 3-hour time difference. I was surprised to see some Native American dancers and musicians performing on the stage in front of Hopi House, as I thought this had been activity had been stopped by the Park Service many years ago. After that we headed out to the Hermit Road, to Hopi Point, to watch the sunset but some clouds on the western horizon turned that into a bust. We did, however, have a very nice meal at the El Tovar that evening.
Saturday, June 13, 1998
I was up early for a little stroll along the rim before breakfast. Since we were staying at Yavapai Lodge, I first headed over to the Yavapai Lodge cafeteria for a cup of coffee. From there I headed across the street to the Visitor Center and out along the trail next to it that leads out to Mather Amphitheatre and the Rim Trail. Once out at the rim I headed east along the rim trail towards Yavapai Point. The morning was glorious, cool and clear, and it was a very pleasant walk along the rim. I was happy to see that the Park Service had finally completed the repaving job of this section of the rim trail as it had been closed during my last visit to the Canyon only 6 weeks earlier. The trail was a lot wider now and probably better able to accomodate the growing crowd of visitors that the park has been receiving. Along the walk out to Yavapai Point I encountered a number of Mule Deer as I approached Grandeur Point and paused to take some photos of a doe and her yearling buck. At Yavapai Point I stopped to take some more photos before continuing my morning walk to Mather Point.
The Grand Canyon Pioneers Society picnic was held out at Shoshone Point off of the Desert View Drive. Shoshone Point is a private area, which can be reserved by permit only, and is located right on the rim about one mile from the Desert View Drive. A small parking area and gate, which is normally locked, is the only indication that there is anything there. I have parked outside the gate and walked the mile out to Shoshone Point on numerous occasions as the view from out there is fantastic and typically there are no other people around. The picnic was scheduled to begin at 1 pm but we were told that we could arrive anytime after 11 am. We arrived shortly after noon to find a large number of people already there.
It was great to get to see some of my new friends like Tom Carmony and Bill and Sybil Suran again, and to meet some new people as well. I was in total awe of Harvey Butchart's presence as he is the Grand Master of Grand Canyon backcountry hiking. I was glad that he was able to make it enjoyed very much the brief chance that I ad to talk with him. To put him to the test I asked about a route though the Redwall and into the inner canyon off of Shoshone Point and with nary a second to think he promptly started describing a route which led off of the point, down to the right, through the Kaibab Limestone, down some steps carved by the native prehistoric inhabitants through the Coconino Sandstone and finally on down through the Redwall. He concluded by saying that the route did not go all the way to the river but ended on the Tonto Platform and that if you wanted to reach the river you had to go west along the Tonto Trail to Lonetree Canyon, or east to Grapevine Canyon. I really had no doubt that a route existed and that he knew where it was, but it was wonderful to hear him describe it in person. Of course, just because a route exists does not mean that anyone except Harvey or a handful of others would be able to locate it and follow it throughout its course. The Park Service is frequently plagued by problems with hikers trying to follow some of the routes Harvey describes in his Grand Canyon Treks I, II & III hiking guides, who attempt these without a clue of what they are really getting themselves in for.
Another high-point of the afternoon was the presentation of a PIONEER AWARD to Grand Canyon Pioneer Gale Burak, another Grand Canyon legend. Gale was presented with the award during a small ceremony conducted by Lee Albertson, GCPS Secretary, and Jim Ohlman, GCPS President. The award was a recognition of Gale's contributions to Grand Canyon National Park during the many years that she was a Park Ranger as well as a Volunteer in the Parks (VIP) at Grand Canyon. She is also recognized as:
being a mentor to visitors in the Grand Canyon backcountry in the areas of geology, natural and human history, and environmental awareness;
for protecting the Grand Canyon environment and emphasizing safety to those who tread its depths;
for her significant work in documenting the collection of photographs and letters to Emery Kolb, and for serving as his personal secretary and confidant during his final years at the Grand Canyon, and;
for being instrumental in establishing the Grand Canyon Chamber Music Festival.
Gale has also written a number of articles for the Grand Canyon Pioneers Society newsletter, The 'Ol Pioneer, including My Days at Supai, The Very First Grand Canyon Chamber Music Festival, ALL ABOUT A TREE AND A POT and LOST, all of which can be read on-line. The ALL ABOUT A TREE AND A POT acticle was actually the inspiration for a day hike that I would do on the day following the picnic. The picnic was a major success and we had wonderful weather for the entire day. The company was great and the food was incredible, in spite of the fact that the grills that the Park Service provides at Shoshone Point are quite archaic and don't appear to be intended for use with charcoal.
Later that afternoon we went over to Yapapai Point and walked the Rim Trail out to Grandeur Point to watch the sunset. It was a beautiful afternoon and the sunset was splendid, with only a few clouds here and there on the horizon. There were only a handful of people out at Grandeur Point and it was peaceful and quiet until about 5 minutes before sunset when a noisy horde of German tourists closed in on the site.
The Grand Canyon Star Party was held at Yavapai Point, began on June 13 and ran through June 20. We were able to attend the first two nights of this and were there for about an hour or more on both evenings. There were a number of both large and small telescopes available for public viewing and the people who were operating the telescopes were both very helpful and extremely informative. I was most impressed by the awesome images yielded by the larger instruments, primarily the 16 and 18 inch Dobsonian telescopes. What a difference a dark sky can make, it's not something I am used to living in the northeast megalopolis. Some of the astronomical objects that we were treated to were:
There were a number of other objects but I cannot remember what they were at this time. One very nice view through one of the telescopes showed two galaxies in the same field of view, one a face on spiral and the other an edge on sprial... awesome.
I look forward to attend this gathering in future years and encourage others, especially those people who have children with an interest in the sciences, to do so as well.
Sunday, June 14, 1998
On the day after the picnic it was finally time to get some hiking in. Robin and I took to the trail while Chris and Lucie prepared for a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway, they were going to take the bus down to Williams and then take the train ride back up to the Canyon. We all had breakfast together at the Bright Angel Lodge and then went our separate ways. Chris and Lucie would meet us at the trailhead of the Bright Angel Trail around 6 pm.
The morning was nice and cool, the sky was crystal clear, and the hike down the Bright Angel Trail to Indian Gardens was a breeze. We started at just before 8 am and arrived at Indian Gardens just after 10 am. We went over to the Ranger Station to visit with Ranger Chuck, who we were looking forward to spending some time with, but when we knocked on the door there was no answer. Being familiar with his morning routine from a prior visit I assumed that he was making his rounds of the campground and so we proceeded to hunt him down. We finally found him down next to the mule corral below the campground, giving advice to some weary hikers. After a brief incident with some campers who did not want to leave their campsite and did not understand why they could not stay another night, even though the campground was booked solid, we headed back up to the Ranger Station to chat for a while.
We were not there very long before another incident developed and Chuck was called away, back to the campground. It seems that some woman who was incredibly overweight was on her way back to the rim from a visit to Phantom Ranch and had developed some serious problems upon reaching Indian Gardens. She had hiked down to Phantom Ranch two days prior and had to stay there an extra night there because she not ready for the hike out. The ranger at Phantom had arranged for an emergency change to her Backcountry Permit to allow her to stay at Indian Gardens even though the place was booked solid. Chuck had his hands full... again. Chuck told her to lie down and rest and hoped that she would be able to continue the hike out later in the day when the heat subsided and the upper Bright Angel Trail would be in shade. If not he would have to find someplace for her to camp and would have to keep her away from the other couple that did not want to leave and could not understand why they had to.
After about a half hour Chuck returned to the Ranger Station and we prepared for a little adventure. I had told him on a prior visit about the strange Ponderosa Pine that was supposedly growing in the inner gorge just west of Plateau Point and we were going to take some time to try and track it down. I had shown him the ALL ABOUT A TREE AND A POT article by Gale Burak that was in the Grand Canyon Pioneers Society newsletter, The 'Ol Pioneer, and by comparing the photo that was there with a topo map we more-or-less knew where it should be. I had a feeling that this hike would be a little on the difficult side and did not think that Robin would be up for this. She had been looking forward to getting out to Plateau Point anyway, since she had never been there before, and so she went there while we went in search of the tree.
It was a good thing that she did not come along with us as I had a difficult time keeping up with Chuck by myself. It's amazing at how quickly someone can move around in the inner canyon when they do it all the time. I am much more cautious about my footing and I felt like I was in a race by just trying to keep pace with him. In no time at all we reached the junction of the Tonto West and Plateau Point Trails and parted company with Robin. We headed west for a very short distance, only a half mile or maybe a little less, before we veered off to the north and started down a drainage which is just about midway between Plateau Point and Horn Creek. The descent was very gradual at first and then got a little more steep as we actually started down into the drainage and had to scramble down some ledges of Tapeats Sandstone here and there. Chuck was also on a rock hunting expedition for some guy who had been granted permission to collect two brick-sized rocks from each rock layer in the Canyon to be used for a flag pole down in Flagstaff and I welcomed his occasional stops to check out the rocks.
After a descent of maybe another half mile we came out to a little promontory of rock on the west side of the drainage that afforded an awesome view of the Colorado River which was still about 1000 feet below us. I found out later from Chuck that even though this canyon does not have an official name it does have an unofficial name of Mystery Canyon which was given to it by Edward Abbey. I stopped to take some photos while Chuck inspected some rocks. From the promontory I could already see the tree and it appeared only to be about a quarter mile or maybe a little more away from us. It was nestled in very close to the base of the Tapeats cliff just below another small drainage to the west. The hike over to it was pretty easy and we just followed the base of the Tapeats most of the way. Just before you reach the tree there is a place where you can no longer contour along the base and you need to descend into and then out of a small drainage to continue. The tree is just out on the other side of this drainage. Once there I took some more photos and Chuck went to check out the other drainage just west of the tree to see if we might be able to get out that way. Chuck said that it looked like it might have been possible at one time but that some chockstones that may been used to once climb before out had now fallen away.
The hike back to Indian Gardens was even more of a marathon than the hike to the tree had been. Chuck now had the rocks that he was looking for so there was no need to pause, except once when he stopped to replace one of his finds with one of a nicer brick shape. These two bricks of Tapeats that he was carrying were heavy, easily five or more pounds apiece, but they did not slow him down. I managed to keep up with him all the way back to Indian Gardens, though by the time we actually reached the Ranger Station I must admit that I had fallen a little behind. The total round trip time to the tree and back from the Indian Gardens Ranger Station was only a little more than an hour and a half. We had started the hike just before noon and we arrived back at the Ranger Station just after 1:30 pm.
Robin was waiting for us at the Ranger Station and Chuck made us some lunch to give us some energy for the hike out. We also drank lots of Goodinade to make sure that our electrolytes were in good balance. After a while Chuck had to go and do his rounds of the campground again and Robin and I just stayed at the Ranger Station and rested up for the hike out. At 3 pm Robin and I headed down to the campground in search of Chuck to say good-bye. I felt bad at doing this because he was talking to several hikers and trying to persuade them to stay until 4 pm, when most of the upper Bright Angel would be in shade. Here he is trying to do this and then he lets his friends take to the trail at 3 pm.
We made pretty good time on the hike out though it took us a little longer than I expected. I can normally do the hike to Indian Gardens in 1.5 hours and the hike out in 2 hours. Since it took about 2.25 hours to hike in with Robin (or 50% longer) I figured on the same ratio for the hike out and estimated arriving at the rim at 6 pm. Robin had some trouble near the top of the Bright Angel though and it ended up taking 3.5 hours to hike out and we arrived back on the rim at 6:30 pm. She still made better than a mile per hour so that's not too bad.
Once back on the rim we headed back to the lodge for a quick shower and then over to the Arizona Steak House for a well deserved dinner. I figured that I had done about 13 miles for the day and than Robin had done 12 miles, a fairly long day hike considering that we also went down and then back up more than 3,000 vertical feet.
Monday, June 15, 1998
The next morning everyone else wanted to sleep in so I got up alone and headed over to Yavapai Point again to watch the sunrise. This one was even better then the one two days ago and the cliffs formed by the Kaibab and Coconino formations looked as though they had been painted with gold. I don't normally like spending so much time on the rim and dealing with the crowds but considering how many people visit the Canyon, very few of them actually get out to see these magnificent events. They don't know what they are missing but I am glad they are missing it.
After sunrise I returned to the lodge and we all went out to breakfast at the El Tovar. This was a first for all of us as I have always enjoyed the breakfast at the Bright Angel Lodge and usually take people there. We had already done that two days in a row, however, and when we were at the El Tovar for dinner Robin noticed that they had Belgian Waffles on the menu for breakfast and wanted to try them. It was decided and we were not disappointed. Though the cost was slightly more than the Bright Angel Lodge, the food, the service and the atmosphere were easily an order of magnitude better. It's good to try something new and have it work out so well. If you are at the south rim for breakfast I highly recommend the El Tovar, and especially the Sonoran Eggs. Robin's waffle was wonderful as well and it was served with fresh strawberries and not the canned stuff with the sugary syrup that most places use. The El Tovar also serves their own blend of coffee that is out of this world.
After breakfast we headed back to Babbitt's General Store for some final souvenier shopping and then hit the road for Phoenix. We made a short stop at Kendrick Park just north of Flagstaff for some awesome views of the San Fransisco Peaks and then took a little side trip through Sedona on the way back to Phoenix to look at the red rock formations there.