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The south rim

GAYS MILLS - Last week, I told about two stops on the senior trip our son David and I took out west shortly after his high school graduation. Another destination on that trip was the Grand Canyon and that was my favorite part of the trip.

We arrived at the south rim of Grand Canyon National Park and got a campsite.vThe south rim is where most people visit and the views are much photographed and familiar to most. The north rim is more remote and less frequently visited. It is 220 road miles from one rim to the other and about a 20-mile hike, if you use the most traveled trails. As the crow flies, the two points are around 17 miles apart.

We applied for a permit to stay at the Phantom Ranch campground at the bottom of the canyon. We lucked out and got a permit. During busier times of the year, you need to have a reservation to camp well in advance of your arrival. 

The permit wasn’t for a couple of days hence, so in the meantime we did some day hiking on the many trails leading into the canyon. We would hike down an hour or so and then back up on several trails, all scenic, all well-maintained, and none of them very crowded. A very high percentage of visitors to the canyon never get off the rim. 

We went through a building featuring an orientation exhibit that let us know that this was a serious hike we were going to take. We were impressed with the gravity of the venture (literally, the danger of falling) and also the effect of heat and especially lack of hydration that can cause hikers problems.  

The day of the hike down to Phantom Ranch started early as we tried to beat the heat. We took a shuttle bus out to the South Kaibab trailhead a few miles from the park headquarters. 

The South Kaibab Trail is the preferred route to get down to the Colorado River.  It is shorter, steeper, and has no water available on its 7.1 miles. Hikers were advised to carry at least a gallon of water for the descent.

Hiking down into the Grand Canyon is a trip through time, eons of time. The exposed rocks change continually during the route and the nearly one-mile drop in elevation. There are lots of experts and guides at the canyon that can tell you what you’re looking at, geologically. But mostly, I was simply agape at the awesome grandeur of the aptly named Grand Canyon. 

We had a comfortable campsite at the Bright Angel Campground near Phantom Ranch and enjoyed visiting a small café there, where we could buy food and drinks and chat with other hikers. One memorable party was a family group celebrating a couple’s 50th wedding anniversary by hiking the canyon, as they did every year. 

Our trek out of the canyon the next day was on the Bright Angel Trail. This 9.9-mile route offers a gentler rise and water at three places along the trail. The trail ends right at the Grand Canyon Village, which is a great place to end a very dramatic hike.