Return to the Grand Canyon

In May, my youngest child celebrated her 20th birthday. As a geology student at Northern Arizona University, she asked for a trip to the Grand Canyon as her present. Unfortunately, all the campsites and hotel rooms were already booked when she made her request, so we booked a date at the earliest chance we could get a campsite for three nights in a row. That proved to be the second half of July, which is often the hottest time of the year to visit the canyon. However it proved to be much nicer than the heat wave we’ve been enduring in Las Cruces, New Mexico. We stayed at the Desert View campground on the eastern side of the park on the south rim of the canyon. As with all of the canyon, it’s quite a picturesque location. A notable feature is the Watchtower, a building designed by architect Mary Colter in 1932. Unfortunately, climbing to the top of the Watchtower has been prohibited since the beginning of the 2020 pandemic, but the area around it is still wonderful.

Desert View Watchtower at the Grand Canyon

The Watchtower has a gift shop and rangers are available for questions. Early in our stay, we consulted with the rangers about some good trail options for our abilities and gear. As the title implies, this wasn’t my first visit to the Grand Canyon. I’ve visited five times before and hiked into the canyon most of those times. I even hiked all the way to the Colorado River along the Tanner trail in July 1983. That was a challenging hike that took three days in very hot, dry conditions. We certainly weren’t up for that challenge on this trip, but the rangers did make some very good suggestions. We took two of them.

The first of our hikes took us out to Shoshone Point. This hike takes you through a pleasant, wooded trail up to a large picnic area on the rim of the Grand Canyon. According to the National Park Service website, this is the one place at the Canyon you can reserve for a private event, such as a wedding. The area provided great views. I enjoyed hiking out to a nearby hoodoo and taking some photos from there.

Hoodoo at Shoshone Point

Just before we left for the Grand Canyon, I received an email inviting me to submit to a steampunk anthology. I don’t want to share too many details yet, partly because I don’t think believe this is a completely open call and partly not to jinx my own chances. What I will share is that ravens need to be part of the story. At first, I was a little uncertain what I would do with ravens. While camping, I remembered that in Owl Dance, Professor Maravilla set up an outpost at the Grand Canyon to test his ornithopters. We then revisit this outpost at the beginning of Lightning Wolves. What’s more, ravens are all over the place at the Grand Canyon. So the trip actually helped me get the ball rolling on thoughts for a story proposal.

Raven visiting our campsite

The steampunk/historical vibe helped us choose our other hike. We decided to try the Grandview Trail to Coconino Saddle. This is one of the older trails and back in the nineteenth century was used by miners who worked at the Last Chance Mine on Horseshoe Mesa. The first part of the trail takes you 1000 feet down into the canyon over the course of a mile. If you do the math, that tells you that the trail averages a 20% grade in that section. Talk about an intense work commute! The mine at Horseshoe Mesa actually produced rather pure copper ore. However, it was so difficult to get out of the canyon, that the mine was never all that profitable. So the owner build Grandview Lodge up on the rim. This was one of the earliest tourist destinations. Soon after it was built, though, the Grand Canyon Railroad went in to carry visitors from Williams, Arizona to the El Tovar Lodge on the rim. Unfortunately, the El Tovar Lodge is a good 27 miles from Grandview! In the end, the Grandview Lodge closed and no longer exists.

The steepness of the Grandview Trail actually helped give us a nice view of the canyon’s geology. It also proved to be a nice trail in that not many people hiked it. We started about 8:30am and we out by 11:00am, at which point, the day was getting very hot. Still, it was a nice way to experience both some spectacular views and some of the canyon’s history. The photo below shows me just a little beyond Coconino Saddle with the canyon behind me.

Hiking Grandview Trail

Time will tell whether the inspiration I took from this trip to the Grand Canyon will result in the sale of a new story. If you want to see how the Grand Canyon has inspired other steampunk stories I’ve written, don’t miss the first two volumes of my Clockwork Legion series, which are available in print, ebook, and audio! Get the details at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion

6 comments on “Return to the Grand Canyon

  1. Happy belated birthday to your daughter. Amazing scenery!

  2. Jack "Blimprider" Tyler says:

    What a wonderful experience to share with a daughter! And what wonderful scenery to share it in. What sparked this comment, though, is that tower on the rim. We have one of those in our local area as well, one you’ve probably driven past on your way to Gaslamp Gathering. Next time you plan a trip out, allow yourself a couple of extra hours and take the In-Ko-Pah Campground exit at the crest of the Laguna mountains. It’s hard to miss once you’re headed that way. From the observation deck you can see the Salton Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. No big canyons in the vicinity, but a hell of a view, nonetheless. Here’s the Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desert_View_Tower

  3. I remember both those places from when we visited in April. (I planned ahead and made our reservations in November.) We didn’t try the hikes because we knew we weren’t in shape for it. The Indian petroglyphs unfortunately were closed but we enjoyed the watchtower a lot.

    • The Indian Petroglyphs were still closed this summer, so we didn’t get to visit that, either. I find the rangers are very good about suggesting hikes one can do and I like their positivity. Even if they don’t think you should hike into the canyon (for whatever reason), they cheerfully suggest walking the rim trail for whatever distance is comfortable.

      For those who don’t know, the rim trail is paved with benches scattered periodically. I think it’s a must-do no matter what shape you’re in. You don’t have to walk very far for the Canyon vistas to feel like they change a lot.

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