April Newsletter: Into the Grand Canyon


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December 2005
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Inner Canyon Trails
Standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon and looking across this vast chasm with all its cliffs, pinnacles and rock layers is nearly an "out of the body" experience. It stretches the mind to comprehend that such a staggering scenery could have occurred naturally.

Perhaps many of the park's 3 million visitors (annually) are content to survey that vista and then go check out the gift shop. Indeed, many, for reasons of health or age, are certainly better off limiting their experience to this lofty, birdesye approach to visiting the canyon. But some of us ask, "Where's the River?," and find ourselves overcome with the desire to get more personal with this, one of the world's most remarkable geographic features.

Indian Gardens
Every day hikers by the dozens, even hundreds, descend upon the canyon via each of the several trails (including an average of nearly one a day who ends up requiring a rescue operation.) Most of them make shorter, one day treks, while many have reservations at the limited camping spots at Indian Gardens or Phantom Ranch or other campgrounds. They come supplied with food and water and sunscreen, jackets, hats, poles, and the best of hiking shoes. The descent is made leisurely and carelessly, the time spent at the bottom is sizzlingly warm, and then comes the ascent. 3000 feet or more or it. Gone are the smiles. Forgotten is the stunning scenery. It's one foot in front of the other.

Half the fun of hiking the Grand Canyon is bragging about the misery of the return trip. The next morning, all the pain is forgotten, (except the sore legs).

Trees at Pipe Creek
This April, my daughter Heidi and I made our fourth photography hike on the Bright Angel Trail. (It was my fourth time on the trail, but Heidi's first.) It was a rare day for the hike, with minimal haze in the air and never a single cloud in the sky. We left the rim shortly after sunrise, about 7:00 AM and arrived at Indian Gardens about 9:00.

Our objective was to connect Indian Gardens to the South Kaibab Trail via the Tonto Trail. The Tonto Trail is a remote inner canyon trail that runs some 80 miles through the Grand Canyon on a ledge that lies halfway between the river and the south rim. Previous trips had produced tours of the Bright Angel Trail to Indian Gardens and on to Plateau Point; and the Kaibab Trail down to the Tonto Trail, along a segment of the Tonto Trail connecting with the Kaibab Trail. What remained was a segment a few miles long from Indian Gardens to Burro Creek. We also needed to redo photography along parts of the Bright Angel Trail and Plateau Trail, which had been done with an older, inferior digital camera, and on a day which had not proved so ideal. Finding the sun well-positioned in the sky, we started at once. Photographing a trail consists of making a stop to get four or more pictures, showing the view in each direction, then proceeding further along the trail an arbitrary distance for another set of pictures. Heidi, my assistant, records information about each picture in a notebook to be entered later into a computer. The computer then puts the tour together.

Hiking the Tonto Trail is a unique experience. The "ledge" it follows, called the Tonto Platform, is formed by a hard layer of rock which has resisted erosion. Some parts of it may be a mile wide, covered with sagebrush, catclaw and a scattering of yucca and other desert plants. Next to the rising cliffs, the platform slopes upward over softer layers of rock and piles of rubble remaining from the collapse of the higher cliffs. On the river side it is fractured by chasms often a thousand feet deep. It weaves in and out and up and down, often traveling miles out of the way, as it skirts these deep chasms. In places it threads its way above perilous cliffs. It crosses creeks and dry creek beds where often are found groves of bright green deciduous trees. In the three hours we were on the Tonto Trail we only met one other party on the trail.

Plateau Point View
It took us about two hours to photograph the Tonto Trail and an hour to hike back to Indian Gardens. Turning the other direction at Indian Gardens, we quickly tackled the Plateau Point Trail. This is a short (1.5 mile) hike to a viewpoint overlooking the inner gorge (called the Granite Gorge). This is a more popular hike and we were surprised to have the overlook to ourselves long enough to do our work. The Colorado River is clearly visible from Plateau Point, although it is still far below.

It is with a great deal of pleasure that we now present our viewers with a complete loop down the Kaibab Trail, across the Tonto Trail, out to Plateau Point, and up the Bright Angel Trail. We trust that it will provide many hours of enjoyment as well as aiding in planning your own hikes on these top-notch hiking destinations. The loop is about 600 stops long and is the product of four separate trips in four different years. In order to follow the entire loop in one day, you will have to have registered for our premium account. The loop is also generously provided with high-resolution views of the beautiful scenery. If they prove popular, we look forward to adding more of these inner canyon trails in the future, including the North Kaibab Trail and more of the intriguing Tonto Trail.

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