The hike along the Arizona Trail to the Grand Canyon was short but took at least an hour. I stopped at every overlook and view to gaze down into layers of another world. I use the word breathtaking in my title, but that understates the magnificence of the canyon.
Small tight switchbacks cut into the canyon’s walls, marking the beginning of the descent, and the trail was already full of tourists picking, shuffling, and running down the well-made path. I turned my back on teens and twenty-somethings taking selfies as they perched on precarious drops thousands of feet above the canyon floor, invincible in youth. I could feel my skin crawl as I muttered “crazy” while also recalling my own youthful oblivious moments.
I took my time shuffling down the path, passing by people and mules alike as I paused to stop and gaze across the chasm, snapping literally hundreds of images. Pictures never did my memory justice, so I took as many as possible, from every possible angle, in hopes that I might capture just a tiny piece of the stunning scenery.
At one point, I squished up against a rocky wall, trying to stuff myself into a wide crevasse so a mule train could pass. It was interesting to watch the mules thoughtfully place their hoofs and even pause to wait and watch their riders when their reins were dropped as they walked back down the line. They were incredibly well-trained and intelligent – the mules.
I paused at the shade shack to take a bathroom break and then kept moving. Many day hikers were sitting down and clearly struggling in the heat, but I had kept my pace consistent and did not find the heat as stifling as others since I’d had several weeks to acclimate.
Over the course of the next couple of hours, I gave away all but a half liter of water. Signs at the top of the canyon had warned people to carry plenty of water but had been ignored or not seen. Many people passed me with an 8-ounce bottle of water going down, and even more passed me going up with no water. Only one person asked me for water, but I offered some to an older couple sitting in the shade and two kids who were obviously struggling. In each case, they all looked surprised before thanking me repeatedly. I’ve run out of water before, which is a miserable feeling.
Finally reaching the river below, I crossed it and hiked toward Bright Angel Campground alongside the dark brown water. The first campsite was used for thru-hikers and was not what I had expected. The site was small, and ants covered the majority of the ground. In the bushes along the edge of the small campsite, there were thin, lethargic deer that could care less that a human had joined them. I had to shoo a few out of the way to set up my tarptent. Another one leaned out from a rock behind me, plucking leaves from a small scraggly tree.
I set up my tent and then headed down to Phantom ranch for my $5 dollar cup of lemonade and to sign up for my $32 dollar breakfast, both a result of my stomach now making most food decisions. The staff was friendly, and once I paid for my first cup of lemonade, the following cups were free. This resulted in me waddling back to my campsite and peeing about 15 times over the course of the night, cursing each time I had to put on my shoes and go all the way back down the trail to the bathrooms.
Not long after arriving back at Bright Angel, a group of thru-hikers showed up – Cloudburst, Trout, Flamingo, and other names I don’t remember. They were friendly, and we all chatted while we made dinner, and then they searched out spots to cowboy camp where there were “fewer” ants.
I told them about Phantom Ranch and that the staff had said to come back for leftovers, and they left to head down there around 6 PM. I’m unsure when they returned because I fell asleep in dark with my earplugs stuffed in tight to prevent campground noises.