Monday, March 24, 2014

Grand Canyon and Zion: Day 5

By the time I woke up on Day 5, I was feeling pretty well rested. We had been sleeping in until 8 or 9 every morning and were always in bed by 10. I started to question my judgment call on the rim to river hike. But that was all long before we started down Hermit’s Trail.

While Dan was waking up slowly, I decided to head down to Kolb Photo studio and see the exhibit on the infamous Kolb Brothers. This was something I really wanted to see because I had learned so much about them by watching the Ken Burns National Parks series. In 1904 Emery and Ellsworth Kolb set up a photo studio right on the rim of the Grand Canyon. They operated a successful business for many years, taking photos of the tourists riding donkeys to the bottom of the Canyon. The crazy thing is, they would take these photos mid-way down, then run up to their shop, develop the film, create prints and mat them for sale to those very same tourists when they arrived back at the rim. It’s a story worth reading up on. While there wasn't a ton of time for me to see everything, I did view most of the displays and buy a little book about their adventures.

Kolb Brothers Photo Studio
We had breakfast at the Bright Angel Dining room once again. Our selections had become gradually a little unhealthier each day. While I didn't eat 6 or 7 pieces of bacon on Day 5, I certainly didn't opt for the egg whites and turkey sausage. Once we were filled up, we stopped at the gift shop quickly to buy our postcard and shot glass before making our way to the bus stop. It is kind of nice to be able to ride the bus along the rim because it gives you a chance to gaze down without worrying about crashing. Hermit’s Rest was the last stop on the line though, so we sat for quite some time before finally getting off the bus and making our way to the trail head. 

Dan rests up pre-hike

As we approached the rather rocky trail, we passed a woman with a big backpack who asked us if she could take a bus back to the village. Clearly, she had spent a night or two in the Canyon. As I pointed her in the general direction of the bus stop, her husband peaked around the last turn in the trail, out of breath mumbling, “never… again…”

Dan said he could relate, and then launched into another tirade about how I always make him do these terrible things (hikes) that he never wants to do as we descended into the canyon once more.

The Hermit’s Rest Trail will take you all the way to the Colorado River, just like the South Kaibab and the Bright Angel Trail… except with less mileage.  It was described in my guide book as a great hike “off the beaten path” where you might see springs as close as 1.2 miles below the rim, without all those pesky tourists in your way.

Well it was certainly a desolate trail, with very few hikers who weren't fairly serious about hiking, but there weren't any springs in sight. Not to mention the fact that the trail itself is one of the wildest things that I’ve ever seen “maintained”. Unlike the other trails leading to the River, Hermit’s rest is incredibly uneven, rocky and offers very little shade. 

ends of the Earth

As we continued to descend, I started to get nervous about going back up. About a mile and a half down, we came to a junction and decided to turn around. The hike back up was as brutal as anticipated… It’s one thing to hike a nice gravel trail up an elevation of 1,000 feet; it’s another to climb rocks for 1,000 feet over the course of a mile and a half. It felt like we were climbing bleachers for days in the hot AZ sun. We took breaks to rest infrequently since there weren't a ton of shady spots to sit. By the time we made it back to the top, I began to understand why that hiker’s husband was huffing “never again”. The trail is a tough hike, and it doesn't provide the wonderful scenery you can get elsewhere. Not to mention the fact that we didn't catch a glimpse of the River at all, the entire time! If we had the opportunity to pick again, I would have gone for a hike towards the East entrance near the Desert View Watchtower, where the views compensate for the hard work.

We stopped at the Hermit’s rest shop, another Mary Jane Colter designed building. It has a beautiful stone fireplace and hearth room, but no ice cream – which I was VERY disappointed about.

Once we arrived back at the bus stop, we overheard a bunch of older hikers talking about their plans for the week. They had reservations at Phantom Ranch and were going to hike rim-to-rim in 3 days. “Good for them” I thought to myself, before hearing them talk about how the Hermit’s Rest hike had taken them 7 hours. I hope they were able to make it out in their allotted 3 days, but it didn't seem very likely.

Back at the car, we changed out of our soaking wet clothes before hitting the road for the last long stretch of driving down to Phoenix. Yet again we experienced an uneventful trip, except to note that we had to change our dinner plans from “something good” in Sedona to “whatever is close” because the 17 mile side-trip to Sedona would have taken us an hour and a half… and I thought East Coast traffic was bad! Wendy’s happened to be the closest, so we stopped in for a ridiculous amount of food. Let’s just say that 4 people would have been full with our choices… and we were only 2. At least I finally got my ice cream by way of inhaling a root beer float.

When we finally parked at Dan’s Grandmother’s house in Phoenix, we were pretty pumped to get out of the car and see some familiar faces. It’s always nice to end a vacation by recounting your tales and showing off your photos to someone who is curious. We did our best to finish up some of the food that we had toted along with us all week before bed.

So we sat around chatting and eating with Dan’s Grandmother and his Great Aunt Margie. Vacation was over, I realized – and decided at that moment to start thinking about the next great trip.

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