Saturday, 24-May – Indian Garden → Colorado River Bridge → Indian Garden
Trip miles: 11 miles
Route taken: Bright Angel Trail and River Trail to Colorado Bridge
Average Gas mileage: n/a
Weather: warm enough to not need gloves (50F?) increasing to about 90F in the Canyon
Elevation: 3800ft -> 2480ft
- wading in the Colorado River (brrrr)
- completing my personal best longest hike of the year so far
Rangers advise hikers going down into the Canyon to plan on staying at the bottom near the river and hike back up again later in the day when the temperatures drop. Since we were only planning to hike a total of 11 miles today we preferred to start our hike very early (7:00) and be back before noon. As we left the cool shade of Indian Garden we saw another hummingbird, our good luck omen. The 4.7 mile downhill hike to the Colorado River Bridge was shady and enjoyable, but we knew the 1320ft climb back up would be more of a challenge.
Trail traffic in both directions was heavy for the first hour. Apparently many others had the same idea as we did. Some hikers appeared to be attempting the 24.5-mile Rim-to-Rim day hike or were hiking to or from an overnight stay at Phantom Ranch (they wore small day packs and were hiking fast). Some were returning from Bright Angel Campground (they had bigger backpacks with tents and other gear attached). We let them all rush along to their destinations as we savoured our descent through rock layers formed at various geologic eras from 70 to 1800 million years ago. We were seeing the oldest rocks in the world.
Technically, Bright Angel Trail ends at the Colorado River. To reach Silver Bridge we followed the 1.9-mile River Trail.
About the bridges: Silver (suspension) Bridge, built in the late 1960s/early 1970s, is too narrow for mule traffic but it has a much more important function. Besides being a thrill for hikers to walk across, the Silver Bridge supports the Trans-canyon pipeline for its 490ft span across the Colorado River. The pipeline carries more than 500,000 gallons of water every day from Roaring Springs on the North Rim to the South Rim. Mule teams must continue on the River Trail to the older Black Bridge, built in 1928 as the first link between the South and North Kaibab Trails.
Since it is one of only two bridges across the Colorado River within the Grand Canyon National Park, other hikers were reaching the Silver Bridge via the South Kaibab trail, a 7-mile descent from the Rim. Silver Bridge is .2 miles before the Bright Angel Campground, where fresh water is available. The Phantom Ranch is another .3 miles further, where food and water are both available. We didn't need either food or water and I didn't want to add another mile to our total distance – it was already at the high end of my usual capability – so we turned back to wade in the river and eat lunch. The Colorado River is COLD! Even on this 80F day we were not eager to go deep, like some of the young kids who were doing a full dunk. We waved to a group of river rafters as they floated quietly past us.
About the Colorado River: In Spanish 'colorado' means coloured. When the Spanish named the river it ran red due to all the red silt it carried with it from the plateau to the Gulf of California. Since the controversial Glen Canyon Dam was built upstream from the National Park (creating Lake Powell), this section of the Colorado is green. The red silt is now deposited upstream from the dam, robbing the downstream ecology of nutrients.
After cooling off and resting we started the hike back up to Indian Garden, with only one pit stop at River Resthouse a few yards up from the river. By 13:00 we were back at our campsite, relaxing, drinking tea and talking to other campers. It was entertaining to watch our new neighbours at the next tent site, especially the three young girls who appointed themselves to set up the two tents for the group in quite an efficient way. It was amazing that they had previously only set up the tents one time in their back yard before the hike.
After dinner we strolled part of the way along the Plateau Trail again, to watch the evening light paint the canyon walls.