Red Rocks and Butte-iful Canyons

February 7-February 18

We worked Monday and Tuesday, as my floor started moving back to its regular med-surg population. Jamie’s floor would be the last to convert from a covid floor. We finished up our couple work days and spent Wednesday relaxing locally for a bit. I went for a run that morning, and couldn’t help but compare my jog on the streets of Ahwatukee to former outings in Santa Barbara. Of course, if scenery is a necessity while running, I could always head over to South Mountain nearby.

That evening, the three of us went to the Pyramid trailhead at South Mountain and hiked the Bursera loop. Phoenix is where we fell in love with evening hikes two years ago. It’s great that we can decide on a whim to hit the trail and be there in 30 minutes or less. And South Mountain is always a great option. We stretched our legs and got a little exercise as we checked out the flora, ready to bloom in the coming weeks.

From Friday to Sunday we were off from work, and it struck us as an excellent time to take a day trip. So Friday morning we loaded up and made our way up out of the valley via I-17. We got off at the US-89 exit and followed signs for Sedona.

This was Charley’s 3rd time in Sedona, and I believe the 5th for Jamie and I. Sedona always seems like a cathedral to me, with its buttes and spires, red rocks, and massive formations cradling the city center. A spiritual place indeed. Though if you’re seeking solitude, you’d best plan a long outing or overnight trip to get away from the masses.

We hiked a combination trail- Mund’s Wagon, Cow Pies, and Hangover trail (love the names). Sedona, being a mountain biking Mecca, was loaded with enthusiasts on the day we went, and part of our trail was a double black diamond bike trail for experts only. We’d stop every now and then and let them pass, or watch as they bombed down some slickrock with aggressive precision.

Our walk was excellent, with any number of vistas at a given time, in multiple directions. We must’ve taken our jackets off and put them on five or six times as the sun poked out and hid, and winds picked up or we crested an exposed section.

The eight and half miles took us through Casner Canyon and up over a saddle that gave us views down onto the distant highway and bridge over Oak Creek Canyon. Storm clouds holding rain (or snow?) followed us at a distance as we walked, never materializing into any concerning weather.

When we returned to our car, parked at the end of the paved section of Schnebly Hill Road, we decided a bite to eat was in order before driving back down to Phx. Sedona brewing company had your usual brewery food lineup, and the beer was quite satisfying. We considered staying in Sedona for sunset, but a trip up to the mesa overlooking the city and red rocks beyond was swamped with folks that had the same idea. So we passed, and made the two hour drive back home.

We hiked more on Saturday and Sunday. I’m happy that our hobby wasn’t really affected by the pandemic, though sometimes it seems all we do is work and hike. I’m not complaining.

Saturday was at South Mountain again in the evening, with our fellow traveler Matt.

Sunday was at Phoenix Mountain Preserve with Kaivan and Lulu. We grabbed lunch at Lucy’s at the Orchard and ate it poolside back at Kaivan’s.

After a day of work on Monday, we again packed up the car. This time, it’d be for a two night trip to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. We dropped Charley off at my cousin Masti’s in Ahwatukee and drove the familiar route north to Flagstaff on I-17. Up through Black Canyon City and climbing to Verde Valley and past Sedona, we headed west from Flagstaff toward the Grand Canyon. I could tell when we were getting close, as the distant clouds seemed to be at ground level. Really, they were hovering 5,000 feet over the depths of the Canyon and the Colorado River.

We picked a short hike for the afternoon, and descended from Grandview trail, a less traveled route. Definitely less traveled. After about 500 feet on the trail, there were no more tracks in the 4-5 inches of snow. We’d be the first tracks since the last snowfall, likely the only ones headed down on this day.

We dropped in about 1200 feet over a mile or so, sure-stepping through the snow with our micro spikes and poles. The canyon vistas can be trippy, so we always stop to take in the views. It’s tough work on the eyes, focusing near on the trail and far into the canyon. It was cold, maybe around 20F with the windchill. But we kept moving, and the steady ascent had our blood pumping, keeping us warm from the inside.

I picked out a spot for the hammock on our way to dinner that night, and we threw it up to watch the sun go down.

But it was cold, so we moved along before twilight had its turn, and went south, out of the park, to Tusayan. Plaza Bonita had just what we were craving, and our waiter gave me an extra margarita on the house as they’d made one too many. So it was good night.

The following morning, we awoke around sunrise and got breakfast from the Market in Grand Canyon Village. It would be our long day on the trail, and we wanted to start early to make sure there was enough daylight.

Our plan was to head down to Plateau Point via the Bright Angel Trail on the western side of the rim. We set out down the switchbacks around 8AM, with the thermometer straddling 20F. The sun was up, but the canyon walls prevented it from reaching us. Wind, however, was able to find us, so we stayed in our jackets and hats for the first few miles. Microspikes and poles came in handy again, though not to quite the degree as the day prior.

We passed the 1.5 and 3 mile rest houses on the way down, admiring the impressive engineering of the switchbacks as we went. We could see our destination from up at the trailhead- it seemed wild we’d be walking all the way down there and back. 6+ miles down, 6+ back up. About 3200ft from the canyon rim to Plateau Point, basking in the sun of the lower canyon while we froze beneath the walls of the upper.

The Colorado River seemed a hidden treasure, tucked away deep in the bowels of the massive chasm. We’d have to work for it if we wanted to see it with any definition or clarity.

We passed Indian Garden Campground about 4.5 miles into the hike, the junction for the Tonto, Plateau Point, and Bright Angel trails. We’d split off the Bright Angel trail at this point and head for the plateau. By this time we’d passed several vegetation zones: the juniper and pinyon dotted high canyon, oak and yucca in the intermediate, and low-lying cacti and sagebrush down on the lower plateau. We spotted several mule deer and a couple California Condor’s, with their 9 foot wingspan.

The lookout spot for the plateau, still towering high above the Colorado, was relatively empty, as we shared it with only a couple folks while we were there. We stayed for thirty minutes or so, taking photos and having lunch.

The climb back up was slow and steady. Always be aware of the climb back up when canyon hiking. It seems obvious enough, and park signs give ample reminder, but it’s a different dynamic and poor planning can be consequential. Snowstorms gathered and dissipated in different areas of the canyon. It was tough, but not too tough, as I’m sure in the warmer months it can be far more draining. We finished in about 7.5 hrs with plenty of time to take in the river vistas during lunch.

For sunset, we unknowingly went to THE sunset spot, as evidenced by the dozen or so photographers with their fancy gear. Everyone was trying to get a shot of the storm entering the canyon from the west, as the sun darted in and out of the clouds, lighting up the rusted walls. We felt rather inadequate with our tiny lens, but played the part nonetheless.

After all that hiking and photography, a margarita was in order. We went back to Plaza Bonita for dinner again. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Thursday morning, the mercury read 12F. Cold. We climbed in the car and retraced the 4 hours back south, to our dog and our home.

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