So I got to travel by air to Phoenix, then by charter bus to the Grand Canyon. It wasn't hard to find the group waiting for the bus when everybody's wearing boots from the VF Solutions catalog. We stopped for groceries in Williams, AZ, then checked into our lodging at the Albright Training Center.
|Albright Training Center|
The entire time, I was jet lagged, stuck on Eastern time, so I was waking up at 4 AM, which left me four hours to burn before class started. Walking to the rim and looking for birds easily ate up that time for me.
|Peregrine falcon diving|
|There was very low air quality the first day or two.|
Of course, the most important thing, other than learning and networking, was how to spend the weekend. Despite heavy interest in backpacking, I was able to get onto the long overnight backpacking trip to the Bright Angel Campground down by the Colorado River, about a 17.5 mile trek all together. We set off in the early morning to take advantage of the cooler temperatures even though it was a leisurely downhill for the day.
|Still in the upper part of the canyon, it's most of a vertical mile down to the river|
|The rock layers and vegetation changed dramatically as we descended into the canyon.|
|A welcome sight near the end of the day's work was the bridge crossing the Colorado River. I fell behind the rest of the group while watching violet green swallows here.|
|A rock overhang in the Bright Angel Campground|
|This yellow warbler sang in the mesquite tree over my head all afternoon. I was interested to notice the mesquite tree's leaves close at night, I assume to conserve water.|
|The roaring creek next to our campsite provided white noise, making the campground very peaceful for the number of users.|
|The joy of backpacking is seeing the landscape in ways you just can't during day hikes.|
Some of us planned to eat a communal meal of bean and rice burritos for supper, and much of my afternoon was spent obsessing over the dry black beans that had to be soaked before they could be cooked. I took advantage of the desert sun and put the beans in a Ziplock bag and set that on my reflective emergency tarp, which heated the whole bit up nicely. The beans were steeping along just fine until one of the doggone rock squirrels - or "bastard squirrels" - nibbled a hole in my bag, spilling black bean juice everywhere. I turned my hands blue resetting my whole system in a new bag, fretting about the additional time that would be added by having to reheat a new bag of water in the sun. It all worked out in the end, except I had an excessive amount of now-soaked extra beans I had to hoof back up the hill.
|Obsessing over the beans, I sat here for hours.|
No one thought to bring a tent, so we all curled up in our sleeping bags under the stars. I was under the mesquite tree trying not to think of ringtails, mountain lions, scorpions, tarantulas, or the fox we actually saw that evening. I only really woke up twice: once because I was sweating in my sleeping bag, and once because the dry air had once again made my nose clog up. I stared at the Big Dipper trying to calculate the actual time, which I estimate was about 2 or 3 AM. I got my best sleep after that.
In the morning, we set out early for the long climb out of the Canyon. Having mastered the "pol-e pol-e" pace on Kilimanjaro a few years ago, I set out at about the same pace at half the altitude.
|Halfway out of the Grand Canyon, looking up the Bright Angel Trail at the last four miles. It was a long, calf-devastating climb to the top.|
|Pausing to rest my legs momentarily, I looked back into the canyon. The Bright Angel Campground is where the two inner canyons meet in the center of the photo.|
|An observant NPS hiker with us spotted these pictograms. We had two archaeologists in the group that got fairly excited about all this.|
I was able to cross off half a dozen life list birds including Lucy's warbler, black-chinned sparrow, black-throated sparrow, black-chinned hummingbird, canyon wren, and summer tanager. I also saw several blue-gray gnatcatchers, black-headed grosbeaks, white-throated swifts, violet-green swallows, and some kind of tern flying way overhead. I never did find any California condors.
We emerged, exhausted but in good spirits and health at the top of the canyon, between 8 and 9 hours after setting out.
|Let's do that again!|
In class, we later visited Sunset Crater National Monument and Wupatki National Monument.
|A flower in the lava field at Sunset Crater|