The first time you see Grand Canyon you are forever changed. When you gaze out across this majestic landscape, you are filled with awe and wonder. The enormity and raw power of nature is on full display. Her beauty and might are laid bare for all to see and it is a deeply moving and ultimately humbling experience. It quite literally took The Bearded Man's breath away.
Arizona Sate University is the curator of 'Nature, Culture and History at the Grand Canyon'. They have done a remarkable job of capturing the essence of the Grand Canyon and its place in history and our current culture. The following four paragraphs are from their site - www. http://grandcanyonhistory.clas.asu.edu/index.html.
The Grand Canyon is one of the most identifiable and remarkable landscapes on earth and the most internationally recognized symbol of nature in North America. But this over-sized natural wonder is much more than a sight to behold. It is a cultural landscape that has been lived in, traveled through, feared, marveled at, exploited for profit, utilized for education, and praised as inspiration by a diverse array of people over a very long time.
This unique place has influenced American science, art, environmental values, popular culture, tourism, and leisure. It provided life and salt for Native Americans, thwarted early Spanish explorers, confounded prospectors and evoked poetry from the pens of scientists. From the early travelers to today’s five million annual visitors, everyone reacts differently - but everyone reacts. As these reactions have been captured in oral histories, books, photographs, paintings, poetry, news articles, and movies, the relationship between people and place in this iconic American landscape has grown to shape our nation’s history and values.
One of Earth’s few natural landmarks visible from space, the massive rift carved by the Colorado River begins just south of Utah at Lee’s Ferry and curves with the river through 277 miles of Arizona toward the California border, brushing Nevada along the way. At places, it is 15 miles wide (it averages 10), and its depth reaches a mile, cutting through rock formed two billion years ago. We call it, quite simply, the Grand Canyon, but there is nothing simple about this enormous landscape.
For many people, the phrase “Grand Canyon” immediately conjures a national park. Formally dedicated in 1919, Grand Canyon National Park covers 1,904 square miles (just 50 square miles fewer than Delaware) and encompasses many of the most beautiful vistas of the region, but it does not surround the entire geologic feature known as the Grand Canyon, which actually begins east of the park and continues on for many miles beyond it to the west. In other words, the Grand Canyon contains the park, but the park does not contain the Grand Canyon."
Before the sun rose, The Bearded Man filled up with coffee and walked over to meet the tram that would take him to the South Kaibab trailhead. From here the descent into the canyon and his final stop for the evening, Phantom Ranch, is an elevation change of 4,714 feet down 7.4 miles of steep, twisting, hardscrabble, narrow trail. The hike from South Rim to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon on the Colorado River, is not for the faint of heart. It is also not for those out of shape, those who are afraid of heights, those who can't carry a pack, those with bad knees, those who don't understand the importance of hydrating, or those who were mistakenly lead to believe that this would be a 'good stroll.' However, for those that hike down to Phantom Ranch along South Kaibob, they are rewarded with spectacular views of the canyon and the Colorado. Views that reaffirm your belief in the power of nature to inspire and heal.
For anyone planning a trip, here is the NPS brochure, 'An Introduction to Backcountry Hiking in the Grand Canyon.' https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/upload/intro-bc-hike.pdf. Read it.
The Phantom Ranch - Just the name conjures up images of a mysterious hideout for train robbers of the old west. You expect Butch and Sundance to suddenly stroll by and doff their hat. In reality, Phantom Ranch would in fact have been the perfect hideout. Tucked into the woods at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, accessible only by foot, mule or the Colorado River, which runs by a few hundred yards from your front door. As The Bearded Man can attest, it's not right around the corner from anywhere and when you get there by foot all you want to do is lay down. Or better yet, all you can do is lay down. Fortunately for anyone who has walked to the bottom of the canyon (about 1% of the nearly 5 million annual visitors), a stream runs directly behind the cabins. An ice cold stream that feels like heaven. Like butter on lobster. Like champagne on ice. Like a cold shower after a marathon. Actually, it felt better than all of those things combined and The Bearded Man lay in the stream for exactly 77 minutes before walking back to his cabin and falling asleep in 2. minutes flat.
Dinner at Phantom Ranch is a community affair, with visitors meeting in the cafeteria and sharing long wooden tables. Meals are chosen before you hike down and The Bearded Man opted for chicken with vegetables and banana pudding for dessert All washed down with water - his 23rd gallon of the day. After dinner, stories are told, experiences shared and the hobbled return to their cabins to prepare for the tougher leg of the journey - the hike back to the rim via Bright Angel Trail. Before heading back to his cabin, The Bearded Man walked down to the Colorado and sat on the bank for a while. As the water rushed by, he suddenly found himself thinking of how far this trip had brought him and how far he had to go. He smiled to himself and promptly fell asleep. When he awoke, the sky above the canyon was a barrage of white, glowing pinpoints. Viewed up through the walls of the canyon, the night was as beautiful as any he had ever seen. He smiled all the way back up the path to his cabin. He knew he was a lucky man.
Before he hit the trail at 5:30 AM, The Bearded Man was given a pre-ordered sack lunch consisting of an apple, an energy bar and something that was obviously put in the bag by mistake, since only a raccoon could ignore the smell. Two large bladders of water, a quick coffee and off he goes on the 10 mile, 4,000+ foot climb back to the south rim. Or as he later lovingly called it, "My ascent into hell."
The six hour grueling hike up the Bright Angel Trail passes through four rest stops along the way. Stone shelters that offer the opportunity to refill bladders and empty them at the same time. It also leads through an anomaly on the trail known as Indian Garden. An oasis of trees in any otherwise barren landscape, Indian Garden springs up as if a mirage. Once the seasonal home of the Havasupai, President Theodore Roosevelt ordered them to leave the area in 1903, to make way for a park. However, it was not until 1928 that the last Havasupai left, forced out by the National Park Service. (We were told they now own several casinos in the Nevada desert and are still angry with Teddy. We could not confirm.) After Indian Garden, The Bearded Man started to feel the climb in his legs. An experienced hiker and physical specimen (or at least a specimen) he none-the-less could feel the rapid elevation change and took several water breaks before emerging at the top. "Between yesterday and today, I think I lost 12 pounds. I am counting on dinner to put at least 10 of those back on." Always the optimist.
A meal in the dining room at the historic El Tovar Hotel, is a meal to remember. The National Park Service calls it, "Gourmet dining in an atmosphere of historic and casual elegance. This celebrated and majestic dining room is constructed of native stone and Oregon pine, with murals on the walls reflecting the customs of four Native American Tribes – the Hopi, the Apache, the Mojave and the Navajo. The ambience is rustic, but classic and traditional. You can imagine the countless number of intriguing characters that have dined here in the past. Guests such as Teddy Roosevelt, President Bill Clinton and Sir Paul McCartney have dined and shared stories within these walls. The menu is traditional, integrating both international and local Southwest influences. Signature items such as the Prime Rib Hash at Breakfast or the Salmon Tostada at Dinner have graced the menu for decades and become true classics. The Service Staff for El Tovar Dining Room are consummate professionals; many have been with the restaurant for over 20 years. The El Tovar Dining Room is considered the premier dining establishment at the Grand Canyon and is recognized internationally." After his early dinner, The Bearded Man would simply say - ditto.
If you've never hiked an elevation gain of 4,000 feet, over the course of 6 hours and 10 miles, it is difficult to understand how loud your dogs are barking. After his memorable meal at El Tovar, The Bearded Man wanted nothing more than to return to his room and collapse. Read a book, watch bad television or drink 15 Mexican Cokes. But he did not want to leave Grand Canyon without visiting historic Kolb Studio, which is fortunately located about 100 yards from the Bright Angel Lodge. In 1902, Emery and Ellsworth Kolb opened a studio in the Grand Canyon and began making photographs of mule parties, landscapes, river adventures, and nearly every other dramatic scene and incident that occurred in the area. They also successfully navigated the Green and Colorado Rivers in 1911, filming their journey. The film ran in the Kolb Studio in the Grand Canyon from 1915 until Emery's death in 1976. Quintessential pioneers and visionaries, the Kolb Brothers' photographs and films run throughout numerous short and full-length films, most notably the Ken Burns' documentary, National Parks: America's Best Idea. Anyone who has ever set foot on a trail at the Grand Canyon owes a thank you to these two. Bless you boys.
Putting Grand Canyon in his rear view mirror was difficult for The Bearded Man. Everything about the park was begging him to stay. But he is on a tight schedule and as such he grabbed his coffee, threw his gear and pointed the van in the direction of Joshua Tree National Park. The five hour drive southwest across Arizona and into California was an uneventful one, with the exception of an early lunch stop at In-N-Out Burger in Kingman, Arizona. As a rule, The Bearded Man eats very little red meat, but the chance to feast on a couple of double bacon cheeseburgers (not to mention the well done fries) at In-N-Out was just too much to resist.
While the Joshua Tree area has been inhabited by humans for at least 5,000 years, by the late 1920's, the development of new roads into the desert had brought an influx of land developers and cactus poachers. Minerva Hoyt, a Pasadena resident who was extremely fond of desert plants, became concerned about the removal of cacti and other plants to the gardens of Los Angeles. Her tireless efforts to protect this area culminated in 825,000 acres being set aside as Joshua Tree National Monument in 1936 and as part of the Desert Protection Bill, was elevated to park status on October 31, 1994. In 1987, the Irish rock band U2, titled their album Joshua Tree and Bono bought his first pair of gigantic yellow sunglasses.
Joshua Tree is renowned for its plant diversity, with nearly 750 species of vascular plants. Nearly half of these are annual plants, like many of the wildflowers that bloom in spring. The park also provides habitat for over 44 plant species designated as rare. and a spectacular number of trees and shrubs. Shrub assemblages here are among the most diverse vegetation types in North America. Joshua Tree is also known for its numerous species of cacti, many species of ferns, mosses, and liverworts—also known as bryophytes. Many species of lichens can easily be found growing on the famous rock formations of the park. "Now I understand why they originally wanted to call this place Desert Plants National Park in 1930," chimes in The Bearded Man, who was earlier seen enjoying a rather involved conversation with a large fern.
Still feeling the effects of his Grand Canyon hikes, The Bearded Man decided the best way to spend his time at the park - beside in his tent sleeping - was to take advantage of a couple of ranger guided tours. First on his list was a tour of the historic Keys Ranch. William F. Keys and his family are particularly representative of the hard work and ingenuity it took to settle and prosper in the Mojave Desert. Bill and Frances spent 60 years working together to make a life and raise their five children in this remote location. The ranch house, school house, store, and workshop still stand; the orchard has been replanted; and the grounds are full of the cars, trucks, mining equipment, and spare parts that are a part of the Desert Queen Ranch story.
Before turning in, The Bearded Man joined a ranger led star gazing expedition. Consisting of a short one mile out and back, the group was treated to a clear sky and for many their first viewing of The Milky Way. Ranger Kipp asked The Bearded Man to say a few words about the first time he saw The Milky Way and the effect it had on him. "I was 13 years old when my dad drove us up to a place called the Headlands, in northern Michigan. I grew up in a small town outside of Detroit and although we didn't have a lot of ambient light, we never got to see a sky like the one here tonight, or the one I saw as a 13 year old kid. I remember our dad pointing out various constellations and patterns in the sky. Then he showed us The Milky Way. And there it was, as plain as day, right above my head. We all laid back on the grass and stared up at the heaven's for what seemed like hours. It was, up to that point, the most amazing night of my life. And standing here tonight, it feels as though I can reach out and touch my fathers hand. My brother's shirt, or the hem of my mother's skirt (she wasn't allowed to wear pants - don't get me started). That night is the reason I am here tonight. That night embedded in me the love of outdoors and all things in it. It also provided me with a lifelong love affair of the night sky." After The Bearded Man finished his recollection, Ranger Kipp asked if anyone else would like to provide a memory. No one spoke until someone in the back quietly said, "I think I'll pass." TBM can be a tough act to follow.
And now a word from our sponsor: Joshua Tree, we will continue to celebrate the NPS Centennial in October by bringing together astronomers, scientists, cultural speakers, night-sky enthusiasts, artists, volunteers, junior rangers, and members of nearby communities to celebrate the night skies of Joshua Tree National Park.