Can. Lid. Can. Lid. Can. Shoe. Shoe? A chilly gust of wind rattled the nearby brush as I spied a decades-old boot peering out from a pile of rusted refuse. My patch of shade beneath a low-slung juniper on Horseshoe Mesa had apparently doubled as a garbage pit in days gone by. The weathered shoe looked to be a size seven or eight—probably a woman’s—with the crusted upper leather attached to the sole by a smattering of nails and tacks. I deduced that the owner had been a guest or employee of Pete Berry. Berry’s mining-turned-tourist operation in the Grandview Point area was a going concern before it succumbed to the steam train that began whisking tourists to Grand Canyon Village in 1901 with such style and ease. Berry couldn’t compete with the other entrepreneurs who clustered near the depot several miles to the west of Grandview Point. Not wanting to disturb the boot, I admired the craftsmanship at arm’s length. Who left it? Why here? Or, best yet, how could anyone hike in such dismal footwear? Suddenly my own dogs weren’t barking as loud.
I had made quick work of the four-mile long Grandview Trail during the initial leg of an Easter weekend solo backpack. If all went right, an eighteen-mile swath of the Tonto Trail would be followed by a five-mile exit out the South Kaibab in two days’ time. Ambitious, yes, but hardly all work and no play. Before reaching Horseshoe Mesa I stopped periodically to admire the numerous points of interest including the historic inscriptions near the trailhead, the vintage cobbled trail work, and a moody Vishnu Temple slipping in and out of a swirling column of fog. With the hot sun rapidly rising I laced up my own boots, and hastily bid their predecessor farewell.
I took the drop off the mesa into the Cottonwood Creek drainage literally, losing my footing on the graveled path and landing on my rear. After nearly two thousand miles afoot in the canyon with nary a stumble, I picked a clear day on a benign slope to break my streak (but thankfully nothing else). Subsequent footsteps were given more thought, and the slower pace afforded a heightened awareness of my surroundings. Thoughts, blown about with occasional gusts of inspiration, reverence, and petty concerns, rustled in my mind like the leaves of Cottonwood Creek’s namesake trees. The smell of sage moistened by the previous night’s rain, wafted up the drainage with a pleasing uniformity and accompanied me along the first mile or two of the Tonto Trail.
I reached a waist-high cairn at the stroke of noon. Rumor had it that a steep route to the river lay below this landmark. It seemed hard to imagine, as the river meandered 1200 feet directly below my perch. After gauging my strength I resisted the urge to scamper down the route and resumed course, after admiring a tiny flotilla of boats as they negotiated a splashy stretch of the emerald river, oblivious to my presence above.
The sight of Grapevine Canyon was a mixed blessing. Though an obvious milestone it was a shining example of Grand Canyon’s dirtiest little tricks for backcountry navigators. As is the case with many of the hundreds of side canyons below the rim, you can clearly discern the continuation of your route on the far side of a sharp chasm, but steep walls necessitate a lengthy contour around rather than climbing down one side and up the other. Grapevine Canyon, one of the South Rim’s longest, is no exception.
The reward for one’s efforts is a delightful series of plunge pools and smooth rock bathed by lapping Grapevine Creek. A pair of blushing newlyweds from Santa Fe, startled by my stealthy arrival, had been taking full advantage of the idyllic spot, and were in total agreement with my decision to press on. Though the tiny paradise begged for my tent stakes, I knew I needed to bite off more canyon before calling it a day.
The grind back to a view of the river took an odd turn as a strong feeling of deja vu overcame me. I instinctively guzzled a quart of water on the off chance dehydration was deteriorating my mental faculties. I consulted my Sierra Club Grand Canyon handbook to determine my location. The mystery was quickly solved as I discovered that the cover photo to John Annerino’s canyon bible was taken from this very spot-every rock and plant remarkably still in place as if he had taken the photo the day before.
Around the next bend lay a dry Boulder Creek and a curvaceous Supai boulder that I quickly employed as a windbreak for my modest camp. Hours later a symphony of crickets heralded an impressive moonrise. The lunar sphere appeared directly behind a slender unnamed spire to my immediate east, crowning it with a shimmering corona. Soon thereafter Wotans Throne and Vishnu Temple were illuminated so thoroughly that only high noon would afford a more detailed examination of their craggy facades.
Easter morning found me engaged in my own resurrection as I reluctantly crawled out of my down bag. There would be no Easter egg hunt on my agenda, for I had some serious mileage to cover—made even more daunting by a rookie blunder the day before. Much to my dismay, the wash I had bivouacked in was Burro, not Boulder, a mistake that would add four miles to an already ambitious itinerary. I made up the miles quickly, bidding a sunning rattlesnake good morning in the process. Only the “false trails” near Lonetree Creek, courtesy of the canyon’s former exotic burro population, slowed me from reaching Cremation Creek before noon. Ever-spooky Cremation, named for the Native American’s custom of hurling the ashes of their deceased over its craggy lip, was all that stood between me and the relative boulevard known as the South Kaibab Trail. Pedestrians on the Kaibab came into view like ants on a hill. Soon I was one of them, brushing shoulders with the mixed bag of holiday hikers that included Phantom Ranch guests, bewildered day-hiking families, and backpackers of all stripes.
True to form, the sparse South Kaibab gave up in shade what it afforded in views. Built along a ridgeline in 1924, this no-nonsense rim-to-river route serves up windswept vistas where others twist through claustrophobic side canyons. With a mule team on my heels I made double time to the top.
Bouncing back to Grand Canyon Village on the park’s shuttle bus, I overheard an enthusiastic group of visitors recounting the sunrise Easter service, a longstanding South Rim tradition. I briefly regretted missing out on the morning’s hymns and prayers with the faithful, until a whiff of my backpack took me back to my own dawn activities—wandering the timeless halls of my favorite house of worship.
Park Trail Descriptions
- Grandview Trail Description (38kb – PDF)
- Tonto Trail: Grandview to South Kaibab Description (77kb – PDF)
- South Kaibab Trail Description (37kb – PDF)