J U N E 2 0 0 7
GRAND CANYON GUIDE: Hike, Raft and Climb
FRUITFUL FUN Kids of all ages dash for sweet treats during
the “Fruit Scramble” event at the 4th Annual Natoni Horse Race
on the Navajo Indian Reservation. See story, page 16. tom bean
FRONT COVER Navajo hoop dancer Tyrese Jensen, 7, competes in
the 16th Annual World Championship Hoop Dance Contest held at the
Heard Museum in downtown Phoenix. See story, page 32. jeff kida
BACK COVER A hiker amounts to a Tiny Tim on the window
"sill" of Los Gigantes Buttes Arch near the Lukachukai Mountains
on the Navajo Indian Reservation. See story, page 24. tom till
n To order a print of this photograph, see information on opposite page.
contents june 2007
The Grand Canyon is so grand that one could float in outer
space and still be in sight of it. When you look at it that way,
nowhere on Earth seems too far away from Arizona’s natural
wonder. If you’ve never been, or even if you just visited last
week, now is the time to get to the Grand Canyon. See where
to go and what to do while you’re there with our Roaming
Rim-to-Rim and Grand Canyon Adventure guides. Visit
arizonahighways.com and click on our June “Trip Planner.”
HUMOR Our writer shares the secret of his seven-year,
WEEKEND GETAWAY Go shoe shopping on the Colorado River.
EXPERIENCE ARIZONA Plan your Arizona getaway with our
Photographic Prints Available
n Prints of some photographs are
available for purchase, as
designated in captions. To order,
call toll-free (866) 962-1191 or visit
2 DEAR EDITOR
3 ALL WHO WANDER
The gift of the Canyon.
Arizona's best campsite is revealed.
5 TAKING THE OFF-RAMP
Arizona oddities, attractions and pleasures.
50 ALONG THE WAY
A boatman’s tale turns on sounds
in the dark in a hidden slot.
52 HIKE OF THE MONTH
Trekking The Battleship.
54 BACK ROAD ADVENTURE
Meander to Marble Viewpoint
features quiet splendor.
NOT SO MERRILY A September monsoon downpour drenches kayakers and rafters
paddling and rowing on a between-rapids stretch of the Colorado River in Marble
Canyon, the watercourse entrance to the Grand Canyon. See story, page 44. gary ladd
n To order a print of this photograph, see information below.
FRONT COVER Captured at dawn from a North Rim vantage point at Cape Royal,
Wotans Throne (background), with its 7,633-foot summit, is visible from most
developed viewpoints on the Grand Canyon’s rims. See story, page 28. gary ladd
n To order a print of this photograph, see information below.
BACK COVER With nary a Grand Canyon wall in sight, this ethereal wisp
of a waterfall at Deer Spring evokes visions of wood sprites and nymphs rather
than Colorado River runners and hikers. See story, page 8. larry lindahl
n To order a print of this photograph, see information below.
8 Falling for Falls
A remote trail plunges down to mystical waterfalls.
text and photographs by larry lindahl
Guide: Adventures on the North Rim
16 Condor Love
A vulture threesome and an uncle biologist stave off extinction.
by frank jennings photographs by chris parish
20 Geologist’s Paradise
Stately formations of the Grand Canyon preserve the tale of the Earth.
by ivo lucchit ta photographs by gary ladd
Guide: Four Science Tours
2 8 p o r t f o l i o Point of View
The Canyon’s overlooks always offer a mind-wrenching surprise.
by charles bowden photographs by jack dykinga
42 Trash, Treasure & Tragedy
Museum houses 800,000 artifacts that tell the Canyon's rich history.
by adelheid fischer
44 Into the Maw
Hermit Rapids teaches the meaning of life — and the value of fear.
text and photographs by gary ladd
Guide: Five Whitewater Rafting Outfitters
4 8 Mule Sense
Mule skinner gulps, swears and gets used to living on the edge.
by leo w. banks photographs by dan coogan
18 adventures in the planet’s grandest canyon
For more letters, see arizonahighways.com (click o online n “Letters to the Editor”).
2 J u n e 2 0 0 7
all who wander by Peter Aleshire, editor
Arizona Highways magazine has inspired an
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To Williams To Flagstaff
Little Colorado River
Condor Release Site
K AIBA B PLATEAU
GR AND C A NY ON
standing hip deep atop slippery rocks washed by the
milky blue Little Colorado River, I watched the prehistoric
monster wriggle in the net.
Glenn Dorster, field biologist with the Arizona Game and
Fish Department, cheerfully plucked the misshapen humpback
chub from the net and plopped him down onto his portable
fish scale, determined to help an ancient survivor hang on a
The chub and other unique desert river fish thrived in
the Colorado for at least 4 million years, despite the river’s
cataclysmic floods and late-summer trickles.
Then soaring dams turned the great river into a chain of
reservoirs that now sustain Los Angeles and Phoenix. Instead
of carrying tens of millions of tons of mud a year through the
Canyon and generating 100,000-cubic-feet-per-second (cfs)
floods, the river now runs a reliable 5,000 to 25,000 cfs year-round
and gets its sediment mostly from a few tributaries like
the Little Colorado and the Paria rivers.
The changes have wiped out most of the Canyon’s native
fish species, including the 6-foot-long predatory Colorado
squawfish. Others, like the humpback chub, endure in one or
two tributaries. Biologists have lately turned to an expensive,
possibly doomed effort to save the survivors with minifloods
and efforts to trap trout along certain stretches of river.
As we assembled this special Grand Canyon issue, I recalled
that trip and the chub and realized that the fish’s predicament
captures a lot about human beings’ complicated relationship
to this great canyon. The editors set out to crowd the wonders
of the Canyon all into one issue, as you can see from the map
below that pinpoints the locations of the stories.
We offer a search for the source of mystical North Rim
waterfalls, a geologist’s view of superb scenery, the heartening
return of the condors and the revealing adventures of a river
guide, a photographer, a mule skinner and others who love this
But holding the issue in my hands, I realize it’s all hubris.
Who can fit the Canyon onto a few sheets of paper? Who
can “save” a species older than his own by manipulating the
ecology of a river?
Instead, I again dimly sense the lesson of the Canyon.
Its oldest rocks date back to when life was but a smudge of
green slime. All of our great striving on the planet equals just
a thin layer of rock teetering atop a sequence a mile deep. The
ugly fish in my hands and I can only savor our little bit of time,
but the Canyon continues.
So perhaps we need not worry if we cannot fit the whole
Canyon onto these pages. It is ambitious enough just to offer
this glimpse, a quick wriggle through a river that flows finally
to the sea.
Reflections on Lake Powell
I just received the March ’07 issue and
wanted to send you a picture of where I
put my mom’s ashes near Halls Crossing.
I read your column, “The Eternal
Choice — Fish or Take Pictures.” Lake
Powell is bittersweet for me as it’s the last
place my mom was on this Earth before
her plane went down. She adored Lake
Powell and spent many trips there. After
I put her ashes in the stream, a huge rock
fell and I knew then that it was the right
place for her to be, eternally.
Tina Olley, Champion, NY
The Lure of a Shapely Silhouette
The February 2007 “Memory Lane,”
(“Back Road Adventure”) triggered a
personal memory. In the 1950s, I traveled
the Southwest. After two weeks on the
road in August 1958, I left St. John’s on
U.S. Route 180 — sans air conditioning,
with a furnace wind blasting through
the car’s open windows. On the radio the
Four Preps sang “26 Miles.” I glimpsed a
tiny sign with a shapely female silhouette
tacked to a power pole. “For Men Only,”
it said. I wondered. The sign flashed by
again, and every few miles there was
another one. The Preps sang of “romance,
romance, romance, romance.” My
imagination flowered. Down the main
drag in Holbrook, there was that sign,
now life-sized, hanging over the sidewalk.
It was a haberdashery (sigh).
Roy F. Wilson, Sequim, WA
Never underestimate the thrill of a good suit. —Ed.
Friends of the Agua Fria
Thank you for covering the Badger Springs
hike, “Rock On,” as your February 2007
“Hike of the Month.”
Part of the Agua Fria National
Monument, Badger Springs is an
important archaeological site as well
as a critical riparian area for a myriad
of species, including pronghorn and
migratory birds. The close proximity
of the monument to population centers
(metro Phoenix and Flagstaff) makes it an
ideal area to enjoy for many.
Unfortunately, the monument’s
resources are threatened by reckless use,
causing damage to these critical habitats
and archaeological sites. With just one
ranger to patrol 71,000 acres, managing
this special area is a challenge.
The Friends of the Agua Fria National
work to ensure that the monument’s
sensitive resources are sufficiently
protected. It is vitally important that
responsible users like your readers help
offset the damage caused by rogue users.
We look forward to seeing your readers
out on the monument!
Wanda Kolomyjec, Outreach Coordinator
Friends of the Agua Fria National Monument
Birdlady’s Tangled Web
Oh, what a tangled web we weave when
first we practice to bird feed. Your
criminally humorous article, “Revenge
of the Birdlady” (March ’07, “Along the
Way”), brought me to tears. Tears of
laughter and tears of remorse for the bear
that we lost.
Dave Nolte, Florissant, CO
You’re right — so many tangled weaves, so few bears.
But then, so many wonderful readers. —Ed.
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 3
JUNE 2007 VOL. 83, NO. 6
Publisher WIN HOLDEN
Editor PETER ALESHIRE
Senior Editor RANDY SUMMERLIN
Managing Editor SALLY BENFORD
Book Division Editor BOB ALBANO
Books Associate Editor EVELYN HOWELL
Special Projects Editor JoBETH JAMISON
Editorial Administrator NIKKI KIMBEL
Editorial Assistant PAULY HELLER
Director of Photography PETER ENSENBERGER
Photography Editor JEFF KIDA
Art Director BARBARA GLYNN DENNEY
Deputy Art Director SONDA ANDERSSON PAPPAN
Art Assistant DIANA BENZEL-RICE
Map Designer KEVIN KIBSEY
Production Director MICHAEL BIANCHI
Promotions Art Director RONDA JOHNSON
Webmaster VICKY SNOW
Director of Sales & Marketing KELLY MERO
Circulation Director HOLLY CARNAHAN
Finance Director BOB ALLEN
Information Technology CINDY BORMANIS
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VICTOR M. MENDEZ
ARIZONA TRANSPORTATION BOARD
Chairman Joe Lane
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International Regional Magazine Association
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2000, 1997 Gold Awards Best Monthly Travel Magazine
of the Canyon
An endangered fish and a
bemused writer seek deep lessons
Gray Skies, Brilliant Flowers
Getting up early on a particularly gray, windy and very
wet English morning, I switched my computer on and
saw that the March 2007 digital edition of Arizona
Highways had arrived. I was stunned by the wildflower
section as the photographs are so beautiful. They almost
brought tears to my eyes. It was a good reminder that in
this world filled with so much turmoil, there is still a
great deal of beauty around us. I am so thankful that the
magazine has such dedicated and talented photographers
who can produce such wonderful images that truly
reflect this. It has certainly cheered me up, and somehow
the weather outside doesn’t seem to matter that much any more!
Barbara Holloway, Buxted, Uckfield, East Sussex, United Kingdom
Alas, we could have used your gray, wet and windy weather this year. But we had only a little winter rain and
so few spring flowers — except on the pages of the magazine. —Peter Aleshire, Editor
4 j u n e 2 0 0 7
by Peter Ensenberger, director of photography, email@example.com
Find expert photography advice and information at arizonahighways.com
(click on “Photography”).
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 5
i know the location of the best campsite in arizona.
Okay, Arizona has more than its fair share of great campsites
and dramatic viewpoints, and claims of “best” can be purely
subjective. But this spot is the lodestone of camps by anyone’s
criteria. And, as a bonus, it comes with a complementary view
Discovering these rare spots is one of my favorite pursuits.
Standing on a lofty overlook with a majestic landscape
spreading out below makes me feel at once infinite and
infinitesimal. I covet the places where I can watch the
interaction between light and land, and raise a toast to the day
as shades of magenta fade from the western sky.
The Grand Canyon is legendary for such places. For years,
my favorite backcountry campsite was Cape Final on the
Canyon’s North Rim. My wife and I made annual pilgrimages
there every Fourth of July. Driving through old-growth forest
on our way to camping nirvana each year, we stressed about
the possibility that someone might already occupy our spot.
But invariably it stood empty and waiting.
The seclusion we enjoyed there year after year always
surprised us. Being so alone in a national park during peak
summer visitation was a large part of Cape Final’s allure. We
delighted in the annual ritual of picking up our camping permit
in the backcountry office and hearing the ranger say, “I hope
you know how to find Cape Final, because I can’t tell you how
to get there.” And we’d smile each time we heard those words.
Lasting memories of our time spent at this idyllic wilderness
retreat include unforgettable moments watching a pair of
peregrine falcons stooping for swifts off Cape Final’s rocky
point. We stood stupefied by the masterful hunting skills of
the fastest creature on the planet. The falcons repeatedly rode
updrafts to incredible heights before folding their wings in
headlong dives, whistling past us like avian missiles at 200
miles per hour toward their unsuspecting prey. It all played out
with an awe-inspiring Grand Canyon backdrop.
Even with these warm underpinnings, and forever holding a
soft spot in my heart, Cape Final must give way to my new
“best” campsite. There are people who won’t be happy with me
for divulging this secret, but here goes.
It’s Marble Viewpoint in the Kaibab National Forest. This
prime real estate offers all the amenities that make a
wilderness camp great.
For starters, it’s nearly 9,000 feet in elevation. But this
promontory hasn’t always enjoyed a penthouse view. Fossils
strewn across the ground tell the story of its previous life as a
sandy seabed before the great uplift 35 million years ago that
diverted the ancestral Colorado River and led to the birth of the
Grand Canyon. Few places scatter seashells so close to the stars.
If one word can describe Marble Viewpoint’s panorama, it is
“sublime.” Eighty miles away and seemingly on the edge of the
Earth, Navajo Mountain provides a point of reference for heroic
landforms arrayed in all their glory across the Paria Plateau:
House Rock Valley, Vermilion Cliffs, Saddle Mountain
Wilderness, Echo Cliffs and Marble Canyon, from which this
viewpoint takes its name.
The Forest Service notes that Marble Viewpoint hosts 10
campsites. When I go there to camp, there’s really only one. It’s
tucked back against the forest edge protected from the wind
and shaded by a giant ponderosa pine. Facing east, it gathers
the first warmth of sunrise, welcomed on cold mornings even
I’d tell you how to get to Marble Viewpoint, but writer Anne
Minard has taken care of that in this month’s Back Road
Adventure, “Quiet Splendor,” beginning on page 54. She
confirms my beliefs about this unique and special place.
I don’t want to be guilty of piling it on, but here’s one more
reason Marble Viewpoint tops my list: no camping fees. And
certainly no reservations accepted. It’s strictly first come, first
So if you go to Marble Viewpoint, you’d better get there early
if you want the best campsite in Arizona. Or you might find
me already nestled under that giant ponderosa.
Best Campsite in Arizona Revealed
FOR ALL THE MARBLES From Marble Viewpoint’s
high perspective, the prominent landmark of
Navajo Mountain provides orientation for the rest
of the Paria Plateau’s heroic landforms. paul gill
In a timeless scene that is often repeated, a young boy
sits on the Rim of the Grand Canyon and poses for a
photograph as he contemplates the vista laid out before
him. Only this time, it’s not just any boy and it’s not just any
In this photograph, circa 1950, then-10-year-old David
Muench perches on Lipan Point at the Canyon’s South Rim,
gazing at a snippet of the Colorado River coursing between
Canyon walls. The man behind the camera was David’s
father, Josef Muench, who was a prolific contributor to
Arizona Highways from the 1940s to the 1980s and who
helped shape the photographic style of the time. Josef titled
this photograph “Mystery of Grand Canyon.”
Young David was a frequent subject in his father’s
photographs, often playing a bit part by adding scale and
a human element to the sweeping Arizona landscapes made
famous in the pages of the magazines, books and calendars
published by Arizona Highways. But within a few years,
David developed a strong interest in getting on the other
side of the camera. Of course, he went on to carve out his
own photographic style and a long, successful career as one
of the top landscape photographers in the world.
This is a story that’s ongoing, as David Muench continues
to capture the beauty of Arizona and publish photographs
in the pages of this magazine. But it all started with a
young boy’s wanderlust, tagging along with his father on
photography trips, capturing the form and beauty of
magical landscapes. And often lending his own form to
one of his dad’s photographs.
Father and Son Create a ‘Mystery of Grand Canyon’
6 j u n e 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 7
THIS PAGE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: JEFF KIDA; LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, NATIONAL ARCHIVES (2); GARY LADD
capt. john hance arrived at the Grand Canyon
in the early 1880s and built the first reliable trail for
tourists. But Hance’s real claim to fame was yarn-spinning,
and he was the best. He once told
tourists a tale about the time thick clouds filled the
Canyon from Rim to Rim.
“Why them clouds was so thick,“ Hance said, “that
I rode my horse, Darby, atop ‘em all the way to the
North Rim. But on the way back, them clouds began
to thin out and me and ol’ Darby got stranded on top
of Zoroaster Temple.” Invariably someone would ask,
“How did you get off Zoroaster Temple and back here?”
“Well,” Hance drawled, “by that time me and Darby
had lost so much weight he was able to pitty-pat
across them thin clouds without fallin’ through.”
—Marshall Trimble, Arizona State Historian
the award for dumbest driver in the history of
the Grand Canyon goes to (drum roll, please) L. Wing of
Los Angeles who, in 1914, drove his Metz Roadster to
the bottom of the Canyon along what then amounted
to a rough trail down to Peach Springs. Boasting
an impressive 22-horsepower engine, the roadster
somehow negotiated the deep sand, steep grades and
axel-hungry boulders to descend the vertical mile to the
A Noah-sized Flood
thousands of hikers make the 11-mile
trek to view the falls of Havasu Creek. It’s a
safe bet few of them read the signature of
darker waters that once visited these gorges.
Six miles down from the trailhead at
Hualapai Hilltop, in a shallow alcove where
the trail begins its final descent to the valley
floor, hides a collection of graffiti. Look
among them and you’ll see the characters,
“Jan. 2, 1910” — the number 1 written
old-style, resembling a 7.
Schoolmaster Charles Coe inscribed them the morning he and his wife, Effie, fled the
maelstrom that had swept down and marooned them atop Havasu’s schoolhouse all
night as it slowly gave way to the nightmare pouring by on its way to the Colorado River.
The 1910 flood represented what city planners like to call a 500-year event — one
that obliterated the Havasupai settlement which once stood at the junction of
Havasupai and Hualapai canyons, and forever changed the lives of the people who
lived there. To appreciate its dimensions, walk a hundred or so yards back up Hualapai
Canyon from the inscription to a 3-foot boulder beside the trail. Look up at the cliff
opposite the boulder. Wedged in a crack about 30 feet above lies a tree trunk placed
there 97 years ago by the raging waters. Imagine trying to keep your head above that.
Exploring Outer Space, Geologically Speaking
when the tenacious one-armed civil war veteran Maj. John Wesley
Powell explored the treacherous spaces of the Grand Canyon during his famous
Colorado River boating expedition, he couldn’t have known that his legacy would one
day lead to the heavens. Powell’s discoveries and maps of the Canyon later became
the foundation of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which was established 10 years
after Powell’s 1869 journey. And even though Powell is regarded as the “father of the
USGS,” he might have been surprised that the wooded mountains at Flagstaff would
become the headquarters for USGS studies of a different kind—of deep space.
Established in 1963, the Flagstaff Field Center opened as the headquarters for
astrogeophysics and celestial mapping. There, USGS astrogeologists determined the
site for the 1969 Apollo moon landing. More recently, they’ve mapped the surface
and subsurface of Mars and Venus, charted the orbits of more than 30 meteorites
and asteroids, and continued the study of planetary geology.
“John Wesley Powell always referred to his trip through the Grand Canyon as one of
the most thrilling and defining times of his life,” said Gordon Eaton, past director of
the USGS. Right now Powell’s probably boating the Milky Way — with two good arms.
—Carrie M. Miner
Grand Canyon Icon Still on Track
nothing lasts forever, but don’t tell that to the Grand Canyon Railway. The little
engine that could have flat-lined several times over the past century has stayed on track
to become Arizona’s leading locomotive. An idea that got rolling in the late 1800s as a
means of transporting ore from mines north of Williams, the railway fell on hard times
when the lodes failed to live up to prospectors’ great expectations. In 1901, the Santa
Fe Railway, in partnership with the Fred Harvey Co., took over the tracks and had a
successful 67-year-run with Grand Canyon tourism, until visitors abandoned the train
cars in favor of automobiles.
In 1989, the ailing railway made a miraculous recovery after it was purchased and
restored by Paradise Valley residents Max and Thelma Beigert, who reintroduced the
novelty of train travel to a new generation of tourists. GCR’s scenic steam-and-diesel
journeys to the Grand Canyon and the wildly popular Polar Express holiday ride have
made it one of the state’s favorite attractions — something many feared would be
lost after the Beigerts announced their intention to sell the train in 2006. Earlier this
year, Xanterra Parks and Resorts announced it would purchase the GCR and add it to
the company’s Grand Canyon National Park operations. And so it seems the beloved
locomotive will keep chugging along well into the future, full steam ahead.
Dirty Devil Leads to
a Bright Angel
the view from the north rim where Bright
Angel Creek begins its precipitous descent to the
Colorado River is heavenly, but it owes its shiny name
to a devil. The creek runs down a major north-south
fault system near the South Rim Visitors Center. Grand
Canyon explorer Maj. John Wesley Powell named it
during his epic trip down the river in wooden dories
in 1869. He was apparently trying to make up for the
name he slapped on an upstream tributary — Dirty
Devil Creek. How very yin and yang of him.
Grand Canyon Association Celebrates 75 Years
in 1932 when Grand Canyon National Park’s chief naturalist Eddie McKee formed
the Grand Canyon Natural History Association, he signed up 132 members and
had a budget of $5,792. Seventy-five years later and 9,000 members strong, the
Grand Canyon Association stays true to its original mission: “To cultivate knowledge,
discovery and stewardship for the benefit of Grand Canyon National Park and its
visitors.” The association operates six bookstores within the park, publishes books and
information about the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas, operates an outdoor
program that leads educational trips into the park, sponsors lectures, hosts changing
art exhibits at Kolb Studio, restores historic buildings and supports research in the park.
Today, GCA donates almost $2 million annually to Grand Canyon National Park, which
has amounted to more than $26 million over the years. No doubt, Eddie McKee would
Bright Angel Creek
Havasu schoolhouse before the 1910 flood
Capt. John Hance
Grand Canyon Field Institute
L. Wing and his Metz Roadster
THIS PAGE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK MUSEUM COLLECTION (GCNPMC); MIKE BUCHEIT; GCNPMC; LINDA LONGMIRE
Grand Canyon Railway locomotive
Havasu schoolhouse after the 1910 flood
G text and photographs by Larry Lindahl I
Remote North Rim Trail
Plunges Down to the Canyon’s
Most Mystical Waterfalls
MAIDS OF THE MIST As though poured
forth from rocky nooks and crannies, verdant
maidenhair ferns adorn an 8-foot Deer Creek
waterfall above a slot canyon.
n To order a print of this photograph, see page 1.
10 j u n e 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 11
e set out on our quest for the most spectacular and
mystical of Grand Canyon waterfalls in the early
morning light of a June day, seeking enchanted waters,
sacred places and a perilous challenge.
I had dreamed of the journey for years, trying to imagine how
it might feel to crawl inside the dark and mysterious cave where
Thunder River emerges from a dangerous cliff to hurl itself into the
sunlight and plummet 100 feet to the rocks below. And not just
Thunder River, but the myriad waterfalls that hide in every side can-yon
along an extraordinary stretch of the Colorado River.
I want to see the waterfalls and to experience the soothing strength
or sheer power within their mystical presence.
But first Alvin Derouen and I must heft our packs for the 12-mile
hike down to our first camp on this nine-day stay in the waterfall
district of the Grand Canyon.
The sun is our ally in the chilly air at 6,400 feet elevation on the edge
of the North Rim’s Kaibab Plateau. We head out of a
deeply wooded draw at Indian Hollow down the steep
2-mile descent of Thunder River Trail to the Esplanade,
a terrace of vast, naked sandstone. Along the way we
find pictographs in blood-red hematite hiding in the
shadows of an overhang. Promontories sport gigan-tic
sandstone mushrooms and stunted trees.
Alvin didn’t discover backpacking until after he
was 50. He slept in a tent for the first time just three
years ago. Since then, he has logged more than 200
miles in the Grand Canyon. Now he takes over the
lead and picks up the pace, pushing hard to cover the
5 miles to the junction with the Bill Hall Trail, plus
another 3 miles to the southern edge of the Esplanade,
before the growing heat can overwhelm us.
Surprise Valley waits 2,000 feet below us, conceal-ing
Thunder River and the 6-mile stretch of river
some 50 miles downstream from Phantom Ranch
that is infused with spring-fed waterfalls in almost every side canyon
between Stone Creek and Deer Creek.
The temperature rises, stealing our strength, sweat stinging our
eyes while the trail switchbacks through broken cliffs of Redwall
limestone. As the thermometer climbs higher than 100 degrees
and our sweat dries, we stagger off the trail to rest in the shade of a
stranded boulder — the remnant of a geological cataclysm.
Miles to the west and eons in the past, molten lava once plugged the
Colorado River, creating a lake that saturated the bedrock Bright Angel
shale. Eventually, cliffs 2,000 feet tall started to move on the slippery
base and a mile-long section of the Canyon wall ripped loose.
Reluctantly, we start back onto the trail before our muscles stiffen.
We head down across Surprise Valley, my feet burning inside my
boots. Scrawny blackbrush, small and shriveled cacti and an eerie
stillness surround us.
Suddenly, the nozzle on my hydration system draws tight. I am
out of water.
Tormented by the sun, we crest one final ridge and then, thankfully,
Stone Creek waterfall spills through a slot of Shinumo
quartzite (far left). In an area lush with cottonwood leaves
(left) and perennial green plants, an artist indulges in a
stream of creativity near the base of Deer Falls (below right).
n To order a print of the photograph at left, see page 1.
12 j u n e 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 13
hear the sound of distant water. Descending a steep path, we finally
behold Thunder River Falls pouring from a huge bone-dry cliff.
Whitewater splashes onto multiple ledges, hesitates, then cascades
in rivulets and ribbons into more celebrations of freedom.
Overheated, we urgently guzzle the stream water, until finally
revitalized, we stair-step 1,200 feet down to our campsite beside the
half-mile-long Thunder River. Every turn reveals a new waterfall.
At the bottom, just below the confluence of Thunder River and
Tapeats Creek, we drop our packs. Oddly enough, the “creek” accepts
the “river” as tributary — its 50 million gallons a day is nearly double
the flow of Thunder River.
We camp near a frothing cascade. After dinner, I lay down my
ground cloth under an emerging gallery of stars and settle in for the
night as a nearly full moon peers over the eastern cliffs and illumi-nates
the Canyon walls.
A deep resonance surrounds our little camp,
and within this ancient space, I feel my soul
expand as I drift off to sleep.
The next day, scarlet monkeyflowers dance
beside the rushing water under cottonwood,
box elder and willow trees that canopy the
riparian understory. The moist air carries the
scent of sun-warmed leaves.
We hike back up to the top of Thunder
River as I gather my nerve to confront the
cave. I have learned one sure thing: Neither
money nor prestige can offer what time with
the primal elements can give. I look up at the
cave, my heart beating hard in my chest.
“It’s a series of 5.3 pitches, with about a
hundred feet of exposure, and the water will
be rushing just below your feet as you step
blindly around the corner and find the one
hand-hold that will get you into the cave,” my
friend, river guide Wayne Ball, had informed
me about the climb across the cliff and into the 3,000-foot-deep
The roar of the falls engulfs me as I carefully climb the cliff and tra-verse
to the cave. For months, I had visualized and practiced the crux
move I was about to execute. The long preparation carries me through
a momentary terror as I step around the gaping void from midday
brightness into the black inner world of the cave. The deep dark and
constant roar compress my reality into a tight, strange world.
My headlamp quickly flashes across shark fins of scoured Muav
limestone where water sweeps around corners, then rushes from the
dark as the beam gets lost in corridors that divide the underworld.
Pitched forward just above racing water, I spider deeper inside. The
aggressive roar fills the dark space. I duck into a tunnel snaking far-ther
in the darkness, feeling excited, yet alone and vulnerable.
After a while, I reluctantly decide I’ve gone far enough. But deep in
that cave, I begin to understand the hidden story of the waterfall — and
its hold on me. I want to experience all of the other falls, too.
Three days later, we shuffle awake before sunrise, camped now
HEAR ME ROAR
Erupting from its spring-fed source in Thunder Cave
(below right), Thunder River Falls (far left) spills
into the remote canyon wilderness with a pounding fury.
n To order a print of this photograph, see page 1.
14 j u n e 2 0 0 7
alongside the Colorado River. We head up the eastern cliff above
the mouth of Tapeats Creek and follow bighorn sheep trails high
above the river to Stone Creek. We find a waterfall as a spiny
lizard scurries past. I splash salty perspiration from my skin. A
bull snake traverses the travertine-encrusted alcove. With seem-ingly
mysterious underground origins, snakes often appear in
the ancient stories about springs.
Climbing beside the waterfall, we reach a terrace where new
territory opens up and golden columbines bloom in the shadows
and a redbud sapling promises purple flowers. Two miles in,
the canyon narrows to its end in a curve of falling whitewater.
Maidenhair ferns shiver, while the grotto sings its song.
The following morning we set out along the river for Deer
Creek, following hikers’ cairns until the unyielding Zoroaster
granite and Vishnu schist force us up and out of the river corri-dor.
The river that averages 300 feet in width, here squeezes into
a 76-foot-wide gap between walls more than a billion years old.
In this sacred place, the deep, deep water never utters a sound.
As the heat and distance wear on us, we seek scraps of shade
on the sharp stones. We struggle across a saddle, pass ancient
Indian ruins, and finally enter the lush canyon of Deer Creek,
where we set up camp under some cottonwood trees.
A mile-long path leads to the river, where Deer Creek Falls
plunges a hundred feet from the end of a slot canyon, creating a
wind that blasts spray sideways inside a protected cove at river
level. All the river-runners stop here. I join the adventurous ones
and back into the deafening roar, gasping for air under the pelt-ing
of the water.
On the hike back to camp, I see ancient handprints in white
pigment on a wall high above the slot canyon, perhaps marking
this as a place sacred to people whose gardens and dreams were
nurtured by Deer Creek.
In a cliff nook, sandstone slabs form a seeming burial cist.
Far below, the creek runs across a smooth canyon patio before
cascading into the slot canyon. On the cliff above the cist, I
find more white handprints. I hover my hand over one without
touching the mark, and centuries of time dissolve. To this day,
Southern Paiutes revere this slot canyon as their sacred entrance
to heaven on the long journey after death.
The sinuous slot canyon contains an intimate world animated
by clear running water. Before the day is over, I scamper into the
chamber and walk down the carved hallway of stone. Around
each curving bend, I am met by an elegance of reflected light
and surrounded by an echoing symphony of liquid sounds.
On the last day, I carefully repack my gear, then stroll
2 miles up to the waterfall at Dutton Spring, the source of Deer
Creek. I nap listening to its carefree splashing until late after-noon,
then walk back to the patio above Deer Creek Falls. The
river-runners have gone, and I cherish my solitude in the warm
With no one near, I walk into a little 8-foot waterfall. Warm
water pours gently over my neck and shoulders as I linger in
the enchanted side canyon one last time. Twilight drapes the
landscape as I dress and walk slowly back to camp, ready for
the hike ahead.
Under a sea of moonlight, my memory begins singing as we
make the long climb to the North Rim. And with every step, I
bring home the magic of Grand Canyon’s waterfalls.
THE THUNDER ROLLS
Thunder River (far left) is the shortest and possibly
the steepest river in the world. Its effusive visual
elegance drops 1,200 feet in approximately one-half
mile to its confluence with Tapeats Creek.
n To order a print of this photograph, see page 1.
Cruise the Canyon with our Roaming Rim-to-Rim Guide on
arizonahighways.com (click on the June “Trip Planner”).
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 15
Larry Lindahl says he finds a special feeling in places where water and stone
meet in the desert. He’s not sure if it’s the positive ions in the air or the
continuous movement, but streams and waterfalls capture his imagination
for hours. He lives in Sedona.
The Grand Canyon’s North Rim has
the less-traveled roads that more
adventurous hikers enjoy. Open six
months a year, mid-May through
mid-October, weather permitting,
the Rim hosts a slew of strenuous
paths. Visitors can expect some of
nature’s biggest challenges on the
Thunder River Trail and Bridle Trail.
Mischievous Kaibab squirrels and
summer thunderstorms also keep
the North Rim interesting. But
its seclusion and beauty compel
visitors to appreciate its charm.
By ascending this highest
viewpoint in the Grand Canyon,
visitors may fully experience the
North Rim. The 8,800-foot point
affords a sprawling view of the
Painted Desert. Optimistic eyes
can see violets, reds and blues
stretch out from the Canyon to
the Petrified Forest National Park.
The point’s height also provides
a widescreen view of the sunrise,
a rare sight at the North Rim.
Located about 3 miles from Cape
Royal Road, in the northeastern
part of the Rim.
Information: North Rim Visitors
Center, (520) 638-7864;
GRAND CANYON LODGE
After the original lodge burned
down, architect Gilbert Stanley
Underwood designed and built
the current lodge in 1937. Stone
walls and wood beams work
together to make this tourism hub
a classic fixture. The North Rim “It”
spot caters to all Canyon needs,
including hikes, tours and gifts. For
diners who like to live on the edge,
the lodge’s capacious dining room
has the perfect view. To secure
one of the private cabins or lodge
rooms during the lodge’s mid-May
through mid-October season, make
a reservation far in advance. Prices
range from $96 to $128 per room,
and $9 for each additional person.
Information: (928) 638-2611 or
toll-free (888) 287-2757; www.
GRAND CANYON TRAIL RIDES
Riding along on the back of a
mule casts a different focus for
visitors to the North Rim. For
23 years, this mule-riding tour
company has guided brave riders
along the trails. It offers full-day
($125) and half-day ($65) trips to
please the eye and feed the brain.
Experienced guides lead the treks,
dishing out important historical
and geological facts. Riders must
meet age requirements to ride, 10
for half-day trips and 12 for all day.
Trips start at the Grand Canyon
Lodge and descend the North
Information: (435) 679-8665;
NORTH RIM VISITORS CENTER
The essential stop for all who make
it to the North Rim, the center has
everything to keep your visit on
track. Guests can pick up maps
before heading out or wait for a
ranger to take them out on an
interpretative trip. The Nature Walk
explains the natural processes of
the forests, and the Discovery Park
Junior Ranger program teaches kids
about the Canyon. The center’s
bookstore, operated by the Grand
Canyon Association, uses proceeds
to benefit research in the park. The
center stands at the south end of
the Bright Angel Area near Roaring
Information: (520) 638-7888;
G R A N D C A N Y O N G U I D E
Nor t h R im
By Michael Famiglietti
16 j u n e 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 17
CChris Parish danced high atop the Vermilion Cliffs, waving
a red coat like a crazy man in a desperate effort to attract the
attention of two birds with nearly 10-foot wingspans rising on
a thermal a mile and a half down the ridge.
Nearby, gangling Junior peered at the demented biologist
through the slats of the kennel in which he waited for his
mummy and daddy, carefully placed next to the nest cave where
he’d hatched — the bright hope for a flock of nearly extinct con-dors,
thanks to the efforts of a team of bird biologists.
Suddenly, two condors peeled away from the distant gyre of
the biggest birds on the planet — Ice Age survivors back from
the brink. Eighteen days earlier, biologist Jim Wilmarth had
captured Junior, fearful of possible lead poisoning from eating
a deer carcass contaminated by a fragmented lead bullet. One
bird surgery and a full recovery later, Parish hoped to return the
gawky young bird to his parents in the flock of 53 condors now
living north of the Grand Canyon. His great fear was that the
parents would reject the prodigal chick.
His hopes soared when he spotted the number 114 on
Harold’s wing tag. It was Junior’s doting father, 24 pounds of
But wait. The female flying alongside Harold wasn’t Gertrude
(149), Junior’s mother. It was Maude (126), the flirtation of
Harold’s wayward youth for whom he’d ditched Gertrude.
Maude landed beside the confused Junior, apparently ready
to assume the duties of stepmother. But Harold chased her away,
and then performed his tender fatherly duties — regurgitating a
big crop full of mushy meat he’d gobbled from a calf carcass set
out by Parish’s team to supplement the condors’ diets.
Despite the rebuff, Maude hung about making love-eyes at
Harold, who soon let her get close to the chick.
A few hours later, Gertrude cruised past on a thermal. She
looked down at her son, her wayward mate and the other
woman. Then with a feathered shrug, she floated southward to
the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, perhaps hoping some tasty
tourist would fall off a cliff.
Parish just shook his head. Who can predict the heart of a
The 11 field researchers and condor-minders working for the
Peregrine Fund have logged thousands of hours of observation
as part of a million-dollar-a-year reintroduction effort. Funded
by a combination of federal and private money, the effort has
maintained a captive-breeding program and established strug-gling
populations of the giant vultures in Arizona, California and
Baja California, Mexico. At last count, the number of condors in
existence had risen from 22 to 242, including 145 in the captive-breeding
program and 97 in the wild, with more than half of
them in Arizona. The Arizona population has successfully reared
five chicks hatched in the wild, which made Junior something of
a superstar in the condor world. The biologists figured Junior
was suffering from lead fragments when they captured him,
since hunters’ bullets fragment into hundreds of pieces when
they impact, which could cause lead poisoning in scavengers like
condors — or perhaps even in people who eat the meat.
Near Lee’s Ferry Lodge, which hosts the team, Parish X-rayed
Junior at the lab the team built with the assistance of the
Arizona Game and Fish Department Heritage Fund. He noted
A vulture threesome and an uncle
biologist stave off extinction
By Frank Jennings
DOTING PARENT Perched on a rock, a colorful male condor sits with his
offspring, the first condor chick (far left) to hatch in the Grand Canyon since
reintroduction efforts began. Soaring over the Grand Canyon in search of
carrion, a mother of two (right) can fly up to 50 mph and travel more than
100 miles in a day.
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 19
a hazy mass in Junior’s gut. That discovery prompted a quick
trip to the Phoenix Zoo, where veterinarian Kathy Orr operated
to remove a hairball lodged in place by two sticks Junior had
Such repeated saves have underscored the difficulty of
returning condors to the territory, where 10,000 years ago they
patrolled for Ice Age carcasses of mammoths, mastodons and
giant ground sloths. The gigantic vultures cover 150 miles per
day on average, mate for life, live for up to 70 years, but produce
only one chick every two years. Condors vanished from Arizona
in 1927, and by 1983 only 22 remained alive in California.
Already beset by habitat loss, the condors were shoved toward
extinction by lead poisoning, power line collisions and eggshell
thinning caused by the presence of the pesticide DDT in the
food chain. Biologists rounded up the survivors, established a
captive-breeding program and started releasing condors into
the wild in 1992.
Fortunately, biologists tricked the captive vultures into essen-tially
tripling their reproductive rate by removing eggs and
using adoptive parents to rear the extra chicks. However, actu-ally
returning the curious, social, intelligent birds to the wild
proved much more difficult.
The first flock released in California behaved like a youth
gang, hanging out at a golf course, haunting the barbe-cue
pits and even attacking cars in the parking lot.
“It was like Lord of the Flies,” observed one biolo-gist.
Worse yet, 20 percent of the released
birds died in their first year from
encounters with power poles
and human beings.
biologists countered with fake power lines, electric shocks and
hazing techniques to train the birds to avoid potential hazards.
In Arizona, the first release was in 1996. The biggest setback
came when 12 condors died of lead poisoning. Three others
have been shot, one by a medical student with an illegal firearm
in Grand Canyon National Park who said he thought he was
shooting at ravens, which is also illegal. A golden eagle killed
three condors that strayed into its turf, and coyotes nabbed five
Even so, the condors have adapted. Some have wandered 200
miles north along the shores of Lake Powell and many hang out
over the Grand Canyon, to the delight of river runners, tourists
at the Navajo Bridge overlook and South Rim visitors. The widest-ranging
condor reached Flaming Gorge in Wyoming.
The appearance of condors drawn by all the activity at the
South Rim inevitably attracts neck-craning exclamations from
humans. But Parish’s team tracks the radio signal and rushes
over to scare off the condors, knowing that losing a fear of
humans could doom the flock. And biologists urge camera-clicking,
condor-coddling tourists to stay well away from the
birds — or to deliberately scare them off to reinforce the con-ditioning.
If a condor proves too fearless for its own good, biologists
will sneak up, grab it by the legs and take it back to the captive-rearing
pens for a good talking to concerning the inherent
untrustworthiness of human beings. One condor developed
the disconcerting habit of visiting the camps of river-rafters and
going through their things. Another condor enjoyed strolling
along the trails of the South Rim until biologists grabbed him
and shipped him off for reconditioning.
These patient and persistent efforts to safeguard the condors
have paid off, especially for Junior.
Harold and Maude cared for the youngster for several months
after his return, but then the breeding season rolled around.
Normally, condors mate every two years and continue
to feed the chick for 18 months. But as soon
as Harold and Maude mated, they both stopped feeding the
Fortunately, Junior had the good sense to hang out at the
enclosure the biologists kept stocked with calf carcasses.
Now, Harold and Maude have another baby. Gertrude has a
sweetheart of her own. And Junior’s doing just fine — thanks to
Uncle Parish and the crew.
Condors vanished from Arizona in 1927, and
by 1983 only 22 remained alive in California.
18 j u n e 2 0 0 7
Like Junior, Frank Jennings likes hanging out with biologists at the Grand
Chris Parish of Mormon Lake has worked as
a biologist for Arizona Game and Fish
Department and for the past six years
with the Peregrine Fund.
CRUISING CONDOR With her wings fully fanned,
this condor (right) cranes her neck to spot and swoop
down on prey below. Condors also use other
scavengers, like ravens, for clues to finding food.
Con d or -wa t c h i ng
Visitors often see condors at the South Rim of the Grand
Canyon and around Navajo Bridge near Lee’s Ferry. The
reintroduction crew lives on land provided by the Lee’s
Ferry Lodge at Vermilion Cliffs, also a great base for
Information: toll-free, (800) 451-2231 or (928) 355-2231;
Detours of Arizona now offers three- and four-day condor-watching
tours guided by Peregrine Fund biologists, which
include raft trips below Glen Canyon Dam and visits to the
Information: toll-free (866) 438-6877;
To donate to the condor-reintroduction effort, contact The
Peregrine Fund, (208) 362-3716 or www.peregrinefund.org.
WARMING RUFFLED FEATHERS A condor that has produced young since her
release into the wild warms herself after a cold Canyon night by spreading
her wings across a sun-drenched rock.
G R A N D C A N Y O N G U I D E
editor’s note: Recently published
by the Grand Canyon Association,
Condors in Canyon Country by
Sophie A.H. Osborn chronicles the
triumphant return of condors to the Grand Canyon region.
For information, visit the GCA Web site www.grandcanyon.org.
of the Earth
By Ivo Lucchitta
The Old Master—Grand Canyon
Spectators take in the view from a
promontory as sunset bathes the
Canyon in warm August light near the
South Rim’s Desert View. Far more
than just scenery, the Grand Canyon
can teach us much about Earth’s history
and geologic processes.
n To order a print of this photograph,
see information on page 1.
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 23
< A River of Water Meets Rivers of Fire
Starting a few million years ago, the Earth’s crust
pulled apart along the Toroweap and Hurricane faults
in present-day northwest Arizona, and great blocks
of land to the west of each fault dropped down. Later,
just a few hundred thousand years ago, molten rock
began to rise to the surface near the faults, creating
many lava-spewing volcanoes.
The angry-red lava flowed into the Grand Canyon
in fiery cascades. On the Canyon’s floor, the hissing
rivers of lava met the Colorado River, provoking an
awesome spectacle of boiling water, huge plumes of
steam and exploding red-hot lava.
The lava f lows dammed the river repeatedly.
One lava dam probably stood more than 2,000 feet
high — three times the height of manmade Glen
Canyon Dam. The natural dams created lakes behind
them that rose until the lava gave way, causing mas-sive
^ Ancient Farmers
The many archaeological sites and artifacts in the
Grand Canyon bear mute witness to a large, vanished
population of ancient Puebloan farmers. However,
today’s rocky, soil-poor banks of the river provide lit-tle
opportunity for farming. What happened? In those
days, the river built up its bed, creating a wide flood-plain
made even more suitable for farming by frequent
floods that deposited fertile sand and silt while remov-ing
salts, as does today’s Nile River in East Africa. But
sometime in the last 700 years, the river cut down 30
feet, carrying away all but remnants of the ancient
farm ground. Today, dark bands in the soil — colored
by charcoal left behind when farmers burned off the
stubble of their crops — provide samples that geolo-gists
can date using the radiocarbon technique. The
charcoal layers also contain grains of pollen from
ancient maize plants, indicating that maize farming
started here even before 1400 b.c., the time of Egypt’s
pharaohs, Ramses II and Tutankhamen.
The Old Master
The Grand Canyon is one of the world’s outstanding scenic fea-tures,
and also a world-class geological classroom that reveals
in splendid layers the construction of the Earth.
Maj. John Wesley Powell understood this perfectly some 135
years ago when he first braved the rapids of the Colorado River,
making geological notes all the while. Since then, a succes-sion
of great geologists has grappled with conceptual problems
brought into vivid relief by the great Canyon, struggling to read
the stony pages of a book billions of years in the making.
The story told by the rocks in the Canyon walls starts when
the only living organisms were bacteria and algae, and the atmo-sphere
contained just a trace of oxygen. It captures the explosion
of life in the warm Paleozoic seas, documents the spread of life
to the land, the staggering blows of devastating extraterrestrial
catastrophes and the rise of the dinosaurs.
However, the Grand Canyon, that Old Master, has even more
to teach. For example: How do rivers, perhaps the most “alive”
of all inanimate objects, work? How do rapids form? What
happens when tributary streams flood? Did natural forces ever
dam the Colorado? Has the river corridor itself changed?
The Old Master offers more immediate lessons as well,
which bear directly on human impact on the environment.
Ancient farmers lived deep in the Canyon, making a living
from river terraces now gone. When did the farming start?
Why did it end? Do those answers harbor a warning about the
effects of the modern Glen Canyon Dam?
Of course, the answers to such questions can absorb not only
scientists, but inquirers who can keep their eyes, ears, brains
and hearts open. One such keen observer is photographer Gary
Ladd. In these pages, his photographs reveal the geological
puzzles intertwined amid the scenery.
Rivers of Water and Fire Mounds of lava spilled into the Canyon near
Toroweap Overlook (visible on the distant left rim) a few hundred thousand
years ago. Some spills blocked the flow of the Colorado River with lava
dams. Today, Lava Falls Rapids rumbles at the base of the lava cascade.
n To order a print of this photograph, see information on page 1.
Ancient Farmers Ancestral Puebloan Indian granaries haunt the
Canyon above the Colorado River at the mouth of Nankoweap Canyon.
24 j u n e 2 0 0 7
^ Missing Time
The rock layers in the Grand Canyon’s walls are one of the
best records of Earth’s history, dating back some 1.8 billion
years. However, even here many pages of the book have disap-peared
into the silence of time. The largest gap is the Great
Unconformity, an 850 million-year-old span of missing rocks
in the Inner Gorge. This gap represents all the rocks formed
after 1.4 billion-year-old granites and before deposition of the
550 million-year-old Tapeats sandstone. However, geologists
have filled some of the missing gap with the Grand Canyon
Supergroup, deposited between approximately 1,200 and 750
million years ago. Now, only 400 million years are still unac-counted
for. What happened? The missing rocks were eroded
away by the sea pounding away against the edge of the ancient
continent each time the sea advanced, just as we see at the mar-gin
of today’s continents.
Deer Creek: a Stream Remade >
Near River Mile 136, the bluffs flanking the river are made
of rubble, as if entire mountains had shattered and crumbled.
This is the narrowest and deepest part of the river’s channel.
But just around a corner, Deer Creek shoots out of a narrow
cleft to plunge some 100 feet to the Colorado River, the only
major stream in the Canyon to do so — all the others meet
the Colorado at river level. Upstream from the waterfall, Deer
Creek flows in a narrow cleft carved in the Tapeats sandstone;
farther up, it flows peacefully in a wide valley cut into the rubble.
What has happened there? During a wet period thousands of
years ago, saturated shale simply gave way, creating a mile-wide
landslide that filled the canyons of the Colorado River and Deer
Creek. A lake was formed behind the landslide, which it eventu-ally
overtopped in its lowest point, creating a new channel for
the Colorado River. However, the smaller Deer Creek could not
cut down as fast as the main river, so today it joins the Colorado
in a dramatic waterfall.
Grand Canyon Supergroup The Canyon’s interior sometimes reveals the Grand Canyon Supergroup,
a classification of rocks that fills some of the geologic record gap known as the Great Unconformity.
The tilted Galeros Formation (above) makes up a part of the Supergroup.
Deer Creek Through ancient sandstone, Deer Creek cascades to the Colorado River in a
powerful waterfall. Landslide rubble that displaced the stream’s original course can be
seen in the sunlit portion of the corridor.
n To order a print of this photograph, see information on page 1.
26 j u n e 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 27
When it comes to science, some
people like getting their hands
dirty. Studying the Grand Canyon’s
1.8 billion-year-old rocks or its
ancient inhabitants doesn’t have the
same punch unless you’re up close.
These tours delve into some of the
Canyon’s mysteries, including the
Great Unconformity, an estimated
850 million-year gap in geologic
time. Guides take curious travelers
to ancient sites, where they can
poke around in the past, study
fossils and run their hands along
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
The park service provides a number
of free science classes to whet visitors’
intellectual appetites. Typically hosted
by lodges and visitors centers, the
classes run 30 minutes to one hour. At
the South Rim, “Introduction to Grand
Canyon Geology” and “Geology Walk:
Read the Rocks” detail the formation
of the Canyon in a classroom and
on a short walk. On the North Rim,
“What’s Rockin’?—Grand Canyon
Geology” teaches rock names and how
to identify them. (928) 638-7888;
NATURE AND GEOLOGY TOURS
Offering two distinct tours, this private
company employs university-trained
guides who teach hikers about plants,
animals, Puebloan Indian culture and
rock formations. Tours welcome all
ages and skill levels. In the summer,
look for a kids-oriented program.
Tours range from $129 (for a full day)
per adult to $49 for a 4-hour kids’ tour.
(877) 845-3283; www.canyondave.com.
While catching glimpses of the
San Francisco Volcanic Field and
the Painted Desert on this tour, visitors
explore an archaeological site. Guides
trace an ancient people’s mysterious
disappearance by treating guests to
a historical walk through the Grand
Canyon. Other great views include
the Little Colorado River Gorge and
Cameron Trading Post on the Navajo
Indian Reservation. South and East
rim spots are highlighted on other
tours. Prices range from $99 to $129
for adults and $85 to $116 for children,
ages 3 to 16. (928) 203-0396 or (866)
GRAND CANYON FIELD INSTITUTE’S
NORTH RIM EXPLORATION
A program of the nonprofit Grand
Canyon Association, this hike treks
along the demanding North Kaibab
Trail. In the area’s forests and deserts,
backpackers examine fossils and rock
art, looking for history. This three-day
excursion also details Canyon animals
and ecology. Hikers must be at least
10 years old. Costs are $170 for Grand
Canyon Association members and
$195 for nonmembers. (928) 638-2485
or toll-free, (866) 471-4435;
^ Portal to the Underworld
The somber rocks of the Inner Gorge — masses of
black and pink rock with no bedding, laced with con-torted
folds and veins — are the oldest in the Grand
Canyon. So how were these rocks made? Some 1.8
billion years ago the expanding North American con-tinent
reached the area of the future Grand Canyon.
The expansion occurred where a dense and thin oce-anic
plate slid under the continent, forming island arcs
like modern-day Japan. But then the drifting continent
encountered a thick and less-dense plate that could
not slide under it. The colliding edges crumpled and
rose, like the modern-day Himalayas. The pressure
squeezed the heated rocks into vertical accordionlike
folds and melted minerals in the rocks to create veins.
The oldest of these mineral veins were fractured by
the unrelenting pressure. Later, still-molten minerals
seeped inside, creating veins that cut through the older,
folded layers. These complex events created the beauti-ful
patterns in the Canyon’s most ancient formations.
Riffles and Pools >
Many of the spectacular drops in the world-famous
rapids of the Grand Canyon are separated by miles
of quiet water, the classic riffle-and-pool situation.
Why? The rapids all occur at the mouths of tributary
canyons. The streams that cut those side canyons
periodically flood, dumping a mass of mud, sand and
boulders into the Colorado. The floods rushing out of
the side canyons spread out when they hit the main
river and so drop their load of debris. This creates a
rough dam, which backs up the river water upstream.
Periodically, floods on the Colorado rearrange these
debris dams. The process happens because floods
increase the power of a river by roughly a factor of
eight when the water velocity is doubled. Today, Glen
Canyon Dam prevents big boulder-moving floods,
which makes the rapids bigger and more numerous
Grand Canyon expert geologist Ivo Lucchitta has studied in
places ranging from Alaska to Arizona, but the ever-present
drumbeat has been his love for and fascination with the Canyon.
He lives in Flagstaff.
Gary Ladd deliberately searches for images with strong geologic
themes, especially if he’s working in Grand Canyon National
Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Vermilion Cliffs
National Park. He lives in Page, adjacent to those parks.
Vishnu Group Vishnu formations near Mile 83 (above) were forged billions of
years ago. Sculpted by debris-laden water, the rock displays stunning patterns
etched into the dark stone.
House Rock Rapid The Colorado River drops 10 feet at House
Rock Rapid, passing over boulders carried to the river by great
flash floods and debris flows that have rumbled down Rider
Canyon, a tributary that enters the river from the west.
Find our expanded Grand Canyon Adventure Guide at
arizonahighways.com (click on the June “Trip Planner”).
G R A N D C A N Y O N G U I D E
Hard Facts: Four
Canyon Science Tours
By Michael Famiglietti
28 j u n e 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 29
Standing at the
edge of the best
always delivers a
By Charles Bowden
Sunrise peeks over the Grand Canyon as the Colorado
River meanders below the stratified rock layers of
Grandview Point. Only 300 feet wide, the river seems
dwarfed by the enormous gorge that averages 10
miles in width. Last light lingers on the Canyon at Yaki
Point (above, right) on the South Rim.
n To order a print of this photograph, see page 1.
30 j u n e 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 31
Pgray light as the first feeble licks of dawn seep into the eastern sky. The road is
more rock than anything else, the air clear and silent. Yesterday, at the south
entrance to Grand Canyon National Park, the line of cars reached back more
than 2 miles. I’m 20 miles west of there and alone except for the three cow
elk that stand by the road, and one spike bull that seems like a giant statue
as I grind past. The ravens now slowly emerge from the darkness and fill the
beginning of the day with their croaks.
South Bass Point suddenly snaps into view. That is the enduring quirk of
the Canyon, the thing that has stunned people for centuries — you never see it
coming. There is rock, old grayed limbs and trunks of fallen juniper and pine,
a maze of forest, blue sky, and suddenly the world ends and there is this huge
hole in the heart of the planet. Every approach to the Canyon means rolling
through tablelands, flat ground with scrub or trees, nothing that would suggest
the chasm waiting nearby.
At South Bass, the stone remnants of an old cabin stare one in the face. The
trailhead down to the river slips off the Rim. William Wallace Bass came here
in 1884 to cure an illness. He stayed, had a family, raised kids, carved a trail to
the river, put in a cableway across the Colorado, carved a trail on the north side
up to that Rim, had mines, even got a strata in the Canyon named after him
and was part of the beginning of the tourist industry in
this area. Now his home ground is silence, and for me,
a trigger to memory as I stare down at the Inner Gorge
where the Colorado River churns at Bass Rapids.
Once, I clambered off the North Rim and went down
to Bass Rapids, the ground below the Rim spread as an
emerald-green smear of life. Now I stand on the South
Rim and look into my past and the past of everything else
that has ever lived. It’s all in the strata, there right in front
of me, hundreds of millions of years of life and finally,
that dark rock called pre-Cambrian, stone that hails from
the beginning of planet time itself and is almost 2 billion
years old. Color codes time itself — cream, grayish white,
yellow, white, rust red, red, tan, purple, a procession of
tints and pigments — a clock made like a rainbow.
As a species, we tend to walk to the edge of the Grand
Canyon, look, and then not know what to do. The names
of formations roll off the lips in close-order drill — Kai-bab,
Toroweap, Coconino, Hermit, Supai, Redwall, Muav, Bright Angel,
Tapeats — on and on as the mind spins ever deeper into time. And then a jay
clatters in the nearby piñon and the mind returns to the immediate moment as
the eye floats over the Canyon. Numbers hardly help at those places we call
vistas because the numbers are too big. The mind must try to encompass a gouge
in the earth 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, on average a mile deep. There’s
one number I keep repeating like a prayer and yet can never comprehend: All
the rivers in the world total 300 cubic miles of water but in the Grand Canyon
one river has moved 800 cubic miles of material in creating this big hole.
What we see at these viewpoints lining the Grand Canyon depends on what
we bring to the Rim. And we see more if we go to those obscure places, the
ones with primitive roads and no facilities, because then we face this warp and
woof of time alone and in silence with only the bubbling of love and memory to
keep us company. The camera stays in the case, there is no guardrail, or signs.
Nothing protects us from ourselves or this wound in the earth that harbors
the bones of all our ancestors, plant and animal, and their ways and dreams.
Time stops, literally. The sun seems to move across the sky but this is little
noticed. Birds sweep through the trees, a blue mist hangs over the Canyon, and
the slot of the Inner Gorge winds its way far below. At some points the actual
pine a Piñon nd juniper stand black in the
Lavender and Lace
At South Bass Point, a tiny agave
(opposite page) adds contrast to
the lacy texture of orange lichen
covering trailside rocks. Water fills
a natural rock pool at the Saddle
Mountain overlook as dawn
colors the Canyon in muted
shades of lavender.
n To order a print of this photograph,
see page 1.
32 j u n e 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 33
river can be seen, and without exception, I always think I can hear the water
moving a mile below.
Sometimes I bring a book. At Bass Rapids I once knocked off a scientific
study of passenger pigeons. At Lee’s Ferry, the starting point of the Canyon
where the Paria River ripples into the Colorado, I finished Carl Sandburg’s
massive study of Abraham Lincoln. But eventually, the book is set aside. That
is the moment I crave, when time stops, when the world as I know it falls away
and when I think but do not think, that state of mind I imagine Zen monks
savor in those manicured rock gardens where they contemplate the depths of
life. There is no machine noise, no car doors clunking shut, no engines turn-ing
over, no radio, no speech, save the song of birds. And the breeze boiling
up out of the Canyon itself. At Toroweap, hours of bad road lead to groves of
trees and then a 3,000-foot cliff where the earth
seems cut as if by a knife.
I have a tiny camp stove for making coffee and
I am always stunned by the roar it makes and
blessed by the curtain of silence that rolls out
the instant I turn it off. Each time I use it I am
appalled, as if the mayhem of modern life had
followed me as a stowaway disguised in this pid-dling
stove. Maybe that’s the reason I bring it — so
that the roar of the burner will make the silence
all that much more delicious when I turn it off.
Viewpoints are a curious product of the
human mind. We insist there are promontories
that enable us to see more. I doubt this very
much. Every inch of the Rim brings to our eyes
more than we will ever understand, and yet at
the same instant, everything we see we under-stand
at some deep level within ourselves and
this understanding is beyond our ability with words. There is a part of me that
thinks that no one should write a word about the Canyon, or take a photo-graph,
or paint a picture. And I believe this — even though at this very instant
I am violating this belief as I write — because the Canyon is like great music,
within the reach of everyone and beyond the comprehension of anyone. We
can feel it but we can never say it.
The road spins through scrub, then hits stands of big ponderosas, and finally
slips into Prospect Canyon, a place named by two 19th-century men looking
for the bonanza. I’m on the Hualapai Reservation, a long way west of South Bass
Point. The dirt track goes on and on for more than 20 miles and I see no one.
Five spike mule deer bound out of the way, groups of juvenile ravens explode
before my eyes. A column of stone glows yellow by the road, the Canyon walls
narrow and then widen. Mile after mile I follow a lane amid the trees, then the
Canyon opens and sagebrush takes part of the landscape. I climb up onto a ridge
to the left, the stone slab that leads to the promontory. Now the road is rock,
and winds on the edge of a burned-over area, the blackened skeletons of trees
standing like scarecrows across the landscape. Suddenly on the left, the world
falls away. I park and walk over through the pines and stand on the Rim. The
earth below feels remote and everything is buttes, plateaus and wind. I’m miles
from Prospect Point but I linger. The stone is cool, to the west the air hangs blue,
an enchanted mist hanging over the benches and spires of the Canyon.
I roll on and enter the forest clotting the promontory. I walk to the Rim,
and below is Bass Rapids, a place I once sat for days and days. The trail on
the North Rim leading down to the river is a jumble of boulders and then the
chaos of a streambed. It was winter that time and ice formed on the water. The
Canyon from Prospect Point becomes a well of memory for me. I stand in the
sun and yet feel the fresh flakes of snow from that long-ago winter trek. At my
feet are gnarled silver limbs of piñon. Some almost seem to twirl as if a giant
hand warped them into sinuous curves.
I’m alone. But that is the point of seeking isolated places on the Rim of the
Grand Canyon — to find that aloneness, and when
Sun rays silhouette the outlines of
Angel’s Gate, Isis, Shiva and Zoraster
temples and Wotans Throne from the
overlook at Navajo Point. Classical
mythology and Eastern religions
provided inspiration for many of the
Canyon’s formation names. Near Saddle
Mountain overlook, twisted aspens
(above, right) rise from fertile soil that
is also a habitat for flowering purple
lupines and flame-colored Indian
paintbrush blossoms on the Canyon’s
n To order a print of this photograph,
see page 1.
(Text continued on page 37)
34 j u n e 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 35
Piñon pine trees grow in the rock
garden of the Canyon’s sculpted
spires seen from the North Rim’s
aptly named Crazy Jug Point in
the Kaibab National Forest.
n To order a print of this photograph,
see page 1.
36 j u n e 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 37
you do, then you realize you are never
alone because these ribbons of time, those captured in the strata
and those embedded in your own life, these soft ribbons of life
wrap around you and suddenly you have no schedule, you are
not on the way to somewhere, you are where you began and
where you end and where all the places in between are found.
Sometimes they call the place South Bass, or Prospect Point, or
North Bass, or Toroweap or a dozen other off-the-beaten-path
fingers of stone reaching into the big chasm.
The view can be huge, like here. Or the view can be little,
like at Lee’s Ferry where you glance downstream and suddenly
realize the Earth is opening itself up to human eyes for close
to 300 miles.
But the view is always the same as you finally look into your-self
and find you can live with what you see.
Emerald Slopes Morning light casts shadows that crawl down the velvet
green vegetation hugging the cliffs of Grand Canyon’s Swamp Point.
n To order a print of this photograph, see page 1.
Green Thumbs Near the North Rim, Steamboat Mountain (top, right) anchors
the bright green hillsides of Powell Plateau in Grand Canyon National Park.
(Continued from page 33)
38 j u n e 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 39
Cloaked in Mist-ery
The Canyon’s rugged beauty plays hide-and-seek
as fog drifts over Cape Royal, veiling the
North Rim’s charms until the weather clears.
n To order a print of this photograph, see page 1.
40 j u n e 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 41
Sunset at Yaki Point highlights the
strands of color in the rocky layers
of the Canyon. The viewpoint takes
in only a fragment of the Canyon’s
1,904 square miles.
n To order a print of this photograph,
see page 1.
42 j u n e 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 43
This inclusive policy has led to a democratic collection that is
as much about the heartfelt stories of ordinary people and their
connection to the park as it is about the characters, objects and
events that make the history books. To be sure, Hyde’s tours
routinely include the corrugated leather and gold-plated pen
that President Woodrow Wilson used to sign the Grand Canyon
National Park Act on February 26, 1919, or the pocketwatch
used by Maj. John Wesley Powell on his famous Colorado River
runs in 1869 and 1871.
But just as profound is the paraphernalia donated by Harvey
Butchart, record-holder for the greatest number of miles hiked
in the Canyon. He bequeathed copies of his journals and hiking
logs along with his soiled orange backpack, canteen and hiking
boots. Hyde has an unerringly good eye for the best of the col-lection.
Here are some of her favorites:
The archives has a natural history collection that spans a
mind-boggling array of 100,000 items, from the fossilized cast-ings
of worm burrows and bird skins to an unidentified pickled
intestinal parasite the size of a Cuban cigar. Among the most
astounding, however, are the remains of a giant sloth. All that’s
left of this now-extinct creature is a skull, pelts of hair with
still-pliable wheat-colored strands, and softball-sized
fecal pellets, known as coprolites, which still
exude their distinctive aroma when stored in
enclosed spaces. Measuring some 6 to 8
feet long, this animal roamed the desert
terrain of grass and sagebrush some-time
between 11,000 and 40,000 years
ago. The sloth remains were collected
back in the 1930s from Rampart Cave.
In the mid-1970s a curious park visitor
toured the cave, dropping a lighted torch
before exiting. It triggered an extinction of
another kind. The flame set fire to deposits of ani-mal
dung that were millions of years old. Among the ani-mals
that contributed to the coprolite stores were saber-toothed
tigers, cave bears and Harrington mountain goats, all of which
are now extinct. It took more than a year for park personnel to
extinguish the smoldering fire.
“The Grand Canyon is one huge archaeological site,” Hyde
points out. Among the signature items in the archives are what
archaeologists refer to as split twig figurines. Carbon-dated to
between 2,000 and 5,000 years old, they are among the Canyon’s
most ancient human artifacts. Found almost exclusively in the
Grand Canyon, these animal effigies are fashioned from a single
branch of split and twisted willow. First discovered in caves by
three Civilian Conservation Corps workers in December 1933,
these mock animals were once thought to be children’s toys. But
scientists also believe they may have been hunting talismans.
Long before the advent of satellite phones, Canyon visitors
communicated with one another via written messages. They
range from pleas for help to simple commemorations. In 1902,
for example, Buffalo Bill Cody and his entourage posed with their
rifles in hand for a portrait on McKinnon Point. Decades later,
a hiker found a can tucked into the rocks with a piece of paper
bearing the signatures of Cody and his party.
Not all of the Canyon’s missives, however, mark such happy
occasions. On February 19, 1929, three park rangers on an expe-dition
down the river
signed their names on
a piece of paper and
placed it into a Prince
Albert can. The fol-lowing
day their boat
overturned and two
The can and its con-tents
recovered by res-cue
One of the most extraordinary communi-qués
was deposited in a metal box by a Good Samaritan in the
1890s. Discovered under a Canyon overhang in the 1970s, the
box contained a smattering of items that a lonely, desperate miner
might need: a sewing kit, tobacco pipe, tea towel, matches, fish-hooks,
measuring tape, playing cards, soap and vials of medicine.
Best of all, the owner left a few items for the finder’s amusement,
including a bottle of beer (complete with a Prohibition pamphlet
warning of the dangers of drunkenness). The donor also inserted
a notebook in which he asked for the return of a simple favor:
“This cash [sic] was made by L.C. Reese on the fifth day of
February 1893. If you need anything in it be sure
to take it and welcome but do not destroy or
waste anything and you will oblige.”
The Grand Canyon landscape has
been the stuff of great art—and fod-der
for the imaginations of a few lesser
lights as well. The collection, for exam-ple,
contains its share of low-brow titles,
such as the pulp romance Nurse of the
Grand Canyon by Virginia Smiley.
And then there are the postcards. Take the
“Burrometer” card. Postmarked in 1952, the card describes
Canyon weather conditions using the tail of a cartoon burro.
An upright tail, for example, indicates gale-force winds, etc.
Remarkably, the attached tail on the card survived the journey
through the U.S. postal system.
Some visitors are so moved by their Canyon visit that they
feel compelled to document the experience — sometimes in
very unconventional ways, as did Larice Burtt of Pennsylvania.
Several years ago Burtt shipped a rock the size of a basketball
to the archives. On it she painted a travelogue of her family’s
adventures on a Colorado River rafting trip through the Canyon.
With charming, almost kinetic energy, Burtt’s sunny folk-art
scenes capture the simple bliss of flowing through one of the
world’s most beautiful landscapes with people you love.
Location: 80 miles north of Flagstaff.
Getting There: From Flagstaff, drive west on Interstate 40 for 30 miles to
State Route 64 at Exit 165. Drive 55 miles north on State 64 toward Williams
and the Grand Canyon. Take a left onto Center Road for one mile and then
make a left onto Albright Avenue. The museum is located across from the
Albright Training Center.
Hours: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Additional Information: Appointments are recommended. (928) 638-7769;
Adelheid Fischer is a freelance writer who makes her home at the foot of
South Mountain in Phoenix.
f you were to place a want ad for the job of overseeing the
Grand Canyon research museum, the wording might go
something like this: “Ideal candidate would be as detail-oriented
as a librarian, possess a computerlike memory
and bubble with the enthusiasm of an ‘Antiques Roadshow’
television host. Must have more than a glancing interest in
archaeology, plants, rocks, critters, Western Americana and
American Indian history. A passion for all manner of cultural
kitsch a plus. Required: a willingness to defend the objects in
your care against rodents, sunlight, dermestid beetles, mold and
oily human fingers.”
For 17 years now, the Grand Canyon National Park Museum
Collection (GCNPMC) has had its made-to-order custodi-an
— Colleen Hyde. She presides over a soup-to-nuts, trash-to-
treasures collection that’s housed in a government-issue
building on Albright Road on the Canyon’s South Rim. Within
the nondescript exterior are whole drawers, shelves and cabinets
bursting with Grand Canyon-related objects. You want to see
a landscape tour de force by the renowned American painter
Thomas Moran? No problem. Hyde will pluck it out of a col-lection
that tops some 800,000 cataloged and numbered items.
Writing an article on the history of Grand Canyon souvenirs?
The collection’s got postcards to back-scratchers. Are you a
doctoral student starting a thesis on the flora
of the world’s biggest ditch? Well,
you’ll have 10,000 herbarium
samples to pore over. Are you
a relative of one of the 128 pas-sengers
killed in the tragic TWA-United
airliner collision over the
Canyon in 1956? The archive has
exhaustive documentation of the
crash. The coverage even includes
a wing flap from one of the planes,
courtesy of a hiker with itchy fin-gers
who “attempted to lib-erate
it from the park,” Hyde
observes. Another 30,000 to
40,000 objects are accessioned
but have yet to be cataloged. Up
to an additional 80,000 items are
packed away in boxes waiting to
be unearthed by Hyde and two other
“There are days I think I’ve seen every piece that’s back in
storage and that there’s nothing new,” Hyde says. “Then I open
up a cabinet and see an interesting letter or a new fossil and my
jaw drops. Where did that come from? It’s always exciting.”
And every week brings more unexpected nuggets. People
cleaning out the family attic uncover scrapbooks compiled by
Great-aunt Jane chronicling her grand tour of the American West
in the 1920s. While moving his office, a park employee came
across a series of antique buttons in his desk that were clipped
from a National Park Service uniform in the 1930s. In 2005,
the fragment of a Clovis point some 12,000 to 14,000 years old
was added to the collection after an amateur flintnapper (stone
tool maker) spotted it while enjoying the view from the South
Rim. His find proved that humans occupied the Canyon 2,000
years earlier than previously thought. And then
there’s the occasional looted pot or filched rock that
arrives anonymously in the mail from guilt-ridden
thieves. “Sometimes you just open up the mail and it’s
Christmas in July,” Hyde exclaims.
Although each item is carefully evaluated, “Very
seldom do we turn anything down,” Hyde observes.
Clockwise from top left: Canyon explorer Harvey Butchart’s
backpack, ascenders, canteen and hiking boots, 1980s; Maj. John
Wesley Powell’s pocket watch, 1869-1871; carte-de-visite “girlie
cards,” late 1800s; Flagstaff black-on-white seed jar/colander, a.d.
1100-1275; metal cache box, 1893. courtesy of gcnpmc
A museum stuffed with 800,000
cataloged items from ancient spear
points to airliner debris captures
the Canyon’s nitty gritty secrets
By Adelheid Fischer
The Colorado River suddenly panics. The waters surge forward like a theater crowd reacting to a puff
of smoke from the curtains, racing for the only exit — Hermit Rapids.
I’m one of four boatmen studying Hermit Rapids from river’s edge, a scene so ominous that someone once said,
“When you see Hermit, you’ll turn in your permit.” The butterflies in my stomach flitter, settle, then flitter again.
I glance up to the Rim and wonder why I’m down here on the floor of the Grand Canyon dealing with brutish
rapids when I could just as easily be up there at the Rim in the cool, carefree world of Mohave Point.
INTO THE MAW
H E R M I T R A P I D S T E A C H E S T H E M E A N I N G O F L I F E — A N D T H E V A L U E O F F E A R
T E X T A N D P H O T O G R A P H S B Y G A R Y L A D D
MONUMENTAL SUNRISE Ninety-three river miles from Lee’s
Ferry in the Grand Canyon, steely light from the rising sun
glints off Granite Rapids’ turbulence, formed by deposits of
debris flushed from Monument Creek into the Colorado River.
n To order a print of this photograph, see page 1.
FOAMIMG LAVA In this 1975 photograph, Gary Ladd (with his brother, Greg,
gripping the bow) guides his dory, Tatahotso, through Lava Falls Rapid’s
foamy 13-foot drop in the Colorado River. An area of relatively recent
volcanic activity, river explorer Maj. John Wesley Powell imagined it as “a
conflict of water and fire,” although the rapids are formed by debris flows
from Prospect Canyon to the south. rod schultz
HERMIT’S REVENGE At mile 95 in Upper Granite Gorge, Hermit Rapids’ standing fifth wave dares all comers to shoot through intact and upright, as seen in this
series in which the first boat (far left) has lost its pilot, and the far-right kayak has overturned.
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 47
Gaining momentum with each iteration, the standing waves
of Hermit rise higher and steeper until the fifth wave becomes
an ugly, frothing ogre, dedicated to the destruction of all small,
oar-powered boats that come within reach. Boats like ours.
Our scouting deliberations stretch to almost an hour. Our
comrades grow restless as we watch another group row the
gauntlet: One boat dumps everyone into the river except a single
passenger cowering on the floor. Another boat comes within
a whisker of flipping end-over-end. More deliberations, then
finally we’re ready, resigned to our fates.
With life jackets double-checked and boats scanned for hazards,
we shove off and fall into line. One by one we drop over the brink.
Each boat follows a different line based on the boatman’s daring
and the caprice of the currents. I choose a very conservative
route, a little hairy at the beginning, agreeably boring below. A
couple of minutes later, we’re all safely beyond the tail waves
with some boats having had a wild, wet ride — intended or not.
When I rowed my first Grand Canyon rapid almost 40 years
ago, I was thrilled by the experience. I couldn’t wait to run still
more. Bring ’em on! I thought. Today it’s different. One young
kayaker on our trip, talking to a young kid from another boating
group said, “They were scared!” as if this were unimaginably
silly. That was me 40 years ago, young and blithe.
Rapids are central to the experience of river-runners —
intoxicating and petrifying, marvelous and ghastly.
In the Grand Canyon, almost all rapids are created when
acres of boulders are bulldozed into the Colorado River by cata-strophic
floods and debris flows that spilled from side canyons.
This is why many side canyon hikes begin near rapids. This
is why many campsites are near rapids — they develop on the
relatively flat, broad terrain provided by the debris fans. And
this is why our camps are almost always serenaded by the song
of a whispering or blustering rapid.
In the 17 days it takes to travel 226 miles from Lee’s Ferry to
Diamond Creek, we’ll run about 75 medium to large rapids. Most
will be a joy — we’ll just float down the middle, splashing and
laughing through the waves. Only about a dozen will compel
us to scout ahead. Four or five of these will cause some anguish.
Shooting the rapids, exploring the side canyons, camping
on the beaches, hiding from the midday sun are all part of the
stream of life. The rapids, however, are the lifetime’s bench-marks.
This is especially true of one 23-mile stretch studded
with exploding waves, hungry holes and in-your-face rocks that
form nine major falls contributing to a total drop of 250 feet.
The Colorado River begins this wild plunge with the 30-foot
drop of Hance Rapids — the largest single fall in the entire
Canyon. Then comes Sockdolager at 19 feet; Grapevine, 18 feet;
Bright Angel Rapid (sometimes called the Devil’s Spittoon), 25
feet; Horn Creek, 10 feet; Granite Falls, 17 feet; Hermit, 15 feet;
Boucher, 13 feet; and Crystal, 17 feet.
The series begins just where the river slips into Upper Granite
Gorge, the Canyon’s most austere and majestic corridor, a
gateway to a world of roaring waters and soaring cliffs.
Here, mistakes matter. Boatmen can lose track of their shore-line
markers and enter the wrong chute. Lateral waves can surf
a boat into angry holes. Whirlpools can whip a boat around
sideways and backward. Oars break. Ropes part. The great pyra-mid
wave in Sockdolager can flip a rowing rig with indifference.
Granite Falls can jam a boat into “Forever Eddy.” Crystal Rapids
can flip a boat, drive it into the left cliff, plaster it onto midchan-nel
rocks or reward a deserving boatman with all three.
But despite the severity of its cataracts, the Colorado River is
oddly forgiving. On an average summer day, every second throws
500 tons of water into Crystal Rapids. It bellows with energy. And
yet, rarely is anyone seriously hurt, even when boatmen blunder.
Life jackets, modern equipment and a half-century of rational
river-running techniques can be credited for this wonderful
paradox: Most river-running accidents occur on shore.
Mostly, I run the river to photograph it. Backpacking also
works, but after more than 80 trips and many years, my back-packing
career is winding down. That leaves river-running.
Rapids. Apprehension. Trembling. All in the quest for images
of the Canyon and its river.
I’ve learned a few things: First, I’ll never see all the side can-yons.
There are far too many of them.
Second, it takes time to become an adult capable of appreciating
everyday river wonders and coping with everyday river disasters.
Third, a little fear is valuable therapy — at least that’s what I
tell my passengers.
Fourth, a river trip is like life — the routine pleasures of the
long float on still waters — punctuated occasionally by moments
of terror, heartache and rapture, too.
And, finally, the fantastic will happen. On one single after-noon,
I saw an expert boatman flip his dory three times in
Crystal Rapids. Once, I came so close to smashing my dory into
the wall below Horn Creek Rapid that my forward passengers
fled in terror for the stern. Thirty years later we still talk about
it. Every time I embark on a Grand Canyon river trip, I pack the
same hopes and fears. What will happen in the rapids? Will I
find new miracles to photograph? Will someone fall in or out of
love? It’s unnerving to embark on an uncertain life.
But you cannot avoid an occasional wreck without also skip-ping
I try to keep all this in mind as I prepare to enter Crystal Rapids,
or the world of digital photography.
As usual, I’m scared.
Among crashing water and the sound of teeth grinding
each other down, the promise of thrills outweighs fear. Rafting the
Colorado River’s 277 river miles running through the Grand Canyon
turns knuckles as white as the water. River trips fill up quickly, so
make a reservation well in advance.
HUALAPAI RIVER RUNNERS
The only Indian-owned rafting company takes visitors on
a 12-hour whitewater dash on the Colorado River through
the Hualapai Reservation. Beginning at Diamond Creek, the trip
includes a series of Class 3 rapids and a hike to Travertine Falls.
Boats hold up to eight people, and trips cost $299 plus tax,
per person. Senior citizens, active military personnel and Native
Americans receive special rates. Children must be at least 8 years old.
The Hualapai Lodge provides accommodations in Peach Springs,
the tribe’s administrative headquarters. (928) 769-2219;
WILDERNESS RIVER ADVENTURES
Trips include the “Best of the Canyon,” a six- to eight-day tour
for 15 people along 188 river miles, from Lee’s Ferry to the Bar 10
Ranch, and include the Class 7 or 8 Hermit Rapids and Class 7 to
10 Crystal Rapids. A three-day Upper Canyon trip traverses Marble
Canyon, with a stop at Vaseys Paradise, ending at Phantom Ranch.
A more personal experience awaits those brave enough to take
river trips in oar boats in groups of four to six. Prices range from
$1,200 to $2,510 for motorized trips and up to $3,500 for a 16-day
oar trip. (928) 645-3296 or toll-free (800) 992-8022;
WESTERN RIVER EXPEDITIONS
Western River’s Grand Canyon raft trips offer three to seven days of
cruising the rapids, searching out grottos and spending calm evenings
by the Colorado River. Special tours combine rafting with Western
horseback riding at a working cattle ranch. Trips also feature the Canyon’s
hidden waterfalls. Prices range from about $950 to $2,500, depending
on the duration and season. (866) 904-1160; www.westernriver.com.
ARIZONA RIVER RUNNERS
Created in 1970, this company offers seven different trips, ranging
from a 13-day oar-powered ride to a three-day trip to Lake Mead.
Rafting, combined with geology and natural history lessons, offers
an outdoor experience to people of all skill levels. Prices range from
approximately $950 to $2,900, per person, depending on the date,
with discounts for children and off-season trips. (800) 477-7238;
ARIZONA RAFT ADVENTURES
This family owned operation aims to protect the environment while
offering the thrill of riding the rapids. The guides teach raft trippers
about the Canyon’s endangered species, minimal-impact camping
and recycling. For anyone 10 years and older, the motor, paddle
and oar trips provide the chance to explore. Motorboats hold fewer
people and provide a more leisurely outing, while other vessels
require an active approach. Hybrid tours combine hiking with
kayaking or rafting. Most trips include hikes down Bright Angel
Trail and camping beneath the stars. Rates for motorized eight-to
10-day trips range from $2,100 to $2,600. Toll-free (800)
46 j u n e 2 0 0 7
Gary Ladd always wishes he were in his bed at home in Page as he guides
his dory into Hance Rapids, Crystal Rapids and Lava Falls. But he feels even
worse when he misses a chance to go on a Grand Canyon river trip.
G R A N D C A N Y O N G U I D E
Surf’s Up: Five Whitewater Rafting Outfitters By Michael Famiglietti
48 j u n e 2 0 0 7 A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 49
Eeverything went right for mule skinner
Jeff Pace today. A bright moon shining off the
snow turned the predawn darkness into daylight,
taking some of the treachery out of the South
Kaibab Trail into the Grand Canyon.
But things don’t always run so smoothly
when your job involves leading jittery pack mules all the way to
the Colorado River on a winding trail that drops off to the great
wide-open. If you happen to sail over the edge, having good light
is a decidedly mixed bag. It only means you’ll enjoy terrific views
for a few seconds before you land.
“The worst is going down in the dark,” says Pace, a bright-eyed
33-year-old whose ancestors helped settle the Arizona Strip. “In
front of me, I can only see my mule’s ears. If I turn around on a
steep switchback, I only see the feet of the mule behind me. It
can be nerve-racking.”
At the moment, Pace is slogging through the mud in his cor-ral,
not far from the East Rim. It’s early on a cloudless afternoon.
Pace and assistant J.D. Hogue are trying to get a bridle on a new
mule named Soiled Dove, who also needs winter shoes to better
grip the trail ice.
But Soiled Dove is suspicious of their attention. She stomps and
flaps her tail, letting Pace and Hogue know that whatever they
have in mind, she’s against it. They approach with extreme caution.
Hogue calls her name hoping she’ll relax. She snorts instead.
A visitor asks if mules can recognize their names. “If they’ve
been cussed out enough, they’ll look up,” Hogue says.
As the Canyon’s head packer, Pace knows that success in his
job — and staying out of the emergency room — requires under-standing
the personalities of his animals. Except for smelling
like heck and having rotten attitudes, they’re all different.
But when they join Pace’s stable, the mules share one key
common experience. Like people, they encounter that “holy
mackerel” moment when they first see the Canyon. It’s what
happens next that matters.
When Soiled Dove came to her first switchback, she froze like
an iceberg with a tail. So Pace tied his lead rope around one front
foot, a piggin string around the other, and commenced yanking.
“We literally pulled her around the switchback,” he says. “After
that she was all right.”
Five mornings a week, Pace and an assistant lead a train of
four or five mules down the South Kaibab Trail to Phantom
Ranch. He leaves his cabin at 4:30 a.m. and walks 75 feet to his
barn and corral to pack eggs, tomatoes, canned goods and other
supplies for the guests and staff at Phantom Ranch onto the
backs of his animals.
At about 5:30, he hits the trail, covering the 7.5 miles in about
2.5 hours. He unloads, has breakfast, reloads the mules with
sacks of garbage and off he goes, topping out of the “hole” again
by about 1:30 p.m.
Sounds simple. But the Canyon makes for one of the most
difficult packing jobs in the world. “It’s as unforgiving as any
place on Earth,” says Ross Knox, one of Pace’s predecessors. “You
screw up there and it’s taps.”
For most of its length, the Kaibab goes either straight up or
straight down. Winter temperatures can plummet to 15 degrees
below zero, and summer highs soar to 115
The first part of the trail bends through a maze
of switchbacks called the chimney, because the
wind roars through them like you’re standing
in one. The packer has a rock wall at one shoul-der
and open air at the other and a 3.5-foot-wide trail underfoot.
If something goes wrong, he has virtually no room to bail.
At the bottom, the pack train passes through a 60-foot tunnel
cut through rock, and immediately crosses a 440-foot suspen-sion
bridge over the Colorado. Going from light to dark to light
again, then onto a bouncing bridge above moving water can give
mules the jimmy legs or worse.
Even so, Pace has never had a serious accident. But he’s come
close. Lately, one of his mules, Shasta, has been putting her front
feet onto the bridge leaving Phantom Ranch and sitting down.
When Shasta did this recently, it tugged on the rope connect-ing
her with Cletus, the mule Pace was riding. Cletus fell, pin-ning
Pace to the side of the bridge. “We both went to the ground,”
he says. “It amazes me that I didn’t get hurt.”
On another trip, a mule named Easy — so named because
it was easy for him to get into a wreck — stepped off the trail
and came to rest 40 feet below. The animal required numerous
stitches to close some head gashes. But the experience changed
Easy for the better.
“It knocked some sense into him,” says Pace. “He had ‘people
issues’ before, and now he wants to be my friend. I’m not sure
why, except maybe he liked the doctors. Mules never forget.”
Neither does Knox, who achieved near-legendary status in almost
17 years as the Canyon’s head packer, departing the job in June 2005.
He saw it all at the Canyon, including having bighorn sheep run
crazily into his string of mules during fall rutting season.
“You’re in front so it’s up to you to settle the mules,” says Knox,
who now packs for Saguaro National Park in Tucson. “But it’s
hard. You don’t want to yell because it’ll stir them up. Don’t move,
don’t breathe and maybe we’ll get through this.”
Knox’s reputation stems from his ability to pack almost any-thing
into the Canyon. He took kayaks down, water heaters, even a
26-inch TV set. His weirdest cargo? Fifty pounds of live lobsters.
The staff at Phantom Ranch, suffering a serious seafood crav-ing,
pooled their tip money to buy them, and asked Knox if he
could make the delivery. No problem.
Back at the corral, Pace successfully gets Soiled Dove shipped
to the blacksmith for new shoes. The animal has gone into the
Canyon only six times, but Pace likes what he’s seen so far.
“She’s gentle and doesn’t seem to have too many quirks,” he
says. “But some of these mules use their intelligence for evil plots
against people. That’s their entertainment.”
Knox, an accomplished cowboy poet, puts it more lyrically: “If
you get in a tight spot, get out your Crayolas and color yourself
screwed, because they’ll do it to you every time.”
But having such obstinate co-workers didn’t dim Knox’s appre-ciation
for what he called the best job he’s ever had.
“There are usually no other humans in sight, and it’s so beauti-ful,”
he says about the Canyon. “It’s phenomenal to go to work
every day in one of God’s greatest creations.”
Pace agrees. “I’ve got the best office in the world,” he says.
Tucson-based Leo W. Banks would never trust his life to a cranky mule, and
thinks Canyon ‘skinners should get combat pay for doing so.
After 20 years as a photographer, Dan Coogan of Phoenix just learned how
difficult it is to control a mule, let alone six at one time.
B Y L E O W . B A N K S
P H O T O G R A P H S B Y
D A N C O O G A N
MULE BOOT CAMP Mule skinner Ross Knox not only handles harsh heat
and treacherous trails, he knows how to deal with the bad attitudes of his
fickle four-legged friends.
MULE TRAIN Before a mule is qualified to carry people down Grand Canyon
trails, the animal must train (above) for 18 months and be at least 4 years old.
Grand Canyon mule skinner gulps, swears
and gets used to living on the edge
50 j u n e 2 0 0 7 by Christa Sadler illustration by Joseph Daniel Fiedler along the way
i don’t really believe in ghosts. I’ve heard stories
from other boatmen, about seeing strange shapes and hearing
voices on the wind in the Grand Canyon’s ruins from nameless
shadows and shapeless figures. Yeah, right. Put the tequila
down, boys. I’ve always been way too practical to believe it.
It was a dark and stormy night — no kidding — in 1992,
and we were about halfway through a month-long Canyon
trip with Prescott College. Andre, Julie and I were instructors
traveling with 11 students.
We were camped at Blacktail Canyon for the night, Mile 120.
Blacktail is my favorite place in the Canyon. It’s like a church
to me. It has always been a welcoming place. For years now,
my river company has made a practice of doing a silent hike
up the narrow, twisting side canyon. I like this, because if you
spend your time talking, before you know it you’ve walked the
quarter-mile to the end. But if you’re quiet, the walls close in
and surround you. They’re plum-colored Tapeats sandstone,
and they bend in over your head, so that only a narrow strip
of sky remains. It’s absolutely still in that place, and drops of
water fall with a resounding noise into the pools that you pick
your way over and around. Sometimes a canyon wren sings,
or thunder rumbles over the North Rim, and it sounds like it’s
coming right out of the walls. This is where I sing, where the
string quartet plays, where any boatman with a guitar or a flute
comes to make special music.
It was raining pretty hard by the time we finished dinner,
and the students all retreated to their tents scattered among
the boulders. Andre and I knew there was a deep overhanging
ledge of sandstone at the entrance to the canyon where we
could lay out our bags and sleep unmolested by rain and snow.
The canyon’s mouth at my side yawned wide and so black I
couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.
“Listen,” Andre said, “I hear drumming.” I listened, and
looked to my right. The canyon mouth got a little darker. “It’s
just the rapid, Andre. Let’s get some sleep.”
An old man comes to me, holding a stone knife. He has
long, white hair and wears something around his neck. I can’t
see his face. He says nothing, but somehow I know that he
wants to show me something. Something horrible. I feel death,
but not mine. I’m not supposed to be here. I should leave. Now.
“They” want us out of here. The old man is telling me this,
only without words. I am so scared I’m rigid. The only things
that work are my eyes, watching the darkness of the canyon
mouth. I feel myself trying to break the paralysis. I can’t wake
up. I try again and again until I literally drag myself out of
sleep. I feel like I’ve come back from someplace very deep and
far away. . . .
I lay there, heart pounding. The first thing I heard was
the resonant drumming of the rapid off the walls. I couldn’t
even look at the mouth of the canyon — it was too dark and
bottomless, threatening. Finally, I got up enough guts to speak.
“Andre, are you awake?” I whispered anxiously.
“Yes,” he said in a tense voice.
“I had a terrible nightmare,” I told him.
“So did I.” I felt the hairs on the back of my neck prickle.
“What was yours about?” I asked him.
“I don’t know. I just know it was something horrible.” My
stomach turned over. “We’re not supposed to be here, Andre.”
“I know. We should leave right now,” he said.
Without another word, we gathered our bags and went
out into a driving rain to set up a tent near our sleeping
companions. The drumming was gone.
I go to Blacktail Canyon every chance I get. But I will never
sleep there at night; I know I’m not supposed to. I’ve camped
there since, on the debris fan. I’ve sat under the overhang. But
I’ve never heard the drumming again.
A boatman’s tale
turns on sounds in the dark
in a hidden slot
Excerpted with permission from There’s This River: Grand Canyon
Boatman Stories, an anthology of stories and artwork produced
entirely by the river-guiding community of Grand Canyon, compiled by
Christa Sadler and published by This Earth Press, Flagstaff.
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hike of the month
Before you go on this hike, visit arizonahighways.com for other things
to do and places to see in this area. You’ll also find more hikes in our archive.
on the south kaibab trail,
I once passed a couple
packing an inflatable green
alien into the Canyon. While
ascending the Bright Angel
Trail, I once encountered a
man carrying a bicycle across
the Canyon. More than 4
miles from the Rim, I once
observed a man on crutches
hobbling up the trail.
But on this October
morning we have resolved to
leave such Canyon
“pageantry” behind by
stepping off the Bright Angel
Trail to climb The Battleship,
a jutting, rust-red ridge that
forms one of the Grand
Canyon’s interior summits.
Our party includes John
Beshears and Tom Geiger,
who run the park’s facility
management division and are
known locally as the
“Maintenance Dudes.” In
addition, Brad Wallis and
Helen Thompson, of the
Grand Canyon Association,
have signed on for this off-trail
Two miles down the
Bright Angel Trail, we
trade the engineered
fountains, directional signs
and emergency phones for
crumbling slopes, fallen
trees, loose rocks, thick
brush, angry cacti and poor
footing. This is great — I’m
sometimes abashed to be seen
on manicured trails.
“Bushwhacking” to a ridge
anchoring The Battleship to
South Rim’s Mohave Point
consumes an hour. At the
saddle we rest, guzzle water
and study the 500-foot bulk
of The Battleship. Cairns mark
the hint of trail around the
butte’s east flank. Partway up,
an agave skewers Thompson’s
leg. She stops to patch, her
sock stained a bright red. “No
problem,” she says.
The trail leads to the base of
a seemingly insurmountable
cliff. But on closer inspection,
a tall cairn on a ledge signals a
route through a labyrinth of
cracks and ledges. Each crack
runs parallel to the cliff face;
each is a void created where a
block of rock leans away from
the butte. Twice we pass
under chockstones, rocks
wedged in the cracks. What
Thompson soon calls the “Bad
Crack” requires us to scale a
“chimney,” legs and arms
braced against opposite walls.
I subconsciously try not to
apply too much pressure on
the wall of the block that tilts
toward the Canyon.
The maze reminds me of
a dubious route I followed
down to the Colorado River
years earlier, which led down
a ravine, along a ledge, into
a cave and down through
a tiny “worm hole” into a
lower cave. This cave led
to a cliff face and finally to
a chimney under a natural
bridge down to the river. On
our return as I inched back
up that wormhole like a slug
in a straw, I was astonished
to hear a deep thumping.
Mining? The river? No: The
thunder of my thudding heart.
The cracks of The Battleship
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 53
FIRED UP FOR BATTLE Emerging
from the depths of the Grand
Canyon, glowing fire-red beneath
the South Rim, this rock formation is
known as The Battleship because of
its resemblance to a ship used in the
prove less strenuous, and
after an hour we scramble up
the last crag to the top. I pull
out my binoculars and spin
around the 360-degree view.
Above, I can see people on the
Rim at Maricopa Point and
Powell Point. Below, I can see
hikers trudging toward Indian
Garden Campground. I can
see Kolb Studio where we
started four hours earlier. I
look for climbers on other
Grand Canyon summits: No
one on Zoroaster or Vishnu.
No one on Isis or Osiris. We
seem to have Grand Canyon’s
sky islands all to ourselves.
We make our way over
broken slabs of sandstone to
the north end of The
Battleship’s summit. There’s
more air here than rock.
Beyond us lies a maze of
canyons, slots, buttes, temples,
peaks, plateaus, towers and
clefts. We consider trying
some of the other peaks.
Thompson overrules all
By noon we head back.
Looking down between my
feet, I notice a mule train
arriving at Indian Garden
from Plateau Point and wonder
if we’ll beat it home. We
emerge from the cracks and the
brushy slog back to the main
trail covered with scratches
and scrapes. By now, I’m not
a bit embarrassed to have
regained the cushy main trail.
We beat the mules back to
the Rim by a whicker. When
a woman asks if we’ve just
come from the bottom of the
Canyon, we point to The
Battleship. She actually gasps,
which is sinfully satisfying.
Why do people climb
mountains? It’s not just the
view; it’s the camaraderie,
challenge, freedom and
physical accountability. After
leading the first party to the
20,000-foot summit of Mount
McKinley in 1913, Hudson
Stuck wrote that the climb
gives the climber “a
privileged communion with
the high places of the earth. . . .”
52 j u n e 2 0 0 7
MARCHING DOWN TO MAKE IT UP
Traipsing down Bright Angel Trail
before they can climb The Battleship,
Helen Thompson, Brad Wallis, John
Beshears and Tom Geiger (left to
right) are en route toward the
football-field-sized summit. The
hikers take a short breather
overlooking Indian Garden (right).
Helen Thompson pushes her way
through an 8-foot crack (left) while
Brad Wallis looks on.
Length: 7 miles.
Elevation Gain: 2,000 feet.
Payoff: 360-degree views and fun scramble up through a series of cracks to
Location: The Battleship is located immediately west of and above Indian
Getting There: From Flagstaff, drive west on Interstate 40 for 30 miles to
State Route 64 at Williams. Turn north (right) on State 64 and drive 58 miles
to the Grand Canyon South Entrance. The route begins at the South Rim of
Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail.
Additional Information: The Battleship route is sometimes closed to hikers
when California condors nest in adjacent canyons. For details and current
regulations, contact Grand Canyon National Park, (928) 638-7888;
Grand Canyon’s interior peaks offer an arduous thrill
text and photographs by Gary Ladd
GR AN D C A N YO N
Bright Angel Trail
A R I Z O N A H I G H W A Y S . C O M 55
back road adventure
I needed to be alone. I
thought a trip to the Grand
Canyon viewpoints in the
Kaibab National Forest would
offer just the cure. So I rented
a little car, loaded up my 14-
year-old dog, Shiva, and went.
The idea was to act
ridiculous in the company of
no one — except the dog, of
course, who’s seen it all before.
I wanted to talk to myself out
loud, holler into the Canyon,
sunbathe in the buff. I already
knew it was possible to do all
those things at the west side
viewpoints. Frequently I’d
enjoyed the primitive little fire
ring at North Timp Point in
complete solitude, but I’d
never checked out the other
side, the high edges of forest
overlooking the Canyon’s East
Rim and the Saddle Mountain
Wilderness. On this trip,
that’s what I aimed to do.
One great thing about
the Kaibab Plateau north of
the Canyon is that most of
the roads are within easy
distance of the North Rim
Country Store and gas station,
a good (if pricey) backup for
deficiencies in planning. It
sells ice, water, basic groceries
and serves coffee all day,
though in the afternoon you
may have to microwave it in
its Styrofoam cup. It’s a great
comfort if, like me, you forget
one vital item on every trip.
The store, like the nearby
historic Kaibab Lodge along
State Route 67, stays open
generally from mid-May
through the end of October,
but closes when snow shuts
down the highway.
Forest Service Road
610 starts less than a mile
southeast of the store, via
Forest Service Road 22. The
southeast leg leads to Marble
Viewpoint (via Forest Service
Road 219), intersects the
north-south Arizona Trail,
passes the trailhead to Point
Imperial and dead-ends at
the start of the infamous
Nankoweap Trail. Both of
those trails head south into
the park. Incidentally, the
Arizona Trail trailheads in
that area harbor the only
restrooms (man-made and
rough-hewn) for miles.
The last few miles of the
east end of FR 610 gave me
the illusion that I’d been
transported to a sandy road
on the East Coast. Unlike the
high, mixed conifer settings
of the west viewpoints, some
of the roads on the east
side — 610 included — are
lower in elevation and
hemmed in by locust trees
and young aspens. Road the
color of beach sand adds to
A lonely meander to little-known Canyon viewpoints
puts the ridiculous into perspective
the effect. And it’s possible to
imagine that the fire-scorched
snags have actually been
lopped off by a hurricane’s
Fredonia resident Duane
Swapp, who’s retired from
the North Kaibab Ranger
District after 31 years, said
610 was built wide so land
managers could first fight and
then clean up the 1960 Saddle
Mountain Fire. The northern
end of the road was made for
logging, along with FR 219
off the south leg and Forest
Service Road 611 to the north.
FR 219 darts north from
610 about halfway between
the store and the road’s
southern end. By the time I
approached that road, I was
spoiled. It was a weekend,
and my interactions with
people in almost two days
had been limited to buying
a cup of coffee and issuing
the half-hand salute over the
steering wheel to less than
half a dozen other drivers.
So I was disappointed to
see a Jeep turn onto 219
ahead of me. Sure enough,
Quiet Splendor ALL ALONE
At dawn’s first light, two
evergreen trees stand at
silhouetted against Echo
Cliffs in Grand Canyon
National Park. jack dykinga
WILDERNESS WONDER Located in
the Saddle Mountain Wilderness,
Dog Point rises above scattered low-lying
Grand Canyon fog at sunset.
The wilderness area spreads out for
approximately 40,610 acres and
ranges from 6,000 to more than 8,000
feet elevation. jack dykinga
54 j u n e 2 0 0 7
by Anne Minard
ROAD WARRIORS Ponderosa pines
crowd Forest Service Road 610 on the
Kaibab Plateau north of Grand
Canyon National Park. These mighty
trees can grow taller than 125 feet
with trunks up to 4 feet in diameter.
morey k. milbradt
56 j u n e 2 0 0 7
its passengers were at
Marble Viewpoint when the
road ended rather abruptly
at a wide, grassy knoll
overlooking the Saddle
I parked, got out and
walked down a little two-track
road to the side, shaded
by huge overhanging firs.
It opened up into a scene
straight out of The Sound of
Music. It would have been
tempting to lie down and roll
on the gentle slope of that
long meadow, if it weren’t for
all the walnut- and fist-sized
rocks. A panoramic view of
the wilderness was splotched
with cloud shadows. Too bad,
I thought, that I couldn’t be
Two-track roads with tall
weeds and occasional tree
falls, neither 219A nor B was
suitable for my passenger
car. People have worn rough
paths around the tree-falls,
but I turned around on one
such detour when branches
scraped the car’s underside.
I didn’t even try the non-numbered
spur from 219B
that leads, according to the
map, to the Arizona Trail.
Even on 219 proper and the
southern end of 610, you
run the risk of kicking up
rocks that bounce against the
bottom of a small car.
My next leg — leading to
the place where I wanted to
spend my second night — was
back to the start of 610 and
out FR 611, which juts from
there toward the East Rim
At its farthest end, 611
is overgrown and you can’t
really see the view. But the
sites just shy of there, on
a little southern spur road
about a mile and a half east
of the Arizona Trail, boast
phenomenal views. There,
the long, Painted Desert-hued
lowland of the Saddle
Mountain Wilderness leads in
the far distance to red, cliff-sided
canyons descending to
the Colorado River. I found
a limestone outcrop with the
perfect combination of shade
for the dog and full exposure
for my less sensible goals.
I sunned myself until first
thunder and didn’t see a soul.
Swapp said there was once
a mining camp near the East
Rim Viewpoint. And you can
still see the remnants of an
old corral that hosted rodeos
in the 1940s and ’50s and
horseback rides on the North
Just north of there, 610
(a.k.a. Dog Point Road)
leads northeast to another
overgrown dead end. Look
for a road to the south, just
before there, marked only
with a cairn. It leads to the
most amazing overlook of all
(along with more beautiful
campsites). I sat there blissfully
alone and gawked vacantly
at the view while monsoon
storms kept building. Finally,
loud rumbles let me know
the weather had really
arrived. I could make another
camp, I thought — solo and
surrounded by beauty. But,
sore and scratchy from too
much sun, low on water
and filled with a new peace
from being so completely
undisturbed, I decided to
leave the whole place for
some other lone adventurer
to enjoy. I offered one more
lazy, back-road salute to a
minivan — the only vehicle I
passed on my way out.
Note: Mileages are approximate.
> From Flagstaff, drive north on U.S. Route 89 for 110 miles to Bitter
Springs and U.S. Route 89A, which leads west toward the North Rim.
> Drive west 55 miles on U.S. 89A. Turn left onto State Route 67.
Arrive at Jacob Lake Lodge. Drive south approximately 30 miles to
reach the Kaibab Lodge and North Rim Country Store.
> From the store, drive about a mile south to Forest Service Road
22, a wide, well-maintained road that runs east and west.
> Drive east on FR 22 to reach Forest Service Road 610, which leads
to Forest Service Road 219 from the south leg and Forest Service
Road 611 to the north. back road adventure
PINE POWER A wind-twisted
ponderosa pine survives despite
adverse conditions in the Saddle
Mountain Wilderness in the Kaibab
National Forest. One of seven
national forests in Arizona, Kaibab
covers 1.6 million acres and borders
both the North and South rims of the
Grand Canyon. paul gill
Warning: Back-road travel can
be hazardous if you are not
prepared for the unexpected.
Whether traveling in the desert
or in the high country, be
aware of weather and road
conditions. Make sure you and
your vehicle are in top shape and
you have plenty of water. Don’t
travel alone, and let someone
at home know where you’re
going and when you plan to
return. Odometer readings in
the story may vary by vehicle.
Additional Information: North
Kaibab Ranger District, (928)
DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT The sun
rises at Grand Canyon National Park,
illuminating the jagged formations
of Dog Point and the dense Kaibab
National Forest. Many tree species
populate Kaibab, including
ponderosa pine, Douglas fir,
Engelmann spruce, aspen, blue
spruce, oak, piñon pine and juniper.
n To order a print of this photograph,
see page 1.
East Rim Viewpoint
FR 22 FR 219
K AIBAB P L ATE AU
To North Rim
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