So, leaving Utah, Mum and I continued our Thelma and Louise style road-trip and headed south to Monument Valley Navajo Reservation.
On the way we stopped at a Mormon Orchard in Capitol Reef National Park. Say what you will about Mormons (and I will say a lot) but they make really good pie. And pumpkin butter which I am yet to try. It was at this time (in Capitol Reef N.P. with its normally jaw-dropping red rock) that I got ‘over’ rocks. What had caused my jaw to drop no longer impressed me.
Mormons and the Colorado River
This was enhanced by the fact that once we left the Mormon orchards, things got a little depressing. Not just the people and the buildings (though that can’t be left out) but the landscape. It was like driving through a mine… except there was no mine. There was just arid piles of greyish loose shale-type Rock that continued for hours.
We made a pit-stop to look at Monument Valley from the top of Muley Canyon (should’ve been impressive but I was a bit over it) and then we drove into Monument Valley…
Who knew you could just stare at really big rocks for so long. They don’t do anything, and yet remain highly interesting. Needless to say I rediscovered my fondness for really big rock formations.
We stayed for two nights, walked around the east ‘mitten’ and realised being a few thousand feet lower and hundred or so miles south made a big impact on the temperature.
The view from our balcony and out among the Mittens
But we were headed for the big one. The Grand Canyon. The only thing that would come close to it in size was the Skillet breakfast from Denny’s in Tuba City (Mom wanted the American experience). After a quick visit to a Navajo Market (nothing like being the only white people to scream ‘Tourist’).
Then the big one. The grand canyon. To preface this, a few months earlier I had made our bookings for a lodge, including trying to get into ‘Phantom Ranch’ a lodge at the bottom canyon. They were booked out, but when we arrived we were able to join a waiting list. At 6.30am the next day we were to show up in the lobby and find out if we were going to do the most intensive hike of my life.
The Grand Canyon is so large that you cannot see the bottom from the Rim. Instead there is an inner Canyon, which you can see the top of, and then far beneath that the Colorado River. It makes it hard to appreciate the size and scale of what you’re seeing. I actually found it less impressive than Zion National Park visually. Of course, if you can’t see how impressive something is, you just need to experience it.
The day before
We scored dormitory beds at 6.30 am and we’re on the bus to the South Kaibab Trailhead at 8; having elected to take the ‘steep but short(er)’ trail down, and the ‘long but flat(er)’ trail up. On the way down I messed up my ankles countless times, Mum fell on her ass and we made it down 2400 feet in 5 hours, to collapse in a heap at the bottom.
Going Down at 1/4 and 1/3 of the way.
This was at halfway, when you can just see the top of the inner canyon and then (finally) at the Colorado River.
Down the bottom there are two types of people: those who walked, and those who rode a mule (I’m sure those who camp rather than stay in the lodge have their own classification). I did not ride a mule. Whenever I looked sad about this my mother reminded me I would’ve had to have worn an extra-large bright yellow jacket with MULE RIDER written across the back.
The way up was long; After a 5am breakfast, we left just before sunrise and felt rather cocky when we easily made it halfway to Indian Gardens at the top of the inner canyon.
The sun coming up over the inner Rim.
Except while we had made it 5 of the 9.6 miles (15.4km) it was only a third of the elevation. After another gentle 1.9 miles of anticipation the final three miles caused a world of pain.
I was able to pinpoint exactly the moment where if I was anywhere below the age of 17 I would have just sat down and refused to move; perhaps cried. But I had signed up for this, and the rangers say “Going down is optional, coming up is mandatory” for a reason.
I’m sure my exhaustion contributed, but at about 3 miles to go, as we really started to climb in elevation (covering about 2800 ft) my lungs started to burn and even when you were standing still and breathing normally it felt like there wasn’t enough air. It was a nice distraction from the pain in my calves for a while.
Hitting the bottom of the outer Rim (see those cliffs. We went up those)! And then the outer Rim. We went up those too!
Of course, as you get closer to the rim incredibly well dressed people on a two hour round-trip hike from the top start appearing. They avoid you on the trail like you smell funky (we probably did). It didn’t help that we did the whole thing in jeans and sneaker-type shoes with everyday backpacks. If we looked half as kitted out as the 2-hour hikers did, I’m sure we would’ve gotten respect instead of judgment.
We managed to get out at 1.10pm. 6 hours and 40 minutes after we started. The estimated time from the park was 6 to 9 hours.
I felt pretty good about myself, but I’m sitting down to write this and I’m not sure if I can get up.
I do know that after 9 days of hiking, seeing incredible things and pushing myself past what I thought I was capable of…. I never want to hear the phrase ‘switchback’ again.
(Once again, I’m posting this a little late. Since it was written, we’ve navigated the Phoenix freeways, seen Talisan West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Winter Camp, gone down the Californian Coast from San Francisco and then explored the city by the bay. Now we’re off to Turlock, Yosemite, the Napa Valley and Lake Tahoe!).