Gary and I are up at 6:20, pretty close to sunrise. Our food is
still intact on top of the tent, with no critter damage. My feet
are pretty sore and as I give them a close inspection, I find that
what appeared to be just hot spots on the side of both big toes
yesterday are indeed small blisters. But they aren't killing me,
just a little sore, and I know that our hike today is relatively
flat so I should have no problem.
After we have our breakfast of oatmeal and raisins, I suggest we
head north over the two rises I surveyed the night before and take
a look at Granite Gorge. When we do, Gary finds a rock projection
between two promontories that we have to scramble up about seven
feet to get on to. It is like our own private balcony over the gorge,
and looking down from the edge, we can see a short section of the
Mighty Colorado, and a white sand beach about 1500 feet below. Gary
and I discuss what it would be like to fall from this perch to the
river, and what would go through one's mind during the fall, etc.
Another of those morbid "guy things".
| Me on the Tonto Trail enroute to Hance Creek. In the background
is Horseshoe Mesa
The views across to the north side of the Canyon are awe-inspiring
and we take in Wotans Throne, Angels Gate, Vishnu Temple, Krishna
Shrine, and other marvelous features that will stand a silent watch
over us for most of the rest of our trip. On the South Rim, we can
see the Watchtower at Desert View. Gary is clearly enjoying the
spectacular surroundings and it increases my pleasure to see that
he isn't one of those that consider this place "just a bunch
of rocks". Photos are taken and after some more poking around
we head back to camp.
As we prepare to decamp, we see the other backpackers whose camp
we had passed the night before at Cottonwood Creek. We exchange
waves and Gary calls to them that there are some good views of the
gorge to be had over the bluff. So they drop their packs and head
in the direction of the gorge. At 9:10 we have everything back in
our packs, so we saddle up and head east on the Tonto Trail.
The trail, as we make our way in the direction of Hance Creek,
is distinct but narrow. And on either side is the aforementioned
ornery Grand Canyon shrubbery which leans over the trail like the
Arch of Swords at a military wedding and seems to want to scratch
and tear the hell out of our shins with nearly every step. No, every
plant in the Canyon does NOT have a spine, needle, pricker, or claw,
but at this point in the trip you would have a hard time convincing
us of that. I am glad for my boots, which are heavy leather, despite
the discomfort of the blisters, because Gary has taken a cactus
spine right through his suede and canvas versions and into his foot.
At one point I have a number of glochids fanning out from the toe
of my right boot, and a bunch of them sticking out of my right shin.
Looking down at the sight reminds me of a cowboy movie where Joe
goes out for a ride on his horse. Later his horse comes trotting
back into camp with Joe sitting upright in the saddle, but when
his buddy looks up from the campfire and says howdy, Joe pitches
forward and you see the 25 arrows sticking out of his back. That's
what the front of my leg looks like now. Gary's are the same, and
by the end of this day we will both have multiple large, bloody
wounds down the front of our legs.
an hour or a little more on the trail, we come upon the two other
hikers who we have spoken to on the two previous occasions. They
are resting near where the Tonto begins to turn south to skirt the
canyon of Hance Creek, beneath the east arm of Horseshoe Mesa. From
this point eastward and northward, the Tonto Platform slopes gradually
away to the edge of the inner gorge, so we are on a crest of sorts,
and the view to the east is incredible. We can see the Palisades
of the Desert, the Watchtower, and much more of the river than we
have been able to see yet, including some rapids (Sockdolager?).
We admire the view for a few minutes, and chat with the other hikers
about previous GC trips and so forth. When we make to depart, the
other guys head down to the edge of the gorge for one last look,
for they are heading up to Horseshoe Mesa this evening.
trail from this point on follows the rim of the Hance Creek canyon
very closely and it's depths are very impressive. The weather is
gorgeous, as it has been since our arrival, and it is a beautiful
sight to look down hundreds of feet and see the sun reflecting off
the small ribbon of the creek and fully grown cottonwoods standing
between reddish-brown walls of sheer vertical rock. It is hard for
me to imagine how we are going to get to the creek at all. The cliffs
look impregnable. As we continue away from the main gorge, though,
the elevation differential lessens as the creekbed rises and before
long we come off the rocky rim and contour down a grassy, boulder-strewn
slope into the bed of Hance Creek. There are a number of campsites
in this area, but it appears that we have the entire canyon to ourselves.
We pick a nice site with a tree from which to hang our food and
we drop our packs. It is just before 12 noon.
Our first chore is to get water, so we head down to where water
is flowing, find a small pool and begin filtering. The Cottonwood
Creek water I drank the day before had a mineral taste to it, but
the water from Hance Creek is very good, with no aftertaste at all,
and earns my five-star recommendation. Lunch is next on the to-do
list and after that Gary heads upstream to do some exploring. I
tag along behind for a while, but he is like a man on a mission,
and I have no interest in trying to keep up. There are names cut
in the soft rock of a wall on the west side of the streambed a couple
hundred yards upstream from our campsite. The first one to catch
my eye says "A.S. Garrett April 1890" Another says "Col.
Frank Hall 1881". Gary says he thinks these carvings from the
1800's are bogus, and he could be right. But there were miners on
this area in the 1800's and it could be possible that Mr. Garrett
was one of them.
At 2:35 p.m. I am back at camp. Gary is still upstream somewhere,
so I decide to see what is off in the other direction. This is a
side of the Grand Canyon I have not seen in any depth before. The
location of our camp the night before I begin to think of as "macro-Canyon",
on the arid Tonto Platform, with the expansive views of the temples,
shrines, the gorge and the river, I am now in "micro-Canyon",
where there is flowing water, tall trees, bushes, grass, birds and
rodents all contained in their own little universe by the walls
of Hance Creek canyon. It is different, and I like it.
As I make my way down Hance Creek, a lot of questions are provoked
in my mind by the things I observe, the answers to which for most
people would probably be "Who cares?" But they are things
that intrigue me. I wonder what this mostly dry creekbed looks like
after it has rained and how much rain it would take to turn it into
a churning torrent. As I sit for a while, I pick a rock out of the
hundreds within arms reach. I wonder where this rock came loose
from the greater mass it was once part of, and when. How long has
it taken to reach this point? If I come back here in five years,
where will this rock be? And how long will it take to reach the
river? Idle questions, maybe, but part of the wonder for me in the
process of ceaseless erosion that has created this incredible Canyon.
At one point in my exploration, I come upon a chute where the creek
water funnels down granite worn perfectly smooth into a small gravel
bottomed pool. I have long before shed my boots for the Tevas, but
my dogs are still sore, hot, and tired. The bulge of polished granite
next to the pool provides a perfect seat, so I kick off the sandals
and plunge my feet into pool. The water is icy cold, and it feels
G R E A T. So good in fact that I don't want to leave this place.
When I do, I tell myself that the foot soak will be one of the highlight
memories of this trip. I have even taken a photo of my tootsies
as they get the cooldown in the pool.
When I get back to camp at 4, Gary is there, and shows me on the
map how far upstream he went and what he saw. He also wants to wash
off some of the accumulated grime of the past two days, so I suggest
we head back down to my beloved pool. We grab our towels and head
back that way. After awhile, Gary seems a little taken aback that
we are going so far just to splash a little water on our faces,
especially after I say, "I think it's just around this next
bend" about four times. When we get there, Gary doesn't seem
all that impressed, but I am in love with my little granite chute
and gravel-bottomed pool, so the hell with him.<G> We wash
our heads with the cold water and linger a short while before heading
back. Dinner is served at 5:30, and Gary and I talk and poke around
close to camp until bedtime at 8 p.m.