"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Grand Canyon Journals, Chapter Five, Forbidden Desire

More than three hundred years ago, a woodsman called Nestor hefted his axe and threw it into a lake in the Karelian Republic of Russia.

Nestor felt the axe’s was job was done, having completed a twenty-two dome church more a hundred feet high and without a single nail. The church is now the pride of Kizhi Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“There was never, there is not now, and there never will be another like it,” Nestor is quoted as saying of the remarkable church as his axe sank in the waters of Lake Onega.

Not too long ago, on the other side of the globe from Nestor's magnificent church, in another UNESCO World Heritage Site, I was thinking much the same thing. Totally besotted with desire, I gazed at the queen-sized bed before me in my cabin at Phantom Ranch. I had only one night to enjoy between its sheets and its siren song was luring me forward. There will never be a bed as seductive as this one…

Just before I succumbed, the ranch manager’s demonic words echoed in my head. “Don’t do it, don’t take a nap. Put your gear down and take a walk. If you don’t, you will be very stiff and sore in the morning.”

The other side of my cabin.

I already hurt, I thought. What’s a little more pain? But I knew he was right and his words stopped me like a full-on intervention. If I went to bed at two in the afternoon, it would be dark when I awoke and too late to explore Phantom Ranch. Reluctantly I put down my tiny little bag of overnight essentials, pocketed my camera, and walked out the door.

First stop: the Canteen and a tall cup of lemonade. Phantom Ranch, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, used by Native Americans for centuries, and by explorers and miners since the Civil War era, was called Roosevelt Camp for a while after Teddy Roosevelt visited during a hunting expedition in 1913. Roosevelt’s enthusiasm for the Canyon led to the creation of the Grand Canyon National Park. The Fred Harvey Company was granted concessions in the park, and it hired American architect Mary Coulter to design Phantom Ranch of native material.

Phantom Ranch Canteen

Then I headed back down the trail towards the mule corral. I had something to discuss with a certain mule. Most of the mules were under a roof that sheltered them from the sun and rain. It’s also where the feed and water were. As I stood watching, that darned old TC separated himself from the herd, walked out into the corral, and looked at me.

“TC,” I said. “I want to talk with you about this scraping me off on the rocks thing. If you agree to stop doing that, I promise I won’t use the motivator on you.” TC appeared to listen, then dropped to the ground and rolled in the dirt. I’m pretty sure that dry dirt contained a lot of dried mule manure.

I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret that, so I continued on my walk. It had occurred to me that the Colorado River had disappeared, and I was curious about how I’d missed its departure. The only way to find out was to back track to its last known sighting.

Eventually I noticed there seemed to be some distance between a ridge on the right and the ridge behind it, so I took a path in that direction. I came upon a Park Service Ranger cabin. Then something caught my eye on the opposite side of the trail.

See it? See it?

The mule deer paid no attention to me, and after a number of pictures, I walked on, soon reaching the bridge that was denied mule riders. This was a newer bridge and with this addition, hikers can make a circular hike from Phantom Ranch, across the South Kaibab Trail Black Bridge, along the cliffs of the Colorado to the Bright Angel Trail Silver Bridge, and back to the ranch.

I opted to hang out on the bridge for awhile, which swayed slightly when I walked across its steel grate decking. From the far side of the bridge I was able to gain a new perspective of the narrow trail scratched into the cliffs.

Okay, so maybe the trail isn't hundreds of feet above the river, but it sure looks that way when you're on top of a mule.

Also visible was part of the pipeline that moves potable water from the North Rim to Phantom Ranch, and up to Indian Gardens, all by gravity flow. From Indian Gardens, there is a pump station that pushes the water to the South Rim, where it supplies the entire community of lodges, hotels, and operational buildings for the park.

The water pipeline is the darkest line running across the nearest embankment. Above that is the in-coming Bright Angel Trail. The other lines are part of the bridge guy lines.

Some hikers were on the riverbank below me, adding perspective to the size of the river and its height above the shore.

Two people stand along the river's edge and a third is crouched on the rocks in front of them.

I wandered back to the ranch, exploring the various amenities and cabins, and found a couple ravens busy cleaning the outside barbecue grill. We were to have steak dinner that evening at 5 p.m. in the canteen--New York steak, baked potato, a big salad, veggies, biscuits, and chocolate cake. I wondered if the steaks would be cooked on the freshly-cleaned grill.

When I got back to my cabin, it was 3:30, a hour and a half before dinner. I took my scant gear off the bed and arranged it for the night.

Then I took a nap in that wonderful bed. It was everything my heart (and other body parts) desired.


(to be continued)

NOTE: The link below will lead you to some exceptional photographs of the Black Bridge. There also is a link there to photos of the Silver Bridge. The photographer was on foot--not on the back of a mule, so his photos are much better than mine, and put both bridges into spatial perspective. He also has photos of a mule pack train approaching the bridge.



  1. Good for you, Gully. You took a walk and a nap as well.

    Did you have your chocolate cake and eat it too?

  2. Thanks for sending me info on the Roads Scholar group. Buck & I are looking and thinking and dreaming and looking some more. . .

    This looks like our kind of trip.