A Trip to the GRAND CANYON

Some time ago we decided to take a vacation and to go and see what must surely be one of the most spectacular places on the surface of the Earth - the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River.   The Colorado River winds for a total of 1,450 miles from Utah to Mexico, but the most spectacular part is the 280 miles which lie in Northern Arizona, and which are known as the Grand Canyon.  The river and it's tributaries drain over 240,000 square miles of land, and in the Grand Canyon the river has cut deeply into the landscape on a scale which is impossible to imagine.  The average distance from wall to wall is 9 miles and the river drops 2,200 feet during it's passage through.  The last sector of our drive to the canyon itself took several hours, and we finally arrived in our overnight hotel, three miles south of Grand Canyon Village, situated right on the edge of the Canyon itself.  By this time it was dark, so we had a frustrating wait for morning until we could get our first real sight of the what we'd come to see, but as there was a full moon we ventured to the south rim, where we clearly caught tantalizing glimpses of what lay in wait for us in the morning.

Morning dawned bright and clear, but it was early November, and we're nearly 5,000 feet above sea level so the temperature was well below freezing.  No matter, today we're going to walk down into the canyon, along the bottom for a while, and then back to the top. It had been difficult to decide what we could do in a day, because this was our first visit to the canyon, but we'd estimated what might be a reasonably challenging day.  The north rim is 5,700 feet high, but we had decided not to try the other side because the roads are sometimes impassable with snow after a certain time of year.

Having parked the car at the top, outside the Visitor's Center we finally got our first proper look, and in the early morning sunshine the view was truly magnificent.  A complex mixture of all the colors you can imagine, the landscape before us was rich in reds and pinks and browns, and from where we were on the south rim it was 4,500 feet to the river.

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We set the camera on a rock and took a quick picture (just in case we never returned!) and headed off for the head of the Kaibab Trail, which we had chosen for our descent.

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As we approached the spot where we had been told the trail descends, it is impossible to see how any trail could possibly cling to the side of such a precipitous cliff.  We stared out over the magnificent cliff and wondered.

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It's not until you're actually on the trail that you can see it, and we could see tiny dots below us in the distance, realizing they were people who had set off before us.

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We were carrying 2 liters of water each (more is needed in summer) and food.  The distances here are very demanding, and it is easy to underestimate the time taken for walking.

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But it's not easy to get lost!  Unlike hill or mountain climbing, a walk into the canyon starts with a descent, and ends with a climb of nearly a mile, at a time when you are already exhausted.  We were to learn this later!

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On the way down we took this incredible photograph of Lizzie standing on the edge of the canyon, showing the Colorado River in the bottom.  This picture has hung in our houses ever since.

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Temperatures in the canyon are significantly higher than those on the rim, and it is not unusual for the temperature to exceed 120F in summer.  Rain which falls over the canyon does not usually make it all the way to the bottom, where a desert lies a mile down.

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Today is winter, and it is not going to get that hot, but by the time we have been walking for an hour it is warm enough to strip to shirt-sleeves. The trail is very dusty on the way down, and we have passed one of the donkey trains which ply between the ranch in the canyon (called Phantom Ranch) and the surface.

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The trail is deep in mule droppings as a result, and we are having to be careful where we step. On the way down there are marker boards at intervals telling us where we have reached in prehistoric time.  The whole of this part of northern Arizona has been underwater at several times in prehistory, and enormous deposits of sedimentary rock have been variously laid down and eroded. This continual action has produced an incredible variety of rock types and colors, and now that the river has cut a mile into the earth it has exposed layer upon layer of this ancient, sedimentary material, rich in fossils and increasing in age as we descend.

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Some of the oldest rocks in the canyon floor are 1.7 billion years old, but the work of the river has taken only 6 million years to produce the landscape which we see today.

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We have decided to stay on the plateau, following the Tonto Trail, rather than go all the way to the river.  It is still twelve miles along the canyon to a point where another well established trail, the Bright Angel, can lead us back to the top, hopefully before dark.  At this point we are in a truly desert environment. 

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It hardly ever rains here and the vegetation is mostly scrub and cactus, but just occasionally we were forced to detour up side canyons with small streams running down from the peaks surrounding us.

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In these little canyons can be found a wealth of plant life and some very attractive trees and bushes.  Lizards and butterflies abound, and we are told that there are also owls, rabbits and rattlesnakes, although we fortunately haven't seen any of the latter. 

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The ground was constantly changing form, from hard rock to sand to scrub, and all around were deposits of sedimentary rock, rich with fossils.  A geologist would have to spend weeks down here, there is simply so much to see.  By now the temperature is well into the eighties and we stopped for a rest, a drink and something to eat.  ......

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If we stopped chewing and just listened we were astounded by how very quiet it was.  It was absolutely still and we could literally hear nothing at all, except for the sound of our own breathing.  Our isolation was complete...

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Half way through the afternoon, just when we'd given up hope of ever finding the other trail, we saw some telephone poles and an emergency telephone, and we realise that we'd found the trail leading up.

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We were now in a place called the Indian Garden, and hadn't seen another living soul for several hours.  It was good to at least know where we were again.  Pausing only for a brief rest we made our way towards the base of the cliff which stood a mile high in front of us and began the long climb home.

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It took longer than we'd thought and the pauses for rest became more and more frequent, as we tried to calm the mad thumping of our hearts.  How old am I?  Certainly too old to be doing this, and how embarrassed will I be if I die of a heart attack half way up.  What would people back home say?

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Behind us we could see the trail winding down and down back to the canyon and were amazed at how far we'd come.  We were even more amazed at how far there was still to go, and we began fixing our gaze on reference points alongside so that we could convince ourselves that we were making progress.

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It was also getting a lot colder as we climbed and we begin to put back on the clothing we've taken off on the way down.  The sun was going down, casting long shadows and we began to be concerned about losing daylight.  It's only just over four miles, but it took us three hours to finally reach the top, and then we realized that it was another mile to where we'd parked the car.  Won't make that mistake again!

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By the time we reach the car it is pitch dark and bitterly cold, and when we arrive back at the hotel we realise that we cannot get out of the driving seat, because our legs refuse to work.  Conclusions from this expedition are that we've definitely taken on too much, but would probably do it all over again, providing we can survive the night.......!

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The following morning was again bright and clear.  It promised to be another great day, but we had to go back home. The time had come to leave and return to the ordinary world, where things are on a normal scale and where there is perpetual noise and movement. But after our experience, so close to nature, we will never be the same again.

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