Thirteen months ago my Uncle Rick contacted me to tell me that he had scored 2 nights at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and that I was invited! With about 50% of my life already behind me I quickly accepted the invite, put it on my calendar and readied my pen to mark this off my bucket list. Those thirteen months flew by and it’s time to do this thang! Friday night my brother and I drove down to stay with my folks in Colorado Springs to save us a couple hours driving the next day. We awoke bright and ugly on Saturday morning, snarfed a bite of breakfast down and threw back a couple cups of java before picking up my brother-in-law Todd, life-long friend Tom and Uncle Rick. Two rest stops, one lunch break, 3 filling stations and 12 hours later we rolled into the Highland Country Inn in Flagstaff AZ to rest up before our long trek into the canyon.
Day one began with another early morning as we had a 1.5 hour drive to get to the trailhead on the rim. We made good time, got checked in with the national park office and caught the “hiker express” shuttle to the South Kaibab trailhead. As I stood there on the rim waiting for the other members of my group to adjust their backpacks and such I was in awe of the depth and breadth of this canyon. I could not even see the mighty Colorado River that has etched this gash into the earth. We got a group shot of us on the rim then headed down. I was burning through film like the paparazzi. I’m not a very good photographer but I have a fancy camera that helps so I tried my best to capture the huge dynamic range of light; from the dark, early morning shadows on one canyon wall to the sun drenched wall on the other side.
The temperature was cool in the morning and wherever we found shade but was pretty hot in the sun. I cannot imagine hiking in the heat of summer!! The hike was beautiful and the company was excellent. Even though we had spent the entire previous day in the car together we were still able to find an infinite amount of things to talk about as we made our way to the bottom. As the baby of the group I was inspired by the others in the group who were making the hike look easy. And Uncle Rick, who is 23 years my senior, was keeping an incredible pace despite the extreme pain his knees were causing him.
For 5 hours we chased after a winding trail that continually vanished hundreds of feet below us. Every step producing a little cloud of fine red canyon dust that coated my shoes and ankles and every step working muscles that I just don’t use while sitting behind a computer writing code. Eventually we caught site of the mighty Colorado River which, along with the vegetation along its banks, gave our eyes a welcome dose of green that we’d lacked all morning. A tunnel, a bridge, a beach and a short walk along Bright Angel Creek brought us to Phantom Ranch.
This place is swank! Our first stop was at the canteen where we enjoyed some ice cold beers and lemonade (not mixed of course) before checking into our cabin which had 5 bunk beds. Since it was just the 5 of us we each got a bottom bunk and could use the top bunk to store our gear. The cabin had power, heat, running cold water and a toilet. Out the back door we had a couple of picnic tables just a stones throw from the creek and this would be where we spent a majority of our relaxing time at the ranch. We fired up our stoves and had dinner as the sun disappeared and the moon came up. We shared stories as we sipped on some drinks and smoked some stogies and marveled at the stars.
The canteen opens at 8:00pm for beer and wine and it gets full fast! So after a few of our group got some brews we went back to our cabin to play a round of liars dice. Joe pulled off the win but Uncle Rick did surprisingly well despite his dislike of the rules about 1’s. Then we played a game of Say the Name of a Sitcom That Has Not Already Been Said Tonight. Now, my brother Joe was the one who invented this game and the guy has a memory for this sort of thing like noone else. Needless to say, he won this one as well! By this time it was pretty late and we were tired so we hit the hay. It was a great first day!
Below is a slideshow with some of our pictures, but if you’d like to see them all head over to the album here which includes videos as well.
Team at the rim
View from trailhead
Friends taking it in
First rest stop
View at lunch
Look at those asses
Tom's tunnel dance
Out of the tunnel
The last stretch
Shootin' the bull