By Karen Keninger
Phantom Ranch sits on the north side of the Colorado near the Bright Angel Creek. It started out as a place for miners to sell whatever they mined and morphed into a camp later on.
It was refurbished into its present shape in the 1920s. Our cabin had a cold-water sink and toilet but we had to go somewhere else for the showers. It had four bunks, one chair and a table. Happily, the heater worked. We used it a lot! It was still cold and raining some. They have a canteen which serves as breakfast cafe, store, restaurant for a 5:00 steak dinner and a 6:30 stew dinner, and bar from 8:00 to 10:00. We got settled in our cabin, heard a ranger talk on geology of the Grand Canyon, ate our steak dinner and basically crashed. We were tired!
Monday was our day in the canyon. We got up feeling pretty stiff from the day before. Breakfast at the Canteen got us plenty to eat, and then we decided to go walk across one of the bridges that span the Colorado.
The bridge we crossed the day before is called the Black Bridge. It’s a suspension bridge built in the 20s. Everything in the bottom of the canyon was brought down by mule then and still is today. Mule or hiker, that is. So all the pieces of the bridge were loaded on mules and brought down–all except the suspension cables. Those were carried down by 40 Indians, who ran a cable down in two and a half hours, snaking it around all those switchbacks as they went. Today everything is still brought down by mule. They bring two mule trains down each day with food for the canteen and everything else they need. And they take out the garbage the same way. The river is about 450 feet wide here, and the bridge is 220 feet above it. The mules don’t seem to mind the bridge or the tunnel they have to go through just before they get to it. There’s another bridge, called the silver bridge, which dates to the 1970s. It is a pedestrian bridge and also carries the water supply pipes across the river. I wanted to walk across this bridge, so we went on down there after breakfast. Becky didn’t want to walk on a bridge she could see through-the floor is a metal mesh. So I walked across. The first thing I had to do was figure out how to use my cane on that surface without getting it stuck in the mesh every time. I finally figured out that if I held it so it just skimmed the top of the mesh I had better luck. What a grand feeling to stand on that bridge over the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. With the water rushing by below, and the canyon walls rising and trapping the sound of the water all around, and that indescribable sense of being in one of God’s spectacular creations, it was awesome. I wanted somehow to share this place with you all, so I took some pictures with my cell phone camera. I basically held it up, pointed it and clicked. I took a whole bunch at different angles and actually got about two decent pictures out of it. Here they are.
After the bridge, we decided to walk on up the North Kaibab Trail. Thirteen miles uphill would get you to the North Rim. We didn’t go that far. It rained some, drizzled some, misted some. The day was dreary, overcast, and wet. But we opted not to wear our gigantic yellow slickers and take what we got.
I had my telescoping cane with me. I couldn’t bring a long one down on the mules. The problem with hiking with a telescoping cane is that it telescopes at odd moments. Suddenly it shrinks and I had to figure out quickly whether it was the ground dropping off or the cane shrinking. You also absolutely cannot use it like a trekking pole!
We tried a side trail that was supposed to go to a grand overlook. It was steep, narrow, and really rocky. After 100 yards or less, we decided it was not for us and scrambled back down to the wider, flatter trail that ran along Phantom Creek.
Imagine a sheer rock wall—sheer that is with the added benefit of sculpting by rain and wind into a surface of crevices, little ledges, rounded outcroppings, etc. Pinks, grays, some black, some quartz. This wall rises straight up from the edge of the path. Next to the wall is some sparse vegetation–some sagebrush, some cactuses, some other taller plants. The trail itself is gravel with larger rocks willy-nilly in it, sometimes singly and sometimes in jumbles. They’ve put retaining walls across the trail to form steps in some places. Clean-outs for the water pipe that serves the canyon stick up in the middle of the trail every so often. Eight to twelve feet from that rock wall is a drop-off. In this instance it drops down to the creek. In some places there is a retaining wall built to stabilize the trail. Across the creek in the side canyon was the other wall. It was close enough to hear the sound of the wall. It was amazingly peaceful there with the creek rushing by, and only a few other hikers on the trail. We stopped several times just to sit on rocks and drink it in.
At one point I decided to dig out the peanuts I had in my pocket and eat them. Just as I was finishing, a ringtail came out to see if I had any left. These ringtails are a lot like raccoons in their ability to get into things and lack of fear of humans. Becky tried to get a picture of him, but he scampered up the wall of the canyon, sending a shower of pebbles down behind him. The wildlife here is very tame. Becky got some pictures of mule deer that didn’t mind a bit we were so close. Foxes, ringtails and mule deer are the animals we heard about down here, and birds were pretty scarce. Up on Indian Gardens, while we were eating our lunch the day before, two ravens with no fear at all of people were squabbling for food from the campers, and the squirrels were practically begging. They told us not to feed them.
We decided to go back around noon. I know that seeing a place from a different direction provides a completely new experience of it, but I was kind of surprised how different it seemed to me going back as well. Instead of being on the inside by the wall, I was on the outside by the creek. It could have been a completely different route. On the way in the wall was the main feature, its nearness, the plants along it, the rocks there. On the way out, it was the stream. Interesting. We rounded one corner and Becky caught her breath. She could see the snow on the top of the canyon a mile above us! It had fallen since we left yesterday.
During the trip we have met some very interesting people. At supper that evening we sat across from a couple fromCanadawho seemed to do nothing but travel. They were on a three-month circuit including the Grand Canyon, Hawaii, San Diego, New Mexico and I forget where else. They’d just come back from doingSouth America, including the Amazon, and from the sounds of it the entire continent. Another couple we sat across from at breakfast were in their 70s, and their goal was to die broke. “I plan to write my last check to the undertaker, and it will bounce,” he told us. They had come down on the mules the day after we did. We met a guy in his early 60s on disability for Asperger’s who hikes around all over the place because it’s cheap. And we chatted with a fellow on the trail in his 60s or more with two trekking poles who had hiked in with his friend and his friend’s granddaughter. Many were experienced hikers. One of them told us this was “like hiking on a highway.” He climbs mountains for fun apparently. In our group of mule riders, we had two women from New York City who had never ridden anything but a taxicab, the mega-travelers fromCanada, three women fromVirginiawho were very pleasant, and Becky and I.
By the end of the day I was really, really tired! And muscles I didn’t know I had were demanding my attention. I’m still not sure what they wanted me to do though! Walking down stairs became a hazardous enterprise because my legs did not want to cooperate! They didn’t improve overnight either. I was sleeping in the top bunk and could hardly get down the next morning.