At the Grand Canyon, they lack Wi-Fi, except in certain areas–the visitor’s center, the general store near the Desert View campgrounds, presumably a few other places–and I lacked anything like the motivation to get out my clunky, clumsy, hopelessly out-of-place electronic device and haul it over to one of them just to type up a blog post. If you’ve ever been to the Grand Canyon before, slash camped out at it before, it’s…
I mean, it’s fucking incredible. It is literally not credible. I had to train my mind out of thinking I was looking at some kind of backdrop for a colossal movie set, because things that large and beautiful and spectacular just don’t exist in the normal world where I normally live.
We hiked into it, twice–we did the Bright Angel Trail up to the 1.5 mile mark, two days ago, and yesterday we did 1.5 miles of the South Kaibab trailhead. The Bright Angel trail is located on a fault line, which makes it about the coolest thing I can imagine; I don’t know about South Kaibab, but it is extremely steep.
Walking into the Canyon, and walking back out, is an exercise in humility. Forget cell phones, Wi-Fi, electricity, and all the rest. That was never even an option. There’s no ski lift, there’s no elevator, there is no way to go down or up except by hiking. And it is hard. There are signs plastered all over the tourist areas of the canyon that make it very clear–Rebecca put it best; park rangers are really good at clear and direct communication–that the Canyon is not your friend, it is not a casual day-hike, it is a serious and physically demanding journey that will fuck you up if you don’t bring enough water or food, or get overambitious in any way.
“Going down is optional. Coming up is mandatory,” said the sign at Cedar Ridge, at the 1.5-mile mark on the South Kaibab trail. There was no water down there, unlike at Bright Angel the day before, so Rebecca and I carried five full water bottles between us, totaling probably six and a half liters. We brought two packets of trail mix, beef jerky,
Triscuits Wheat Thins and peanut butter, generic saltine crackers, Cheez-Its, two apples, carrots, and probably some other stuff I’m forgetting. (You have to bring salty snacks to replace what you’re going to sweat out.) We brought two tubes of sunscreen, big shady hats, sunglasses, and chapstick.
Before we were out, we had drunk every last drop of the water, eaten most of the food, sunscreened up maybe three times each, and been devoutly thankful for the hats and glasses and light clothing we were wearing. The Canyon is as temperatureamental as anywhere I’ve ever been; you can be sitting in the sun and it’s 90 degrees, and then the wind comes up and it feels like 50, not half a minute later.
We made it to Ooh Ah Point, 0.9 miles from the canyon rim, and decided to hike the remaining 0.6 miles to Cedar Ridge, a drop of 440 feet. That was our goal.
We made it, and the view was spectacular, and if it weren’t so late at night I would make some effort to upload photos and put some of them here for you–which I really will do, some day. (WordPress lets you schedule posts so they come out later, which is nice when it’s 1:30 AM and you want to write something.)
But I want to convey to you just how hard it is to hike even the little bit of the Grand Canyon that we did. (One day, we will return, and we will hike rim-to-rim–South to North, crossing the Colorado River on the way.) Not because look how badass we are, but because it was humbling. Going down is whatever. Going up consumes the entirety of your attention.
The path up from Cedar Ridge is in the Redwall sandstone, reddish-orange, slaty rock. The sand of the path is orange. There is not much shade. The grade, well, is steep–440 feet in not quite two-thirds of a mile. The path is sometimes even, sometimes rocky, sometimes dug out; a crew of National Park Service AmeriCorps volunteers were resurfacing it, which meant digging out the dirt areas between the logs that define each step, filling in the areas with rock from the canyon wall, and spreading a layer of dirt over the top of that. We walked over some areas with just the rock, which was fine, and a lot of areas that had been dug out but not yet filled in. Two-foot gaps in the orange dirt between the logs. You step from log to log, or you trudge through each hollow, or you balance on the larger rocks that line the side of the path, but climb it you do. It’s not glamorous. You’re just putting one foot in front of the next, in front of the next, in front of the next, up the equivalent of 112 flights of stairs. And you’re doing it at 8,000 feet above sea level.
We drank every drop of our water. We took breaks under trees, under overhanging rock faces that were cool to the touch and provided us some shade. The rangers tell you not to hike between 10 AM and 4 PM in the summer; we had started around 10, rested at Cedar Ridge until maybe 12, and hiked up from 12 to 1 when the sun was directly overhead–even so, there was some shade, and we used it.
We sang songs, probably irritating the other hikers, but we didn’t care. The day before, we’d run through a number of old marching/folk/work songs–“What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor”, “Willie The Weeper”, “Erie Canal”, “British Grenadiers”, “Drill Ye Tarriers Drill”–before finding that “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” has the perfect beat to hike to; when all the verses had been sung, we made up our own, naturally about hiking. “And they’ll all go tumb-ling down from the can-yon wall.” We made up a story in which Andy and Rebecca kept slipping off the trail and tumbling all the way to the bottom, eventually deciding to simply stay at the bottom and build a cabin there. Twenty years later, they hike up to the top just to see what it’s like now; the hikers tell them that Trump is no longer president, but Steve Bannon is still in power–“And his storm-troop-ers, they wait on the can-yon rim“–and of course they decide instead to stay on the canyon floor.
When we made it back to the canyon rim, it was the last thing of consequence we did that day, other than urging some idiot tourists away from an elk that was drinking at the water fountain (pictures to come, SOMEDAY), going back to our tent, napping, reading, cooking dinner on the camp stove, eating, building a fire, cleaning up after ourselves, stringing up the hammock, playing cards, watching the stars and the Milky Way come out, and reading (me)/listening to Roald Dahl’s “The Mildenhall Treasure” from The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar (And Six More) before going to bed.
Time works differently when you’re camping, I guess, even when it’s camping at a designated campsite with running water and actual bathrooms. In the cities we’ve gone to so far–Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Santa Fe–I’ve been like, “What are all the things I want to do in this city? How can we do them in this amount of time?” It’s been very schedule-driven/planning-driven–what are we doing, where are we going, with whom are we staying, etc. At the Canyon, it was the opposite of that. Once we secured our campsite, it was like, we have no schedule and are accountable to no one. We can do whatever we want, whenever we want, or nothing at all. We woke up with the sun, at 7 or 8 AM, and went to bed around maybe 10:30; we rarely looked at a clock. Rebecca told time by measuring the distance from the Sun to the horizon with her fingers.
What I’m trying to say is that one does not keep up with news, or write blog posts, or really do anything to connect oneself to the world outside, when one is a) camping and b) spending one’s time next to an incomparable natural masterpiece.
Hence the delay.
I’m nearly 1,400 words in and I’ve left out most of everything we did over the last week. No mention of Yavapai Geology Museum or the geology tour we received; not a word about the Watchtower, or everything we did wrong in our first camping trip, (Rebecca has floated the idea of a post in that department), or the Rim Trail, or anything about Santa Fe at all; the balloon ride Rebecca surprised me with, the living RPG that was Meow Wolf, the New Mexico History Museum or the Governors’ Palace or the wonder that was driving into New Mexico through a towering hundred-mile thunderstorm; not a word about the Caves of Ice and Fire (no shit, that’s a real thing) or the slightly overblown majesty of Meteor Crater, or even our first night camping in a rent-a-site campground in Flagstaff. Hell, we’re in Sedona, AZ now, and I haven’t said shit about that. And I won’t. Why? Because I’m doing the modern-world thing again where I abuse electric light, and it’s 1:23 AM by my clock and it is past time to be in bed so I can get the hotel’s complimentary breakfast that ends at 9:30, the skinflints, and be on the road in time to get a campsite at the other end of the six-hour drive to Joshua Tree. Those stories will have to wait. Tomorrow there’ll be more.