Grand Canyon Part II: Nature Walk and Bright Angel Trail
After the ranger program on the human history of the Grand Canyon in the morning, we went back to the motor home and had a bite to eat. Then we returned for a nature walk in the afternoon. That's a big advantage to staying in the park - you're 5 minutes from Grand Canyon Village by car and about 15 minutes by shuttle. Of course, parking is limited at the village if you go by car, but spaces can be found if you're patient and know where to look.
The afternoon ranger presentation again started at Vercamp's Visitor Center. This presentation covered mainly plants found at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The ranger started with several plants that were right outside the visitor center. One was the agave, which we previously learned about at the Arizona-Sonoro Desert Museum in Tucson. Portions of the plant are edible, and the leaves yield fibers that Native Americans used for rope and for baskets.
For this ranger program we walked east on the Rim Trail from Vercamp's. Under construction along the trail are displays of rock specimens found at various levels in the canyon. Only about a third of the individual specimens were in place when we were there, but the final display showing all the layers was complete.
The trees on the South Rim are largely pinon pine and junipers. The cones from pinon pines yield pine nuts, which Native Americans used as a valuable source of protein. Pine nuts have a sweet, nutty flavor and are still popular today. Sometimes called pignolis, pine nuts are used in pesto, and they are delicious roasted and salted. The ranger had a bag of pine nuts for everyone to sample, and she also had a pine cone she passed around so we could all see the seeds.
Pinon pines were also used for building and for fuel, and the pitch from the sap was used as an adhesive and to line baskets to make them waterproof.
Junipers are the other common trees around the South Rim. The berries are edible and are rich in vitamin C. Junipers were also used for fuel, but the branches and trunks are too crooked to use for building. The bark is very fibrous and it can be peeled off and used as a fire starter. The bark can also be kneaded to separate the fibers to make the bark soft and absorbent. Native Americans used the softened bark as an absorbent padding for their babies' cradle boards. Stripping the bark doesn't hurt the tree, but it's a no-no in the national park. The ranger brought a piece of bark from a tree at home to show us.
Another plant used by the Indians is the yucca, which is a member of the agave family. Like the agave, the yucca has fibers that can be used for rope and baskets. The ranger had samples of dried yucca leaves and samples of the extracted fibers. The fibers were surprisingly flexible and strong.
Yet another edible plant is the prickly pear cactus. The pads of the cactus can be peeled, boiled and eaten, and the ripe fruit can be used for syrup and jam. The ranger had samples of prickly pear candy for everyone to taste. The Ranger was very knowledgeable about the plant life in the canyon, and she made the presentation especially interesting with all the "show and tell" examples and goodies to taste.
After the ranger presentation, we went back to the motor home for an early dinner. Without daylight savings time, sunset comes at around 7:30 in May, and we wanted to head back over to the canyon for the sunset. It's fun to sit and watch the sun get lower and lower, to watch the shadows in the canyon to get longer and longer, and to watch the rocks get redder and redder.
After the sun got so low there was hardly any light left in the canyon, we walked to the other side of the overlook just in time to watch the sun disappear.
The next morning we went back over to Grand Canyon Village to walk a short way down Bright Angel Trail. The next photo shows the view as we started down the trail.
Last year we got a little way past the first tunnel, which is shown in the next photo. Notice the window that has formed to the right. Judging by the crack in the rock, the window will break away some time in the not-to-distant future.
This year we walked to the first big switchback, which is about half a mile down the trail and a little over 200 feet below the rim. The next photo shows the switchback with the trail down to the left and back up to the right. We started at the area that is slightly mounded at the top far left of the photo.
It was cool and windy when we started out; but as soon as we got below the rim the wind died down. Before we got to the switchback, the temperature felt like it had gone up. As you can see, we had to take off our jackets, and we were wishing we had on shorts.
It's hard for us to judge how far we should walk. The hiking guides tell you it takes three times as long to walk up as it does to walk down. And our legs told us going up takes three or four times as much effort.
As we started back up, we noticed mules coming up from below. There are only two wranglers and no riders, so we knew it was not a trail ride, but the morning trash run. All trash from Indian Garden and Phantom Ranch must be hauled up out of the canyon.
We took our time to allow the mules to catch up to us so we could watch them pass. Mules have the right of way, and hikers have to move aside. We waited at a wide, shady part of the trail.
After the mules passed, we resumed our climb. It really wasn't too bad since we took our time. Maybe next time we'll go a little farther, although the trail guide says the trail starts to get steeper a little beyond where we stopped.
When we neared the top, we saw several people looking up to the rim of the canyon. At first we thought it might have been a squirrel or some other wildlife, but it turned out one of the hikers had pointed out a number of Indian petroglyphs on the underside of some of the rocks. The photo is in focus - the petroglyphs have started to fade and blur.
After our hike, we walked along the Rim Trail a little while, then headed back to the motor home. We were off to a new destination the next morning, so stay tuned.