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Andrew Pollock

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Wednesday, 20 July 2011

4th of July in the Grand Canyon

Our adventurous friends Eric and Katie had invited us to join them on a hike in the Grand Canyon over the 4th of July weekend. As this struck us as something we'd never have considered doing otherwise, we thought we'd accept their kind offer. We're so glad we did.

It was quite a bit of traveling just to get there. We flew out of San Jose on Thursday night, got into Las Vegas, rented a car, and then drove to Peach Springs, Arizona, where we stayed the night. We didn't get in at the Grand Canyon Caverns Inn until around midnight, and we had to get up again for a 5:00am departure (I think we actually got away by more like 5:30am), to drive to the Hualapai Hilltop, where the trail head was. Zoe handled all of this very well. She didn't end up falling asleep in the car until about 10:30pm I think, and dealt with the transfer out of the car at midnight very well and went back to sleep.

The drive to the Hualapai Hilltop, along Indian Road 18, took about an hour. We had to dodge a bit of livestock on the road. The road itself was sealed and of good quality. We remarked on the way back out that as soon as you left the Havasupai Reservation and entered the Hualapai Reservation that there was a distinct degradation in the quality of the road.

We parked at the Hilltop, and got ourselves organised, and commenced our descent by about 7:10am.

The first 1.5 miles was very steep. There were a bunch of switchbacks and there was a fair few people coming up the other way already. There were also a few mule trains coming in the opposite direction that we had to dodge. The mule trains have right of way, so we had to stop and get out of the way to let them pass. Zoe thought they were pretty cool because they invariably had a few dogs with them as well, and she thinks dogs are awesome.

The remaining 6.5 miles (it was an 8 mile/13 kilometre hike in total) were fairly easy. There was a lot of variety in terrain. Rocks, sand, dirt. It wasn't all in the sun, which was made it more comfortable. Heat wise, I think it was in the high 30's Celsius, with pretty much no humidity, so it didn't feel too uncomfortable.

Towards the end, as we got near the water, there was a distinct change in the canyon. There was more greenery, and we started hearing insects and seeing bird life. When we first saw the water, it was hard not to just jump in, it looked so inviting.

The total hiking time was about 4 hours 45 minutes, which included a reasonable stop to give Zoe some breakfast. We arrived in the village at around midday. Unfortunately the lodge wasn't ready for check ins until 1pm, so we had to twiddle our thumbs for a little bit.

Zoe handled the hike incredibly well. We used a Macpac Possum child carrier that Nigel had passed down to us, and she didn't complain the whole time. She even took a nap in it. We were very relieved that it wasn't a problem for her. Sarah carried her, and I carried everything else. (I'm so glad I didn't see the photo of how I looked until well afterwards). In hindsight we probably brought too much stuff, but we didn't really know what to expect down there, so we'd rather have too much than too little.

The village completely exceeded my expectations. I had this (silly) mental picture of it being just the lodge and not much else, but somewhere between 450 and 700 people live in the village. It had two general-type stores, a cafe that was pretty much like a fast food/takeaway place, an elementary school, and some sort of basic medical clinic. There was also a small general purpose community centre of some sort. The main store had pretty much everything you'd need in the food department. The cafe frequently ran out of various different things, but you weren't going to go hungry.

For the remainder of Friday, we just stayed put in the village and let Zoe stretch her legs. Eric and Katie and their kids explored the first set of falls down from the village, unofficially named Rock Falls.

On Saturday, we all hiked down to Havasu Falls. We met a couple of other families (amusingly both from the Bay Area) along the way, so we had some interesting conversations. I have no idea how long the hike was.

Havasu Falls was impressive. Quite tall and narrow at the top, and quite loud. Zoe was impressed. We took her for a bit of a swim in the pools in the bottom. We had lunch there, and then Zoe and Sarah stayed there (Zoe took a nap in the KinderKot (also courtesy of Nigel) in the shade by the falls, and I took the Macpac with a water bladder in it to refill it at the spring in the campground, which was further down stream, and to check out Mooney Falls with Eric and Katie (and their kids), which was further downstream again from the campground.

Mooney Falls was pretty insane. A lot taller than Havasu Falls, and a lot more treacherous to get to the bottom of. Parts of it were vertical. Chains and rickety ladders were involved. Caves were involved. I'm so glad I didn't have Zoe in the Macpac, because on multiple occasions, the top of it got bashed into rocks, so without having Sarah with me also to act as a guide, there's no way I could have safely descended with Zoe in the backpack. My favourite photo illustrating how crazy this was is this one that I took of Eric and Katie. This photo highlights some of the craziness involved to get down.

I pretty much got to the bottom, had a quick look around and left Eric and Katie to it, because I figured Zoe would have woken up by now, and was probably bored. Turned out I had all of the sunscreen with me as well. So I climbed back up, and trekked back to the campground, refilled at the spring, and headed back up to Havasu Falls.

After we reunited, we then hiked back up to the village, which to be honest, was the hardest bit of hiking we did. I was carrying Zoe in the Macpac, and it was hot, and it was mostly loose sand all the way. We were very glad to get back to the village.

Zoe started showing signs of coming down with a cold and a cough, so we decided to cut short our stay in the village and leave on Sunday instead of Monday. We'd been tossing up between getting a helicopter or horses out. We ended up opting for the helicopter after learning that the horses still took about 3.5 hours, and you basically had no control over the animal. We were dubious as to how Zoe would go being bounced around on the back of a horse for that long. The helicopter ride also took all of about 5 minutes.

The tribal members get first dibs on the helicopter, and there had been a death in the village, and I think a lot of people had come to the village for the viewing (the casket itself was flown out earlier on Sunday morning for a burial out of the village), so I suspect there was a higher number of tribal passengers than usual. We didn't get out until 2pm. Again, Zoe was incredibly good. She just hung out with us while we waiting for a flight out. There were plenty of dogs for her to be entertained by, and some other kids. She also took a pretty decent nap.

So we finally got out, and got back to our car, and then the heavens opened. It absolutely poured down with rain. Sarah was keen to check out Hoover Dam, so we decided to stay near Boulder City in Nevada, and got a suite in the Hacienda Hotel and Casino for cheap.

The next day was the Monday public holiday for Independence Day, and we were tossing up whether or not to take Zoe to a doctor to get her checked to see if she had bronchitis (we've been a bit gun-shy about bronchitis since the time she came down with it when we were in Australia). She ended up falling asleep in the car while we were hunting around for an Urgent Care facility that was open, so we decided to let her sleep and drove to Las Vegas.

After she woke up, we took her to see the flamingos at Flamingo and the lions at MGM Grand. Zoe absolutely loved all the lights, sights and sounds of Las Vegas.

In the afternoon, we took her to a doctor, and got the "first child, huh?" from the doctor (she didn't have bronchitis).

After that, we went and briefly checked out Hoover Dam (just walked half way across the bridge in front of it and walked across the dam itself).

The following day, we packed up and spent the morning on the Las Vegas strip again. This time we went to the Venetian (Zoe thought the gondolas were pretty cool) and then we flew out in the afternoon.

So it was a lovely little family vacation. We ended up spending about as much time in Las Vegas as we did in the Grand Canyon, but that was okay. I'd really like to go back to Supai again, but I'm not sure if the stars will align themselves appropriately. If we did, knowing what I know now, I'd take a lot less food and put all of the luggage on a horse, and just hike in with the minimum of stuff. I'd probably be game to hike out as well if the bulk of the luggage was on a horse.

Photos from the trip are here.

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