Monday, June 10, 2013

Grand Canyon National Park: Rim Trail (Blog Hike #201)

Trail: Rim Trail
Hike Location: Grand Canyon National Park
Geographic Location: Grand Canyon Village, AZ (36.07026, -112.14766)
Length: 6.3 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: May 2006
Overview: A fairly flat walk on paved trail offering spectacular views of the largest canyon in the United States.
Park Information:
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: While there are many points from which to begin the Rim Trail, this trail description will start at Maricopa Point, the western terminus of the paved section of trail.  Most of the year, Maricopa Point is accessible only by a free park shuttle.  From Grand Canyon Village, board the Village Route and ride to the Hermit’s Rest transfer station.  Depart the Village Route and transfer to the Hermit’s Rest Route.  Depart the shuttle at Maricopa Point, the second stop from the transfer station.

The hike: Many writers have tried in vain to find words appropriate for the scenery to be found at Grand Canyon.  In lieu of words, I thought I would start with some numbers: 5700 feet deep; 14,280 yards wide; 277 miles long.  If those numbers are hard to imagine, you are getting the right idea.
There is another impressive number associated with the canyon: 2 billion years; that is the age of the rocks at the bottom of the canyon.  As you stand on the rim, you are standing on rock that is some 250 million years old, rather young on the geologic time scale.  This rock formed over billions of years as sediments from a now disappeared sea covered and recovered this area, depositing layer upon layer of fresh rock atop that already present.  These layers have been eroded away by the Colorado River so that, as you peer into the depths of the canyon, you actually look back into time: 2 billion years worth of time.  Indeed, a walk through the canyon gives a geology lesson you will be hard pressed to find in any textbook.
Unfortunately, there are no easy trails into the canyon.  The easiest trail into the canyon is the Bright Angel Trail, which departs from the Rim Trail.  The Bright Angel Trail descends 4200 feet over 7 miles to the Colorado River and thus should not be attempted unless you have made adequate preparations and are in good physical condition.  For those of us content to simply look into the canyon, with only a short trip under the rim, the Rim Trail will do nicely. 
The Rim Trail travels 12 miles from Hermit’s Rest in the west to Pipe Creek Vista in the east.  The western 6 miles is unpaved, and the eastern 6 miles is paved.  While you would think the unpaved section further away from the crowds at Grand Canyon Village would make for better hiking, in fact the opposite is true.  The western section stays very close to the park road, and thus you must put up with the noise of vehicles along the road.  The eastern section does not have this inconvenience.  Although the Rim Trail does not form a loop, you can use the free shuttle buses to avoid backtracking, as numerous points, including Hermit’s Rest, Maricopa Point, and Pipe Creek Vista, are serviced by the buses.
After departing the bus at Maricopa Point, before starting the Rim Trail to your right, angle left to view the canyon from Maricopa Point itself.  Looking to the west from the overlook, you can see the layers in the canyon very clearly, as the inner canyon immediately surrounding the Colorado River looks like a knife-gouged channel inside the outer walls on which you stand.  You can even see a little bit of the river in the canyon some 4500 feet below you and 7 miles away.  To the east is a classic postcard view of the canyon with an intricate and interesting section of ledges and sub-canyons.
View east from Maricopa Point
            When you have finished admiring this view, head east on the paved Rim Trail, as it departs Maricopa Point, heading slightly downhill.  Between here and Grand Canyon Village is probably my favorite section of the trail. The park road quickly disappears to the right, leaving just you and the canyon, but the location and narrowness of the pavement here means less traffic than you will encounter later. 
After 0.9 mile, you will arrive at the Trailview Overlook.  This viewpoint is unique because the platform is actually located beneath the rim.  By taking a brief detour to the right and down to the observation platform, you can become one of only 10% of all visitors to Grand Canyon National Park that actually goes into the canyon, even if it is only about 15 feet into the canyon.  Looking the opposite direction from the canyon at Trailview Overlook, you can see what appears to be a tall scaffolding.  In fact, this is the abandoned Orphan’s Mine.  You can learn more about the human history at Grand Canyon by attending one of the ranger talks offered in the Visitor Center.
Grand Canyon Village, as seen across edge of canyon
            As you continue east on the Rim Trail, you can see Grand Canyon Village across the edge of the canyon.  For the next half mile, you will gradually see the village get closer.  In the canyon between you and the village is another interesting sight: the Bright Angel Trail descending via innumerable switchbacks into the canyon.  Take time to notice how the trail curves around and manages to use the gaps in the ancient rocks to make a descent that, at almost any other point on the canyon rim, would be impossible except for rock climbers.
1.4 miles from Maricopa Point, the trail reaches its lowest point as you come out behind the shuttle bus transfer station.  The trail climbs slightly as it enters Grand Canyon Village.  The next 0.6 miles travels in a thin strip of flat land between the village hotels and shops on the right and the canyon on the left.  Due to its proximity to the hotels, this is the most heavily traveled section of the Rim Trail.  On the west side of the village, you will pass the trailhead for the fascinating Bright Angel Trail that you saw in the canyon earlier.  When I hiked this trail, a group of mules, used by outfitters to take visitors into the canyon, that had just made the arduous journey up the Bright Angel Trail out of the canyon walked in front of me.  They did not seem to be laboring as hard as I would have needed to had I made their journey.
Bright Angel Trail, as seen from the Rim Trail
            As I traveled through the village, a group of Pueblo Indians were drawing quite a crowd as the demonstrated their ancient tribal dances to captivated visitors.  The crowds will thin out as you complete your journey through the village.  Past the village, the trail is designed to be wheelchair accessible for its remaining distance to Pipe Creek Vista, so expect a wider path with more gentle grades than you experienced west of the village.  Indeed, at various points a piece of the old path remains where it has been rerouted to avoid a particularly steep area.
3 miles from Maricopa Point, a side trail heads right toward Market Plaza while the Rim Trail continues straight.  Several benches are placed along this section of trail that make for nice places to rest, especially on a hot desert day.  In another mile, the trail reaches Yavapai Point, home of Yavapai Observation Station.  Marked by Bright Angel Canyon across the river and a seemingly endless system of plateaus and peaks, Yavapai Point is home to the most famous view of Grand Canyon.  Take your time to admire the view.  Also take time of browse the station, which features large glass windows for excellent canyon viewing and some interpretive exhibits on the canyon and the life it contains.
Continuing east from Yavapai Point, it is another 1.1 miles of flat walking to Mather Point.  Large crowds gather at Mather Point because it is one of the few points near the village accessible by private car; most others require a shuttle bus.  If there are any clouds in the sky, notice how the clouds cast “small” shadows over various parts of the canyon; this gives another indication as to how large this canyon actually is.  While a short side trail leads right across the park road to the Visitor Center, the Visitor Center also serves as the transfer point between the Yaki Point bus route, which you will board at the end of this hike, and the Village bus route.  So you will have a better chance to catch one of the ranger talks at the Visitor Center later.
Overlook at Mather Point
            It is another 2.2 miles from Mather Point to the trail’s end at Pipe Creek Vista.  The trail climbs slightly away from Mather Point, after 1 mile, curves inland away from the canyon.  The last 1.2 miles to Pipe Creek Vista is a true desert hike.  Desert plants of all varieties surround you; the canyon can only be seen vaguely through the shrubs to the left.  This scenery lasts until you reach Pipe Creek Vista, where the canyon opens up again to the left.
The Rim Trail ends at Pipe Creek Vista, completing the hike.  You will need to board the Yaki Point bus route to return to Grand Canyon Village, making a transfer at Canyon View Information Plaza, which contains the Visitor Center.  The Yaki Point bus also takes visitors to its namesake Yaki Point, which offers another nice view from a point sticking well out into the canyon.  For some very different views, take a day or two to drive around to the North Rim.  Since the North Rim is 1200 feet higher on average than the South Rim, from the South Rim, all you see in canyon, while from the North Rim you can see the canyon and the San Francisco Mountains in the backdrop.  Whatever view you choose, take time of enjoy this unique wonder that offers scenery on a grand scale.

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