A Snowy Grand Canyon, Bright Angel Trail

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I was hoping to recreate my 2006 visit to the Grand Canyon, when I first experienced the world’s most impressive hole, lit by a full moon.  The moon was full once again, but it remained hidden under clouds.  It didn’t really matter, because on this visit, I got to see the Canyon in a new way: dusted with snow.

It had snowed a couple of inches the night before I arrived.  The forecast called for much more — at least a foot — to arrive overnight.  The weathermen were wrong, and the snow didn’t show up until after I had left the next day.  This was both good and bad: I would have loved to have been here during a major snowstorm, but instead, I had the chance to enjoy a break in the weather, and an afternoon with plenty of sunshine.

As you enter the South Rim area (from either direction), one of the first overlooks you’ll find is Yavapai Point.  After stopping here, I drove through the village and on out to Hermit’s Rest, where the most exciting thing I found…

… was the fireplace inside the partially-underground building, deigned by Mary Colter.

You are only allowed to drive Hermit Road during December, January, and February.  For the rest of the year, the park service runs a shuttle bus that stops at all the major overlooks.  You can catch the bus near Bright Angel Lodge, and get on and off as often as you want.

You will find more pictures of Hermit’s Rest and the rim along Hermit Road, in my 2004 visit to the Grand Canyon.

On the drive back, I found the world’s most pathetic snowman at one of the overlooks.

I didn’t spend a lot of time along Hermit Drive, since I had been there before.  Also, most of the overlooks along this part of the rim have a very similar view.  A few of the viewpoints are more dramatic than others (some of them lead you out onto a narrow knife-edge, with big drop-offs all around you).

Back at the South Rim Village, I decided the best way to spend the remaining hours of daylight, was to take a walk down Bright Angel Trail.  Bright Angel is one of the trails that leads all the way to the Colorado River…

… as it switchbacks through this side canyon.  Of course, I didn’t plan to go all the way.  It’s a 7.6 mile trip, one way, to the river, and you can’t make it down and back in one day.  Fortunately, every mile of the Bright Angel Trail is enjoyable, so you can go as far as you want, then turn around and come back.

Bright Angel Trail

The Bright Angel Trailhead is next to Kolb Studio, a photography studio built by Ellsworth and Emery Kolb between 1904 and 1915.

The Kolb Brothers were the first to film a boat trip down the Colorado River.  Emery Kolb ran the movie daily at Kolb Studio from 1915 until his death in 1976, making it the longest-running film in history.  Most days, he would narrate the film for visitors.

Bright Angel Trail is wide, but the drop-off is steep!  Keep in mind, you’ll be sharing the path with mules, as well as the stuff that mules leave behind!

Since Bright Angel Trail takes you through a side canyon, there will be times when you have a great view of the entire canyon, and times when you don’t.

Kolb Studio provides a good landmark, so you know how far you’ve gone.

After I turned around and started the climb out of the canyon, it was almost sunset.  This is a great time to be in the Grand Canyon, as the long rays of sunlight cast ever-changing shadows.  As I took pictures, another hiker on the trail commented, “it sure was nice of them to turn the lights on for us!”  It sure was.

As I mentioned earlier, the moon never appeared.  I saw it break through for just a second, as it moved over the horizon, but after that moment, the clouds kept it hidden.  The canyon was pitch black throughout the night.

Day 5

By morning, the storm that would (later on) bring a foot of snow had started to move in.  The weather was cold, windy, and dreary.  I took very few pictures on Day 5, and for most of the day, I covered territory that I had visited before — traveling to Cameron, Arizona, then back to Flagstaff and down I-17.

The only new area I experienced on Day 5 was AZ Route 260 from Camp Verde to Payson.  This is where I was when the winter storm finally arrived, and the trip over the mountains (through Strawberry and Pine, AZ) was treacherous.  By the time I reached Payson, the snow had mostly turned to rain.

You could blame the soggy weather, or my arrival after dark, but I didn’t find anything that interested me in Payson.  I searched for a downtown core, but didn’t find one.  The entire town lines up along busy AZ 260 and AZ 87 — there was a lot of traffic and strip shopping malls, but nothing that felt quaint or historical.

One place worth a visit near Payson is Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, in between Pine and Payson.  The park is home to what’s believed to be the largest natural bridge in the world, to have formed in travertine rock.  The bridge is 183 feet high, and the passage is 150 feet wide and more than 400 feet long.  Check out the park’s website for more info.

Note: This page was first published in 2008.

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