Monday, December 02, 2013

Thanksgiving at the Bottom of the Grand Canyon and Phantom Ranch

Helen and I have been starting a tradition of hiking seven miles down the South Kaibab Trail at Grand Canyon to enjoy Thanksgiving at Phantom Ranch. We were last here in 2011. This year we led a group of 20 people down to the Ranch and many of them were interested in the geology along the way.

This is a view to the east from the Red and White switchbacks toward Wotans Throne and Vishnu Temple. The pack mules are headed up after taking down some of our gear.

This is my new hiking buddy - Jake from Florida. I will want to have him as a trail assistant in a few years for my backpacking trips.

One of my favorite places along the South Kaibab Trail is this outcrop where boulders of the Shinumo Quartzite (purple chunks) are encased in Tapeats Sandstone (brown layers). This represents a single day way back in the Cambrian time period when waves of the Tapeats Sea washed against an ancient cliff and the boulders rolled down into the accumulating sand. Truly an awesome outcrop right there for everyone to see.

Speaking of Shinumo Quartzite, this interpretive sign has reappeared after an approximate 20 year absence. Where was it for all of this time?

Another favorite place for me is this view of Zoroaster Temple, a stately and symmetrical monument that faces the main tourist area at the South Rim. Ain't she grand?

You can always tell when you are getting close to the Ranch - the Ranchers are very festive for this holiday gathering. Here is ranger Mandy T. showing off her festive mood.

Pumpkins lining the outside of the historic structure, now 91 years old.

Part of our group savoring the start of the feast.

Rub-A-Dub-Dub, lets grab the grub!

Our layover day on Friday included a hike on the Clear Creek Trail with its wide views to the west. In the background are Cheops Pyramid (left) and Isis Temple (with a cloud wreath).

A view to the east up the Inner Gorge of the Colorado River. It is incredible to think that this giant slot canyon has been carved in essentially the last one million years, as the river chiseled its way down through the hard Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite. This is a truly inspiring view.

My finger rests on a surface that was eroded down into the schist, a surface known as the Great Unconformity. The dark rocks in the lower right are 1,750 million years old, while the conglomerate above the angled surface is "only" 525 million years old. This represents a gap in the rock record of about 1,225 million years! The short story is that the schist formed with about 13 miles of additional rock on top of it (minerals within it document this). This 13 miles of rock was eroded during the "gap" and then the conglomerate was deposited on top of the eroded surface.

An inspiring view of Zoroaster Temple (right) and Sumner Butte (left) from the Clear Creek Trail.

Looking at Hopi Point on the South Rim. Note the low hanging clouds within the canyon. There was an inversion that made the international news regarding this rare weather phenomenon. You can read the article and see the pictures from above here.

My friend Chuck L. sent me this image from space of the Four Corners region during the cloud inversion. You can see the Grand Canyon outline in one of the light-colored fog "fingers" stretching out to the left.

Here are the remnants of the inversion around the Village area on the South Rim.

Helen and I on the trail, Thanksgiving 2013.

It just wouldn't be Thanksgiving at Phantom Ranch without a visit to the beach! Note the clean, new sand left from the controlled flood event in mid-November.

Sarah was in love with these ripples from the Hakatai Shale, used by the rangers to give talks at the Ranch.

I got to experience the lighting of a menorah for the first time. Thanksgiving this year coincided with Hanukkah and the next time this will happen will only be in the year 79,811 AD See the details here.

And so on Saturday, we began the 9.5 hike out the Bright Angel Trail. Here we have just crossed the Colorado River on the Silver Bridge.

The rim was fogged in all day - we hardly sweated at all coming out.

A small waterfall in the Tapeats Sandstone.

Jacob's Ladder on the Bright Angel Trail winds its way through the Redwall Limestone.

You never know what you will see at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Here a French tourist celebrates in a unique way.

The resurrection moss was a lively green on this ΓΌber-overcast day!

Near the contact of the Coconino Sandstone and the Toroweap Formation (elev. approximately 6,200 feet), we entered the clouds.

And the trail disappreared.

But even as this memorable trek was ending, the Grand Canyon had one more surprise for us - hoar frost on the shrubs and trees just below the rim!

A close-up of the hoar frost that covered all the bushes just below the rim. This was a very unusual Thanksgiving with respect to the weather.

Young Jake at the trailhead after completing his first Grand Canyon hike!

Jake with his mom, Debbie W-S., on the right and Helen with Colin on the left. We so enjoyed this group and look forward to more trips with them in the future.


  1. Great idea. Wonderful story. Thanks

  2. Wayne! We so LOVE your blog posts--you have such a way with words, photos and All In A Day's Karma. Who else but you and Helen could meander through such magic in one of the world's most majestic monuments? Thank You for your love of the land and your gifts of being able to help us all share in your adventures. AWESOME!

  3. Great post! As usual, with your vivid descriptions, I feel like I was there. I hadn't seen the Shinumo entrapped within the Tapeats before. Love that "living" geology.

  4. Great post. I always learn something new here.

    Regarding the inversion: inversions are not rare in northern Arizona. In fact, they occur almost every night during the cool season -- and often last well into the day. Sometimes they persist for several days.

    What made this event different was the heavy rainfall across northern Arizona the previous week. With moisture evaporating from the soil each day -- but trapped by the inversion -- the moisture content of the lower atmosphere increased well beyond normal values leading to the wonderful fog event that was witnessed and photographed by many.

    Here are a few of my photos from the south rim:

    David Blanchard


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