I spent the night in Williams, AZ, which is situated on Route 66. My first visit, kind of a neat town with lots of restaurants and run down hotels, only an hour from there to the Canyon. Driving to the Canyon, I am always struck by how barren is the landscape and nothing to suggest I am nearing something that is on the "7 Natural Wonders of the World" list. Not like a mountain that you can see from a great distance.
Gaining some elevation and even within 1/2 a mile of the rim, nothing suggests what you are about to see. I remember my first visit, driving around a corner, glancing to the north and boom, my jaw just dropped.
Things have changed a bit as there is now a large visitor center with ample parking about where I got my first look at the canyon. I used to be able to drive directly to South Kaibab trail head, pull off to the side of the road and hop out but in its place is a convenient shuttle system. It was cold (about 40) and the wind was blowing hard (25mph) as I waited at 7:45 for the shuttle bus to arrive. Not wanting to carry clothes that I would soon shed, I just shivered and darted through the inviting doors when the bus came to a stop. Lots of people think it would be colder at the bottom of the Canyon but you start the hike on top of a mountain (about 8000') and the temp is 25-30 degrees warmer at the bottom.
I started the hike at 8:10am, hustling down the trail, soon reaching "Ahh Haa Point" a place with expansive views up and down canyon. The wind was blasting at this point and a gust came from behind, blowing off my hat, never to be seen again. A park ranger later told me there are more hats lost there then any place else. Not good, spending 6 hours or so walking in the sun with no head protection.
At Cedar Ridge, a stop for the mule trains that transport people and sundries up and down the South Kaibab trail, I talked to a young couple, mentioning my hat predicament. They thought to offer me sunscreen so I applied some to the top of my head, probably now looking like a dork wearing a white beanie. Oh well, better that then scratching dead skin from sunburn for the next week. I hoped at the bottom, at Phantom Ranch, there would be a hat available.
The trail continues its knee buckling descent, reaching the ridge above which offers the first view of the Colorado River, still quite distant.
No route finding needed to stay on this trail and those views!
I think this is at "Skeleton Point" where the mules rest. It would be unusual to walk the 6+ miles to the bottom without passing at least one mule train.
Closer, with knees and joints aching a bit from the pounding, I can see the "Silver Bridge", which I will be crossing as I head up the Bright Angel trail to exit the Canyon. The South Kaibab is a "spine" or "ridge" type trail with lots of exposure to the sun and wind, no water but great views of the Canyon.
Entering a curved tunnel, I reach the "Black Bridge" and cross the river, as it roars beneath me.
I stand aside as a mule train heads out.
Reaching the bridge at a little over 6 miles, in exactly 2 hours so I wasn't running, just hiking and absorbing the down hill punishment. I had snacked and kept drinking so I was in good shape but longed to walk on a flat surface or even to be going up hill. From the bridge, it is a little over a mile of walking, much of it along Bright Angel Creek, to reach....
Phantom Ranch. Inside, I did the usual, bought a half ice tea, half lemonade drink with ice. It tastes so good. The small supply store had sold out of burnt orange baseball caps so I had to buy a pink one, now looking like a dork wearing a pink hat. Not bright pink but by no means a masculine color. I filled in a post card and addressed it to my wife, which will be transported out by a mule and arrive in Ohio in about a week. The snack choices are limited so I bought a pack of peanuts and also a "Snickers" bar, my first bad food item I have consumed since being out here. I lounged for about 20 minutes and then walked out, a confident hiker wearing a pink hat. The ascent, coming soon.