After spending one more morning in the Petrified Forest, we headed west on I40 past Flagstaff and up to the Grand Canyon. Since we always do things more or less last minute we were unsuccessful in getting any reservations to say in the park campgrounds, so we decided to try "Boondocking". It's camping on National Forest or BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, of which there is a lot in the west. There are no services (water or facilities), but the price is right as it's free. All that is asked is that you use previously used sites and treat the land with respect. We pulled into fire road 688 in the Kiabab National Forest just south of the canyon and found a good spot and set up the tent and settled in for a few days.
The next morning, we went into the park and to the visitor center, which was closed due to the pandemic, but had set up visitor info outside and set about exploring this incredible place. The canyon was formed by the Colorado River passing over an old seabed which through geologic uplift has attained an elevation of over 7,000 feet. The river, over the millennia has cut though all the layers, creating a wonderous site.
We walked the Rim Trail all the way from Mather Point to Maricopa Point, marveling at the indescribable beauty of the place. We had heard all the superlatives and seen pictures, but this is one of those places that you have to see to appreciate completely. I think it is the immensity of the place, that can't be described or photographed.
It's a constantly changing color palate that varies with the time of day and location as the sun passes overhead. You just need to sit and take the view for a time to even begin to comprehend its magnitude of the place. We came back a second day and walked the trail from Maricopa Point to the end at Hermits Rest and became completely enthralled with the place.
Getting around is made easy by free shuttle buses that run along the Rim Trail every 15-20 minutes.
One of the things we wanted to do here was walk down into the canyon and spend a night or two by the river at the Bright Angel Campground next to Phantom Ranch. Camping overnight in the canyon requires a back country permit. When we first thought of coming out I had tried to get one but none were available. I had heard that sometimes limited walk up permits were issued if they become available and so I gave it a try and we lucked into a three day permit to walk down the South Kiabab Trail to the Bright Angel Campground for a night and then up to Indian Garden Campground on the Bright Angel Trail and then hiking back up to the rim the next day.
We caught the 6 AM shuttle to the South Kiabab Trailhead and started our descent down into the canyon as the sun was rising.
As the sun began to light up the canyon walls we saw an example of nature's magnificence.
We had a 7.5 mile walk down into the canyon to get to the river and the campground. Molly and I do a lot of hiking, but we have not carried backpacks in a long time and so this was a real test of endurance for us. The rough trail followed a lot of exposed ridges and ledges and the wind was fierce, sometimes almost knocking us off our feet. Around every turn though, was a grand site as the sun did its magic on the colored rock layers.
We reached the bottom and the campsite at about 1 PM and set up camp by Bright Angel Creek and took a rest. I think both of us were totally spent and couldn't have gone any further. I walked over to the Phantom Ranch and got a couple of lemonades and nut bars to rejuvenate us. The Phantom Ranch is a rustic lodge, serving customers who ride down on mule trains from the rim. Reservations must be booked far ahead. They do however have a small snack bar available to everyone.
That night after an early dinner we slept like the dead. It was surprisingly warn in the canyon at night even though we had seen temps in the 30's at night on top. During the day, however, it rose into the 80's and we had to be really careful about dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.
The next morning we were up early and on the trail at 7 AM for the long climb up the Bright Angel Trail to the Indian Garden Campground about halfway up.
We got there at around 11 Am and set up camp and hung out watching all the mule deer that inhabit the place. They are all used to people being around and are very tame, actually wandering through the campground.
The next day we were up early again for the walk up to the rim. We were on the trail at 6:30 and got another round of sunrise over the canyon.
We were anxious to get up and out before it got too hot. The rangers had told us a lot of stories of people being hauled out dehydrated and sick, and despite all their warnings and signs, we saw quite a few day hikers coming down with no water or supplies.
As we climbed up we saw a bighorn sheep along the trail seeming to smile for all the cameras.
After much exertion, we hit the rim at around 10:30 AM, happy to be back up and out, but so thankful for such a rewarding experience. It was a total climb of over 2,000 feet from the bottom.
We rewarded ourselves with a night at the Bright Angel Lodge and the luxury of soft beds.
We plan to head back out to the forest to camp a couple of more days and then we're off to Zion. Many more pictures will be found in the gallery.