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The Grandview Trail, Grand Canyon National Park


grand4I’m a mountain girl, without a doubt. Hiking in the mountains is majestic, frightening, unpredictable and exciting.  But lately, I think I could also consider myself a canyon girl. Canyons are awesome for all the same reasons as mountains but with a completely different landscape and a different set of struggles.  I got my first taste of canyon hiking a few years back and it has definitely become some of my favorite hiking terrain (after the mountains, of course).   One of my most memorable canyon hiking trips took me deep into the most grand of the canyons: The Grand Canyon. Shocking, I know.

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First ever look at the grand canyon. I knew I would make it back to explore this amazing place soon.

The first time I saw the Grand Canyon was how most visitors experience it: drive up, look in, take a photo, drive away.  But after this quick visit, I was captivated by this massive, breathtaking place.  I knew I would be back, and within 8 months, I was standing at the rim of the canyon.  But this time with a 40 pound pack on my back, ready to tackle a multi-day trek into the heart of this beast.  I knew, this was going to be one hell of an adventure… and it was.

It blows my mind that only 10% of the 4.5 million annual visitors to the Grand Canyon actually make their way below the rim.  The views from the rim are spectacular, but there is a whole other world below, just waiting to be discovered.  When I called on the Wildland Trekking Company to be my guides on this adventure, I said, “I want to do a hike in the Grand Canyon that challenges me, has amazing views and isn’t something that everyone else will do”, and they signed me up for the Grandview Trail… seemed fitting.

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A Grand View Indeed

As you descend into the canyon, you pass through time and history as the different layers of the canyon rock unfold and tell a story before you.   The geology and history of the canyon is fascinating. The Wildland guide was crazy knowledgeable and shared so much information about the rocks and layers we passed. I was geeked out the entire trip.  It was really nice that I took away more than just a hiking experience from this adventure… I took away something deeper… (hardy har).

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Take a look at the drastically different layers of rock in the canyon. It is incredible to see the rock change as you hike down.

Check out this interactive site of rock layers in the canyon to see if you can identify what layers I passed through in my photos: http://3dparks.wr.usgs.gov/coloradoplateau/grandcanyon_strat.htm

glynisviewThe hike started out at Grandview point, at 7400 ft.  In early April, the temps were frigid, but the views incredible. The trail wastes no time heading straight down into the canyon on winding, narrow paths that barely cling to side of the canyon wall. The trail was built to assist with copper mining back in the 1890s.  The Grandview trail is considered “un-maintained.” If you have hiked on other trails in the GC such as the popular Bright Angel, you can easily see the difference between the two. There are no water taps, outhouses, or well-groomed, wide paths for your enjoyment.  Trails on the Grandview are held together with logs, stone and steel rods from the mining days.

 

Aside from the relentless downhill on cobblestone paths and some dizzying drop offs, the trail was moderately easy to Horseshoe Mesa.

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Horseshoe Mesa seen in the distance. 

Mesa: a land formation, less extensive than a plateau, having steep walls and a relatively flat top. 

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Some old mining remains left on top of Horseshoe Mesa.

Horseshoe mesa sits at about 4800 ft, and can be a turn around point for this hike if you don’t plan to continue further into the canyon overnight.  There are some interesting mining relics here, including the remains of an old rock cabin.  There are campsites on the mesa, however I would be spending the night at Cottonwood Creek, 3 miles from the start of the hike, and 3800 ft below where the hike began that morning.

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The trail to Cottonwood creek from the Mesa requires some tricky footing and is very exposed.

Cottonwood Creek is a little oasis in the desert.  As you descend from the mesa, you will start to see the pop of green from the tops of the trees (at the right time of year).  A strange sight in this dry, red and brown landscape.

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It is hard to miss the bright green color of Cottonwood creek in this expansive view. It almost seems out-of-place, but is a welcome retreat.

camp@cottonwoodcottonwoodcreek2Cottonwood creek runs through the camping area and is the first water source on the trail thus far. I sat beneath the shade of the cottonwood trees to rest my aching feet in the cool water.  Dry camping is challenging, so having this water source was so valuable (we were told this creek isn’t always flowing in the hotter, dryer months).  Our guide cooked us a five-star meal (another perk of using a guide company) and we watched the sun dart behind the towering canyon walls from our campsite.

The plan for day 2 was the Old Grandview trail, to find the most inner depths of the canyon and reach the Colorado river. This trail is another old mining path which has not been maintained and is less known. It felt pretty special to be able to enjoy this hidden spot.

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I was well over half way down the canyon to the river, but it still looks so far away.  The rock on the final descent is called the Vishnu Basement rock, giving another completely different look to the canyon.

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The path to the river was not easy, but none of the best things ever are. Reaching the ridge before the final descent point included a lot of rock jumping, loose scree, insane drop offs and dizzying slopes in the intense heat.  The final descent to the river was mostly hands and feet climbing, but so worth it.  It was such a rewarding feeling to stand at the rim of the canyon one day and then put my feet in the raging Colorado river the next.   Be forewarned!!! This is not something I would ever do alone and something I certainly wouldn’t have done had I not chosen a guided trip for this adventure.   As I ate lunch on the small sandy patch next to the river, I waved to the rafters floating down the Colorado. I’m sure they were wondering what level of crazy it took to make it down the surrounding ragged canyon walls … but I beamed with pride.

The next day, a gentle hike along the Tonto Plateau brought us to Hance Creek.  The Tonto is another different landscape. It provided wide open plains speckled with cacti and flowers, and some of the most amazing views on the hike so far. The open expanse really gives an idea of how small you are in such a magnificent place.

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Hance Creek is another lovely camping spot with several dispersed sites. It too was a green and shady oasis.  The stars and moon were breathtaking and the stream frogs were singing their melodies from dusk until well into the night.. reminding me that I am never alone out in nature.

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The view from the campsite at Hance Creek.

hikeoutSigns posted at the Grand Canyon often read:  “Down is optional, up is mandatory.” Getting out of the giant hole you climbed down into, is no easy feat.  The hike out (or should I say, up) was one of the most challenging, exhausting, but rewarding hikes I had done to date.  It is an incredible feeling to stand on top of the canyon rim, look down at the Colorado river, and know that just days before, you were standing with your feet in that exact river (which now looks impossibly far away). When you pop out of the canyon to the rim on the last day, hoards of visitors will be taking in the view, about to hop back in their car and drive off.  You will feel blessed to know that you have experienced the secrets and wonders of the Grand Canyon that others may not ever get to know.

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Old Mining Relics from the mining days. A symbol of the history that lies inside the canyon.

If you want to really experience the canyon at its best, get off the over-crowded trails and find a hike that doesn’t involve being shoulder to shoulder with everyone else. There are plenty of them in the Grand Canyon.  The Grandview will not disappoint in the views department and you can enjoy the solitude of the canyon, the way it was meant to be enjoyed. Don’t let the dry desert landscape of the canyon fool you, it is filled with life and surprises.

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From the trees, to the unique desert plants and flowers, to the lizards, snakes and ring-tailed cats; the canyon is bursting with life.  It’s unbelievable to think that a green oasis can be found in such a dry place, or that such a mighty river carves its way through the rock of the canyon. This is a truly remarkable place that merely starts at the rim.  The real secrets lie deep within, and they are worth discovering.

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What beautiful sights and secrets did the grand canyon share with you ? 


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