US National Parks West (a collaboration between Insight Guides & the Discovery Channel) is a fantastic overview of the wild diversity, pristine environments, and natural sanctuaries offered in the landscapes of the American West. In an effort to describe the Grand Canyon, the authors write, "It takes at least a week. Only after days of looking and listening and reading will patterns begin to emerge. Specific rock layers become familiar. Details of the geologic story become clear. Things once invisible become obvious". It's not that we are trying to make sense of this place; we only strive to appreciate the way in which the canyon aquires a human dimension ... to recognize how we fit in ... and to gain a greater awareness of the complex relationship between past and present.
I became completely absorbed in these thoughts as we ascended back up towards the Tonto. Granite Rapids, and the surrounding areas within the inner gorge, wouldn't make any sense unless you saw them for yourself. This distinct and unique habitat is called the riparian zone, where the presence of water attracts various animals and supports lush oases of vegetation. The Vishnu schist (basement rock) offers evidence that 2 billion years ago the canyon region actually lay beneath an ancient sea! How the Earth Was Made, a documentary series, explains the biological and geological history of the Earth; the episode featuring the Grand Canyon is definitely worth checking out as it explains the carving and formation of the canyon as well as the different processes involved over millions of years.
|Hiking back up the drainage from Granite Rapids|
As a general rule, the deeper you go into the canyon, the warmer and drier it becomes. For this reason, I didn't want to leave Granite Rapids. Our trek back to the Tonto went quickly, and soon we were on our way to our next campsite, Cedar Spring. This was our shortest day, so we took our time and stopped often to snack on trail mix, coconut cookies, nutella, and dried pepperoni.
|A yucca-studded Tonto Platform|
We made it to Cedar Spring in no time, and set up camp immediately. Our tents appeared so small in comparison with the immense expance of space around us. Unfortunately, campfires are not allowed within the canyon ... so instead we set up our mini iPod speaker, played some bluegrass, cracked a beer, and relaxed ... every now and again stating the obvious, We're totally in the Grand Canyon. At that time, it still seemed entirely surreal.
|Backcountry campsite #3: Cedar Spring|
A few hours, multiple music genres, and several beers later we were ready to cook dinner and get to bed. Once the sun sets, the temperature drops dramatically. A lesson learned the hard way, it's best to get into your sleeping bag before you start to get chilly. After an easy day, we were all looking forward to the next day's hike across the Tonto to our final campsite at Indian Garden.
|An Oskar Blues promo ad|