Grand Canyon, Native Plants, Barefootery . . . Hooray!
The Grand Canyon’s North Rim: one of my favorite places ever since I first visited there for three weeks as National Park Service Artist-in-Residence exactly five years ago.
Last week I was fortunate to be able to spend a week there as a Grand Canyon Association volunteer, doing revegetation work with a wonderful group of like-minded folks.
Our work consisted of . . . standing around with our hands on our hips? No . . . we busted our backs pick-axing basins in the bare eroding areas between the North Rim Lodge cabins; after hauling away many bucket-loads of rocks–marble-sized to fist-sized to foot-sized–we then filled the holes with water, let them drain, added soil amendment, planted the plants, sprinkled in some wildflower seeds, spread a light layer of wood chip mulch, and watered again.
Sometimes we’d go pull weeds just to mix things up a bit . . . below are photos of the noxious invasive grass Poa bulbosa, an unusual grass that reproduces via bulbs. Best tool for going after those bulbs: the vicious “pointed-tip rock hammer” . . . super-satisfying to smash into the root-base.
We worked all day Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday . . . which left Wednesday open for exploring. (Those Grand Canyon Association folks really know how to treat volunteers well; besides a welcome mid-week day off, we also were fed three meals a day and provided a lovely campspot to pitch our tents, including plenty of firewood for after-dinner campfire fun.)
Since I am headed back to the North Rim in just a couple of weeks for my writing workshop, I wanted to re-hike the Cape Final trail to see what was in bloom in preparation for taking workshop participants there.
The way to Cape Final is a lovely forest ramble past/under ponderosa pine, with sun-dappled mini-meadows where the lupine were in full show and scent . . . a heady mixture of indescribable sweetness that whispered “sit and stay and sigh here a while.”
Was I experiencing shinrin-yoku?
“Shinrin-yoku is a term that means ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ or ‘forest bathing.’ It was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. Researchers primarily in Japan and South Korea have established a robust body of scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest.”
And the forest flowers!
One of the particular delights of hiking along Grand Canyon’s North Rim is the element of surprise . . . one moment you are meandering through ponderosa forest, inhaling the dry piney perfume, and all of a sudden the big trees are behind you and your breath is taken away by. The. View.
And a few more of my favorite near-the-rim wildflowers: fantastic cactus!
Then there were these strange creatures: striking multi-colored tubular flowers arising out of the sandy soil with no visible means of “support” . . . nothing green in the way of leaves and/or stems. These delicate bloomers (Orobanche fasciculata) are members of the Orobanchaceae family: all (partially or fully) parasitic in their own lovely ways.
And then the week of volunteer work on the rim ended, and it was time to head into the canyon . . .
Of course there were . . . wildflowers!
There was also plenty of colorful dust (depending on rock layer) for footprint photos:
I was even able to stop for a chat & photo with the North Kaibab Trail Barefoot Rock Monster . . . actually quite friendly and willing to hold still (for millenia, if needed) for a pose.
While taking this “foot-selfie” in the middle of the trail, wouldn’t you know that two hikers would appear around the bend and have to step around my awkward carcass . . .
Seven miles down the dusty trail (that’s the south end of a mule train kickin’ up dust) . . .
. . . led me to this stellar spot at Cottonwood Camp. When it’s warm in the Canyon, no tent or sleeping bag is needed–just a groundsheet/poncho underneath and silk bag liner/bivy sack to crawl into when the gentle breeze picked up. Oh yeah . . . and a ridiculously un-padded Thermarest Z-pad. But it was lightweight, and that was the theme of this brief adventure.
In the morning, it was time to face reality: the seven miles and 4100 feet elevation gain back to the North Kaibab trailhead.
Did I mention the excessive heat warning? But by leaving at 4pm to hike down, and 5 am to hike back up, I was able to enjoy the canyon with no worries about the dangers of heat illness. (But I did bring my reflective umbrella and extra water, just in case . . . )
Did somebody mention water? This is Roaring Spring, the source of all water for both North and South Rims . . . and the 5 million+ visitors a year. Amazing!
What went down must hike up . . . and up . . . and up . . .
. . . past the hardy trail crew members doing heavy-duty maintenance. One of them commented as I skin-walked by (skin-walk=favorite new term for barefooting): “That’s pretty dope.” I’m hoping that’s what he said and not, “That’s pretty dopey.”
Then . . . the fun stops here . . . with the obligatory celebration photo at the North Kaibab trailhead sign.
And one last image, pretending to tightrope walk at Cape Royal earlier in the week . . . bringing a little bit of parkour to the Canyon . . .
Happy (canyon?) trails!