At the top, just about to start the hike.
Hiking at a pretty leisurely pace to enjoy the view and taking a break or two to refuel on granola bars and water, we worked our way down to the mesa in about 4.5 hours. Back in the late 1800's, mining used to be done here and the evidence of that remains to this day. We came across some old rusted mining equipment and the remnants of an old cabin. All that remains of the cabin is a few walls and a fireplace. Rusted tin cans litter the bottom of the hill it sits on. Apparently, it was actually used for quite a bit of time, and the cans are all that remains of meals eaten there over a century ago. We too decided to have a bite to eat here, and after a good rest in the shade, continued our way down into the valley containing Cottonwood Creek.
About 30 minutes down from the trailhead, we turned a corner and came upon this amazing vista.
The hike to this point had been relatively easy, but this leg into the valley was a bit harder. The trail was considerably steeper and at times very narrow. We had to walk single file once and pretty much hug the wall of the canyon. One bad step and it'd be a long, painful way down! We eventually made it past the steep portion and into the valley proper. The creek was dry, which was unfortunate because so were we. Here's where having a guide really saved us. While we set up camp for the night, she went off for an hour in search of water. When she made it back, we refilled our canteens and threw some of the remaining water in a pot to boil some rice. By the time dinner was ready, it was already nighttime, so we enjoyed our simple, but delicious, meal under a blanket of stars. Rice and veggies never tasted so good. It's always better when you've earned it.
A cactus flower. It's surprising to find such vibrant color in this environment.
Having never backpacked before, we decided it would be a good idea to go with a guide to avoid the unpleasant possibility of dying. We met Christine, our guide, at the lodge first thing in the morning and headed out to our starting location of Grandview Point, which is on the South Rim. When we arrived, we started packing the backpacks she provided us with our clothes, food, tent, and sleeping bag. It was really exciting to see that everything you need to survive out there could be carried on your back. The packs were about 40 - 50 pounds each, which didn't feel like much at first, but for some reason seemed to become heavier as the day wore on. Hmm...I wonder why.
It was great right from the start. The trailhead is at an overlook where tourists stop to snap their photos and move on.
What remains of a cabin from the mining days.
So there were the 3 of us, with our huge packs strapped to our backs and our rugged hiking boots on our feet, walking among them in their sneakers as they stared at us in amazement with looks of "are they actually going down there?" on their faces. Once we got just a few hundred feet down the trail, we stopped seeing the casual tourists and it was just us, nature, and the sound of the ground crunching beneath our feet.
The canyon opened up before us. For those of you who have never been, you'd probably be surprised to find that it's much greener than you'd expect. I'd always thought of Arizona, and by extension the Grand Canyon, a desert full of hot days, cold nights, and a muted palette of sand, dirt, and stone. This is definitely not what the canyon is like.
Working our way down to Cottonwood Creek.
It makes sense when you think about it, but in order for the canyon to be a mile deep, it must be at least a mile above sea level at the rim. So, naturally, at that elevation, the climate is temperate and there is plenty of vegetation. The canyon walls aren't monochromatic, but instead a rich combination of reds and oranges. At the rim and the higher elevations within the canyon, this contrast of green trees and plants in the foreground against a background of red and orange rock is quite impressive. And while the pine trees gradually disappear as you continue your way down, the beauty doesn't. A flowering cactus is surprisingly beautiful.