Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
Because I live in southern Arizona, I take advantage of this location to make an annual trip to the Grand Canyon. On my previous trips I’ve talked about the right way to hike the canyon (slowly!) and then provided some suggestions for proper preparation.
This time I am simply going to suggest two hikes. One is very easy and should be done by every visitor to the south rim. The other hike is for those who go to the bottom, and reserve themselves one day there for a day hike.
The South Rim
For this past week’s trip I had rented a 10 person cabin in Phantom Ranch, and everyone was going to gather at the south rim by Sunday evening for the hike down on Monday. However, my good friend David Vidonic and I decided to drive up on Friday so that we would have two days beforehand to explore the rim itself. On Saturday we hiked near Desert View, heading east onto the flats overlooking the canyon’s easternmost end.
On Sunday we decided to do an easy 7.5 mile hike in order to reserve our energy for the hike down the next day. This is the hike I propose every visitor do, if they can. We boarded the Hermit Rest shuttle bus, which took us to Hermit’s Rest, the western end of the Park’s developed area on the south rim. From there we hiked back along the rim trail. The picture to the right shows David on that trail, looking into the canyon.
I had never done this before, and was very surprised at how beautiful it was. To do it right however you need to look for the real trail. For large sections the Park Service has build a paved path for the disabled as well as bicyclists, and this is the trail they advertise. If you keep your eyes open, however, you will see the real unpaved trail off to the side, hugging the rim. This is the trail you should follow, as it is really easier walking and has much better views into the canyon.
Ninety percent of all visitors to the Grand Canyon never step off the rim and enter the canyon itself. What most do is drive to the south rim, which is a relatively short distance from major cities like Flagstaff and Phoenix, and go from lookout to lookout, either driving their car or using the shuttle bus provided by the National Park Service. This hike however has you traverse the rim in a relatively untraveled area. You will see fewer people, but more important, you will see the canyon change as you move from lookout point to lookout point. The changing scenery will help you capture the size and scale of the canyon, something that is harder to do if you only stop at each lookout.
For those who want to hike to the bottom of the canyon, I have previously advised everyone to give themselves one full day at the bottom to do some day hiking inside the canyon. On this trip, we decided to hike the Clear Creek trail, which zig-zags up to the Tonto Platform on the north side of the canyon 1,000 feet above the river. The Tonto, called the Tonto Plateau on the south side and the Tonto Platform on the north side, is the wide flat green plateau just above the inner gorge of the Colorado River and about 4,000 below the rim.
Diane and I had hiked this trail back in 2003. It is the reason I love the Tonto. As I have written previously, “From [the Tonto] we got a real feeling of the size and majesty of the Grand Canyon. From this trail we were in the canyon, not above it looking down or in the Inner Gorge at the Colorado River, where you can’t see very much around you. Here, we could see everything, and it told us how big and grand the Grand Canyon truly is.”
The panorama at the top of this post looks east from the trail, with Brian McMillan and Nicole Davis the tiny figures in the middle for scale.
As the Clear Creek trail contours along the Tonto it first skirts along the base of Zoroaster Temple, one of the canyon’s most distinctive peaks. On this trail however you practically get right under it as it rises more than 3,500 feet straight up. The picture below shows the view of Zoroaster from the trail, with Brian and Nicole ahead of me.
As you can see, visiting the Grand Canyon is a wonderful thing. I will return of course. It makes me happy to be there.
I also hope others make the effort to enter this magical spot. The universe is a great place to visit. Going to the Grand Canyon is one way to do it.