|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.
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.
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.
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:
Critters of the Canyon