I fear losing credibility with anyone following this blog. How can every campsite be the New Best Campsite, and each new stop be the Most Beautiful Park Ever? Can I even be objective about this anymore?
Instead of standing on the rim and viewing the Canyon floor, we’re now camped on the valley floor and gazing up at the Navaho sandstone walls towering overhead. Magnificent.
We pulled in later than our usual ideal time, after dawdling around Grand Canyon soaking up the last of the sights there. So, it was around 6:30pm when we finally arrived to find a packed campground teeming with tents, RVs, and campers of all sorts. Been a long time since we’ve camped in such a busy spot, but it’s worked out well.
Our first disappointment came the next morning when we found that the shuttle buses which take hoardes of visitors up the scenic drive to major drop-off spots doesn’t begin operation until April 1. The congestion created by hundreds of cars on the narrow two-lane road is unbelievable, and haphazard parking creates all kinds of difficulties. So, we decide NOT to drive from the campground, but walk to a nearby hike with views of the Valley.
One thing I really love about the National Park Service is their attempt to use native materials and incorporate native color schemes into the parks. The result of this is the beautiful red scenic drive, which blends into the surrounding scenery. Small touches make huge differences.It’s Day 3 already, and we know that we have to get cracking to get our two dream hikes accomplished for this trip. The biggie for us to hike into the Narrows, a slot canyon at the north end of the scenic drive. The Virgin River runs through the canyon, and we know that this will mean getting our feet wet. We have waterproof hiking boots, and are willing (fools!) to wade in and and take our chances. Such dopes. We pack our lunch, load our backpacks and head off in anticipation of stepping daintily across river stones, gazing up at the ever-narrowing canyon walls. Not exactly. We meet folks in the parking lot wearing wet suits and dry suits, carrying special wooden poles to find their way across the river bottom. Seems like this specialized gear can be rented from outfitters in town for about $50 per day. So, we stroll out along a milelong path, until we get to the beachy end of the Trail. Lots of folks are standing around taking photos. We watch two older guys (in wet suits) march off into the water, carefully picking their way across the river to a wide sandbar on the opposite shore, about 25 yards away. “Hell, I’m going in”, announces John. With that, he rolls up his pants and steps in. I follow. Picking my way across, all is well until the first rush of freezing cold water rolls over the top of my boot. Yowza! It’s March, and the water temp must be around 40 (air temp around 45). Well, once it’s done, we just march on to the relative safety of the sandbar. We wander along, boots pumping out water with every step. End of sandbar – we have to wade across the river again to the shallows on the other side. We slosh back in. Splashing along until we come to young couple contemplating their next move. They’re watching the folks about 100 yards ahead of them who are wading in water up to their thighs! The folly of our plan is becoming pretty clear. Our fellow travelers take our photo, standing in freezing water up to our calves, and we make our way back.
As we head back toward the truck, we spy an interesting spot across the river with an old staircase rising above the rocks. We plunge back into the river to check it out. On the other shore, we find a water source and old rock climbing lines set in the wall. We bask in the sun for a bit, then have to wade back through a very strong current. It was a great morning.
To escape some of the growing crowds, we decide to spend the afternoon on the east side of the Park, scrambling around the red and white limestone slickrock there. We found a great spot for lunch. Got a good look at the formation called the Checkerboard Mesa, a white limestone cliff with wind erosion in a unique pattern.
One last stop for the day was the Canyon Overlook Trail, a 2-mile roundtrip hike with spectacular canyon views. Best of all were the five bighorn sheep perched on a rock just above the trail. Once again, we were lucky to be in the right place at the right time.
Day 4 – our last day here. The hike has to be Angel’s Landing, a strenuous 5 mile round-trip trail, with a series of switchbacks knows as Walter’s Wiggles. On top of this is a sandy spot known as Scout’s Landing, the last point before a very treacherous ascent to the top. Getting to the top requires pulling yourself along a series of chains planted in the slickrock.
Footholds are very narrow, and the dropoff to the canyon floor 1400 feet below is unprotected. Having gotten an early start on the day, we were at Scout’s Landing before the big crowds of the day. Leaving our packs behind, we gamely set off on the steep sides, doing pretty well. But, when we hit the first plateau, about 300 yards up, we decided to call it quits. The next series of chains were very, very steep, and the footholds tiny. We admired the views from our precarious perch, and headed back down.(we stopped at the big tree in the center of the photo). The return trip was twice as harrowing as the ascent, reinforcing our decision to bail out as the smart one for us. From Scout’s Landing, we prowled the West Rim Trail for a mile or so, looking for a good lunch spot, protected from the wind. At one point, we laid on our bellies and peered over the rim of the canyon to see a couple of rock climbers below. We ended our hike with big smiles.
One more unusual event punctuated our day. The previous day, we had noticed a big satellite truck parked not far from Angel’s Landing. John surmised that the truck might somehow be related to the rock climbers we saw, so we decided to investigate. Bingo! The truck was sending a live feed for a BBC reality show, To raise funds for families with hardships, including typhoon victims, show host Alex Jones is climbing Moonlight Buttress, a sheer 1200 face. (You can see the crew in the lower right side of the photo) The trick is that Alex has only climbed once in her life, and before January, had never climbed at all. With a professional trainer, and three cameramen filming every move, she’s climbing this massive wall. We went back in the evening to check progress – looks like she’ll make her summit on time sometime Friday afternoon. There’s lots of info on the web on this crazy stunt.
We’re headed to Salt Lake City for a bit of urban adventure for a few days.