Peaks and Valleys

Indian Gardens (Grand Canyon) and San Francisco Peaks, AZ - Oct 2009

Lookout Below and Above
Designed by Mary Colter in 1914, the historic Lookout Studio provides a great view of the central canyon. My trip took me down the Bright Angel trail to camp at Indian Gardens (the small line of dark green trees visible in the side canyon below). From Indian Gardens, you can see the thin white line of the trail heading out across the Tonto Plateau to Plateau Point overlooking the Inner Gorge.

Little Lost Sheep
Near the top of the canyon, I turned a corner and there was a lone baby big horn sheep standing in the middle of the trail just 30 feet ahead. It is rare to see just a single big horn sheep - let alone a young one - but I could not see any others on the slopes above or below it.

As I stood quieting waiting for the sheep to continue on, I heard a slow munching sound so close behind me that it sounded like someone eating a sandwich while looking over my shoulder. I slowly turned around and there was another big horn sheep looking down at me from the rock face just above the trail - not 10 feet from me! As I looked further up the steep slope above me, I could see a half-dozen others.

At Home in the Garden
Due to a recent bout of the flu, I was not up for going all the way to bottom with my friends Todd and Steph as originally intended, but I did meet them half-way at Indian Gardens for the second night of the trip. The numerous trees make Indian Gardens a nice place to camp and a great way to break up the climb from the bottom. The camp has drinking water and some of the nicer outhouses in the canyon.

Victors Oasis
Sinking to depths of well over twelve inches, Victor's Oasis is the deepest pool in the spring-fed stream that supports the lush oasis at Indian Gardens. Until the pipeline from Roaring Springs was built in the 1960s, Indian Gardens was one of the main sources of water for the South Rim. In the early 1900s, the Kolb Brothers photographers would hike from the rim down to Indian Gardens and back each day to develop their photographs for the early tourists.

Oh Deer, What a View
No visit to Indian Gardens is complete without hiking out to nearby Plateau Point. I headed out early to try and locate the site of a historic photograph and was rewarded with seeing this lone mule deer browsing on a mesquite tree with the ramparts of The Tower of Set rising in the background.

Lip of the Inner Gorge
From Plateau Point, I worked my way west along the edge of the Inner Gorge - the thousand-foot deep 'canyon in a canyon' - that holds the Colorado River. In 1907, an early canyon visitor named Mai Richie Reed took a similar photo near this spot looking downstream along the gorge toward the west.

Harsh Light, Harsh Land
I met Todd and Steph back at Plateau Point and we watched the sunset send shadows creeping across the canyon. Plateau Point has the most consistently amazing sunsets of any place that I have ever been. The extremes of light and dark are dramatic and ever changing. And unlike most places famous for their sunsets, the natural magic is occurring in all directions at once - you do not watch the sunset on the horizon - it is all around you. You are in the sunset itself as sure as you are in the canyon.

Sunset Silhouette
As the shade passed across the point, the temperature quickly dropped and while the ground around us slipped into dusk, our eyes continued to be blinded by the glare of the cliffs just beyond the river.

Supper Time
To maximize our time, Todd hauled out our jet-boils and we ate our dinners while watching the light show. Nothing beats a Grand Canyon sunset with a side of freeze-dried lasagna!

Moon Rise over Plateau Point
Even before the sun had completely faded from the far cliffs, a nearly full moon appeared to rise out of the canyon depths to the east.

Moonlight Shadows
The near full moon made headlamps unnecessary for most of the hike back to Indian Gardens. Here the distinct spire of Zoroastor Temple can be seen in the distance and the Colorado River below.

Racing the Sun
We headed out earlier the next morning, rising up the Bright Angel switchbacks a few steps ahead of the morning sun.

Aspen Sky
The following weekend, I was back north again and hoped to capture some of the aspen fall colors around the San Francisco Peaks. Unfortunately, most of the fall colors had already fell. But even the largely leaf-less aspens still had a stark beauty to them.

Veit Spring
In the 1890s, Ludwig Veit took advantage of these springs on the south side of the Peaks to start a small homestead and raise sheep. In later years, this small stone cabin was built to protect the springs. The old homestead site is an easy day hike off the Snow Bowl Road north of Flagstaff.

Back to the Wall
A couple more springs escape from the base of the cliff behind the ruins of the homestead. Here the long streaks of water stains on the basalt rock face seem to parallel the trunks of the pines and aspens growing next to it. Prehistoric petrogylphs along the cliff indicate that these springs have been an important source of water for centuries.

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