Monday, April 2, 2018

Grand Canyon - Of Hikes and Mule Trains

Of course I couldn't travel all the way to the Grand Canyon and not hike below the rim.  Originally, my grand plan was to hike down to the Colorado River, stay overnight at Phantom Ranch, and climb back up to the rim the following day. I discovered, beds at Phantom Ranch sell out thirteen months in advance, and you have to be online at the right time to snare a cancellation.

Near the South Kaibab Trailhead

On to Plan B......a short hike below the rim and back up.  A much more sensible option, as my fitness probably wasn't ready for a 5,000 foot climb.  Plus instead of burning both allotted days hiking down and back, this would allow more time to fully explore the South Rim.

Looking down on a switchback

I'd initially chosen the Bright Angel Trail for my first foray into the canyon.  But after strolling the rim trail that first morning, I perused information boards at the Visitor Center.  All the major canyon hikes were detailed here, including the South Kaibab Trail.  To my amusement, this trail featured a place named "Ooh-Aah Point."  With a name like that, how could I resist?  Curiosity getting the best of me, I decided right then and there to change my destination.

Twisty, turny trail

Just a short bus ride from the Visitor Center, late morning found myself and a few dozen fellow tourists deposited at the South Kaibab Trailhead.

Lots of people out hiking today!

Knowing I'd be making frequent photo stops, I waited until the entire mob of people from my bus had filtered down the trail before beginning my journey.

More "Oh my gosh" views

Worked like a charm......not only did I have the trail to myself (with the exception of a few uphill stragglers) there were lots of people in my photos, which I prefer as it shows scale.

Perched on the cliff

And, oh were there photo subjects!  From the adjacent red layered canyon walls, to the sharp switchbacking trail, to the breathtaking canyon bottom spread out in a colorful panorama.

I think that's "Ooh-Aah" Point

The scenery was magnificent!  There was lots of photo-taking happening that's for sure.  I don't remember how long it took me to travel the 0.9 miles to Ooh-Aah Point, but nearly every one of my bus-mates beat me there.

Tons of people here

Finally up ahead I spotted a rocky outcrop lined with people.  That must be Ooh-Aah Point! 

Gotta prove I was here!

Arriving at the viewpoint, a tiny sign confirmed my location.  Seeing my big camera, a nearby group asked if I'd take their picture at the sign.  After clicking several images, I had them return the favor.  Gotta prove I was here!  (Photos or it didn't happen, right?)

The trail continues down

I found a spot amidst the crowds to sit, have a snack, and people watch.  Lots of cell phone photo attempts and selfie sticks.  Quite amusing to observe.

Red trails

I noticed most hikers who'd made it to Ooh-Aah point continued further down the trail.  From the trailhead sign, I remembered that the next viewpoint, Cedar Ridge, was only another half mile away.   I could do that!

The scenery was A-plus!

The next portion of the South Kaibab descended steeply.  It wound through a large cactus field and over an outcropping of red soil.


The views continued to be jaw-dropping.  Hard to make much forward progress when all I wanted to do was capture the scenery in one more photograph.

Cedar Ridge far below

Finally an open ledge gave me the first glimpse down to the next destination.  And what did I see?  A mule train tied up by the viewpoint!  I'd been hoping to encounter a string of the National Park's famous beasts of burden.  Excited, I quickened my steps in hopes of making it to Cedar Ridge before the group left.

Made it to Cedar Ridge

Turned out I didn't have to worry.  Not only were these mules and their riders taking an extended break, the group would be traveling up the very trail I'd be ascending shortly.


So I had plenty of time to prowl around these lovely mules, taking photos from every conceivable angle.

Mule train taking a break

I even got to chat with one of the riders, a friendly lady who was more than willing to share her experiences.

These hard-working animals made great photo subjects

Used for transport in the Grand Canyon since the late 1800s, mules are the choice for traversing these steep, rocky trails.  These sturdy beasts are more sure footed than horses, and don't spook easy.  Mules also are able to carry much more weight.

Almost time to go

While chatting with my mule-riding friend, we noticed a hiker who approached one of the mule guides, and pointed to something further down the trail.  The lady guide hopped on her mule and took off quickly.  We learned that there was a hiker is distress and the guide had gone down to render assistance.

So true

Despite numerous warning signs and cautionary language on park literature and websites, every year many people get themselves into trouble hiking the Grand Canyon.  As an experienced hiker, I know climbing back up a steep trail is no joke.  The day I hiked into the canyon the weather featured lovely cool temperatures in the mid-50s.  I could not imagine climbing up this trail in the heat of midsummer.

One last image before my climb back up

Although it was tempting to continue my trek down to Skeleton Point (another 1.5 miles and 1000 feet further) I decided this was far enough for today.  Yes, I could probably make it down and back up, but this would burn the entire afternoon and it would also likely tire me out for the rest of the day.  There was more of the South Rim I wanted to see - I still had a sunset to capture after all!

So I took a nice long break at Cedar Ridge, resting my legs, drinking water, and having another snack.  Then refreshed, it was time to tackle the 1100 foot climb up to the rim.

The mule train catches up

The trail between Cedar Ridge and Ooh-Aah Point was murderously steep.  But, used to hiking in the Columbia River Gorge where every trail goes straight up, I just put one foot in front of the other and kept going.  Soon, Cedar Ridge below me began growing smaller and smaller.

There they go

To my delight, I spied the mule train slowly trudging up the trail behind me.  Although not speedy, those beast's four legs were much quicker than my two, and it wasn't long before the group of mules and riders began to pass me by.  No problem - it was a great opportunity to get some action photos.

Large cactus patch

My return trip wasn't nearly as pleasant as the descent.  Climbing upward was hard work, and although I was in better shape than many of my fellow hikers, it was far from a walk in the park.  Then the wind began to pick up, gusting strongly while blowing dust and sand into my eyes.  And, following the mule train, I had to dodge "road apples" that the mules left behind (don't want to step in that!)

I kept catching the mule train

I didn't take near as many photos on the way up.  Of course, I'd captured things pretty well on the downhill trip, and the dusty weather wasn't good for cameras anyway.

Goodbye mules

But I did get the camera out periodically  to capture a few final images of the mule riders as they slowly wound their way up the steep canyon walls.

Winding up the cliff

Although short, it was a wonderful introduction to the heart of the Grand Canyon.  But upon reaching the top, I immediately caught a bus to the west side of the rim.  There was no way I was missing tonight's sunset.  Which you'll get to see in my next post.....

My previous Grand Canyon posts:
The Introduction
Critters of the Canyon


  1. Estas montanhas são de uma grande beleza, uma obra prima da natureza.
    Um abraço e boa semana.

    Dedais de Francisco e Idalisa
    O prazer dos livros

  2. One word sums it all up Awesome. That is one place I would love to visit

  3. We walked the same trail all the way down to the shelf halfway down and then along to the next trail and back up - in August. You are absolutely right, it was far too hot. Really enjoyed reliving through your photos

  4. ...beautiful, but I'll pass, I have a fear of heights.

  5. This post wa very interesting not just for the scenery , but my wife did the mule trip to Phantom ranch in 1964. She still talks about it. I'll make sure she has a look at your post.

  6. This is exactly the kind of post I hoped you'd do - great information and wonderful photos. Pinning for future reference. Thanks Linda.

  7. Love the mule train shots! It's a good thing you like having people in your photos for's almost impossible to find a people free shot in the GC anywhere near the rim! Loving the colors on the Ohh Ahh Point shot as you approached it.

  8. Great photos, I can never get enough of the Grand Canyon.

  9. Brought back memories of my small hike down the Canyon last year. Oh that scenery.

  10. Absolutely awesome! What a stunning area to explore and photograph.

  11. Great photos and a wise choice of route.

  12. Such beautiful photos of an amazing place.

  13. Just brilliant. I don't know how you make your selection of pics for the blog. I'm sure they must all be exceptional!

  14. Hello, the views are just fabulous. This hike is awesome, I remember doing part of this trail maybe not as far as you went. Love the mule train photos. Gorgeous photos.
    Thanks for sharing your trip! Have a happy day!

  15. Nicely done - having been there I know how difficult it is to capture theimmensity

  16. Good choice, the Kaibab is more dramatic than BA and less people after the morning rush. I love the little stone cabins at Phantom but have always camped instead....there's a lottery now for the following year!

  17. I love your photos of the mule train and many others too. We were there years ago but just at the rim. Such a beautiful place to be. Thanks!

  18. Great photos and descriptions, Linda. Glad you are experiencing one of nature's finest creations.

  19. We were just there on a train a weeks ago but you captured more actions and great shots. I would love to hike down just to get oohd and ahhed, but Im just as happy with all your photos. Having people on photos do give perspective and enhance the scenery.

  20. How amazing!! and the sign for the Ohh Ahh point! LOVE it!!!!

  21. What a wonderful day you had! The scenery is breath taking:)

  22. Linda, you got to see the Grand up close and personal. :) It's been years since we've been to the South rim. We need to get there again before we're too old to hike. :)

  23. What a wonderful place - I managed to spent a couple of hours there a few years ago - and even that was enough to show how great it was.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  24. Truly wonderful post.. fantastic captures! Brought back many fond memories.

  25. Wow what an adventure. I think "if" (and I say that because I'm afraid of heights) I were to visit the GC I'd go by Mule. So many awesome views you've shared. I think this may be the best way for me to see the GC (safer).

  26. Amazing! Have really enjoyed catching up on your blog... and seeing your time in the Grand Canyon is incredible. Great photos as always Linda. Looking forward to the next installment.

  27. I've heard about hiking there but I would not attempt it. Glad you did. Excellent photos!

  28. Wow, the scenery is spectacular. Gorgeous photos.

  29. I've seen a lot of photo series from trips to the Canyon online, yours is hands down the best. Simply stunned, all those cloud shadows really emphasize how massive it really is. I was there when I was 8 years old but don't remember it!

  30. How exciting to catch sight of a mule train! I know reservations for a mule tour are reserved a few years in advance. I also remember the steep climb back from Bright Angel's trail--and I was a lot younger then! I doubt I could do it now without lots of rest stops.One of my fondest memories was watching an eagle swooping down and around, obviously hunting. There were much fewer visitors when we visited back in the late 90's.

  31. Love love love your shots of this trail. The bright angel trail was the very first hike I ever did... and we made it all the way to the bottom and then out again the same day. It amazes me to think that i ever hiked again after that , but your photos bring it all back. Lucky you were there when it was cool as it was 110 at the bottom the day we hiked it. A killer hike, but such beauty.


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