Grand Canyon 1970

William Kent
June 1970

Daily Log: Backpacking trip to Grand Canyon, May 23 - June 8, 1970.
John Terrill, Jim Stauffer, Bill Kent.
(Log kept by Bill.)

Saturday, May 23 (day 1)

Drove into southwest corner of Utah via Bakersfield, Mojave Desert, Las Vegas. Smog and haze even in the desert. Lightning in the evening, but the threatening storm didn't come. Slept at Red Cliffs National Park (Utah). Windy, red dust. Beautiful red-walled canyon.

Sunday, May 24 (day 2)

Drove back down into Arizona. First passed through classic grand western country - red buttes rising abruptly out of the plains. Then, coming up to the Kaibab Plateau, we were in forests of Ponderosa pine laced with stands of white aspen, and occasional patches of snow. We camp the night on the north rim.

The canyon itself is fantastic beyond words. The enormity and grandness of it will take some getting used to.

We've had a few sprinkles of rain; the weather is uncertain.

Monday, May 25 (day 3)

Morning is cool and clear. We drive into deep back country on the north rim, through Kaibab National Forest into Grand Canyon National Park. We drive about fifteen miles of rutted dirt logging road. We are the first to use it this year, and we have to clear a lot of fallen trees and branches, and detour off the road around some big ones. This is all forest, mostly pine and fir, right up to the rim. We see some deer, a coyote, and a wild turkey.

We leave the car at Swamp Point on the rim, and take an easy hike down to Muav Saddle, where we camp. The hike was down along the rim, with a clear view into the canyon, but we are camped in forest again.

We saw the smoke of a forest fire back along Swamp Ridge where we had driven in. We could conceivably get cut off.

Out along the canyon wall there are strange, beautiful, and awesome forms and colors in the rock, and in the mix of desert and mountain vegetation.

We have mosquitos in camp.

Tuesday, May 26 (day 4)

(Day trip; no packs.) We climbed up to and explored Powell Plateau, which is connected to the other end of our saddle. It is one of many free-standing mesas coming up from the canyon floor. It is about six miles long and a mile or two wide. At the top is lovely forest country, with pines and fir and some big green meadows. We have it all to ourselves.

Sometimes near the edge there are a few cactus. The varieties of life zones and terrain in this area is fantastic. On the climb up, we saw many fossils, deposited when this whole area was a sea bed.

At Dutton Point, toward the south end of the Powell Plateau, we get our first view of the Colorado River. The pattern of side canyons within side canyons, and plateaus above plateaus, is so elaborate that we hadn't seen the Colorado yet. The south rim is about ten miles away, and there are an awful lot of formations in between.

The countryside we hike through (and camp in) is full of thorn bushes. We have some mosquitos, many hummingbirds, and some huge bumblebees or yellow jackets. The weather has been partly cloudy, with occasional sprinkles of rain. It is ideal for hiking, but good views are occasionally obscured.

From Powell Plateau I got some pictures looking back (west) into our saddle and up at Swamp Point. Hopefully, I also caught the trail to the little spring we hike to for water. We still see a little smoke from Swamp Ridge.

Wednesday, May 27 (day 5)

Nothing special. We explore Saddle Canyon to the north of our saddle, checking out a route and water for tomorrow's descent to the canyon. The terrain is still forest, mostly. There is very little water. We found one little trickling stream which we converted into a cold shower with a Yucca leaf where the water ran over the edge of a shelf.

Mosquitos are more abundant today. Bumblebees are almost as big as hummingbirds. We have been hearing the calls of the Canyon wren, bobwhite, whippoorwill, and other birds. We camp a third night in the saddle.

Thursday, May 28 (day 6)

No meal has ever been more welcome than dinner after a long hard day out here. The first sip of hot soup courses down like a hot joy, reviving bones and flesh and spirit.

Today we hiked about twelve hours with full packs, following the dry bed of the Saddle Canyon drainage to Stina Canyon, where we camped. The trip down was beautiful, strenuous, and (it seemed to me) sometimes a bit hazardous. The route dropped down from the forest area into red canyons, sometimes coursing through rather narrow defiles. We had several dry waterfalls to negotiate. In some places we lowered our packs by rope and scrambled down after. We slid down some chutes, edged around other tight places on toe-holds in the wall. The trail was often narrow and high up the wall. Sometimes we worked our way down by rock-hopping across large rock falls. At one point we had no choice but to wade through a pool trapped in a steep-walled canyon.

That was all downhill. The trip back should be interesting.

The camp at Stina is very comfortable. Our water supply at the head comes trickling down mossy red rock into a charming grotto, complete with bat cave. At this camp we have the sounds of crickets and frogs, and what we think are mountain sheep. On the way down, we saw an owl perched in a tree.

Friday, May 29 (day 7)

After a leisurely breakfast (Western omelette and apple sauce) we move camp. We follow the stream bed further north. It is level and wide, mostly rock-hopping. The first two hours are hot and dry, with bright sun, deep blue sky, and scarce shade. The scenery is the classic canyon scene - a beautiful place to be. After two hours of hot and dusty trudging, a shallow pool full of tadpoles appeared. It soon became a trickle, and then a pleasant little creek lined with green trees. There was a waterfall, which quickly became a bracing cold shower for us. Another hour or so downstream brought us to the intersection with Tapeats Creek, where we made camp. This creek is deep, wide, fast, and cold. Another instance of the incredible variety of scenery and terrain here. There are cactus growing virtually on the banks of this rushing mountain stream.

Jim just caught six trout for dinner.

Saturday, May 30 (day 8)

Fresh trout again for breakfast. One was at least fifteen inches long.

We will camp here a few days. We waded a few miles down the swift and turbulent Tapeats Creek to the point where it joins Thunder Creek, and hiked part way up to Thunder Falls.

Tapeats is full of trout. Jim catches them without even trying, and John got one just trying out the rod. On the way back, Jim caught a nineteen-incher (estimated 2 1/2 pounds).

So far I have torn my shirt in three or four places, my pants in two places, my T-shirt, my bathing suit, and my camera case. I spend a lot of time mending.

Sunday, May 31 (day 9)

Filet of trout for breakfast (last night's whopper).

Today we hiked and waded upstream in Tapeats to its source. The going is all uphill, and there is just one beautiful waterfall after another. The source is a beautiful place, too. Giant boulders are strewn about, forming caverns and grottos. Trees are all around. Little streams spring out of the rock in the grottos, among fern-like plants and flashes of red monkey flowers. All this, as always, at the feet of the red-striped canyon walls. But here we also have a view down into the canyon we just ascended.

Some of the difficulties in getting about are surprising. As soon as we step away from the creek, to go around a waterfall or cleft, we have to watch out for cactus, Yucca plants, and thorny bushes and trees. The cactus are especially treacherous - they can grow right out of the rock (including two places where I sat down without looking).

The common wildlife we see around here are lizards (very frequent, in many varieties), frogs, tadpoles, hummingbirds, crickets, red wasps, and trout.

Monday, June 1 (day 10)

Heading back (toward Muav Saddle). After the stream ran out, we trudged under the hot sun upstream along the dry bed, picking our way through gravel, rocks, and boulders. I was hot and tired, leg muscles aching, feet hurting - every step about to be my last. And then we were rewarded with a midday stop at Stina Canyon again, with its cool dark mossy grotto dripping cool clear water.

After a long rest, we continued on up the route that had been so difficult on the way down. The obstacles don't seem as perilous today. Maybe it's conditioning, maybe it's just that I'd rather climb up than down. We climbed a few chutes that we had slid down, edge-walked a few shoulders and ledges, and climbed one vertical face (about twelve feet). We are not trying to cover the distance we did on the way down. We camp in the curve of a steep, deep narrow red ravine, having climbed about 2000 feet today. Jim has to run up and down that vertical face to fetch water from a pool down below (we filter and boil it).

Bats fly by occasionally in the evenings. Lizards are so common we just ignore all the frequent rustling in the leaves and bush.

Tuesday, June 2 (day 11)

Back at Muav. We climbed about another 2000 feet, generally retracing our route up the stream bed, up through dry waterfalls, up the ridges.

On the lower parts of our journey the stream beds are open to the sky, hot and barren, with some trees and scrubby brush (like madrone) - a semi-desert climate. (Not counting the wet stream areas, which are lush.) As we hike up out of the red-wall, the forest closes in. We suddenly have to fight our way through forests and thickets well over our heads. Again, it occasionally reverts to scrub madrone, Yucca, Spanish bayonet, and cactus. Even in the woods, we have thorns to contend with.

Yesterday I found a Yucca stalk staff (like John's, but smaller). Today I lost it at the edge of a cliff.

We stopped at our first showering place again on the way up. That shower stream, and the one we walk to here to the saddle, each give about as much water as a half-open kitchen tap.

Wednesday, June 3 (day 12)

A short steep hike up to Swamp Point and the car. A road-clearing crew at Swamp Lake marks the first people we have seen since a week ago Sunday. (We have seen some airplanes overhead every day, and sometimes a helicopter.)

We are going to drive around toward the south rim.

The weather has gotten cloudy again, and we had a few sprinkles of rain. There is thunder, and some spectacular lightning strokes, on a partly cloudy afternoon. We again drive through the pine and aspen forests, still with some patches of snow. As we head east from Jacob Lake in the forests of the Kaibab Plateau on the north rim, we drop suddenly into hot desert-like plains flanked by the Vermillion Cliffs. These are magnificent sculptured erosion-carved crystalline masses, red-violet and blue in the deepening dusk. We camp at Lee's Ferry, just across the Colorado River from such cliffs. This is the first time we've reached the Colorado, and only the second time we've seen it.

It is hot, and bats fly over from the cliffs. The land is wide open, barren, gently rolling with sudden angular ravines. The color is red.

Thursday, June 4 (day 13)

We cross the Colorado River via the Navajo Bridge (spanning Marble Canyon, east of Grand Canyon), and head south through a Navajo reservation. There are rude dwellings scattered among the foothills, and makeshift roadside stands where Navajo women and children sell rugs and trinkets.

At a place called The Gap (gas station, motel, trading post-cafe-laundromat), we turn off the highway to look for a trail to and along the Little Colorado River. We are looking for a "Salt Canyon" trail that John wants to explore. We got some partial directions at the trading post, and drove around for about three hours on the Navajo reservation without finding anything. Now we're back at the trading post, waiting for the owner's son to get back from school to lead us in. And a storm seems to be brewing.

The reservation country here has a rolling sameness to it. It is serene, harmonious, and majestic. It is also a deadening life style for those who live here without imagination.

The country rolls gently, a red undercoat brushed with vegetation (spotty grass, sagebrush, cactus). Indian hogans are spotted around, and red roads (just wheel tracks and ruts) criss-cross the landscape. The Indians get around mostly by pickup truck and horseback, with a few motorcycles and bicycles. Life seems to be simplified and subdued in the extreme.

The hogans were mostly empty when we went by. This whole expanse of country seemed again to belong just to us, but we didn't know our way around; all the hogans, all the roads, and all the hills looked alike to us.

Change of plan: we drive to Flagstaff to borrow or rent a pickup truck or jeep, and to get more information about the trail from a couple John knows. The lady isn't home (we knew her husband was out of town). We camp the night at the trailer park where they live. We have our first hot shower.

Trucks and trains roll by in the night; there are lights all around. It is cold. We have changed worlds again.

Friday, June 5 (day 14)

Coffee with Old King Cole.

We rent a pickup truck and drive back to The Gap. This time, with better information (having talked to the owner's son), we find the Salt Trail Canyon fairly easily, about fifteen miles into the reservation from the highway. Rain clouds gathered again, and we had a few sprinkles as we started hiking down into the canyon.

We drop about 2500 feet over several miles, and the trail is quite steep in places. We sometimes work our way over ten-foot switches on tumbled rock and loose dirt. There are again a few high, narrow ledges. The trail is very well marked with many ducks; it is supposedly an old Hopi Indian trail.

It is a grand canyon, but we are really not at the Grand Canyon at all. The Little Colorado River is a tributary of the Colorado, flowing in from the southeast, and the Salt Trail Canyon is a side canyon off the Little Colorado. Even for a side canyon off a side canyon, it is a splendid and magnificent place. It is red cliffs and tumbled boulders again. There are some perfectly smooth and vertical faces that must be a thousand feet high; at one place a still black pool nestled inaccessibly far below.

This enormous half-mile-deep slash in the ground is a stunning surprise in the gentle reservation landscape. Amazingly enough, it is virtually unknown to the inhabitants of the area. The boy at the trading post had been to the start of the trail once, but never down into the canyon. Most of the other people we spoke to, including Indians, didn't even seem to know about it.

Our destination is the Little Colorado at the end of the canyon. Its waters and banks are a deep turquoise, due to some minerals. The weather has cleared by the time we arrive.

Saturday, June 6 (day 15)

Wakened at five a.m. by rain in the face. Light showers persist for a few hours. At six there is a rainbow over the cliffs.

On the way down yesterday I developed a bad ankle (perhaps a strained ligament). Today I stay in camp while John and Jim follow the Little Colorado down to its juncture with the Colorado. So here I am in splendid solitude, with two canyons and a river all to myself.

The banks of the Little Colorado are soft sandy beaches. Its bed is covered with a pasty blue and white mineral deposit, a foot thick at one point. The springs that feed it are warm and a little salty (which may account for the name of this canyon).

Sunday-Monday, June 7-8 (days 16-17)

We climb back up out of the canyon, again with mixed sun and rain. We drive back out through the reservation to The Gap, on to Flagstaff where we return the truck, and start driving home via Kingman and Las Vegas (49-cent breakfasts under neon at two a.m. - a long way from where we got up).

The soft light before Monday's sunrise finds us napping at a roadside rest on the Mojave, between slumbering diesel trucks. The desert is ethereal in morning mist. We drive on. It is warm; an orange sun rises, turns yellow.

We are home in mid-afternoon.