Third Time Is Charm

October 25, 2018

by Steve

Or, "Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold, but Just Right."  Or "Always Something New."

We recently made our third trip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. We first went in 2014 as part of a rim-to-rim backpacking hike in early June. Early June is pretty hot at the bottom of the Grand Canyon--107 degrees Fahrenheit to be exact. Our second trip was in January of this year, when we scored a last-minute cancellation at Phantom Ranch. We were at the Grand Canyon again in October, on our way back to Tucson for the winter. When we were making our fall plans, we saw an opening at the Grand Canyon trailer village in October for six nights, so we grabbed it. This being the only RV campground in the park, it fills up way in advance, so if you see an opening, you'd best take it. The last time we stayed in the trailer village, elk came through the campground every evening. No elk this time, but there's always something new to see, like this RV built on a M1078 military truck platform.

The day after we arrived at the canyon, I checked online to see if there were any openings at Phantom Ranch. This was on a Thursday, and there were openings in the dorms for both Sunday and Monday nights. After reviewing the weather report, we booked it for Monday night. Now, you may know that it is extremely difficult to get a reservation at Phantom Ranch. It books up 13 months in advance, and demand is so high that there is a lottery. We met people on the trail who had tried unsuccessfully for 2 1/2 years to get a reservation at Phantom Ranch. But as it turns out, the mules that take riders to the bottom had gotten sick, and the park had to cancel the mule rides for a couple of days. This left some spots open in the dorms at Phantom Ranch, and we took advantage.

If June is hot, and January can have snow and ice at the rim, October should be just right. And the temperatures were pretty much just right for hiking: around 60 F at the rim and mid-70s at the river. But we were also dodging rain and thunderstorms this time. Fortunately it never rained very hard on us, although we could see rain not too far away. And the thunderstorms were around 10 miles away. Nevertheless, we did not stay on the ridgeline of the South Kaibab trail any longer than necessary. Sometimes we could see a rainbow below us, and sometimes we were hiking down into the clouds.

Also new for us this time was the color of the Colorado River. We had been in Moab, Utah, earlier, where we had five days of rain. And there had been significant rain in Arizona and Southern Utah in October--5.5 inches in Phoenix, for example. This meant that there was lots of run-off water carrying the dark red dirt, which turned the Colorado from it's typical green color to the color of chocolate milk.

Here's a pic looking down at the beach near Phantom Ranch where the rafters all stop.

Even Bright Angel creek, which gets most of its water from roaring spring, was looking pretty muddy.

Another new sight for us this time was this rather large spider we encountered on the trail in Phantom Ranch. I think it was probably a tarantula, but I wasn't going to get close enough to find out for sure.  It was about the size of my fist. And it didn't seem to be too scared of us.

Also new on this hike was the amount of green in the canyon. Thanks to all the rain, there was green grass growing all along the Bright Angel trail. We joked that the rangers would need to start mowing the lawn, and rangers that we met commented that they had never seen so much green in the canyon.

The final new thing we saw in the canyon on this hike is something that was old and is new again. We came across someone taking pictures with a 4x5 view camera.

Most people we see take pictures with a smart phone or a digital SLR. A few use a tablet, and we like to use a pocket digital camera. But you rarely see something like a 4x5 view camera. This is not an old camera, but a modern incarnation of an old design. It uses film, not digital image capture. And it's the format used by the professional photographers whose photos sell for thousands in art galleries across the west. I guess that nothing can match the level of detail that you get with this type of large-format camera.

The young man operating the camera, Drew Nikonowicz, owns the company that makes them and was returning from a convention in San Diego. He had not been to the Grand Canyon before and had just come a mile or so down the Bright Angel Trail to take a few pictures from a different perspective than you get on the rim. I'm sure he got some good pictures, and he'll probably return someday. If you want to read more about the cameras that he makes, go to Standard Cameras, I think you'll find it fascinating.

When we did our rim-to-rim hike, people told us that we would likely return to the bottom of the canyon, as there's always something new to see. We saw many new things on this hike, just as we did on the last. We now know that October is an ideal time to do this hike, at least for the temperature. And we know that we can expect to see something new each time. Will there be a next time?  If so, what will we see?

Stay tuned . . .

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