Saturday, November 26, 2016

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

While we have visited the Grand Canyon at least twice before this trip, we have never hiked in the park. Since we have a few days to "kill" before Thanksgiving celebrations with friends in Lake Havasu City, we stop at this world-renowned destination to fulfill that wish, even though temperatures plummet. The Grand Canyon is at almost 7,000 feet and a cold snap with strong winds comes in the day we arrive. Temps drop to 23F overnight and only about 45F during our first day here (as you'll see from the photos of our hike on the South Kaibab Trail how bundled up we are), but thankfully rise after that to a pleasant 65F during the day and only around 40F at night. Thankful for our propane heater in the trailer.

South Kaibab Trail Hike
South Kaibab Trail Switchbacks
The South Kaibab Trail leads down to the Colorado River, about one vertical mile below the rim on the canyon floor. You can hike down this trail and come up the Bright Angel Trail (another rim to river trail), or vice-versa or down and back up, but it requires a backcountry permit and a tent because you're staying overnight! The beginning of the trail is steep, hence these switchbacks.
Mule riders coming up the South Kaibab Trail
This is simply cheating in my opinion. According to park staff, there has never been a fatality involving these sure-footed animals. The mules are purchased from approved suppliers when they are young and trained for 9 months. Those mules who successfully complete training work for 20 years before they are retired. An adoption program is available for retired mules and, believe it or not, there are more applications to adopt than mules. Nice to know they are well treated.
Mules packing out gear from the Phantom Ranch
The Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon has closed for the season and these mules are bringing all the gear up. The ranch accommodates hikers and rafters.
Brad and I posing at Ooh Ahh Point
Ooh Ahh Point (yes, it's really called that) is as far as we go down the trail, only one mile, but we don't expect the views to get better as we descend further. And there's always that climb back up. While this is our coldest day at the Grand Canyon, the wind hasn't found its way down into this part of the canyon and we're pretty warm with the sun shining. It's a lot colder up on the rim with 30 mph winds blowing.
Squirrel at Ooh Ahh Point
Some of the local wildlife at Ooh Ahh Point. He's quite the poser and a bit of a beggar. Most injuries in the park are due to wildlife bites from people feeding them.
Brad enjoying the view at Ooh Ahh Point
Another gorgeous view from Ooh Ahh Point.
The South Rim
Can you see the tiny people near top left?
After hiking the South Kaibab Trail, we decide to hike back to the Visitor Center along the Rim Trail, about 1-2 miles. This is a view of Mather Point (which is near the Visitor Center) from the Rim Trail.
The Bright Angel Fault/Canyon
That chasm from the middle to the top of the photo on the right side is the Bright Angel Fault looking towards the North Rim. The Bright Angel Trail is probably the most popular hiking trail in the park. The North Rim is about 1,000 higher than the South Rim, making it colder although snow hasn't fallen yet. The North Rim will close within a couple of weeks, by the first of December.
Finally a view of the Colorado River from Pima Point. A fantastic shuttle bus system takes visitors all over the park since it's such a busy, crowded park and parking vehicles would become impossible. Visitors can park at the Visitor Center and take the shuttle almost anywhere - to the campgrounds, shops, train station, hiking trails, geology museum, and rim overlooks. This part of the park (from the Village Transfer Route to Hermit's Rest) is one of the few routes that allows no other vehicles at all; shuttle buses only. This system, implemented in many busy parks, gives us a break from driving and time to enjoy the views. Conveniently, shuttles run every 10-20 minutes all day long.

We're so happy we finally get to hike in the Grand Canyon, Arizona's jewel. Next, we head west to spend Thanksgiving with friends in Lake Havasu City (elevation 600 feet instead of 6,000, so my head and lungs will be happy!) I won't be blogging about that, but be assured there will be a lot of eating, drinking, swimming, spa soaking, and general fun! My Facebook friends have already seen it!

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