Monday, October 25, 2010

Southwest Roadtrip - Part 3

And finally... Part 3!

I spent about a week after returning from Baja hanging around San Diego. I did a lot of exploring, some more surfing, and some nights out on the town. I also applied for some engineering jobs. It was a relaxing week and nice to be able to see more of the area. My trip through in the spring was so short, I wasn't able to see as much as I would have liked.

On Sunday, I decided to head inland and continue my journey. My plan was to make it to Vegas by evening and then drive the rest of the way to the Grand Canyon North Rim on Monday morning. After I started on the road, I was in "driving mode" and decided to keep going past Vegas. I considered going back to Virgin, UT to camp for the night because I knew the area, and it was about half way between the Vegas and the North Rim.

In the end, I drove to within a few miles of the park entrance and camped out in the Kaibab National Forest. It's always funny waking up in the morning after setting up camp in the dark. It never looks the same as you would have guessed the night before. It was a long day on the road, 577 miles. Not nearly as hot as the drive South though, that was a relief.

There was no cell service in the area, so my goal for the morning was to try to meet up with a couple of college friends, Grimaldi and Dilallo. I knew that they were going to be going to the backcountry permit office at 8am, so I figured that was my best bet. I had forgotten my hiking socks, so I headed to the general store to grab some socks and coffee and then went to find the guys.

It worked out well. Strangely, there was cell service right around the lodge. I met up with the guys and we got all of our permits. Tuesday night at the Bright Angel Campground, and Wednesday night at the Cottonwood Campground.

There isn't nearly as much sightseeing around the North Rim as the South Rim, so we decided to head out to find some real food. We headed to Lake Powell. It was a cool drive through Northern Arizona. Grabbed some lunch in Page, AZ and then went to check out the Glen Canyon Dam and Lone Rock Beach where we relaxed for a while.

Monday night we camped in the Kaibab National Forest again and woke early, or what we thought was early, to start our hike into the canyon. Apparently starting after sunrise was not considered early.

We hiked 14 miles down the North Kaibab Trail on Tuesday, to the Colorado River and Bright Angel Campground. We descended around 5,500 feet. The first few miles were fairly steep and eventually led to a long walk perched on the canyon walls. Huge cliffs down on our left side and huge rock walls up on our right. The sights were amazing, but the heat and continuously downhill hike started to get to us as we reached the second half of the hike.

Desert landscape amazes me. Maybe it's just because I've never been around it until recently, I'm not sure, but I love the crazy rock formations, different types of cacti, and lizards.

Throughout our entire hike, we kept seeing people with small daypacks. It confused us. Most carried small amounts of water, little to no food, and practically no supplies. We didn't understand how they could be so far into the canyon so late in the day. As we reached the Bright Angel Campground, we realized why. Phantom Ranch. It was basically a small resort. There were cabins, a restaurant, showers, and even mules to ride in. There were people wandering around that probably couldn't hike more than a mile if they had to. It was a little disappointing to spend so much time and effort getting to a 'remote' area only to find a crowd of people that barely had to lift a finger to get to the same location.

We were all so exhausted that we were probably passed out in the tents by 7:30. I think I slept a solid 12 hours. It was needed.

On Wednesday, our plan was to hike about half-way back out, to the Cottonwood Campground. Because we were hiking only about 7 miles, we decided to spend the early morning relaxing and soaking in the steam near the camp.  We packed up and left around 11 to power through the heat of the day to Cottonwood. This section of the hike wasn't nearly as exciting as the other half, although Dilallo and I did see a cool lizard, larger and more yellow than the usual spottings. It had a crazy tail. Sunset was pretty awesome and we cooked a lot of food. Definitely needed the energy. Once it got dark, Grimaldi and I did a little searching for scorpions and tarantulas. I had never seen either one in the wild and we learned that they are nocturnal. We didn't find any tarantulas, but we found three or four tiny scorpions. Probably not any larger than a quarter.

We woke up around 5 on Thursday. We wanted to get a start before the heat and get out of the canyon before afternoon. We cooked some oatmeal, packed up camp, and were on our way. The first part of the hike was in the dark, led by headlamps. It didn't take long for early morning light to appear and soon the sun, although it didn't hit us for a couple hours because of the deep canyon walls. Surprisingly, the hike out was actually the best hike of the three. It wasn't easy- about 7 miles, all uphill. I figured my legs would be shot, but they felt much better going up than down. I'm glad we got an early start, it was getting hot by the end. We reached the cars by 10 and I was on the road back to Jackson by 10:30.

Overall the trip was a huge success. I drove 2,750 miles solo in the Benz, plus many more miles in Mexico and to Lake Powell. I met up with some old friends, saw a lot of new places, and had plenty of alone time to enjoy. I'm happy to be back in Jackson and happy to see that another ski season is almost here.

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