Posts Tagged ‘AZ’

Backpacking Grand Canyon National Park, 31 Jan – 05 Feb 2016

8 February 2016



Hike Summary: 48.4 miles over five days, with 8900 ft of altitude gain. Stunning scenery. Main question asked: “How *can* it keep getting better, backpacking Grand Canyon?”

The photos from this trip are on my Google+ here.

This is our third trip to GCNP. The blog post for the second one is here.

Getting There

Very straightforward. Four of us flew OKC-PHX, picked up a rental car, and headed north. We stopped at REI Flagstaff for stove fuel, then into the Park. Two others drove from San Diego to Flagstaff, then to the park where we all met up. We spent the first night in Maswik Lodge. The next morning, we loaded up, and checked in at the Backcountry Information Center (BIC) for an itinerary check (and change).

Weather Forecast

Our past two years in the Canyon were bedeviled by weather as we traveled there, but it was beautiful and warm while we hiked. This year, it was weather at the Canyon that was the issue. Forecasts were for highs in the 30s, with lows in the -0s for the South Rim, and up to a foot of snow. We were not enthusiastic about finding the Tanner Trail and Escalante Route when covered with snow, with our way out of the Canyon blocked in all three of our potential exits, and even the road closed along the Rim. We worked with the Backcountry Information Center (BIC), and they changed our route and permit, which turned out to be amazing regardless.

Day 1

We started at 0715 with breakfast in the Maswik food court, then got to the BIC right after it opened at 0800.

We headed out from the BIC after changing our route and walked directly to the Bright Angel trailhead.  Not much to say except it’s a long way down.  We started out around 0900, had lunch in Indian Garden, and then got into camp around 1530.  I was very happy that I didn’t have any knee problems this time.  I had practiced by walking a lot of stairs in the month prior to the trip.  The Bright Angel trail (sloped) is also a lot easier on the knees than the South Kaibab trail (large stair-steps).

We all walked around, Corey fished, and I looked for my missing SPOT in the group camp we were in last year (no luck).

Water was weird.  Apparently the NPS was working on the Transcanyon Water System, and there was only one place (right in front of the Phantom Ranch Canteen) to get potable water.  The heads had no water, and to flush, you emptied a big bucket of nasty-looking water into the head after you did your business.  We sent a patrol out to fill water bottles at PR (it’s a half mile there) and dipped water from the creek for boiling for food rehydration.

We decided not to go to the Canteen at 2000 as we were tired, so we all crashed at 1945.

10.5 miles and loss of 4380 ft.

Day 2

We all slept in a bit here, and didn’t hit the trail until 1030.  We walked up through Phantom Ranch to the Clear Creek turnoff, where it was new trail for all of us.  We walked through The Box, where the canyon sort of slots a bit.  The GPS lost lock several times.  We always had water very near us.  There were numerous places where rockfall had happened.

When you come out of The Box, the canyon opens up a bit to several hundred yards wide.  It’s quite the transition, and now you have tall walls in the distance.  It snizzled on us pretty much all day.  The trail doesn’t get a significant slope until just before Cottonwood Camp, then it bumps up and back down about 300 ft in a short distance.  Shortly before you get to the first bump you can see Ribbon Falls to the northwest, and it’s impressive even from a distance.

Going through The Box (and later tomorrow, as well), there are a lot of pour-offs and streambeds that would probably be very pretty waterfalls after a heavy rain.

We got to Cottonwood Camp, and we were the only people there.  We spread out to three of the small campsites.  They have tables and pack hangers there, and composting toilets.  There was no Ranger.  It’s a little hike to get water from the creek, but only about five minutes.

The stars up there were stunning!  So dark, so clear, so…  freaking… cold.  We saw a pair of ISS passes, very bright and pretty.  We all sat up and talked a while, all the way to almost 2000!  Party animals, we were.  🙂

7.2 miles and gain of 1600 ft.

Day 3

We woke up around 0745.  I thought it was cold the night before…  no way.  Our water bottles were liquid when on the ground under the tent fly, but in less than 20 minutes of being out on the table, ice crystals were growing.  I think the temps were between 10F-15F (both mornings).  We fired up Coreys Whisperlite for breakfast.  Ian and I made cheese rice that we had planned to eat with the Chili Mac the night before, but it was better that cold morning.

We headed out with daypacks continuing up the North Kaibab trail.  Our plan was to walk as far as we could until the snow got too deep, or until it was 1330, then head back.  We left around 1000.

We first hit the Pumphouse Ranger residence after about 30 minutes.  A bonus here was seeing a fresh cougar print in the snow, and several more later in the mud.  At this point the trail starts up quite a steeper slope, we started seeing more snow next to and on the trail, and it was getting colder.

After about another hour, we came into view of Roaring Springs, the source of water for the National Park.  It was amazing!  We kept going up, coming to several enormous layer-cake pouroffs.  Eventually, at the 5900 ft level, we ran into a foot+ of snow, and turned back.  Most of this hike was in shade, and it was very cold.

When we got back to Cottonwood, Dave, Neal, and Corey walked down to the trailhead for Ribbon Falls.  Ian and I tried to get across the creek to explore a side canyon, but we couldn’t find a safe place to cross, so instead we explored the area around camp.

We had company in camp when we got back, a couple from NYC.

We eventually had dinner under another cloudless, sharp night, and racked out.

8.2 miles and gain, then loss, of 1820 ft.

Day 4

Very straightforward hiking day after a cold, cold morning.  We got out of camp around 1000 and walked over the first hill to the trail junction for Ribbon Falls.

That Falls is impressive.  The Falls are probably 100 ft high, and you can walk around in back of them for some very pretty views.  We met several other day hikers from Bright Angel/Phantom Ranch there and had nice conversation.

We continued back down trail and through The Box.  When we got to camp, we “upgraded” to the group site we stayed in last year.  Corey and Neal hit the fishing holes again, and Dave, Chuck, Ian, and I headed up to the Phantom Ranch overlook, a 3 mile round trip with 700 ft of elevation gain.  There is cell service there, so I called Raegan and let her know we were OK.

After dinner, we talked for a bit, then headed up to the Canteen for a beer.  We stayed up all the way to 2045, then walked back, and crashed.

12 miles and net loss of 1600 ft.

Day 5

Not much to say about this again.  Chuck, Ian, and I left camp at 0800 and came over the South Rim at 1515.  It’s a bloody long walk.  10.5 miles (to the BIC) and gain of more than 4380 ft.

We went directly to Maswik and had cheeseburgers, then I walked to the nearby BIC, weighed my pack, and we went to our Maswik rooms and essentially ran out the hot water :).  Hot tea was consumed in significant quantities.  We tried to catch up on news as well.

Dinner and beer was had in the Bright Angel Lodge.  I had an undistinguished Salisbury Steak.

10.5 miles and GAIN of 4380 ft.  Whoa.  This single activity is harder than all of the walking of the past four days.

29 February 2016 update:

I put all of the GPS data I had into a single GPX file, then exported it to a text data file. I plotted it in 3D but the result didn’t look right. I realized that the problem was the scale was not right in that the elevation Z axis was in feet, while the X and Y axis were in Lat/Long. I used a USGS online tool to determine the distance in feet between latitude and longitude for the area of Grand Canyon, then wrote an Excel formula to convert the Lat/Long data to feet. Then I replotted the data to get the altitude relative to our walking distance. This is what I came up with, annotated with some major landmarks:

Grand Canyon 2016 Altitude Profile

No matter how you slice it, Grand Canyon is steep!  It’s either up or down pretty much everywhere you hike.  The Box was really the only place that it was fairly flat.  This plot is the 3D view turned on its side.

Getting Back

Very straightforward again.  Dave rode with Neal and Corey to PHX, while Ian, Chuck, and I went to the Geology Museum, the Visitor Center, and then the Planes of Fame airplane museum between Williams and the Park.  We all rendezvoused at PHX and flew back to OKC.

Equipment Notes

My pack weighed 36 lbs when we hit the trail, and 32 lbs coming off the trail.  Not bad, considering that I had just short of *7* lbs of clothing.  I used every bit of it, it was cold!  For a warmer weather camp, that would put my hit the trail weight near 31 lbs, which is pretty darn good.

My REI Quarter Dome 2 tent fit Ian and I with no problem, in spite of me being 6ft 2in and him being 6ft 4 in.

I love the Sea to Summit sleeping pad!  One thing that was nice:.  I used to have to put my closed cell sleeping pad in the bottom of a big duffle bag, then put my partially disassembled pack on top of it.  With the new inflatable pad, everything is stowed in the pack.  It’s nice to be able to pick it up at bag claim, sling it on my shoulders, and head out.

Food Notes

I carried a bit too much food. I started with roughly 6 lbs, and when I came back I had 1.7 lbs still. Most of the food was lunch and breakfast stuff. There was also a lot of trash I carried for other people, maybe a full pound. I maybe ought to not be so nice :).

Lunch was PB&J on tortillas, or tuna salad, or for the first day, a sammich I bought at the Maswik food court. One thing I did here was to buy a packet of Newman’s Own Caesar dressing that I liberally used on the sammich, very good.

One lunch item neither Ian or I liked was Underwood Deviled Ham on crackers. The crackers were crumbly but good. The UDH, not so much. We ate it, but quickly, and then started in on some snacks to get the taste out of our mouth.

Breakfast was oatmeal or Pop Tarts, pretty standard, and the day we had the cheese rice :).

We both ate a lot of snacks on the trail. My favorite is M&Ms. I ate more than usual on this trip, given how cold it was.

Dinners. I’ve written before about the quantity of Mountain House/Backpackers Pantry meals. They are “2-person”, but I used to eat an entire meal myself. This time, Ian and I shared them, and we carried supplemental rice or noodle packets. In the end, we didn’t use any of the supplemental stuff for dinner, but we ate a cheesy rice for breakfast. It was hot and gooey and delicious.

We tried a new Mountain House entree on this trip: Chicken Fried Rice. It was very good, but we added two cubes of S&B Golden Curry medium to the meal as it sat, it melted and we stirred it around, and it was one of the best meals I’ve had backpacking. Ian agreed. Great stuff!

Mountain House Chili Mac. Lordy, it was good. So was the Mountain House Spaghetti.

What Went Wrong

Stove fuel.  I have consistently carried (me personally and/or our group) too much stove fuel.  In this case, we went on the trail with exactly 2 8oz and 1 4oz canister of isopro stove fuel.  We had to cook enough water for four breakfast meals and four dinner meals.  Given what we know about that, for our six guys, it’s 2 pots (10 cups) of water for breakfast, or about 8 overall, and another 3 pots (15 cups) of water for dinner, or 12 overall, with a total of 20 pots of water for the entire crew for the trip.  From my testing, that is well within the capacity of the two canisters Ian and I carried (8 oz and 4 oz).  Chuck had an 8 oz canister as well, so we should have been fine.

BUT, we weren’t.  I broke out my 8 oz canister in camp for the first night, and we boiled 4 pots of water.  It emptied my canister completely, very annoying.  We used the canisters Chuck and Ian carried as well, and both of those ran out as well.  I thought maybe we had bought canisters that were sold to us short (maybe partially used), but after thinking about it, I wonder if the air temperature affected the fuel delivery.  I need to research that, and/or test it.  Regardless, I think the lesson learned is that I should have had one other guy carry another 4 oz.  Maybe we should have tucked the fuel canisters into our sleeping bags to keep them warm.

Speaking of cold fuel canisters, the isopro stoves failed miserably for breakfast both Tuesday and Wednesday morning.  I think the temps were in the mid-teens.  Fortunately, Corey had an MSR Whisperlite (kerosene based) that fired up just fine.  Lesson learned, carry a Whisperlite when the temps get low.  Again, I wonder if they needed to be tucked into our sleeping bags.

What Went Right

Pretty much everything!  It was cold, but we coped and no one got too cold.  Ian was a little cold in his 15F bag, but we piled all our outerwear on him and that jacked the R-value up.  The route we took was stunning!  We got out of camp when we needed to, and got into camp in good time.  In particular, we all got up the Great Big Wall before it got dark.  No one got hurt.  Gear worked

Closing Thoughts

I’ve now hiked more than 150 miles in Grand Canyon, between the three backpacking trips and a number of day hikes on both Rims.

It was super cold this trip. All of our trips to Grand Canyon have been the first week in February, and while the first two were shorts and short sleeves once we were over the Rim, we made up for it with the low temps this time. I do not think that it was over 32F the entire time we were out.  The lows were probably in the 10F-15F range the two nights we were in Cottonwood.

I could not have asked for a better group to hike with.  Everyone was cheerful (and astounded!), and there wasn’t a cross word spoken (except about the cold, not to/at each other).

The change in plan from the Escalante Route to the almost-to-the-North-Rim was not a loss at all.  It showed us an amazing part of the canyon few get to see.

We’ll have to go back next year and try the Escalante Route again.  🙂

Maswik Lodge Food Court, GCNP, AZ

8 February 2016

Maswik Cafeteria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

We have usually eaten in Bright Angel Lodge dining room (and did again for dinner both nights we were on the South Rim), but we decided to try the Maswik food court to be able to hit the trail earlier.

We had a couple breakfasts in there.  Both Ian and I had a basic eggs and meat breakfast.  Mine was an eggs and meat (ham) and biscuits and gravy, with a side of bacon.  The breakfasts were excellent.  The bacon in particular was perfectly crispy and had great flavor.  I liked the ham also, it had been fried in real time and was very good.  The cook did the over-easy eggs perfectly, and the biscuits and gravy was pretty darn good as well.

Our breakfast for two was something like $35, which included two cartons of milk and a large Coke, each.

Chuck, Ian, and I also hit the same line for cheeseburgers mid-afternoon Thursday after coming back up the big wall.  We had snacked but not stopped for lunch, and were very hungry.  We all got cheeseburgers, mine had bacon (and again, the bacon was perfect!).  The burgers were cooked well enough, but they had little flavor.  At best, they were good stomach filler until dinner later.  I also had onion rings, and those were pretty good.  I don’t remember how much our meal for three cost, but it was kinda expensive.

I can recommend Maswik for a quick, delicious breakfast before a hard day of hiking.  I would try something else before getting burgers again, but I wouldn’t let that stop you from getting one if you were so inclined; just don’t expect a lot of flavor.

Richardson’s, Phoenix, AZ

11 February 2015

Richardson's Cuisine of New Mexico on Urbanspoon

This place was GREAT! My friends Keith and Ben in Phoenix recommended Richardson’s, and we met there for brunch a week ago Saturday.

We all got the same thing: Huevos Rancheros, I think all three over easy. We also split an order of carne adovada. Just excellent. So good. The chili verde was a perfect spice level to complement the eggs and potatoes. The adovada was frankly the best I have had. The pork was perfectly tender and fell apart at the slightest prod, and again the heat of the roja was spot on.

This was one of the best New Mexican meals I have had, if not the best.

The iced tea was good, and service was fast and extremely friendly. One other thing: the restaurant smelled wonderful all the time we were there. That’s not something that’s common, but the cooking odors and the wood smoke drifted through the dining area, and it was a great olfactory sensation. Our check was around $50, great value.

The company was priceless.

Backpacking Grand Canyon National Park, AZ, 07-12 Feb 2014

17 February 2014

A group of six went backpacking at the Grand Canyon 08-11 Feb 2014.

Hike Summary: Four days of backpacking from the South Rim to the River, 40+ miles, immense altitude change, perfect weather. A fantastic experience.

I posted the photos from the trip on my Google+ site here.

Getting There

Well, the trip didn’t get off to a good start. I was on a short-notice business trip to Boston. Was supposed to be gone Monday-Wednesday, returning in time to catch my flight to PHX Thursday morning. Instead, a snowstorm headed to Boston, and I booked out of town late Tuesday, getting into OKC at 0215 Wednesday morning. I went to work Wednesday, got packed that evening, and went to bed late.

I got up early Thursday and got to the OKC airport early, in spite of a sleet and snow mix. We were late out of OKC, but I had a five-hour layover at DFW, so I wasn’t worried. I was planning on having dinner with my friend Keith and his husband Ben in Phoenix, so I thought I had plenty of time. But the connecting flight into DFW was late, and the DFW-PHX flight was really late pushing back, and then we had to wait in a line for deice. At the end of deice, the flight crew gets on the PA and tells us that if they continue the flight, they would blow their duty day. So American canceled the flight, we returned to the gate, and I was left to reorder the trip over the phone. I got on another flight the next morning, got one of the last rooms at the Embassy Suites north of DFW, canceled my hotel in Phoenix, rewickered the rental car at PHX, and called Keith to let him know I wasn’t going to make it. Then it was a shuttle ride to the hotel. It was sort of a pain since I didn’t have any of my bathroom stuff (it turns out my bags made it to PHX that evening), but the hotel had some stuff for stranded travelers so that helped. I had dinner next to the hotel and called it good.

The next morning I got up early, made it to the airport, and got to PHX around 0930, met Chuck at the rental car area, then met our four partners, and we loaded up and headed out.

There was only one sort of funny glitch here: I had reserved an SUV at PHX, for carrying three big guys and backpacks. Avis upgraded me automatically to a Mustang; I don’t think I could fit our bags in that car, much less three of us and bags… I selected a Toyota SUV off of the “free change” line (first of those I’ve seen) to fix the issue, and off we went.

We stopped in Phoenix for supplies and lunch, and then made the drive up I-17 to Flagstaff, and up US180 to Grand Canyon National Park. I re-upped my National Parks Pass for another year coming in to the Park. We went straight to the Rim, and got there in time to see the setting sun illuminate the north part of the Canyon; a great way to start the trip!

We checked into Maswik Lodge for the night. Dinner was at Bright Angel Lodge. We walked over there, and back, just to admire the dark skies and stars.

The Lodge was a good lodging choice. Once back after dinner, we got our backpacks ready to go for the start tomorrow, and crashed.

Day 1

We got up and showered and had breakfast at Bright Angel Lodge again (wonderful!). We checked out of the Maswik, checked in at the backcountry office, and then headed out to the trailhead at Hermit’s Rest, drinking in the views of the Canyon from the Rim as we drove along, all thinking “we are going down there!”.

We got to the trailhead and dropped off our packs. Dave and I drove back to the backcountry office parking lot to drop off my car, and then drove back out to Hermit’s Rest again. On the way there, we saw some elk right next to the road, which I think was very cool.

At this point, we shouldered our packs (mine was 46 lbs, seems too much), took several deep breaths, and headed down the trail. We started out about 1000.

You can follow along on the Google+ site where I posted all the pictures from this trip.

It was pretty cold (high 30Fs) at the Rim, but we quickly lost outer layers as we hiked. I ended up in a t-shirt and shorts for most of the hike.

We had been worried about snow and ice on the trail, but we only had a couple hundred feet of it, and it was not even slippery, so that turned out to not be an issue. We didn’t even put on our Yak Traks.

The dry part of the trail was enough. It was slow going. There were all kinds of rocks on the trail, from gravel sized to fist or better, and you had to watch your footing at the risk of turning or rolling an ankle. It’s also steep (very steep), and so we made slow going. The first part of the trek, we dropped from about 6600ft to about 4800ft, about 1800ft, over about two miles!

The next not quite three miles are relatively ( 🙂 ) flat, but you slowly but steadily lose another 800ft. There is a spring along this stretch, but unless it happens to be raining, there is no other water. The Spring features a nice little hut that provides protection from the elements.

Speaking of which, as you walk, you go in towards the cliff, then out, then in, then out, over and over again. These are small washes and subcanyons, and there are dozens of them.

We got to the top of Cathedral Stairs, which is a serious set of switchbacks, short and steep. I was glad we were going down. It was here we ran into the only people we saw on the trail this day; a party of three, and a solo hiker, all four of which were headed back up, late in the day. The drop down the Stairs is about 1300ft. Once at the bottom, we found the Tonto Trail junction, and headed east.

This was an interesting hike. Sticking out from the Stairs is a large, pointy ridge, and we had to walk around the point, contouring up a bit, but generally down, back into another subcanyon area. It’s around a couple hundred feet, mostly down.

The closeout of the days hike is a walk to one of the arms of an upside-down “Y” canyon, down into one of the arms to the bottom of the canyon, and then to the junction and back up the other arm to camp. At the junction is a very tall rock tower.

We got to camp about 1830, got set up quickly, and made dinner in the dark. Everyone was in their tents and asleep by around 2000.

Our campsite was Monument Creek, in a stand of scrubby trees. The campsites can hold one or two tents only. There are plenty of rocks for cooking and sitting. Water is a bit downstream from the camp area.

There was a newish composting toilet at the camp, which was kind of surprising.

Our first day hiking was 3600ft of altitude loss (probably closer to 4000ft once you count the pop-ups and back-downs), and 9.2 miles of hiking.

Day 2

We all woke up around 0700 or so on the second day. It was warm overnight, probably in the 40s.

After breakfast we headed out again, about 0820. Right out of camp, you zip up about 500 ft to get onto a plateau. From there it is a steady more-or-less level, but overall you have a steady up. There are several rises on the way there, and the now-expected drops into the heads of subcanyons.

We had company in camp overnight, they left shortly after we did, and passed us on that first climb. We caught up to them on the first major ridge and talked for a bit; the three of them were on a 90-mile trip along the Tonto Trail. They had hiked into the Canyon over a period of months and cached food. That’s serious backpacking.

We found water at Cedar Spring, but it took some doing. We search upstream first, then James noticed rock cairns going downstream, and we found a nice little area about a quarter mile down.

That spring flow was in an amazing almost-tunnel cut into the rock. It opens into a sheer drop of at least 500 ft. This would make a Yosemite-class waterfall in a heavy rain.

We had lunch just above Salt Creek camp. We kept on walking. The trail was a nice walk, with subcanyons and views of the Colorado occasionally.

We got into Indian Gardens around 1800. This camp has several composting toilets, but even more luxuriously, it has picnic tables and shelters in all campsites, with large ammo boxes to store food in. There are also pegs and t-bars to hang packs from to keep critters out.

After we got the tents set up, we walked back up the trail a little less than a half mile to watch the setting Sun illuminate the north part of the Canyon. It was beautiful.

We had a more leisurely dinner, and talked for a while before heading to bed.

Our second day hiking was net 900ft of altitude gain (probably over 1500ft once you count the pop-ups and back-downs), and 11.8 miles of hiking.

Day 3

This was a dayhike day. We left our tents up in Indian Gardens, to hike down to the Colorado River.

We got up around 0700 again, and after breakfast and a bit of clean up, we put on daypacks and headed out on the Bright Angel Trail. This follows Bright Angel Creek steadily downward, until the creek dives down a slot canyon, and we dive down what I called the “Death Spiral”. The trail goes down a series of steep drops and switchbacks around three sides of a what looks like a large shaft. The altitude drop is about 600 ft in about 400 ft of space: it’s steep!

At the bottom of that, it’s a decent slope down right to the river, in a series of narrow canyons. At the river, it pops up and down a couple times until you end up at the silver bridge.

We walked up to Phantom Ranch and had lunch. They have snacks and drinks. The guys got cold beer, lemonade, and iced tea! Talk about civilized. PR has cabins for people to stay in, and a real dinner (steak for $60 and stew for $25, IIRC) for people staying down there. And flush toilets!

After we had lunch, we walked down to the river to a sandy beach and felt how cold the water was, then we headed up the other bridge, and hiked along the south side of the river back to the other bridge, and then we traced our steps back to camp. It was a heck of a climb.

We had our only equipment casualty of the trip here. I was hiking along at a pretty good pace, and stumbled pretty good. My water bottle came right out of the mesh pocket of my daypack, and went right over the cliff. There was river access just in front of us, so while the guys went there, I backtracked on the shore to look for my bottle. I guess it got hung up somewhere up above.

We got back to camp well before dark, talked a bit, had dinner, talked a bit more, and crashed.

Our third day hiking was a net 0ft of altitude change, but in reality 1500ft of gain, from the river to Indian Gardens, and 12.2 miles of hiking.

Day 4

We got up around 0645, had breakfast and did some packing, and then did a side hike out to Plateau Point to our north. It has marvelous views of the river, and an interesting perspective on where we hiked yesterday.

We walked back to camp, finished packing, and headed out for the last time.

The highlight of the day is walking back up to the South Rim. There’s not a lot to say except it’s doable if you are in reasonable shape. The views are incredible.

One note: it was February, and it got colder as we climbed. There was ice and snow on the trail for the last 800 or so vertical feet, and the Yak-Traks we brought were invaluable. Don’t go without them for any winter-related trek.

We got to the top to find a bunch of Chinese tourists. There was a language barrier, but they made it clear that we were interesting, and they took a bunch of pictures of us, and then they all took pictures of themselves, with US! Kind of cool.

Our last day hiking was 3300ft of altitude gain, and 7.7 miles of hiking.

We went and had a snack at Bright Angel Lodge, then walked to Maswik and showered, did our reverse car shuffle at dusk, and then walked back to the Lodge for dinner. We walked around the Rim some more, checked out the lobby of El Tovar, and generally took it easy. We all slept really well that night.

Some Perspective

After breakfast Wednesday morning, we went back along the Rim to Hermit’s Rest.

It was way, way cool to look down, and be able to recognize the terrain, because we had walked it! I couldn’t get enough of the rock tower we had walked next two at Monument Creek. The top of it just peeks out from the vantage point of the Rim, but we saw the whole thing.

After the Rim drive, we headed back to PHX and went home. Definitely sad.

Things That Worked


I was really happy about the food situation. I’ve pretty much decided to stay with dry breakfast, with the possible exception of hot tea or cocoa. My typical breakfast is a package of PopTarts (I like brown sugar cinnamon), a 3.2oz squeeze bottle of applesauce, and a Quaker Oats bar or two. I do two tea bags in my blue metal mug, and carry sugar and some sort of powered milk or creamer. At the REI in Phoenix, I found Backpackers Pantry dried WHOLE MILK! It was great in my tea. I have found packets of dried skim here, but that whole milk blows the skim away.

My lunches were usually PB&J on a tortilla, usually a couple. For this four-day trip, I packed a 15oz tub of PB (used about half) and a 20oz strawberry jam (used about 2/5th). So that’s a good chunk of weight that could have been eliminated. I usually also had another applesauce and a trail bar.

Dinners are dehydrated meals. I sometimes had another two-bag tea. My dinners this time were Backpackers Pantry Potatoes and Gravy with Beef (OK at best), Mountain House Chili Mac (outstanding as usual, recommended), and Backpackers Pantry Santa Fe Rice with Chicken (excellent, I liked this a lot!). The P&GwB was bland, very bland. The Chili Mac and Santa Fe meals were just spicy enough to be enjoyable, and both have strong flavor.

One thing I tell people: those dehydrated meals claim to feed two, but use them as single-serving. You need the calories.

I like flavoring my drinks while walking. Country Time lemonade comes in packets that are for 8 oz, and I usually double those up (as we called it at Philmont, “ranger strength”).

My snacks on the trail are “puppy chow”, which is wheat chex coated with powered sugar, peanut butter, and chocolate. Braum’s in OKC sells a very good variety.

Things That Could Be Improved

NOTHING! This trip was perfect. I can’t say anything about how strenuous it was; that comes with the territory. Our timing, teamwork, and training were right on.

Equipment Notes

Backpack Weight: I think my backpack was too heavy. I started with a 46lb load, and at the end of the trip it was 36lbs. I am going to weigh it all and see what can be pared down.

Yak Traks: this way my first time to use them. They will always go with me any time I go hiking in the winter.


Here are the overall trek path and altitude:

And here is one annotated with our major locations:

Trek Altitude Annotated

This was a perfect trip. The distances were long, but not unmanageable for us. If you wanted, you could have done an overnight at Salt Creek instead of the layover we did at Indian Gardens.

You need to watch the water situation along the trail.

Next time I do the Canyon, I think I would like to go down from the North Rim. We’ll see.

Bright Angel Lodge, Grand Canyon Village, AZ

16 February 2014

Bright Angel Restaurant, Fountain & Bar on Urbanspoon

This is a multi-part review, as we had four meals here, and all were great!

After arriving at the Village on Friday night, visiting the South Rim, and checking into our rooms, we headed up to Bright Angel Lodge for dinner.

For dinner, I ordered a mushrooms and zucchini basket for the table. It came with regular ranch, and a chipotle ranch. Both were great; there was just a little zing to the chipotle version. The shrooms and zuccs disappeared very quickly. I ordered roast pork loin for dinner; it was perfect. The slight amount of dijon on it was a nice touch. It came with wild rice and broccoli. Nothing was left on the plate. I finished with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (hey, I needed the calories for the next day! 🙂 ). My check was $30.55.

We had breakfast the next day before hitting the trail. I had biscuits and gravy (extra gravy brought without my asking, very nice), a side of (perfect!) bacon, hot tea, and iced tea. One of the biscuits was used with every bit of gravy, and the other had lots of butter and strawberry jam. Perfect meal, my check was $12.08. Outstanding value.

After we got off the trail Tuesday afternoon, we headed to the Lodge yet again for a snack. I got another round of the mushrooms and zucchini, and the other guys got chips and salsa and frioles. The refried bean dip was great with the chips, but the salsa was wonderful! It was thick and had a smoky flavor I really like. I also got a bowl of beef stew (it usually comes in a bread bowl, but I got it in a regular bowl); that stuff was simply wonderful (and I don’t think I was biased after having just come in off the trail). The tea was WONDERFUL (I probably am biased there!). My check was $17.13.

Finally, after checking into our rooms again, doing the car shuffle we needed to do, and having showers, we headed back to the Lodge for dinner. This time, I got the Harvey House steak. It was smaller than I would have liked at 8 oz, but it was cooked perfectly medium as I like it, and it had great beef flavor. I had it with mashers and gravy, and broccoli again. Not a scrap was left on the plate. More iced tea (great stuff), and this time I had a beer to celebrate our hike; it was great, a dark beer with a lot of flavor. My check was $32.07.

So overall, I would say that the Bright Angel Lodge restaurant is pretty darn good. I had nothing that was less than outstanding. Service was great, and the iced tea was perfect. I would happily eat there again, and will!

5 & Diner, Phoenix, AZ (Tatum)

16 February 2014

5 & Diner on Urbanspoon

My group of six backpackers hit this place for lunch after visiting the nearby REI. It was pretty darn good!

Everyone got a variety of things, including burgers, meatloaf, and eggs. I got a bacon cheese burger, and it was great. The bacon was thick and crunchy, and the beef was medium well just like I asked, with a nice crust on it. It had good flavor. It came with fries that were nice and crunchy.

Service was super friendly. The iced tea was good, and kept refilled. My check was $12.65. I would go back.

Jackalope Flats, Phoenix Sky Harbor, Phoenix, AZ (Terminal 3)

16 February 2014

Jackalope Flats on Urbanspoon

We got to PHX fairly close to flight time coming back from the Grand Canyon, so I took what I could, and had a quick dinner at Jackalope Flats. I got a pulled pork sandwich with fries and an iced tea. It wasn’t bad at all. There was a huge amount of pulled pork on a bun; it was pretty tasty and had a decent BBQ sauce on it. The fries were really good, and there were a lot of them, more than I could finish.

It took longer to get my meal than I would have expected, the crew seemed to have a lot of undirected movement, but they were friendly. My check was $12.17.

This place is connected to a larger bar next door. You could do worse than eat here. The choices in Terminal 3 past security are pretty limited, so it would be best to hit the food court before security if you have time.

El Tovar Dining Room, Grand Canyon Village, AZ

16 February 2014

El Tovar Dining Room at El Tovar Hotel on Urbanspoon

Last Wednesday morning, on our last day in Grand Canyon National Park, we had breakfast at the El Tovar. There were six of us, and we were seated next to a large picture window overlooking the Canyon. It was great!

I had two eggs over easy, with a thick and tasty slab of ham. It included some roast potatoes, and an english muffin. I got a side of bacon. All of this was perfectly cooked and really good; the bacon in particular was that perfect blend of crunch and flavor. I got iced tea (real, and brewed!) and orange juice with the meal.

Service was perfect. My check was $24.81. A touch on the expensive side; the side of four slices of bacon was $4.50, and the orange juice was $4.95. But you pay a premium for that view, so every once in a while, it’s OK. I would go back.

Cool Things From The Air, SLC-SAN

25 October 2010

I flew on a Delta flight from SLC to SAN this morning. The cloud cover was too thick until just south of Las Vegas. As we got of the cover, there was a river, and it ran into a couple lakes, and then off to the south. My friend Google Maps, and a little dead reckoning, led to the following:

This is the Colorado River starting about 25 miles south of Boulder Dam.

The Colorado flows into Lake Mohave.

This next item is Searchlight, NV. The Coyote Mine is just to the north of town, which is below the town in this photo, since we were flying to the south. The Coyote Mine is a silver and quartz mine.

This, although fuzzy, is Laughlin, NV, and Bullhead City, AZ.

This is the Hart Mine in California. It is another silver mine.

OK, this was kind of strange. These markings are around Mile Marker 100 on I-40, the Needles Freeway. I think that they are draining channels, since they seem to interconnect a number of dry washes, and, then connect to other dry washes south of the freeway.

Just a little farther south, something new and different. These are salt evaporation ditches or pans. I do not know what company runs them.

This is the Desert Center, CA area. I do not remember what about the area that caused me to take the picture.

This is the north end of the Salton Sea.

This is the Mount Laguna Air Force Station. It apparently only has an FAA radar now.

On approach to SAN, we had good views of the San Diego Bay Bridge, and Point Loma.

That’s it!

Another Nice Drive, Phoenix to US 93 via Sedona and Prescott

3 June 2010

We went from Phoenix to Las Vegas Tuesday via the scenic route.

Note: don’t do this if you are in a hurry.

We left Phoenix after visiting the Arizona Mineral and Mining Museum, and having lunch. We hit the road around 1215.

We headed north on I-17. The drive through the mountains, with all the saguaro cactus, was beautiful.

We drove to AZ 169, the exit for Sedona. The drive to Sedona was somewhat slow, mainly due to a very low speed limit. The road seemed new, and had lots of roundabouts.

The views of the red cliffs was jaw-dropping and truly awesome.

Eventually we found AZ 89A and headed west. You almost immediately leave the red rock area and get into a large high valley.

We went to Cottonwood, a very nice town, and stopped at a Dairy Queen for ice cream.

89A continues through the mountainside community of Jerome. The road narrowly winds through town, going higher and higher. Jerome looks to be a nice little town. When I say it is built on a mountainside, I am not kidding.

Eventually the road gets up into the forest, and you get a continuous view of tall trees, with a lovely pine smell.

On the other side, you get into another high valley, occupied by Prescott Valley. Up a short slope on the other side, you get into the town of Prescott. We drove through town for a bit, and decided to come back and visit soon.

From Prescott, you get another beautiful mountain drive. Coming down on the west side, we made the turnoff for Kirkland, and headed north.

We did this because 89A continued to the SW to US 93, and I wanted to cut the corner. You have to be careful, keep going north on AZ 96, to AZ 97 just south of Baghdad.

The corner cut winds around a bit towards the town of Baghdad. You end up on US 93, with a couple hour drive to Las Vegas ahead of you.

This is a beautiful drive if you have to time. The direct route is from Phoenix directly up 93, and this adds a couple hours.

We hit 93 at 1715, and got into Las Vegas about 2100.

Calico’s Restaurant, Kingman, AZ

2 June 2010

Calico's on Urbanspoon

Several years ago, we passed Calico’s on the way to (or from, it’s been a while) Las Vegas. We did a driving tour of the city, stopped to play on a locomotive in a park, and at some point, ran across Calico’s. We really enjoyed it then, and have stopped by several times since.

We stopped at Calico’s yesterday on the way from the Sedona and Prescott area.

We started with the soup and salad bar. The salad bar is basic and comprehensive. There are always two soups out. Yesterday it was chicken florentine (which is chicken in a thick cream, with chopped up spinach) and vegetable beef soup. Both were excellent. I’ve at chili there also, and like it – limited beans and thick and meaty. Erin and Raegan had the chicken, I had the veg beef. Mine was so good, I had a second cup for dessert. The veg beef had just a hint of red chili in it.

I got a chicken fried steak. It was not as good as it has been, but it was an 8.5 out of 10. The beef didn’t have the flavor that it has had in the past. The breading was decent, and the steak as a whole was fork tender all the way through. Ian had one also. The mashers were good if a bit bland.

Raegan and Erin were not terrribly hungry, so they split a grilled cheese, and got the soup and salad bar.

The tea was excellent. The service was OK. Our check was $44.89.

Calico’s, I realized while we were there, reminds me a lot of the typical restaurants my family would eat in while I was growing up.

Booga Reds, Springerville, AZ

1 June 2010

Booga Red's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

We were in northeast Arizona yesterday afternoon and all four of us were hungry. We passed Booga Reds and it had more cars in front of it than any other place in town, so we stopped there for dinner.

We started off with chips and salsa. Chips were standard. The salsa was excellent. Just the right consistency (I don’t like it really thin), and a bit spicier than most. I liked it a lot.

Raegan and I both got chimichungas (mine with shredded beef, hers with chicken). Both were excellent. Raegan’s was too big for her to finish, so I did. The chicken was a little dry but not too bad. If I get back here again, I will ask if I can get mine with ground beef. Both, BTW, were HUGE.

Ian got a cheeseburger. It was a bit small, but the burger meat and cooking were really good. The burger had a nice crust. The fries were OK. He said the CB was one of the best he had ever had.

Erin got a beef soft taco and devoured it. ‘Nuff said.

The tea was good. The service was a bit slow but attentive. Our check was $43.42. Strange name, but good food.

Show Low, AZ Seems to be a Speed Trap

1 June 2010

Show Low has the speed limit very low (35 mph) on the main drag (US 60), and has automatic photo speed camera vehicles out (i.e. City Revenue Enhancers) out.

So the town is a speed trap.

Couple Cool Things From The Air, 20 Nov 2009

29 November 2009

I had the first three-leg flight I’ve had in a while on 20 Nov. I went SAN-LAX-DFW-OKC. The highlight was the first flight I’ve ever had along the SoCal coast SAN-LAX (I was in a RJ-45 with a total of four other pax). I saw a couple cool things and got some photos.

After we launched, we made a hard right turn, and I saw the La Jolla/Torry Pines area. I’ve been hiking at Torry Pines State Park, and stood outside the fence of the famous golf course. Too bad the low clouds were there.

La Jolla

I saw TWO observatories; first, the Palomar Mountain Observatory. Then, we made the turn into LA and I saw Mount Wilson and the Observatory in the distance, and above the crud. In both cases, the dome is visible as a small white dot on a ridge (you might have to look at the full-resolution version by clicking the thumbnail).

Mount Palomar

Mount Wilson

There was a tremendous amount of crud in the air over the LA basin.

After we launched out of LAX, we looped around the harbor and Long Beach area and headed east, om the southern routing into DFW. We overflew what looks like a pretty obvious eroding volcano with an alluvial fan around it. This is Arizona’s Picaho Peak State Park, north of Tuscon off of I-10.

Picacho Peak and State Park, AZ

Just a little farther, I looked down and saw several ENORMOUS piles of dirt that were obviously human-made. A bit of research o-line lead to the discovery that this was the remains of the Magma Copper Company, at San Manuel, AZ, which included a couple copper smelters. This place was the largest producer of copper until the late 90’s when it was shut down. It was an underground mine (as opposed to open pit mines where they just dig down). An Australian company bought it in 1996 for a couple $B, then shut it down in 1999. They did no preservation or anything, but let the mine fill with water. They then spent something like $120M to close the place down, including blowing down the smelter smokestacks.

Those enormous piles are in fact tailings. If you look at a topo of the area, the tailings piles are more than a mile long, and 300+ft thick at the eastern ends. That’s a hell of a lot of dirt/debris.

There is a blog about this town and the mine at:

Quite a bit further on, in south central NM, we flew past what I believe is a high altitude research balloon. I could resolve the upside-down teardrop shape of the balloon by eye, but the camera sees a dot.

The last thing I saw on the ground was this large semi-circle. Turns out it is a firing range at Fort Bliss, in this case in NM (Fort Bliss starts down in El Paso, TX, and runs up to the southern edge of White Sands).

Finally, I caught the day/night terminator, twilight, and sunset colors along with a quarter Moon.

Nice trip, I don’t get to fly 767’s very often. They are a nice ride.