Day 46: Tusayan to Grand Canyon South Rim

April 26, 2016
Snow Shower at Sunset

On paper, it doesn’t look like much of a day, but in actuality, I didn’t have much of a chance to sit down and relax at all.

I had the idea of relaxing in my head as soon as I got up, so I was slow to get moving in my motel room, and it felt great. I didn’t want to get caught in any afternoon rain though, so I started getting everything together and was out of the room by about 8:30am. My socks were also a bit cleaner so they were reinstating a bit of comfort that I don’t always get to enjoy.

My first stop was the NatGeo Imax building where there may have possibly been a care package sent my way. After being sent from one section of the building to another, they finally sent me across the street to the general store. When I asked them about a package, they said the post office would have it, but they weren’t open for another 30 minutes. I patiently waited around, poking around all the cliche and dime-a-dozen souvenirs that people buy just because this one says Grand Canyon, until the post office finally opened. It was then I learned that they just send everything to the Grand Canyon Village. This left me with the impression that no one in Tusayan wants to deal with mail drops for Arizona Trail hikers. In that case, onward to the Grand Canyon once and for all!

I left the store as a mix of sleet and snow began to fall in a chilly wind. Before I even got to the Grand Canyon National Park boundary just a few of miles north, I had gotten bitter cold winds, snow, sleet, sunshine, sunshine while snowing, and warmth. It was quite the mixture, and the colder bits of it would persist throughout the day.

I made it to the Mather Campground after what turned out to be seven miles, then headed straight for lunch at the Yavapai Lodge. The restaurant apparently had a new kiosk ordering machine where you’d enter your order there, pay for it when done, then wait for the kitchen to serve it on the counter. It probably seemed like a good idea, but the whole thing felt really impersonal, which also seemed to affect the kitchen staff who all looked like they’d prefer to be anywhere else and interacting with anyone but people ordering food. But then, this was also the product of the same company who sued Yosemite National Park for using the same names on iconic landmarks. Common sense doesn’t really seem to prevail with Delaware North.

Snow Storm in Pine Forest

I next made the walk over to the Visitor Center to see about a permit at Phantom Ranch. The only problem was the backcountry permit office was about five miles in the other direction, so I hopped on a shuttle to head over there. I went in, asked about the possibility of walking into one of the most requested backcountry sites in the entire National Park Service for the next night, and was told they were completely full. After a bit of conversing about my plans, the nice lady behind the counter made a call and informed me that a lot of people had backed out because of the weather, so she’d squeeze me in after all. Well that was easy.

I took the shuttle back to the Visitor Center where I then walked to the South Kaibab Trailhead to scope out the area. With all the dramatic weather, I was hoping to be on the trail at sunrise the next day, no easy task given how early it comes. My plan, if all goes well, will be to get a good night’s sleep, wake up at 4:30am or so, catch one of the first shuttles to the trailhead, hike down a mile to where the views open up, then catch sunrise there where I’d also have breakfast. The only trick will be getting up early enough to make it there in time.

In the meantime, I had been at the Grand Canyon for a few hours now and still hadn’t seen the canyon yet. I’ve seen it before, but I was still eager to see it with some snowy weather over it. I came around a bend in the trail where a distant ridge appeared through the trees. Intrigued, I walked closer to the rim where the trail I was on met up with the Rim Trail. Then came a scene that I wasn’t expecting at all. I’ve seen the canyon over a dozen times, but not like this. Enormous ridges and countless side gorges were all veiled in high snow showers with a soft ambient light filtering through the clouds to the rocky canyons below. Showers slowly drifted across the tops of the highest canyons, vertical waves of white and light gray acting like giant flowing curtains over the hard angular landscape. The entire scene appeared like an artist’s painting where strong earth tones seemed to glow more vibrant because they were surrounded by monochrome patterns and features of falling precipitation. I realized that seeing the canyon in weather that I hadn’t ever seen it in before was like seeing the Grand Canyon itself for the first time all over again. I had a hard time pulling myself away, but when the snow and sleet finally caught up to where I was, I took that as a cue to move on.

Snowfall over Grand Canyon

One Gallon and I had been crossing paths a lot since yesterday, so it seemed only fitting I’d bump into him there as well. He also admitted to enjoying the show that the weather had just put on, but then we went our separate ways once again. I was pretty much at the trailhead and noticed by then that it was about time for dinner. I took a shuttle back to the Visitor Center area where I had a simple dinner before heading to Yavapai Point for sunset.

There was a big shower that had just passed over that made for some great scenes, but ultimately, the best of sunset would be blocked behind too many clouds to the west. With cold winds blowing fiercely on the rim, I took the next shuttle back to camp to hopefully get a good night’s sleep to see if this plan of mine will work.

To see more images from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, check out my Grand Canyon South Rim Gallery here.
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