Today, I got up as early as I could, because my destination is going to draw a ton of visitors today! A ton! Over 5 million per year, which averages to thirteen and a half thousand per day! Plus, it’s a holiday weekend, so if you’re going to visit Grand Canyon National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Natural Wonder of the World, it pays to get there before the rush!
I’d seen tons of pictures of the Grand Canyon before, but even then, I wasn’t prepared for my arrival at Mather Point, where the whole world dropped away into a giant chasm, a mile deep! It made me dizzy just looking out over the mighty formations named for Egyptian and Indian gods, so I decided I should get a much lower vantage point!
That led me to the South Kaibab Trail! This wiggly trail goes all the way down to the Colorado River, 6.3 miles in one direction, where it meets up with the Bright Angel Trail and continues all the way to the North Rim! Since I only had one day’s worth of light, and a stern warning from the ranger not to attempt a down-and-back hike in one day, I set my sights on Skeleton Point, where I could at least see the river!
Right away, there were all kinds of switchbacks leading down, down, down. I was really glad that they were in the shade at this time of day, but I was worried about how hot it would be once I started my climb back up! That’s the main reason the rangers don’t want you going down and back in one day. Once you get to the bottom, the temperature has jumped almost twenty degrees! Starting an arduous climb in that kind of heat can do a lot of damage!
Luckily, damage was the last thing on my mind today, because every step I took gave a breathtaking new angle of the canyon, especially as the gray sandstone at the top of the trail gave way to rich red rock stretching down, down, down!
I took my first break at Cedar Ridge, along with a whole bunch of other folks making use of the sparse shade and the only bathroom on the trail! I even met some nice muleteers heading back up the trail! Mules are famously sure-footed, even when transporting a lot of weight, which is why they’ve been the favorite pack animal of the canyon since the late 1800s! These mules were heading back up the way I came, but I didn’t want to cut my trip short just yet.
Lots of folks make this their final destination on a Grand Canyon hike, because it’s close enough that it’s not exhausting, and it comes with some amazing views! But not me! There was still more to explore down below!
At this point, the crowd really thinned out, and I was left by myself for long stretches to enjoy the desert silence between wind rustling the brush. Some cruel person had installed stairs on this section of trail, which weren’t bad going down, but I knew they would be trouble on the way back up! As I got lower, the plants changed, and I entered yucca blooming season! The yuccas here looked like space plants in an alien world!
At last, after about an hour and a half, I arrived at my destination, Skeleton Point. Far below, I caught my first glimpses of the mighty Colorado, the sculptor of this magnificent canyon! One day, I will hike all the way down to the water and back!
I sat here for a good hour, enjoying the clouds rolling over the terrain, chatting with a local ground squirrel who was sunning himself on a rock. Someone down below was throwing Chinese chants against an echo wall, joined by a crow doing its best impression, but it had trouble with the four tones. Even then, in sparse moments, there was silence and splendor!
The clouds were beginning to build overhead, which gave me the perfect cover for the return trip, navigating along the sides of the stairs to save energy. Along the way, I even overtook a couple who had been to the bottom and were on their way back up. They looked physically miserable, but spiritually glowing! More inspiration for the next visit!
They say it takes longer to ascend than to descend, but for me, that ended up not being the case. I think that’s because I took lots of pictures on the way down and hiked straight back up with few pauses. Total hike time: 6 hours! By the time I crested the rim once more and landed in a sea of big bellies and selfie sticks, I was ready for supper, and luckily for me, the Bright Angel Restaurant awaited me at the end of a long Rim Trail stroll, serving up an authentic menu based on what rail guests used to enjoy during the early days when Fred Harvey was the hospitality director! Diets be dammed today! Tomorrow, more running around!