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The Grand Canyon

In July of 2000, my scout troop packed up and headed to the Grand Canyon. After a training camp in the badlands of Drumheller where we just hiked all day in the heat, we were ready to board the club wagons for Arizona. We split up into 3 groups - an inexperienced group which went down to Phantom Ranch the first day, then up to Indian Gardens the 2nd, and the South Rim the 3rd - all on the south rim. There was the intermediate group which was with the beginners the 1st day, then up to Cottonwood the 2nd day and the North Rim the 3rd. I was in the 3rd group of the more experienced ones which started on the North Rim, then down to Cottonwood the 1st, Phantom Ranch the 2nd and South Rim the 3rd day. The 3rd day was a tester for many of the kids. The heat was each day 50 degrees celsius in the day and 30 degrees at night. Quite a bit for us Canadians.

We reached the north rim with the wagon, and when I look back at the North Rim compared to the South, it was heaven (you'll see why later). We were equipped with only bed sheets sewn into sleeping bags because of the heat, however never forget to take into account that desert nights are COLD. It dipped to under 10 degrees, and all we had were bedsheets and underwear. I did not sleep at all. I remember just watching the moon the entire night. This shot was taken from close to our campsite. I sat there for about and hour at sunset waiting for the perfect moment to come, and I finally got this picture. I almost didn't get it since to my surprise I saw a king snake huddled around a stump below and out of the picture. We spent some of the day reading wildlife books in one of the giftshops, studying our snakes and scorpions, so I could recognize this one. We also saw a Kaibab squirrel, with its huge bushy tail.

We got up at around 5:00 the next morning to start our descent into the canyon. It was an awesome day, and the farther we descended the hotter it got and the less vegetation there was. The trails were magnificent. In case you couldn't pick out the trail here, I outlined it in red. It must have taken forever to build! This is on our descent to Cottonwood Campground. One important thing is that it is the mules who have the priority of the trail. All the rich people who'd rather take the easier way down flaunt it, too. The guys who lead the pack make sounds when you come around a corner, and then tell you to go hike back up the trail until you can find a spot to pull off to the side, and to stay still. And they aren't nice about it either. The mules have the right of way, and you aren't allowed to pass them, so make sure you get an early enough start so you don't get stuck behind a mule train! Once at the campground it was a race to find the highest spot off the ground so the snakes and scorpions couldn't getcha! We sure were paranoid. We then went and hit the river beside the campground and found an awesome spot beside a ledge in the river where you could jump off a 7 foot high boulder into the deepest part of the pool you built. We also tried our hand at catching one of the hundreds of lizards which were everywhere. My friend Shea ended up catching one, and sure enough his tail came right off and kept squirming, while the lizard ran away! So much fun!

The next morning dawned early, and we were relieved not to find a snake bathing in the sun on top of the huge boulder we chose to sleep on. We contininued down the trail until it flattened, and my friend Cody and I went ahead of the group. It was still early in the morning and we were setting a blistering pace. When we were almost at Phantom Ranch, we had to enter this awesome gorge with about 60-100 foot vertical walls. It still reminds me of pictures I have seen of the Karakoram Highway cut into the side of the canyon. It was nice and cool because the sun couldn't enter. This was my favorite part of the trip.

This is a shot of the muddy Colorado River that forms the Grand Canyon from near Bright Angel Canyon at Phantom Ranch. You can see the other suspension bridge (there are 2) with the arrow pointing to it farther down the valley, and the path leading past it up to the South Rim, which we would continue on next morning. We stopped at the Warden's cabin, and he told us that we should stay in the water to avoid heat stroke, and we of course asked him stories of scorpions and snakes. He had actually been bitten by scorpions about 5 times. We learned that the big black ones aren't the dangerous ones, but the small sandy coloured ones. The rest of the day was spent building pools. I even tried my luck at dissecting prickly pear cactuses. Not a good idea! As well, our scout leader warned us that the squirrels down there were the most dangerous animals. Even the smallest sight of a plastic or ziploc bag, and they would start chewing for food. I left to go to the bathroom for 5 minutes, and left my food bag out of the ammo boxes. Sure enough I came back and found a hole through my mesh bag, and a trail of food leading off into the bushes! We were fine until late at night when another scout, John told us to come see something. He was on the phone and down at his feet was sure enough a small, sandy coloured scorpion. Needless to say, nobody got any sleep that night, and it was a fight for who got to sleep on top of the picnic tables after the scary encounter. We finally settled down by about 11:00, ready for a 1:00 start the next morning!

We started early the next morning, strapped on the headlamps and flashlights and started hiking to avoid the heat of the day. I got to be in the lead of the troop, and it was neat looking back in the pitch black at a trail of lights clinging to the canyonside, with the Colorado River on the bottom of the cliffs. It was a bit scary leading this in the dark, having no idea what lay around the corner after last night's occurences.On the upper reaches of the trail, when the sun came up, we were greeted with an awesome view of the canyon. You can even see the trail on top of the hump at the bottom of the picture. The last few kilometers are completed with many water beaks with fountains inside shelters. Once you get to within 10 minutes of the top you encounter the tourists coming down the trail a bit to say that they'd hiked the canyon! The ending of a trip was kind of a bummer, though. You have just spent 3 days and 2 nights in almost paradise, when you come around the corner, and encounter Japan! The place was crowded with Japanese and tourist shops. Oh well. At least I now know that Banff is not the ONLY place that the Japanese visit. back to international page