The Grand Adventure, part 2: River to Indian Garden

Following on from part 1 (https://mjhmusings.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/the-grand-adventure-part-1-north-rim-to-river/). Day 2 of the Grand Canyon Crossing: today we had to get to Indian Garden, our second campsite situated half-way towards the South Rim. I awoke in the cool shade of Bright Angel Campground – a mile in altitude below the rim; it would be hours after dawn before the sun penetrated this far down into the canyon. Thankfully, there were no scorpions lurking in my boots, but there was other wildlife on show. In the campsite across from us I watched a mule-deer with impressive antlers scavenging unsuccessfully for food – thwarted by the ammo storage tins.

 

I had been dreading shouldering my pack again, but it proved just about bearable after a good night’s sleep. It was only a few hundred yards’ walk down to the Colorado River, and this time, unlike last night’s reconnaissance, we would actually be crossing. The Colorado – it’s amazing that this one river is responsible for the whole place, albeit with a bit of help from wind and rain and ice. Nowadays it’s a sadly crippled waterway, a far cry from the wild force of nature it had been before the installation of Glen Canyon Dam upriver, so it’s hard to imagine how this placid, coffee-coloured river has accomplished so much down the eons. It’s not unduly wide, and only the debris deposited by the Bright Angel Creek at its confluence with the main river does anything to ruffle the limpid surface – the really violent rapids are not in sight from here. Crossing over, with the forbidding igneous cliffs of Granite Gorge rising up on either side, I could see the pipe beneath my feet which would take water up to the South Rim.

 

Path along Granite Gorge
Path along Granite Gorge

When we reached the far side we had left the northern half of the canyon behind. From here we had a mile or so to walk upstream before cutting up a side-canyon. The path here has been painstakingly hewn or blasted out of solid schist, and it’s a lonely, eerie place. There’s an almost crushing sense of natural history hanging in the air. There would be no way out but for side-canyons cut by tributary rivers, and one of these, Pipe Creek, would be our route. It was hard work, but we slogged our way up the brutal set of switchbacks aptly known as Devils Corkscrew, and that was the main elevation gain for today out the way.

 

The way out of Granite Gorge: Devils Corkscrew
The way out of Granite Gorge: Devils Corkscrew

From here on the path was much more gentle, climbing up to Tonto Platform, which is a plateau between the fierce gradients of Granite Gorge and the rim-wall. We walked through the Tapeats Narrows, a layer-cake corridor of sandstone whose floor is lushly covered with vegetation fed by the creek’s waters. It’s a strip oasis snaking through the desert of the inner canyon. In only 4 hours we reached Indian Garden, which, as the name suggests, is a fruitful place that was once colonised by native Americans precisely because it offered the canyon’s only viable opportunity for growing food. There’s a well-appointed campsite here under the shade of Cottonwood trees. It’s easily visible from the South Rim, which bends in a horseshoe above, but not easily reached.

 

View of the South Rim from the oasis of Indian Garden
View of the South Rim from the oasis of Indian Garden

We took a brief chance to rest, but that wasn’t our day over. Our real objective was Plateau Point, famous for its glimpses back down to the river and its 360-degree views of the entire canyon. Treading a dusty path between cacti, yucca, blackbrush and Mormon Tea, we walked this flat, scrubby terrace to its end, projecting over the river below. We had our dinner with us, and intended to settle down both for the sunset and the stars.

 

View of the Colorado River from Plateau Point
View of the Colorado River from Plateau Point

What an evening that was. In the company of a few other hardy souls who were also staying in the campsite, we lazed the warm afternoon away as we waited for the spectacular light-show to come. We looked along the gash of Bright Angel Canyon to the North Rim, whence we had come; we peered up and down the river, flowing serenely through its ancient gorge; we craned our view up to the bastions and towers of the South Rim – there’s just so much to see here. The sun set at 6.15, but the real treat was the hour before that, watching the light soften and the colours shift through a majestic palette of shades. What was once sharp rust and dusty cream under the noon-day sun became first blazing orange and sultry saffron and then glowing purple and soft ivory. All the hidden creases and crevices of the canyon were gradually swallowed up in artful shadows as the landscape dozed in a warm contented haze. It was a blissful end to the day. No comfortable chair ever provided so magnificent a spectacle as that rocky perch, and no gourmet restaurant ever served food with so glorious a backdrop as we had with those tins of pasta.

 

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, afternoon became evening, and evening became twilight. Chris was staying to photograph the stars, but after two days on the march I couldn’t summon the energy for a late one. As I was leaving we were visited by a Kangaroo-mouse with huge ears for shedding desert heat. I’ve since found out that it has the fantastic scientific name of Microdipodops. I had to literally wrench myself away from that place, which was probably my highlight from the entire trip, turning my back on the North Rim, the river and the past. As I set my face towards the South Rim and trudged back along the gloomy Tonto Trail, I was aware of our time running out. But God also spoke to me in that place, bringing to mind Psalm 90 v 12:

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

For me the message was plain, and reassuring: I don’t have to worry about how few days I have left, or how many yawn between me and my next adventure; it is only by numbering my days according to how well I live for God that I may grow in wisdom. That was my epiphany under the shadow of Maricopa Point at dusk. I pondered it long as I wandered back to Indian Garden in the growing darkness, with only the lights of a few rimside buildings to spoil the perfect canvas of stars.

Late afternoon colours in the Grand Canyon
Late afternoon colours in the Grand Canyon
Sunset from Plateau Point
Sunset from Plateau Point
North Rim temple at sunset
North Rim temple at sunset
Dusk settling over the North Rim
Dusk settling over the North Rim
Dusk falling over the Inner Canyon
Dusk falling over the Inner Canyon
Contemplating life at Plateau Point
Contemplating life at Plateau Point

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