By Karen Keninger
The Trip Back Out:
It’s always very interesting to me to “see” a place through someone else’s eyes. The pictures are considerably different from one observer to another. We had different guides on the way up. Once again Snoopy was being led by the guide in front. So once again I got the full benefit of his narration. But what he saw, and what he called to our attention was completely different from what K-Barr talked about. Simon is Navajo, and his presentation centered around Native American lore and symbols. He had a name for every rock, practically. He constantly pointed out rock formations that looked like an old woman walking up the trail to pay her respects at Heaven’s Window; a sad-eyed Indian; a Saint Bernard, a frog, all kinds of things like that.
He’s been doing this for a couple of years, and before we made it to the top, he told me about an experience he had early on that nearly cured him of the job. His mule stopped to pee, slipped and went down right by the edge. She managed to scramble up after two or three unsuccessful attempts, but as you can imagine it scared him nearly to death. Becky wasn’t so sure she was glad to hear that story just at that point. We still had some steep climbing on narrow switchbacks to do.
We came down the Bright Angel Trail, but we went back up by the South Kaibab Trail. This trail is steeper and shorter than the Bright Angel Trail. It’s actually easier on the mules and on the riders going up than it is going down, and we were up in about four hours. The weather finally cleared for us–at some time before dawn Becky looked out the window and exclaimed, “I can see stars!” What a treat! The snow and rain that had plagued us on the way down, and the rain on our day in camp, had cleared out. It was even still–no wind. At one point on the trail Simon told me we were on Windy Ridge, and that normally the wind, which came from both sides at that point (drop-offs on both sides of the trail here), would take your hat off if it weren’t tied down. But there was no wind at all, even there. All the clothes I had on were just a tad warm, but at least we didn’t need those gigantic yellow slickers with MULE RIDER emblazoned in big block letters on the back!
Riding Snoopy back out of the canyon was easier. I didn’t have to brace myself nearly as much as he went up hill. I could just lean forward and move with his steps. He didn’t jar as much either since he wasn’t stepping down steps. He was blowing, though at the steepest climbs, and the guide stopped several times to give them all a rest.
We got to the top around noon, bid farewell to our trusty mules, checked into the hotel and lazed about for the rest of the day. Our room had 1930s amenities, including a grand old claw-foot bathtub you can lie down in. And that was the crowning jewel of the day–a long hot bath I could stretch out in. I wanted to find out the origin of the name of the Bright Angel Trail, Bright Angel Lodge,Bright Angel Creek, etc. Nobody I asked seemed to know, or care. I found it online when I got home. According to the National Park Service, “The name Bright Angel originated on Major John Wesley Powell’s pioneering exploration of the Colorado River in 1869. Powell regretted having named a muddy creek upstream the “Dirty Devil.” Later, when he found a creek with sparkling clear water, he gave it the more reverent name, “Bright Angel,” after a character in Milton’s Paradise Lost.”
It’s always bitter-sweet to end a vacation. The last day, getting home, brings me closer and closer to the everyday things I love, and the stresses I worked very hard to escape for a few days. But Wednesday was spent doing just that–getting back to reality. We took the scenic route back to Sedona after we scraped all the frost and snow off the car. The day was bright and sunny, and we went from 28 degrees at the Park to 18 degrees at the Arizona Divide and then to 70 degrees in Phoenix. We saw more gulches, tanks, washes, draws, creeks, and a barbershop called Dianna’s Butcher Block Barber Shop. We agreed that the word butcher should probably not be part of a barbershop name!
And now I’m home with my book of travels in the Grand Canyon to read, and a new coffee mug with the Kokopelli figure to remind me of a fantastic trip spent in excellent company. We foresee more travels in the future.