Wednesday morning we awoke at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, which in and of itself makes for a pretty freakin' cool day. After a hearty breakfast in the canteen (at, I believe, 6:30am), we were back at the corral ready to mount our trusty steeds for the 10 mile return trip to the top of the South Rim. The trip back up, we were told, would be much easier on our bodies. I suppose there are few reasons for this:
1. You're already sore as hell and it just doesn't feel so bad.
2. You're going against gravity, instead of with it, so the bumps aren't quite so bad.
3. You're doing the hot part of the canyon in the early morning, before it actually gets hot.
Once again our group set out second, trailing substantially behind the other set of eight overnight mule riders. Their group, for some reason, made much better time both in and out of the canyon. I overheard our guides discussing this fact, and apparently the other group's cowboy was known for setting a grueling pace. I was kind of thankful to be in the slow group personally. The only real problem we had was that last night Danielle realized that the extra memory she brought was not compatible with her digital camera. We were now working with limited resources, and were going to have to try to buy something at the gift shop when we got back out. No biggie, or so we thought. We rode out along Bright Angel Creek and eventually met back up with the Colorado, then walked along its banks until we had to cross the bridge again (the photo shown here was taken while walking along the bridge...as you can see, it's pretty high above the water). The trip afforded us more opportunities to stop (perhaps to rest the mules) and we had more chances to ask our guides questions. Our group was a rarity in that we had two guides, Mike and Mick, instead of the standard one, because Mick was in training. We learned all about the geology of the Grand Canyon (Mike was a self-proclaimed geology nut), and heard some interesting things about the wildlife in the area. We even got to see some California Condors for the second day in a row, which I'm told by the biologist in the household was quite a rare treat.
As it turned out there was one part of the trip out that was a little more challenging than on the way in; our mules needed more motivation. Dan, who was basically the only mule to require much in that department on day one, needed an almost constant assault to have any hope of staying with a few yards of the mule in front of him. As you can see in the picture here, even Gizmo, a model citizen on the previous day, fell behind quite frequently. We did eventually make it back to Indian Gardens, where the decision was made that the weather would in fact be hot enough to justify dowsing us with a hose. I was all for this procedure, but Danielle didn't like it much at all. Staying wet, I'd found, was the best and only really effective way to stay cool in the scorching sun. Danielle, however, insisted that Mick hose me off for an extremely long time, as she had some trouble getting the picture. The idea is just to get your shirt, not necessarily your pants and underwear, soaked, and I spent the rest of the day squishing around on my saddle.
After leaving Indian Gardens, I had my second real problem aboard Dan, as I failed to make it through a "fireplug." Throughout the two days our guide would periodically yell out "Fireplug!", which was our cue to motivate our mules and keep them moving. These places along the trail were spots where, for one reason or another, the mules liked to stop to take a leak. Now mules relieving themselves isn't something you can really put a stop to, but it is something you'd rather not have happen all at once. Just one of these guys stopping for a pee break ends up leaving quite a mucky mess on the trail; a few of them deciding to do it all at once and you get the sense a mudslide couldn't be far behind. Well anyway on the way up the fireplug call was made and the mule in front of me stopped and then started up again but it was too late; Dan let it fly, along with now both of the mules behind him. Alas.
Eventually we did make it all the way to the top, where be bid farewell to our trusty steeds, as well as our guides Mick and Mike. We decided that some ice cream was in order, along with a half hour of relaxation, before we piled back into the Highlander for the 200 plus mile trip to the North Rim.
But first, there was the small matter of memory for the digital camera to contend with. We drove over to the park general store and quickly found what we were looking for (or so we thought). The card was supposedly compatible with our camera, but a quick test proved otherwise. Danielle actually called tech support from a pay phone (my iPhone had zero bars), who confirmed that the memory "should have worked." Of course the woman who sold us the memory wouldn't let us return it, and her superior would only give us a replacement, which of course also didn't work. So at this point we were basically screwed, and it took us over an hour to get there. Great. We decided to drive to the North Rim and attempt another purchase after we arrived. If all else failed, we confirmed the locations of a few Walmarts within the immediate, oh, 200 mile area, that we could detour to as a last resort. On our way out of the park we stopped a few points of interest, including Lipan Point, and Desert View Overlook. We did not, however, stop at Moran Point, mainly because I didn't know it existed until I saw it on a map after we'd already passed it. Quite a shame too, really. At Lipan Point, Danielle incurred the first injury of the trip, from inside a porta-potty no less. I was standing outside waiting my turn, when all of a sudden I heard what could only be described as a squeal come from inside. Apparently the toilet paper dispenser (the large round kind) wasn't latched properly, and it managed to fall open and crack Danielle right on the nose. This has to be the first porta-potty injury I've ever seen. Hopefully also the last.
And away we went, on the 200 mile drive to the North Rim. We passed through a preposterous amount of nothingness, almost all of which was on Navajo Land. I have to say, anyone who tells you we didn't screw the Native Americans royally on this one is smoking some really good stuff. Eventually we made our way to Navajo Bridge, where we officially "crossed" the Grand Canyon. We stopped once or twice to check out some scenic overlooks, but in general it was an all out sprint to beat the sunset (our disaster at the general store had put us a little bit behind schedule). We arrived at the North Rim 15 minutes late, but still sprinted all the way down Lookout Trail (about half a mile), to take in some spectacular views in the twilight moments after sundown.
After a leisurely walk back to the car (past the lodge), we grabbed our stuff and checked in at the front desk. We then walked our stuff back basically all the way past the car to our "frontier style" cabin, dropped it off, and walked back to the lodge for our 3rd steak dinner in as many nights. We also ordered box lunches for tomorrow, and I managed to get carded and not have my ID (I left it in the room). We were asleep by 10:30 inside our cabin, resting up for the "serious business hiking" portion of the trip that was coming in the next few days.