Monday, April 18, 2016

Hiking on the Grandview and Tonto East Trails in Grand Canyon

In late March we obtained a permit to undertake a five-day backpack in Grand Canyon along the Grandview and Tonto trails. Great weather and geology awaited us.

Here is our group at the Grandview Trailhead - Helen, Wayne, Chris, Bryan and Mike. I decided not to bring my 15 lbs. of Canon camera glass and steel so all off these images are taken with a small Panasonic camera. The results are less than stellar by my standards but not having to carry the weight was pure joy!

It was a bit chilly as we started and the reported "ice at the top" was non-existent. Winter in northern Arizona ended two months prior. The trail here is descending through the Kaibab Limestone with the eastern arm of Grapevine Canyon seen on the floor of the canyon in the distance.

The Grandview has a few narrow places near the top within the Kaibab.

Into the Coconino Sandstone now, we pick up the rip-rap, likely made by the copper miners who made the trail in the 1890's.

Mike admires the beautiful stonework on a switchback in the Hermit Formation.

Bryan admires their work as well. The trail is steep here as you can see.

After a three-mile hike, Helen looks back to the top toward Grandview Point.

Chris explores one of the ruins from the 1890's mining era. The Last Chance Mine was a small but very rich copper deposit emplaced during the Laramide Orogeny, some 55 million years ago when much of the uplift of there Colorado Plateau occurred. Samples of copper ore from the Last Chance were about 55% copper. To put this in perspective, copper is being economically mined today in Arizona with concentrations as low as 0.3%.

Tin can midden from the era of the Last Chance Mine.

Excellent view to the west of the Grandview-Phantom monocline as it trends through the Redwall Limestone. It looks like the Redwall was greatly fractured when the fold was formed and can be seen where the break on top of the cliff is located.

Descending the Redwall cliff is always in a treat for one's quad muscles!

This was an especially steep and rugged spot in need of repair.

But we finally made it through to the Muav/Bright Angel slope. The small-looking notch in the right cliff-line (with two tiny "peaks" right of it)) is a saddle where the Grandview Trail passed through.

Entering the realm of Cottonwood Creek - the location of our first nights' camp. There are few things better than camping next to these tiny streams full of life, color, and song

On our second day we began life on the Tonto Platform. It's hard for me to imagine the Grand Canyon without the Tonto - it is a break and a reprieve from utter steepness. Here a "normal" world of generally flat ground dominates and makes the walking not only tolerable, but pleasant.

And in spring, the wildflowers are riotous.

But so too are the rocks and they never fade of color no matter the season. Here the Bright Angel Shale shows its stuff.

Down below the Tonto is the Grand Canyon Metamorphic Complex with its pink-colored Zoroaster Granite dikes ripping through the Vishnu Schist. The diagonal dikes seen here are approximately 75 feet thick.

View of the Inner Gorge of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. View looking west toward Zoroaster Temple on the right skyline.

Here is a view directly across the north side of the river to Wotan's Throne (left) and Vishnu Temple (right).

We were entering the many fingered gash in the South Rim known as Grapevine Creek.

The vegetation gave away the presence of running water, which we used to fill to our one gallon capacity. This would allow us to move out of the drainage for an enjoyable night out on the Tonto.
Off to the west I noticed something odd. A butte with two parts to it.

As we moved along the boulders as pygmys in a forest of rock, it was obvious that the two parts of the butte were not all that similar.

After a nights rest on the Tonto edge, early morning light revealed an answer. The main part of the butte (right) is in-place Bright Angel Shale and Muav Limestone. But shadows in the center of the photo highlight a fault that has dropped Redwall Limestone from a now eroded cliff down next to the shale. This is likely a landslide (rather than a tectonic fault), that has placed the Redwall sliver plastered against the shale. This small structure escaped detection in the making of the geologic map of this area. so there was no warning it was here.

The moon frames the scene later in the morning.

Day three into Tonto bliss. I could walk here forever and never tire of the endless nooks and crannies that bring ever more scenery.

Purple sage in bloom along the Tonto Trail.

Agave utahensis happy in its chosen home.

Beavertail prickly pear tends to turn purple when it is drought stressed and we saw numerous examples of it on this late March hike.

Near where Clear Creek and Zoroaster Creek enter the Colorado River on the north side, an ancient landscape reveals itself to the informed viewer. It was here that a resistant knob of granite and schist (photo center) had formed a hill 400-foot high in an otherwise flat and eroding landscape. Then, some 525 million years ago, the sea began to encroach upon the hill from the west before it could be flattened. The sea washed continental sand around the hill but not upon it and today the Tapeats Sandstone thins from every direction around this hill.

I have viewed this ancient topography many times while hiking down the Kaibab Trail but now I was face to face with it on the Tonto Trail. The Colorado River gorge slices through the ancient hill in the center of this photograph. If a hill resists erosion in an ancient landscape and no one sees it, is it still there?

Dog weed flowers to end the hike. What a trip! Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Galapagos Islands - One More Time!

Our final stop on this trip to South America was to the Galapagos Islands. I have visited these islands many times in the past but this was the first visit I have made where the group was based on land in a hotel. It worked out pretty good, even if we couldn't venture far away from home base. We still saw a lot in our four days there.

This is Seymour Island just north of Baltra Island. As you can see the islands are quite arid in some locations.

On the Galapagos, hiking is extremely limited and can be done only between the white posts. The naturalist guides are pretty intolerant of any steps taken outside these posts. Even on islands that are ecologically damaged by feral goats.

This a male frigate bird with its gular pouch inflated. They is done in order to attract females to the nest.

Another male had his pouch deflated. It might be hard to keep it inflated, if you know what I mean.

The famous Blue-footed booby (Sula nebouxii) is one of the most anticipated sightings in the islands, although they are not endemic here.

The blue color is derived from the fish diet they have and can be an indication of the health of their immune system (blue is good!).

There was heavy surf this day on Seymour's west coast.

The breakers were about 15 feet tall and came in sets - note the next wave behind this breaker.

This is a three part sequence on an especially large wave. That's Daphne Island in the background, a tuff cone erupted with the interaction of magma and seawater.

No swimming allowed except in designated areas.

It was beautiful!

This is a view from Seymour Island of the shield volcano that is Santa Cruz Island. Santa Cruz is the third largest of the Galapagos Islands. This is an El NiƱo year in the Galapagos but much like Arizona, the islands have been surprisingly devoid of rain.

Note the sea turtle trackway in the sand leading to a nesting hole behind the beach. This is at Bachas Beach on Santa Cruz Island.

The turtles were swimming everywhere off the beach but only come ashore to lay eggs at night.

Beautiful coral sand beach,

A Blue-footed booby flying by, just above the water.

A marine iguana blends in with the black lava at Bachas Beach. I nearly stepped on this guy while photographing crabs - he blended perfectly with the rocks.

The next day we visited South Plaza Island.

Here we saw numerous land iguanas (Conolophus subcristatus) searching for shade in the near 100 degree weather.

These lizards are quite large and have virtually no fear of six-foot tall humans.

They are not doing what you might think they are here - the place was crowded with lizards and they literally must cross one other to move anywhere.

They are fascinating creatures, even if Charles Darwin described them as, "ugly animals...from their low facial angle they have a singularly stupid appearance." I could not disagree more with the distinguished Brit.

View of the Santa Fe III (left), our ship for two days sailing here.

Finally, on our last full day in Galapagos, it was time to visit the giant land tortoises (Chelonoidis nigrita) in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island. What a treat.

Each individual can weigh as much as 600 to 700 pounds!

Chart showing the various subspecies of land tortoise in the Galapagos. Note that the Santa Cruz nigrita has the broadest dome of all the subspecies.

 They are strictly vegetarians and eat grass and leaves.

The forest around this group of tortoise is known as El Manzanillo and is on private land adjacent to the national park.

They love to waddle in the muddy swamps to keep the insects off of their skin.

It is also a way to keep cool on a hot summer day.

Enjoying the view in this special place.

Our trip with Smithsonian Journey's was fantastic, and this itinerary has proven so popular that they will offer 22 departures next year. Thanks as always for reading.