Photo Friday: The Grand Canyon, Part 2

Last week we took a walk along the South Rim. This week, we're hoisting our packs and heading down. Since I'm not currently able to hike and make more exciting photos, I'll probably take it nice and slow through this trip report and share lots of photos over the next few weeks.

Below the Rim, Day 1: BA and Tonto West to Horn Creek

With cool temperatures and a reasonable mileage, we made no effort at a crack-of-dawn start, planning to meet at the Backcountry Office Parking (where it's okay to leave a car for days) at 8 a.m. Eventually, we actually met about 8:15 at the trailhead itself. Close enough.
Traction devices at the ready, we started down the trail.
There were already quite a few smart dayhikers out, making sure they got down and back up before it got too warm. Even with frosty overnight temperatures, the Canyon was warming up.

Within a couple of hundred yards we had to stop and put on our microspikes to deal with the icy trail. Many dayhikers were doing without, but with a full pack that was just too scary.

 After the rest area (outhouse) at 1.5 miles, we were out of the ice, onto firm dry trail.
The 3-mile outhouse and shelter. Havasupai Gardens are now visible in the gully on the left. The North Rim is covered in snow (I believe it is finally opening the first week in June, though not fully).

Looking back at what the trail has just descended, it's almost impossible to believe there really was a way through! And not just because people came along and blasted out a trail--the Havasupai Indians used this route centuries before the first European visitors thought of visiting the Canyon.

Just above Havasupai Gardens, with most of our elevation loss taken care of.

We were down the 3300' drop, and decided to check out the campground, which was quiet and deserted at 11 a.m. Our plan was to hang out there as long as possible, where there was shade and, most importantly, water. The rest of our trail would be exposed and without water.

It really is a nice campground, though when backpacking I prefer not to have neighbors.

Since the campground is for campers and we were in transit, we eventually found shade and benches in the amphitheater. This kept us away from the substantial crowds at the outhouse and water faucet on the trail. After about 3 hours, having eaten lunch and loaded up on water, we headed out on the much less traveled West Tonto trail, where we met only one or two other parties for the rest of the day.

The last shade.

The stark desert of the Tonto Plateau isn't for everyone, but I'm a sucker for it, especially when surrounded by the walls of the Grand Canyon.

Our trail traversed largely at one elevation, with minor ups and downs, along the sagebrush slopes.

Our first night's camp was to be at Horn Creek, the first major cut from the Plateau down to the river. The Tonto trail skirts the lip of the side-canyon until reaching the head, where the cliffs merge into the hillside and you can cross the creek without a long descent into the gully.

These deep cuts are why the Tonto Trail takes 20+ miles to cover about half that linear distance.

We covered the 2 1/2 miles from Havasupai Gardens to Horn Creek faster than expected, and pulled into camp about 3 p.m., to sack out in the shade and watch the light change.
This was a nice camp spot, but right on the trail through, so we found places a little more tucked away.

Though Horn Creek was flowing nicely, it could provide only a soothing sound, not drinking water. Alas, in the first half of the 20th Century, a prospector found uranium in the upper reaches of the drainage. The creek now carries potentially unsafe levels of radium, though in a pinch it would be better to drink it than not. We carried our water from the Gardens.

I didn't see any mutated animals, and I did see some frogs, or maybe toads, so not sure how big an issue the water quality is. I used it only for bathing (away from the stream, though this pool was awfully tempting).

Below the camp the creek has cut more and more deeply into the rock, through a series of impassable pour-offs until it reaches the river at Horn Creek Rapids, a spot I marked in my notes from my 2021 raft trip as "really wild." I could only admire the beginnings of the canyon, as it rapidly became impassible, at least to the likes of me.

A testimonial to the power of water and perhaps a warning that in a storm there may a great deal more of it than we saw.

This day set the pattern for the trip--hike early, and spend lots of time lying in the shade and watching the canyon change with the changing light. It's a behavior I can recommend.
Redbud, just breaking into bloom. It was a very late spring.

That's a lot of photos, so we'll end there, and try for days 2 & 3 next week. Stay tuned for Monument Canyon and Granite Rapids!


The whole series: Part 1 was up on the South Rim. Part 2 took us down the Bright Angel trail and out the Tonto West Trail to Horn Creek. Part 3 is Monument Canyon and Granite Rapids. Part 4 took us to Hermit Creek and Hermit Rapids, where we finally saw some decent wildflowers. Part 5 was the trip up the Hermit Trail and a few extra bits.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2023
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  1. Getting my Canyon fix the easy way, vicariously through your pictures.

    1. Less effort, but not quite the reward of being there.

  2. I've never seen Horn Creek flowing! Whenever I've been there, it's been bright green slimy puddles, so the whole radioactive thing seemed fitting. The water in your photos looks downright tempting! :)

    1. It was! And with so much snow still melting off the rim, I wasn't surprised to find all the creeks running.

  3. Amazing pictures. I'm definitely going to be planning a trip there next year.


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