Sunday, March 11, 2007
Zion & Grand Canyon National Parks
Back in October I had a great trip to Zion National Park & the Grand Canyon with Jennifer, who I share an office with. We had one night in Zion, a night on the North Rim of the canyon, and three nights below the rim along the North Kaibab trail.
The full gallery is here, but in an attempt to figure out what I'm doing, I'm going to play with posting pictures.
Zion Park, in southern Utah, is often compared to Yosemite Park in California- they're both centered on lush valleys, at least. The Virgin River Valley is the heart of Zion, and the climb to Angel's Landing is a classic day hike in the park. It's about 5 miles round trip, about 1500' vertical gain. Neither of those sound too bad, but it's seriously steep & exposed in the upper sections, and not for the acrophobic. Like the woman slowing down the trail, stuck at a tough spot being urged on by her "friends". For all I know, she might still be up there, afraid to come down.
From Zion, we took a nice drive out through the park and down to the Grand Canyon. One of the highlights of the ride down was passing by a general store with a herd of buffalo hanging around outside. The story is that they come there most days for the water supply, and are used to people being around.
The North Rim had closed for the season the week before. It's only open from mid-May (usually Mother's Day weekend) through about October 15. The highway is usually kept open until around Thanksgiving. No services are available, but the campground is open and there's normally a ranger present.
After a night on the rim, we headed down the North Kaibab trail, bound for Cottonwood Campground. It's about 7 miles and several thousand feet lower. The NK is a pretty easy trail by Grand Canyon standards- none of the trails is easy, but on a cool, overcast fall day, the NK isn't bad. Water was still available at Supai Tunnel (though it gets shut off not much later) and at the campground. Cottonwood is the smallest of the three "Corridor" campgrounds in the park- we'll be at another, Bright Angel the next night; the third is Indian Garden along the Bright Angel Trail. There are about a dozen sites, varying in size & shade, but all with picnic tables and poles for hanging packs out of the reach of mice & other little rodents. Though they do get hung at a nice height for browsing deer. There are also ammo boxes to put food into for protection.
About a mile further down trail from Cottonwood is Ribbon Falls, a justifiably popular side trip from the trail. The weather was overcast & a little threatening, but we decided to take a side trip that I'd never quite managed in two prior trips on the NK trail. From the trail you cross a bridge over Bright Angel Creek & bear left along the side trail to the falls; if you look, there's a slightly obscured trail to the right. This leads to Upper Ribbon Falls. It's very steep at the start, then levels out and crosses through a beautiful valley before reaching the Upper Falls, a mile or two from the trailhead. Another couple of miles up lie Upper Upper Ribbon Falls, but we skipped that trip.
The next day took us to Bright Angel Campground, near the confluence of Bright Angel Creek and the Colorado River. The campground is very large, but the creek usually covers noise pretty well. Nearby is Phantom Ranch, with cabins & bunkhouses available by reservation, and with a canteen serving breakfast & dinner (again, by reservation only) and serving light snacks, drinks, and beer! Beer is about $3.50 a can, less than I'd pay at home, and in Brooklyn it isn't delivered by mule.
The Colorado is crossed by two suspension bridges near Bright Angel, giving access to the trails coming down from the South Rim. It's a popular destination, and the trails are busy. It's also a big stopping point for river runners, and the spot where some hike in or out at the beginning or end of a rafting trip.
The next day saw us retracing our hike up the North Kaibab to Cottonwood. For me, a highlight was passing by Maverick, a Grand Canyon hiking legend. In 2006, to celebrate his 80th birthday, he decided to hike across the canyon 80 times. He hit that mark a few weeks before we saw him, then kept going- he was on #84 when we passed him.
Climbing back up the NK trail took us back to Ribbon Falls, this time on a much clearer day than the first visit. It's a great side trip.
We spent our last night at Cottonwood again, then hiked out the following day. We were off trail around noon, which isn't that bad for 7 miles and 4000', with a backpack.
All in all, a good trip.