Grand Canyon 2009

Below is the journal for our backpacking trip to Grand Canyon in October of 2009, as well as the follow-on trip we took in the surrounding area after backpacking. We ran out of time to write a journal for this trip, so what you see below was written mostly by Ken's mom, with additional details from Ken's brother Mark. If you'd like to slog through the entire set of pictures we took while on our trip, you can check out the Gallery page. We also documented a lot of other information about preparation for this trip on the Grand Canyon page.

For a long time Ken, Julie and I had wanted to see the Grand Canyon. We had kind of kicked around the idea of backpacking it but were not sure exactly what that would take. Ken and Julie did a great job researching everything like permitting, lodging and which route we would want to take. They wanted a route we were capable of but also one that would not be a problem for Ken's fear of edges.

On the permit request, they asked for a 4-day itinerary in mid-October: a route down South Kaibab Trail and back up Bright Angel Trail, with two nights at Bright Angel Campground at the bottom and one night at Indian Garden Campground on the way up. Then, they checked the checkboxes telling NPS that they could vary our request two different ways: either by changing the start date to any date between October 1 and October 31, or by cutting one day out of our permit (making it one day down, then two back up).

Our backcountry permit arrived about 3 weeks later. We got a slot from Sunday, October 25 to Wednesday, October 28 with our original requested route. This is later in the season than we might have hoped for, but at least we got something. We planned to hike down in one day, spend a day at the bottom doing a day hike and then take two days to hike up camping halfway to the top.

Now all we needed to do is prepare for the hike. Ken and Julie did test hikes in Minnesota, but in Colombia backpacking in the wilderness was not too safe. I got ready by walking up and down the steep hills in town during the Ciclovia on Sundays when the main roads were closed for walkers and cyclists. Since carrying the full backpack would have stood out, I used a smaller backpack and gradually increased the weight in it by using bags of rice. I was not carrying the full weight of my pack but it was well over half. I was also lucky that Bogota was at 8600 feet above sea level and almost 2000 feet above the average elevation of the South Rim. Since I was flying international I arrived on October 22nd, a day earlier than Ken and Julie. Their financial advisor John gave us some comped rooms at Excalibur. John was the father of Ken and Julie's friend Tina from Marquette. Julie had shipped the camp stove to Tina so I picked it up from her after settling in to the hotel and I then went out to dinner with Tina and her boyfriend Travis.

The next day I slept in and relaxed waiting for Ken and Julie to arrive. I wandered around the strip and found somewhere to eat for lunch. They got in that night and picked up the rental car we would be using for the rest of the trip. They got a white minivan to fit all our gear.

On Saturday, we ate breakfast and then loaded up the van to head toward the Grand Canyon. We had to make a stop in Flagstaff to pick up a rental tent for me. I did not have a tent that worked well for backpacking and it was the best place for us to rent one. We got to Grand Canyon National Park late that afternoon and checked in to our room at the Yavapai Lodge. The next morning we had to get going really early and we put our other luggage in the car and parked in where we could catch a shuttle to the South Kaibab trailhead. We got started on the trail itself around 6:30 in the morning.

The trail started off fairly steeply with lots of switchbacks then it flattened out in the middle before getting steeper again right before the end. We stopped to snack at least once an hour and also stopped for a bigger lunch when we found a good spot to sit down. We were going at a good pace but were passed by a lot of other groups. That was fine with us. We wanted to admire the scenery not set a record. The sit pads Ken and Julie made came in very handy. They gave us a comfortable way to sit down on bare rock. Above the river is a tunnel and suspension bridge. Once we reached that we knew we were close to the campsite. It took us about six hours to hike down and by then our calves were burning since you never really go downhill that far. On the way into the campground we ran into some deer. We set up camp and then went back to Bright Angel Creek to soak our feet in the cool water. It felt great. We ate dinner and played some cards then had cocoa and went to a well deserved sleep.

The next morning we went to the Phantom Ranch to pick up the box lunches we had pre-ordered. They were pretty good and allowed us to carry much less food on the trip. The top of my backpack comes off into a fanny pack and the water holder can be detached and worn by itself, so I was able to just carry my food and water in there. Ken and Julie used their normal backpacks, but with only food and water in them. We walked part of the way along the North Rim trail and when we stopped for lunch we could see the final descent from yesterday and how steep it actually was. The vegetation was much different on this side, mainly because there was vegetation compared to our hike yesterday. There were shrubs and even cactuses. We went up to the first bridge crossing over the river and then came back to the campsite. I went out to take some pictures before dinner. We ate dinner and then went to a nighttime ranger program about bats.

On the third day, we got up and ate breakfast and started taking camp down. We grabbed our box lunches and then mailed post cards which would be "mailed by mules". Since we were going up the easier Bright Angel trail to the Indian Garden campground, we had a shorter day than coming down. We passed several mule trains on our way to Indian Garden, but the trail was not too crowded with other hikers. We only ran into a couple of groups. One guy we felt bad for. He had a small backpack with plastic grocery bags tied to it. And he was struggling with the hike. He definitely did not prepare properly.

We were able to get the campsite set up about five and a half hours after we started hiking. One huge gust of wind nearly blew everything away while we were setting up — luckily the tents were held down. We had to "stake" my tent with rocks because the ground was too hard to pound in the cheap aluminum stakes the rental company provided. Then since it was way too early to just sit around and do nothing we let our backpacks and hiked a bit more to get a good view across the canyon form a different perspective. We saw a storm coming over the North Ridge. We could see the snow from where we were. That night the wind got really strong and it got cold so we did not play cards or anything. There was a nice moon over the lodges at the top of the canyon when I went out after it got dark.

On Wednesday morning, we ate breakfast and broke camp for our last segment of the hike. The snow never made it to us overnight. The weather was pretty clear but cold when we started out. As we climbed a bit in altitude, we saw some snow on the sides of the canyon but none on the ground. But in a half hour climb, the North Rim went from clear to obscured by snow. By the time we reached a shelter for lunch, we were getting flurries. We had planned on meeting Mom in that shelter, but since it was snowing and cold we decided to move on to the top of the trail and meet Mom en route. She had taken a train out to Arizona and then to the Grand Canyon to meet us for the rest of the trip. The hike got a bit steeper and the elevation was nearly back up to 6000 feet so the high altitude training was coming in handy for me. A group of mountain goats were walking down long the trail. Right after we saw them, we ran into Mom. She was delayed because she had got off the main trail onto a spur. Luckily some people ahead of her asked where she was trying to go and directed her back to Bright Angel. I gave her my hiking poles to make it easier for her to get back up to the South Rim. Once we got to the top we checked into the Maswik Lodge after some confusion and took showers. We ate at one of the restaurants at the El Tovar hotel and had a good large meal with a bottle of wine and told Mom about our hike. We stayed there for two hours and had a lot of food then we went back to the hotel and went to sleep.

On October 29th, we got going at 8:30 by walking over to the cafi to eat breakfast. Then we packed the car and parked it at the lodge and took the shuttle to the end of the Blue Line at the Canyon View Visitor Center. From here we were able to walk along the Rim Trail for three or so miles back to our lodge and our car. Before we started heading for the car, we walked out to Yaki Point (7262 ft). From the Rim Trail we were able to see Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon and the South Kaibab Trail. We were able to show Mom how we hiked down. A bit further along we passed the trailhead for Bright Angel Trail and since it was not snowing we could easily see the Indian Garden Campground where we camped on Wednesday. It was cold while we were walking but at last it wasn't snowing. We stopped off at the Hopi House and looked at the Hopi items they had for sale. As we were hiking and driving through the park we saw many mule deer.

We ate lunch at the Bight Angel Lodge and then drove the care along Desert View Road to the Eastern Entrance of the park stopping at all the look-outs along the way. We also stopped at the Tusayan Museum and Ruins and too the walking tour of the Puebloan Village (A.D. 1185). We saw the foundations of dwellings and kivas. Kivas were structures used for religious purposes by the Pueblo tribes. We ended the drive at the Watchtower pull-out. Since it was close to sunset we decided to stay and watch. It was beautiful! They were doing controlled burns nearby and that helped make the sunset look more spectacular since there was smoke and particulate in the air. It had been around 32 degrees today but was sunny. But that night it was supposed to drop to 9 at the Rim and 24 in the canyon. We were glad we would not be in the ten tonight. We went left the park and headed for Flagstaff. First we went to the camping store to return the rental tent then we checked into the Little America hotel in Flagstaff. We ate Thai food at a small restaurant near the hotel.

We ate breakfast at our motel then headed towards Sedona. Our first stop was at the small visitor's center in the Oak Creek Canyon but it was closed due to the cold weather. We did walk the short canyon trail though which gave us our first view of the red rocks in the Sedona area. We continued driving into Sedona where we parked the car and walked up and down the "strip". Sedona is known for its red rocks and also known in New Age circles for its "vortexes". Vortexes are places where the Earth's energy is supposedly increased. After walking around downtown, we drove further along Route 89A and stopped a couple of times to look at the beautiful red rocks. We turned off onto the Upper Red Rock Loop Road and continued onto the Lower Red Rock Road. Then we paid admission into the Red Rock State Park and walked the trails and spent time in the Visitor's Center. We drove back to Sedona and ate lunch at the Hide-a-way Restaurant where we ate outside looking at Snoopy Rock. Across from the restaurant was an art gallery where I bought a water color painting and a reproduction of a larger oil painting of Snoopy Rock. We continued driving on I-17 looking at red rocks along our way to Montezuma Castle National Monument. We got in free because of Mom's Golden Age Pass for national parks. She could bring in three other adults so it worked perfectly. Montezuma Castle is not actually related to Montezuma or the Aztecs, but got its name because the first European-Americans thought Montezuma was connected to its construction. In fact it was abandoned more than 40 years before he was born. It was also not a castle. It was more like an apartment building built by the Sinagua and used between 1100 and 1425 AD. We drove back to Flagstaff. Ken and Julie washed clothes and we ate Mexican food for supper in the motel room. We also picked up breakfast food so we could eat in our room tomorrow morning and lunch meat to make sandwiches for tomorrow. Our Little America room was really large, so we have plenty of room to do this.

We ate a breakfast of bagels and donuts in the motel room because doing so would be much cheaper and quicker than our breakfast yesterday. We packed up the cart and headed to the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. We got in on Mom's Golden Age Pass. We walked the trail looking at all the lava and volcano mounds. The last eruption was probably in the 1060's. We also found out that the mountains near Flagstaff are volcanoes that have had many eruptions that formed the surface rock in the area.

We continued driving on the Loop Road to the Wupatki National Monument where we walked around the Native American ruins. There ruins weren't built into rocks like the ones we saw yesterday, but they used the boulders to build rooms around them. It was getting time for lunch so we drove a bit further to a different set of ruins where we ate our lunch of ham and cheese on bagels. Then it was time to continue our journey to Bryce Canyon. We actually drove near the North Rim of the Grand Canton before we turned off toward Bryce Canyon. We started our drive through the barren land of the Indian Reservations which became flat land covered with sagebrush and surrounded by hills. But as we entered Utah, the landscape changed and we started to see beautiful red formations — not just the red pillars of the Sedona area. We also started climbing higher because when we got near Bryce we were at 7700 feet. It was interesting to see the changes in the rock near the road. All three canyons were formed in rocks from different eras and that is why they all look distinct. As we drove from the Grand Canyon to Bryce it was a tour of geologic time.

We stopped to look at the Lake Powell Dam. It is a much newer dam then Hoover Dam which was constructed 20 years before Lake Powell. Because of lessons learned at Hoover Dam they built a bridge for cars to drive over rather than a road on top of the dam. Both the Hoover Dam and the Lake Powell Dam control the Colorado River.

It had turned dark by the time we reached Foster's Motel where we would be staying for a couple of days. We were a little taken aback when we read a sign saying it was closed and we saw no one around. Luckily my cell phone had reception and we called to check on our reservation. The owner had forgotten that we had made reservations months ago ("Oh mercy me, I forgot to check the book!"). It turned out he was now charging winter rates, so we ended up paying $30 a night instead of $60. We drove a few miles to the Pines Restaurant to eat dinner before unpacking the car. The room ended up being small and it didn't have a clock, hair dryer or phone in all rooms, but it was cheap. It was kind of weird being in what felt like an abandoned hotel since we saw no one else while we were there. They did move the cleaning cart around and the second night left it in Ken and Julie's room. We think they thought we had left.

On November 1st, we walked to the bakery next door to our motel and bought some rolls for breakfast. We also decided to make sandwiches again so we also bought bread and lunchmeat. Mom's Golden Age Pass saved us another $25 as we went into Bryce Canyon National Park. I had always wanted to see Bryce Canyon after reading a book about in elementary school. It is full of rock formations called hoodoos that were formed by the erosion of the rock. It was really cool to actually see it, and we lucked out and had a gorgeous day. It was probably 20 degrees above normal for that time of year. It would typically be near freezing but we did not even need to wear jackets. We stopped at the Visitor's Center, looked at the information about the day-hiking trails and planned our day. We drove to Inspection Point, Bryce Point and then Paria View. At each of these stops we walked the short trails to get a better view of the canyon. At one of the stops we heard a crow mimicking the sound of a car remote opening and closing a door.

We drove to Sunset Point, ate lunch and then started our hike down into the canyon. We hiked down, over to Queen's Garden, and then about 45 minutes on the Peekaboo Loop before we took the Navajo Loop back up to our car at Sunset Point. The canyon looked so different from the bottom. The hoodoos really were much larger than they seemed in top and you could tell down there that they weren't connected like they looked on top. We drove out of the park and stopped at Ruby's General Store. We were impressed with how much they had in there and we decided to come back tomorrow to buy lunchmeat to make lunch. Since the Packers were on TV, I stayed at the hotel to watch the game and everyone else went to look for a place for dinner later in Tropic. Most of the town was already shut down for the winter so there were not many choices. After the game, we drove back to Tropic and ate at Clark's Restaurant. We were glad we got there earlier than planned because it was crowded, but the food was good.

The next morning the bakery next door was closed so we drove to Ruby's and bought muffins, microwave burritos, etc for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch. We decided it was easier to buy premade sandwiched than make them ourselves. We drove to Rainbow Point (9115 feet), where we hiked down the Bristlecone Loop trail and out to the Yovimpa Point. After we did the loop, we drove back to Sunset Point stopping at all then pull-outs along the way. We ate lunch there again and afterwards we hiked the Fairyland Trail down 100 ft to the bottom and where we saw the Tower Bridge. We hiked back up the same trail after we ate a snack. We drove through the campground just to look at it and then went to the Visitor's Center. Then we drove the mile or so over to the other end of the Fairyland Trail and looked out from Fairyland Point.

We ate supper again at Clark's in Tropic and then drove back into the park to look at the stars. As it turned out the moon was so bright we didn't see too many stars but we did see a spectacular sight. The moon lit up the canton so well, we could walk out to the edge of Bryce Point and we were able to see the grottos, hoodoos, and caves without even using a flashlight. I was even able to take some pictures of The Amphitheater.

We left Foster's Motel on November 3rd and drove to Ruby's again for breakfast. Then we started our drive to Zion National Park. We were surprised that it only took us about and hour and a half to get to the east entrance. We stopped at the first pull-off to look at the Checkerboard Mesa. Since we had to wait to go through the mile-long tunnel, we decided to walk the 1.5-mile trail into the hills to see the Canyon Overlook. Trailers have to pay $15 extra to enter the park because they need an escort through this tunnel. They have to stop the traffic, so the trailers can drive right in the middle of the tunnel. The Canyon Overlook Trail was a rocky trail and when it ended we were standing on top of the Great Arch. We couldn't see it, but we knew it was there. After our hike we continued driving into the park along the Scenic Drive. They were doing a lot of road repair in the park since it was not the high season. It slowed things down a little but not too badly. We stopped at the lodge to eat lunch. We left the car parked in the lot by the lodge, walked across the street and hiked the Emerald Pools Trail. The trail is easy up to the Lower Emerald Pool, and then it gets a little more difficult as we climbed up the rocky trail to the Upper Emerald Pool.

We drive a little farther to the short Weeping Rock Trail. The trail ended up being quite steep, so Julie and Ken decided not to continue. But as Mom and I continued climbing up, we realized we must be on the wrong trail, so we hiked back down. I quickly went down the correct trail to see the weeping wall and everyone enjoyed seeing the pictures I took while not needing to walk all the way there. We also saw a wild turkey wandering around the trail. We drove back on the Scenic Trail and turned onto the road that took us to Springdale and the Desert Pearl Inn. It turned out that we really had a nice view of the mountains right out our back window.

We ate breakfast at the Starbucks that was connected to the motel and then drove back into Zion National Park. We stopped at the Visitor's Center and then climbed up the short trail to see the Court of the Patriarchs. It was a little cloudy today and a little cooler, so when we started to hike the Riverside Trail at the north end of the park, we weren't sure if we needed a jacket or not. As it turned out, if we were in the sun, we didn't, but in the shade we did. The Riverside Trail was an easy trail to walk, but an interesting one. In many places, we could see the water seeping out of the rocks. It was also pretty walking along the Virgin River. At the end of the trail we came to the "Narrows." Some people walked the rest of the trail but they had to walk through the water to continue to the other side. We went back to the lodge to eat lunch again. After we ate we drove over to the Zion Human History Museum. We watched an interesting movie in there telling all about the park. We found the information here much better than at the Visitor's Center. Then it was time to leave the park and head to Las Vegas — but on the way we turned onto the Kolob Canyon Road and saw a part of Zion that very few people visit. But we were glad we had taken the time to drive into this canyon. The views from the viewpoints were beautiful. As it got darker, we also viewed a spectacular sunset as we drove through the pretty hills in Arizona. Once in Las Vegas we found the Excalibur Casino and settled in for the night.

For breakfast on the 5th, the restaurants in the casino were crowded so we walked outside on the strip and found a Starbucks to eat in. While we were eating breakfast, we decided that this would be a good day to drive over to Hoover Dam for their tour. The highway goes right on top of the dam, but in a year of so, the new bridge will be finished and you'll drive on the new road instead. In the garage we parked our van right next to a new Dodge Viper. The arch they have built to build the new road on is huge. We purchased tickets for the combination 12:00 tour of the Dam, so we had to eat a quick lunch before the tour started. The tour lasted one hour . and when it was finished, we spent some time in the Visitor's Center where we watched a movie showing how the dam had been built. Then we went to the overlook and learned how the new bridge is going to look. In the Exhibit Hall we watched another presentation showing all the dams along the Colorado River going through Utah, Arizona, Colorado and going all the way to California. We stopped at Wendy's for ice cream and then went back to our rooms to clean up for dinner with John, Joyce, Tina, and Travis. We ate at the 9 Steakhouse in The Palms. After we ate, Tina and Travis took us up to the sixth floor to a quieter bar where we just sat around and talked.

We ate breakfast at the buffet in our casino and then we tried to get ourselves packed up for flying home tomorrow. So it wasn't until almost 11:00 when we started walking along the strip of Las Vegas. We left the Excalibur and walked across the street into the MGM Casino and saw live lions in the Lobby. We looked outside at Treasure Island and at Caesar's Palace. Then we went in the Paris Casino and saw the bottom of the mock-up of the Eiffel tower. The lobby was made to look like you were walking around Paris. We ate fast food in a mall across from Caesar's. We went into Bill's Gambling Hall to see an old time casino and then we walked inside the Venetian. We compared this casino to what we had really seen in Venice when we were in Italy. We went into the Bellagio to see the conservatory in the middle of the lobby and their huge chocolate fountain before waiting outside to see their water show. We walked back to our casino and then took the tram to Mandalay Bay and Luxor before going back to our room to relax a bit before going to our dinner with John, Joyce, Tina and Travis again. We met at the Rio Casino buffet for dinner. It was nice to get in quickly and also to be able to sit in a section pretty much by ourselves. After we ate, Tina and Travis drove with us so they could give us directions where to drive from the Rio. They had us park in the Treasure Island parking lot. Then we went out to watch the Siren and Pirate Show. From there we walked over to watch the Volcano Show at the Mirage, but we missed it. We continued walking over to the Bellagio to watch the water show at night.

On the 7th we met for breakfast around 8:30 and ended up eating at McDonald's. Julie had a sore throat this morning, so she took a nap while Ken, Mom and I went downstairs to try to win a little money. Ken went over to the MGM to try to win a new car while I helped Mom lose $20 at the Excalibur. Ken didn't win the car but he did win $26. I put down some bets on a parlay of college football games and for Green Bay to win the Super Bowl. I won some and lost some so pretty much came out even except for the Super Bowl bet. We did not win much money but we did have fun. We checked out of our rooms before 11:00 and then went to New York, New York to eat pizza for lunch. We walked back to our casino and picked up our car and drove it over to the Atomic Testing Museum. The museum was pretty unique. It was in Vegas because many of the early tests were nearby. It had a room simulating what it was like to see a test in the observation shelter. We spent the rest of the day there before heading over to the airport to return our car. We had driven 1,500 miles using this rental car. We took the shuttle to the airport and got our plane tickets. We were taking off from Terminal C and Ken and Julie were taking off from Terminal D, so we couldn't spend our time waiting together. Both our flights left on time and we all made it home safely. It was a great trip and we had amazing luck with the weather.