06 September 2005

The Grand Canyon - Or as I like to call it: Frodo's journey up Mount Doom - September 4 & 5, 2005

We'd survived the mysterious car that was tailing us the previous evening. No one had to die, and that was a good thing. It was chilly. We'd gone from weather that even amongst cloud cover, was fairly hot, to a brisk daybreak an hour-and-a-half north of Flagstaff. The sun was just coming up and who could sleep with my chainsaw snoring. Not even me at times. Our clothes were still drying out on the hood and roof of the car. Those strange tourists we'd been making fun of the before had not taken our underwear as we thought they might. We had another hour-and-a-half to go before the park offices were open and we could get an overnight permit. We went over to the nearby lodge to use the facilities and wash up a bit. The sweet aroma of the breakfast buffet was tempting, but we didn't want to hike on heavy stomachs. We'd tide ourselves over on disgusting energy bars and trail mix.

We stood in front of the office at nearly half hour to eight. We were worried about competition for cancelled permits and wanted to have the best odds at getting one, even though we planned on camping anyhow. Getting the permit would make us feel better about the situation though. We preferred not to have criminal records, because who knows what they would do to us if we were caught. We had no idea what it was like at the bottom of the canyon.

As soon as the doors opened we stepped up to the counter and asked the ranger if any permits had become available. Normally, one would have to make reservations days, if not weeks or more in advance, especially during the busy summer season. Luckily we had read online about possible cancellations. The ranger told us that we'd be travelling at the hottest part of the day. He also exclaimed how it would be much hotter at the bottom of the canyon. We asked if we would need sleeping bags, to which the ranger replied that sheets would do us fine. Ideally, we should have left before first light, to avoid the apexed sun's most intense heat. What could we do. We were here now and determined to see the Colorado River for ourselves, from mere feet away. The ranger suggested we take Bright Angel Trail, as it had drinking water along it at several spots. I grabbed my two schoolbook backpacks and we were off.

Since we weren't entirely prepared, I stopped at the Xanterra counter inside on the the lodges in Grand Canyon Village to arrange for meals at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the trail. As my luck prevails, I got on the line that looked shortest, but had the trainee manning customer service, so I waited and waited and waited. I finally made it to the front of the line, prepared to order meals only to find that the computers were not working and we could not reserve meals, which were limited to first come, first serve, as there is no easy transport to Phantom Ranch, so the food they have down there, is all that is available. The journey is ten miles each way on foot or mule. Not trusting of these animals that walk so close to death's edge, we chose on foot. Besides, we would have had to make mule reservations many months in advance.

The sun's unyielding gaze creates an amazing halo effect for this shot.

Tyrel walks on ahead.

Clouds waft by overhead, undeterred by the building heat of the day. The canyon wall looms overhead, master of all it surveys.

The ages are revealed in the multi-colored strata of rock, millions of years gone by, laid bare before human eyes.

Miles of chasm stretch out, carved out over millions of years by the mighty Colorado, thousands of feet below.

Tyrel strikes a pose.

We were stopped and asked for our permits. Is this how it had felt, minus the fear, during the Nazi Occupation and after that the Cold War, being asked for one's papers as they moved about? Is this how some people feel today in our country? Had we not had papers, as was a potential before that morning, we would have been very worried. After checking our permits, the ranger asked if I was comfortable with a backpack slung over each shoulder. She could tell. She stopped another female ranger and asked for some bandage wrap and piggy-backed one backpack atop the other, to put more of the weight in a vertical line, easier to carry, than with the weight spread out more sideways.

Hours later, at Bright Angel Camp, only a few dozen feet from Bright Angel Creek, Tyrel attempts a nap beneath an emergency blanket during a sprinkling of rain. All food and personal hygene items are to be kept secured from the local fauna in old ammo boxes. It was getting cloudier as time passed, though the temperature remained hot, in the mid-nineties, much hotter than at the top of the rim.

After the rain passes, we spend time near the creek talking and taking in the view from the bottom of the canyon.

We make our way to the ranch to see if any meals are available. After the long hike down, we're hungry and trail mix will not do to fill our starving guts. Our dinner choices are reduced by one, to no choice but steak and salad with vegetables and cornbread, followed by homemade chocolate cake. The ranch was out of beef stew, so we accept the last two $30 steak dinners available for the four o'clock mealtime. Though I'd given up red meat, beggars cannot be choosers. Added to our tab was one ice cold lemonade, unable to wait for dinner, that was thoroughly enjoyed by myself then and there.

With nothing to do but enjoy our time, we attended an informal gathering, a Q&A session with a park ranger. Fellow campers, some staying in cabins on the ranch, others in their own equipment near our campground, asked many fascinating questions.

A young boy wondered how the human excrement was removed from the bottom of the canyon.
Answer: it was expensively air-lifted out via helicopter, which was dangerous, because of updrafts.

Another question was answered with what a park ranger's authority is.
Answer: they're empowered the same as any other law officer.

Someone asked how quickly the ranger could make it to the south rim of the canyon from the ranch.
Answer: She said two-and-a-half hours.

It was asked if people had been caught camping illegally at the bottom of the canyon.
Answer: Yes, and it was a $50 fine per person for camping without a permit, and an additional $50 per person for destruction of foilage, as that is where most people attempt to hide at night.

The question that kept Tyrel and I awake all night regarded local creatures. Someone asked about scorpions and snakes, when they come out, how much it hurts to get bit. The ranger said that everyone'd be okay so long as they kept their tents zipped up. We didn't have a tent. We had bed sheets to be laid on the ground and would only be covered by our emergency blankets, like baked potatoes or Jiffy Pop, you know, when popcorn used to be made on a stove and not in a microwave.

Ringing drew our attention to the dining hall. One of the server/cooks clanked a metal rod against the triangle that hung from the doorway overhang post. It was time to eat.

Tyrel and I sat with strangers, in the only empty seats, across from each other. Strangers became less strange, as we gorged ourselves on the best food I'd ever eaten. Mind you, they could have served gruel, and I'd have asked for more, please, because any hot meal, cooked with skill and a love of cooking, would have been just what we all needed. I devoured that steak and heaps of peas and carrots, extra helpings of cornbread and finally the sweet chocolate cake as if this was to be my last meal. If gluttony really is a sin, than my mortal soul was in dire straits.

We'd decided to go check out the river that carved such a spectacle into the plateau. Instead of walking all the way back toward the ranch, we decided to cross the creek, via rocks, with barely sat with their smooth tops above water. Taking off our boots and socks, Tyrel ventured out first, cautiously hopping from stone to stone to no avail, the loose rocks shifting underfoot, his foot slipped into the water and I laughed.

A short hike along steep cliff walls brought us to the Colorado River for relaxation and digestion. Swimming was illegal, even though on the water's edge, the current was not strong. Nearly a mile above us, the north and south rims enclosed us in this deep chasm.

We walked toward the river, chatting loudly about comics, guns, girls and whatever else interested us. As our senses took in everything that was, I commented on how this was one of those places on Earth, that a girl would automatically put out, because it was so romantic. Tyrel agreed as we came across a young couple, around our age, probably thinking the same thing. Having paid our admission too, the price of the permit and the physical toil of descending the canyon wall, we were not going to be deterred from enjoying the river ourselves, for the sake of young romance. Stepping onto the river's edge, the ground sunk below our feet; soft, silky silt, the kind that must have enriched the farmlands near the Nile after each year's floods. The water was a comfortable temperature and several feet out, a silt island rested, the mighty river on one side, and a lighter current sweeping around the other. Above, arched across the sliver of blue sky was a rainbow. I wished I had brought the camera.

We oberved the youthful couple as they walked off, likely disturbed by our pressence and we did not feel an ounce of compunction for them. The river front belonged to us alone. Tyrel and I walked over every inch of the small isle, oberving how far we'd sink into the silt, before we had to step onto firmer footing or risk the river having its way with us.

We crossed back over, water up to our thighs, and laid in the sand, staring up at the sky as the sun fell over the rim and the rainbow faded. Dusk was settling in for the evening and something scurried through the sky in an evasive, erratic flight path. We wondered if it was a bird, but no, birds don't usually fly like that. Small and black, it was a bat that was soon joined by two more of its mammalian bretheren. I'd wanted to see four different creatures while on my journey. I'd seen a tarantula and now bats. Scorpions and snakes were the other two.

Light faded and we'd decided to put our boots back on and head to the campground before it was too dark to see. Tyrel walked on the bath severl feet ahead of me. Startled, he jumped to the side, telling me to watch out. He pointed out a snake, barely visible in the twilight, coiled silently on the side of the path. Tyrel said he'd noticed it coil as he was walking by, otherwise he'd not have seen it. It could have cut our trip real short had he stepped on it.

As we briskly walked along the center of the path near the rockwall we'd passed on our way out, a swarm of bats circled near Tyrel's head for several feet. I was amazed by them and wanted them to envelop me in their cloud.

Back at the camp, we started to settle in when a commotion of people brought our attention to a ring-tailed fox as it tried to hide from prying eyes within the thick of tree branches.

Fear of scorpions stinging us in the night was bad enough to keep us from sleep, but the snake incident made sure we would not sleep on the ground, and not really sleep at all. Once darkness overtook the daylight, there was little to do without a fire, but get into "bed," chat and watch the stars until we fell asleep.

We'd each taken one bench of the metal, diamond laticed picnic table as a bed. The bed sheets we brought were our pillows, our emergency blankets noisily covered us and we'd each slung our belts through the table slats, sliding whatever arm wasn't tucked under our bodies trough the belt opening, in an attempt to keep from touching the ground.

We laid there talking and looking at a sky free from light pollution. Starts twinkled, planes flew by, Tyrel pointed out constellations I still couldn't see and the ocassional shooting star flashed by, thousands of miles overhead, a piece of the cosmos brushing our humble atmosphere.

Eventually conversation shrank into sporadic obervations or comments and sleep overtook us...

A loud, Reynold's aluminum foil crinkling woke us constantly. The slightest shifts, attempts to gain some comfort on these horrible benches, tore through the quiet of the night. My arm grew numb underneath me and I had to roll onto my stomach, placing the numb arm into the make-shift sling. My booted feet grew heavy, unable to stay balanced on the narrow bench, so I removed the boots, placing them on the picnic table, praying arachnids with venemous fangs and stingers would not find them to be a suitable nest. I fell back asleep.

Likely minutes later Tyrel shifted, sending more cacophony into the night air, probably waking everyone else nearby as well. Back and forth we went all night. He'd shift, creating a noise I'll soon not forget, and then we'd fall back asleep and I'd wake up, uncomfortable, rolling onto my side, my stomach, my back, crackling my thin foil covers.

At three in the morning, long before daylight, I'd decided I wasn't going to get any sleep and so I told Tyrel I was ready when we was. He wanted to sleep more, so I let him. Laying awake for half hour more, I couldn't sit still, so I began to empty my ammo box of snacks and toiletries. I ate my breakfast of trail mix and power bars. Before putting my dreadful boots back on, I shook them out violently, hoping to dislodge any arachnid assassins. I had to go number two, but wasn't going to risk it in the dark of pre-dawn and especially not with the smell in the toilets and the possibility of eight-legged creatures inhabiting the building.

Eventually Tyrel awoke and packed and we got onto the trail around four-thirty, along with many other people. Tyrel had only brought his shitty rechargable flashlight, which had died sometime in the night as we attempted to sleep. I laughed at him for bringing that piece of crap as opposed to a battery powered flashlight, which I had brought, along with my spare AAs.

With a green glow stick, the color of Predator blood, tied to his shoelace and with me taking point, waving my flashlight back and forth along the dark path ahead of us, we began our trek out of the canyon.

I warned Tyrel of steps and big rocks in the middle of the path as we walked along in the pre-dawn twilight. Stepping on a rock the wrong way, I inverted my ankle toward the inside of my body. It hurt like a bitch and I had miles to go before I slept.

When daylight finally crept over the rim walls, Tyrel took point and walked on ahead, to wait for my at the next major rest stop, Indian Springs.

Indian Springs, used for many years by the natives, green things growing lushly, also marks the halfway point of the journey. I arrived at the springs to find Tyrel reading Sun Tzu's The Art of War. High ground has the advantage. I guess that's why he went ahead, to secure the high ground. God knows what marauders lurked in the Canyon.

Near Indian Springs, I was told this species of rattlesnake is native to the Grand Canyon and it is not found anywhere else. Careful conservation is the only thing that keeps extinction of many species at bay.

Another hiker found this tiny snake near Indian Springs.

From the mid-point, Tyrel went on ahead as I rested and took pictures of the snakes. I changed out of my pants, which were getting too hot, into shorts and a T-Shirt.

I met Tyrel again briefly at the 3-mile rest station, with shade and runnning water. He went ahead to the top and I rested, snacked on salty trail mix. I drank lots of water from the fountain, filling up my three bottles and doused myself in the refreshingly cold water, as was suggested by a ranger. Describing what had happened when I stepped the wrong way, I was told I had inverted my ankle and I needed to follow the RICE accords. Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation? Damned if I can remember it all. He also recommended I take Ibuprofren, which I did. I rested my leg up on a rock, my boots heavy, heavier now that I'd messed up my ankle.

On the road again, desperately hiked higher and higher, going slower than I wished with my backpacks slung from my back. Had I been able to climb without them, the trek would have been so much easier, but what choice did I have. This was my stuff. My precious.

I rested again at the 1.5-mile rest station and doused myself in cold H2O again. By this time, my walking stick had carved raw grooves into my hands, where rough little nubs, which had once been narrow, sprouting branches grew.

The last legs of the trip required constant rest. Hike a little, rest a little. Repeat until you've made it back to the top. It was getting difficult to breath, the air dry as can be. With my two unruly backpacks, ill-suited for hiking, I'd felt like Gollum himself was hanging on my neck, in an attempt to wrestle me down, trying to take my precious.

At journey's end, two cute women, who kept leap-frogging me during the last mile or two, took my picture. Yes--I realize I look like an awful jackass in that hat.

At the car, I wrapped myself with a towel and changed my clothes. It was now an hour past noon. We'd left at around five in the morning. Tyrel slept the passenger seat, two hours into a new journey of his mind's making. We drove towards Flagstaff for maybe half hour, an hour, when I started to feel incredibly droswy. Eyelids heavy, I pulled off the road and decided, without choice, to join Tyrel in the dreamtime.

A feast of tasty Italian food lay at our destination. I'd past several attractive looking Italian restaurants in Sedona days earlier, and considering it was a small side-trek on our trip, yet still taking us south, it was considered a great idea.

Delicious pasta and alfredo sauces satiated our appetites a short time later. I filled up on chicken parmesian and more than one basket of delicious rolls that I generously dipped into the pasta sauce. Those who know me well, know that is the bread and sauce are good, I will devour them by the truckload.

Driving out of town, we took the highway past Bell Rock and her red rock sisters. Wanting to pull over, hike and climb, I resisted. It was getting late in the day, and we had two more hours until we arrived in Phoenix. We drove on, monoliths to be left unmolested until another time.

Back on I-17, traffic bottled-necked twenty-five miles from Phoenix. Our pace of eighty miles an hour slowed miserably. We took amusement by keeping certain vehicles from purposelessly changing lanes, as neither lane was moving faster than the other. One such vehicle pulled a horse trailer, with what must have been his buddy in a similar vehicle behind him. As the interstate opened into three lanes, the pace did not pick up much, but we'd managed to score some distance between us and the horseman. Minutes later, he was gaining on our position. We imagined that he'd come riding up on one of his horses, gun in hand, to exact his revenge, as he was nearing one side of us and his friend on the other, potentially boxing us in for our highway transgression.

An hour later, we unpacked in Chandler and parted ways, satisfied with our incredible journey. I called Erica and headed back her way to stay for another night in the sweltering heat of Phoenix. The next night, I determined, I'd be in Sin City, but not without seeing the London Bridge first...

No comments: