Grand Canyon
The 1994 Blue Spring Descents

This was originally written to my city-folk friends.  I'm writing this to an audience that has never rock climbed before, never backpacked before, and might only have car-camped once or twice (i.e. excuse the rope primer).  I was 26, still in college, enjoying physics class (sorry about abusing your name, Mr. Newton), and also excited to be getting a little of the cash-dollar saved in the account, letting me buy a few toys that were of no use whatsoever.  It's what guys do.  

I found out later that some of the information was incorrect.  Sticking with my "non-revisionist" policy, I let it stand as-is.  For those of you wondering, the information about Lake Havasu being the land of topless co-eds is correct.  Some of the errors  were on heights, distances, and locations.  The biggest error is that the Sipapu (no idea how to spell it) and Blue Springs are not one and the same.

Blue Springs:  First Attempt (Spring 94)
Written:  Thursday, 10 February 94.
Planned Date of trip:  March, 1994.

Over spring break, instead of going to the land of the topless co-eds (i.e. Lake Havasu, Ariz. or Rocky Point, Mexico) with my friends, Iím planning a trip.  To note:  Lake Havasu is the Datona beach of the west.  People from all the local states descend on it.  Itís followed in popularity by Rocky Point, Mexico.  In all the national college newspapers, however, itís Lake Havasu that gets written up.  So instead of this trip with my male friends, Iím planning a trip with Zena.

Thereís a very hard to find special spring in the lower Grand Canyon, on the Indian reservation.  Itís so highly mineralized that itís bright blue, and itís so highly charged with CO2 gas (carbon dioxide, like soda pop) that it fizzes and bubbles.  It's also near a religious Hopi Indian spot called a Sippiu (spelling off on that) where we were all supposed to have crawled into this world from the previous on to escape the evils there.  I want to try and find it.  I already bought the compass, an altimeter/barometer combination (thatís more for the fun than necessity) and a new rope.  My rock climbing rope is still in great shape, but itís too big and heavy to haul around with a load of camping gear if I donít need it.  Itís 50 meters (164 feet), and a dynamic rope.  This means itís slightly elastic--if you fall in it, it has about a 6% "stretch" factor, like a bungee cord.  This takes up some of the shock in the rope, making it easier for the (a) person holding the rope to catch the fall and (b) person falling to come to a little gentler stop instead of an instant jerk.  The 11mm (millimeter) rope will hold about 9.5kN of force (9500 Newtons of force).   The new rope I bought is a static rope (no give), only 8mm across (thinner), 20 meters long (66 feet) and will hold 15kN of force.   So, in a nutshell, itís thinner, stronger, shorter, and lighter to carry.  But a heck of a stop if you fall.  Itís a lousy climbing rope, but a great hiking rope.

Now that Iíve given you the rope primer, I just need a few more things.  Iíve got to find the contour map of the area and get permits from the Indian reservation.  Then, a little freeze dried food and weíre done.  On the way home, weíre going to stop in Bedrock, because I want to see the Flintstones (yes, itís a real town thatís been out here for years), weíll stop in Sedona, Jerome (a ghost town), and anywhere else we feel like.  Weíve got a week.

Written:  Monday, 4 April 94.  8:40 PM (After the trip)
The Grand Canyon trip taught me one very important lesson.  Itís time for me to get a four wheel drive.  We hiked twelve and a half miles to the rim, twelve and a half miles backówith heavy packs on our back.  The "trail" was actually a four wheel drive road.  It was a rough one going through the foothills on the way to the canyon.  You'd need a big, powerful vehicle to get up some of the steep, rough hill sides.  Youíd also need a smaller, narrow vehicle to get through some of the narrow canyons.  I think a full size truck would be out of the question.  I donít know what itís actually traveled in, but Iíd like to see it.

On the Indian reservation the land flattened out.  Itís actually very flat (relatively!) for the last couple of miles to the canyon.  The occasional mountain butte sticks up, and you can see itís actually part of the canyon itself by the valley around you, but itís not the sheer drop of the canyon most people expect.  You get a great overlook as you start to make the descent from the Ranger station, before you get caught up in all the "mini-canyons" and small hills that are everywhere.

Speaking of the sheer drop. . .we made it.  The first afternoon we hiked most of the way in and wound up camping in the shadow of Gold Hill (one of the flat topped buttes).  We had given up on the trail.  I took a compass sighting and off we went.  It was a little strange at times, but definitely shorter and more interesting going.  On the way in we saw three herds of elk, numbering about a hundred total.  Either that or one very malicious group of elk that kept circling.

Where we entered the Grand Canyon National Park, there was snow on the ground, mostly in the shadows and on the north side of the mountains.  The temperature reached the low 80ís during the day.  Lugging packs on our backs, thatís pretty hot.  That night, camped on the downwind side of a rock, all the cold creeped down the mountain and took up residence outside our tent.  It dropped down to a windy 32į.  Our bags are rated to 20į, but we zipped them together anyway.  Zena spent the night trying to push me off my insulated sleeping pad.  The stars were incredible.  The lack of city lights for hundreds of miles let Nature shine through.

The second day we pushed on and made it.  Itís annoying to freeze at night and fry during the day.  One thing to note about the Grand Canyon:  Itís full of sharp rocks.  I mean real sharpóserrated edge knife sharp.  The top is all volcanic, newly exposed (geologically speaking) and we couldn't move when we sat or the points would cut into us.  We looked all around for the trail--no luck.  We could see a piece of it about 100 feet below, but we couldnít figure out how to get to it.  There was a rock slide where we were, it might have obliterated the top of the trail.  Either way, the idea of climbing back up the rope wasnít appealing.  We looked around for about an hour. . .and then headed back.  The choice of looking around even more and trying to find a way to make it down, or the thought of a night in a nice hotel (vs. the tents and cheap motels we'd been staying in the last few days) was an easy one.

We stuck to the road on the way back, just to be safe.  We actually left it once on the way back.  We were running out of water, so we looked around a little bit and finally found something very odd.  It looked like road, but it was a solid basalt lava flow with pockets in it.  One small pocket was still full of water.  A large, dark-colored lava flow with no water at all, except in one small pocket. It hadn't rained, and even if it had, all the pockets should be full of water.  It might have been animal urine, but it didn't look or smell like it and seemed teeming with little green life.  Hey, we were thirsty, not too picky, and had a filter.  I even had the "Mr. Coffee" pre-filter on it to get the big chunks.  We pumped away.

It was late afternoon and still very warm, especially pumping away on the black rock.  We clogged the filter with green slime, but kept going.  Funny thing was, we pumped slow, and it the level dropped to a low point and held there.  We eventually filled our two liter bottle.  The pocket never filled up all the way again, but we were certainly grateful for what we got.  Strange but true.  Later we knew we'd be getting to higher elevations and the snow would provide all the water we needed.

We only saw one herd of elk, but we timed it just right.  They crossed the trail right in front of us.  We were getting closer around seven, when the sun went down, and I kept pushing Zena so that we actually got out at nine.  Two hours of hiking in the dark. . .Iíve done worse.  It was a wide road, and it was way too cold for snakes (see Mazatzal Mountain trip reports).

We were actually very comfortable hiking up to the plateau where the ranger station was, despite the cold.  The moon was pretty bright, the thin layer of snow and ice on the mountainside reflected it well, and we were huffing and puffing.  I switched to shorts and an open jacket to keep from overheating.  I also picked up a little of Zena's gear to lighten her load and help her out.

[Wayne's 2002-January note:  Using topo maps later, this we found the distance this to be a total of 2170 feetÖnot counting the up and down and up again, as said below.   What you read below is the actual trip report.]
We covered over three thousand feet of "up" on the way out.  This doesnít count the "up" we did going down to the canyon on the way in that day.   All and all, it was a heavy day.  I drove for three hours (with an hour roadside nap in between) to get to a hotel that was vacant and less than $100.  We had to go back to Flagstaff for it.  We arrived around 2 am and I expected a little slack since it was so late.  Nope--we had the same 11 am checkout time as everyone else.  I put in a wake-up call for 10 and we hit the room.  We were dirty, nasty, smelly things that needed cleaning.

Sleep was all too brief.  Kids next room over woke us up about seven; they were banging and hollering in the bathroom, in the tub, in the regular room like they were being beaten and ticked at the same time.  It wouldn't have been so bad, but they were hitting the wall a lot, too.  We napped a little after that but we were up and gone by ten.  After another shower.  You canít seem to shake a good funky stink after just one shower.

[There's a funny, non-web-suitable story I cut out of here story...ask Zena about it.]

On the way back we stopped and peeked around Oak Creek Canyon.  Beautiful.  We stopped and ate in Sedona.  Beautiful. Tourist trap.  Why visit this outdoor mecca if youíre just going to hole up in overpriced shops?  Five spiritual vortexes?  There's actually one point you can stand in the middle of the street and see five fudge shops.  Maybe that's what they meant.

We stopped and saw Jerome, the nations largest ghost town.  You can buy a run down (and I mean really run down) shack for $85 thousand.  Ghost town my foot--overpriced tourist trap.  It never was completely empty.  Now the "artists" that live in it make a living selling the same junk available anywhere, plus some of their own "art," at prices that make Sedona look cheap.  I swear if you dabbed the $750 paintings with a damp cloth, the colors would run and expose the numbers and lines underneath.  The rest just like paintbrush wipe rags mounted on a frame.  It was a city full of overpriced junk.  Neat old mining town, but the "starving artist" image can take a flying leap.  I liked Bisbee in southern Arizona better.  There you can even get a mine tour.

That was about it for the trip.  And thatís about it for me tonight.

Thursday, September 22, 1994.  12:55 p.m.  I bought an Ď86 Suzuki Samurai, blue.  It gets over 30 in the city with itís tiny 1.2 liter 4 banger.  Still, itís so light that it has more than enough power to pull itself over anything.  Iím actually quite impressed with how it performs.  My main problems with it are five percent grades (I have to drop into the slow lanes for them) and the inability to strap anything on top. Iíll need a bigger vehicle if I want to get a kayak.

Blue Springs:  Second Attempt (August)
Written:  Tuesday, 15 November 94, 2:45 P M
Trip Attempt:  August, 1994

We went home over the summer we a Phoenix to Arkansas round trip that started with us driving south through Tucson, Tombstone, and Bisbee, did a far loop through Arkansas, and ended with us coming home across I-40 in Northern Arizona.  We camped in Flagstaff for a the night.

In the morning we pushed off for the Indian reservation to try again to find the source of Blue Springs, a.k.a. "Descent into the Grand Canyon, part 2."  This time we did things a little smarter.  We had a four wheel drive vehicle to haul us into the Canyon instead of having to hike the twelve and a half miles to the edge.  The canyon on the reservation isnít like the pictures you see on TV.  The canyon here drops almost straight down 2100 feet.  The way to get down is to find a "V" cut in the canyon and cut back and forth across it.

The drive in was uneventful.  We stopped a little past the Ranger Station and dropped off my load of comic books I picked up from my parents.  We wrapped them in plastic and put them off the road where no one would see them.  It was a bumpy, fun, and mostly uneventful drive in from there.  Definitely easier than humping it.  The only event of note was when we stopped to get out and look at the view (we did that a lot) and Zena, in her socks, stepped on a Horned Toad.  I told her she smashed him and that's why he was so flat, and she fell for it (for a minute).  He was an ugly little critter and after picking him up and looking at him, we let him go his way and we went ours. 

To spoil the suspense, we didnít make it down to the bottom.  We did better than before--this time we found the actual trail head.  Before, we had stopped at a small stone wall where the book reported the trail head to be.  It was a nasty start down to the right, which is why we brought the climbing gear.  This time, on a lark, I wandered down past the wall, out to the side end of the promontory.  I found a barely visible trail that looped down and around the promontory to the REAL trail head.  Promontory on the left, sheer two thousand-foot drop-off on the right.  It was not and obvious start and definitely not where the book said it was.

From where I stood, Zena couldn't even see me even though I was just a dozen or so feet away, but at least this time the start of the descent down was a little more obvious.  It was by no means easily visible or easily climbable, but it was a trail.  It was a beautiful, cool day (at the top), bright blue sky with just the occasional fluffy cloud, no one around for miles, and we had this part of the canyon all to ourselves.  We grabbed our gear from the Samuri, didn't bother to lock it or close the back window (c'mon, it's a soft top.  If we're 2000 feet below, that's more than enough time to unzip it and get in), and we headed on down.

We climbed down for a little while before I ditched my big climbing rope in a little overhang  (but kept the small, thin 60 footer) and Zena and I started our real descent.  Human nature being what it is, someone had driven all the way out here and gone through a lot of trouble just to spray some graffiti on the canyon walls.  Jerks.  This was the one and only disappointment on an otherwise outstanding trip.

The book "recommended" bringing a rope for handing down packs in one area.  I would call it--and the harnesses and climbing gear--essential.  Very essential.  The rope was needed for more than just the packs, it was needed for us.  Even with just a rope, someone would be holding the rope standing on the edge of a huge drop-off.  If the one person fell, all it would do is pull the other person down.  Since on our last trip we looked at one point and thought a rock slide had wiped out a good chunk of the "trail," I we were prepared.  It was a good thing I came equipped with a full rack of gear to clip into the wall.  We hit one particularly sticky point that turned into a real problem later.

We seemed to make good time on the way down.  What often slowed us up was finding the rock piles that marked the trail.  Trying to find a small pile of rocks in a canyon full of rock piles isnít easy.  Zena was moving a little slower (or cautiously) than me and we had made it about halfway down when we saw the clouds rolling in.

You have to remember, this is basically a large slot canyon.  By the time we got that far down, our view of the sky was really restricted to about 20 degrees in one direction (instead of the normal 180), and because we were in a little curve, we had only about 60 degrees in the other.  The clouds came from the East (the 20 degree direction) so we didn't know the sky was getting darker until it was already on usÖ.and even then we didn't know  if it was just a couple rogue clouds, or a full blown monsoon.

Zena suggested turning back at the sight of the clouds, and I knew by now that we werenít going to make it to the bottom.  We just werenít moving fast enough.  I still wanted to make it down as far as we could, however, because it was fun and the rock was really neat.  The climbing was pretty safe (for a non-roped climber) and not extremely difficult, except for a few places here and there.  If it wasnít for the huge drop off and sure death if you slipped and fell the wrong way, it wouldnít have been a bad hike at all.  You could even run it in places.

We had started out about one with the intent of camping for the night at the bottom.  At four, I figured we had gone far enough.  We had just about made it to the re-rock layer.  The river below was larger and louder, and seemed to be calling my nameÖbut I had another person to worry about.  I didnít want to get caught on the canyon walls after dark.  It was a reluctant (for me) choice, but we turned around and headed back up.  Zena was effectively dead on her feet from stopping herself all the way down (a.k.a. "My slow-down muscles hurt!), we were hoping for an easier climb up. It was less eventfulóuntil we got about halfway back up.  The clouds had been rolling in heavier and darker for a while and sure enough, they finally let go.   It was a light sprinkle at first, so we moved pretty quick.  Then it really started coming down.

We hid under overhangs, waited for it to lighten up, then moved on until it started raining hard again.  This worked pretty well.  I was thinking about two things at the time:  One was the $120 rope (and my college-thin budget) I had left near the top of the canyon.  I had thrown it in a recess in a fit of bizarre and here-to-for unprecedented foresight, but I hadnít thrown it in too far.  The other thing I worried about was the direction the open back end of my Samurai was facing.  I had left the back open in a fit of lacking any foresight (my normal mode of operation).  I also learned something new about Zena--sheís afraid of thunder.  In the canyon, especially the narrow end we were in or when the lightning would strike the mesa tops down inside the canyon, thunder echoes loud.  Every time it did, Zena freaked out and went zipping by like she wasnít tired at all.  I had to keep stopping her to keep her from bolting and falling down.  If we only had a constant, low rumble, she would have had plenty of energy to get out.  As it was, if the lightning came down any faster, I was going to go piggy-back and ride my way out.

We could see the top by the time we made it to a good overhang, but the rain wasnít letting up anymore.  It was move, get somewhere dry, regroup, and move again.  Now, as dusk was falling, we were coming up on the hardest part of the hike:  a cut in the wall like a W.  The trail cut in, cut out over thin air, cut back in again, then back out to the "normal" contour of the cliff.  The hard part was moving out to the point of the "W."  It was hard on the way down when it was sunny and dry.  I didn't expect that dusk, rain (slick ground), and fatigue was going to make it easier.  Another problem was communicating.  I was obviously using a rope, and Zena needed to know when I was safe and had her on belay so she could come over.  With the wind and the rain, thereís no way she could hear me from the far side of the point.

What I did was clip Zena into the wall and start going around the point.  The footing stunk, the hand holds were worse, but I got all the way around and started yelling at Zena to come over.  I might as well have been kicking rocks into the canyon to fill it upóon the times we could hear each other we just wound up saying "what?" because we couldn't understand the words.  Now I was tired, wet, and without a way to let Zena know to take me off belay and come on over herself.  The holds were pretty good on the side of the point I was on so I did the only thing I could do.  I clipped into the wall and, still playing out rope, back-belayed myself out to the point again, hoping I didn't run out of rope.  It wasnít pretty, but it was safe and the only way to get back out to where Zena could hear me.  Once I was there, I told her to wait until she heard me yell, and then to start coming across.  I then climbed back to my anchor point, tied in, and started screaming.  She got the point, and I belayed her while she climbed over.

We were both wet, but we were together again.  The last 300 feet (rough guess from looking up) was all pretty vertical.  We knew we were getting near the top but we had no idea how far away we were.  We kept pushing for a little while, then we came on a little cave big enough for us both to crawl in but small enough to keep warm.  It upturned in the back (it was only about four feet deep) and once we sealed off a crack on the side, the only opening was in front of us.  This kept the wind out and, snuggling together (Which wasnít hard given the limited area), we got plenty warm.  We had a nice view and it would have been a good place to wait out the rain except for one problem:  the setting sun.  It was gray with the sun behind the clouds, but at least it was light.  We had to weigh climbing slick rocks in the pouring rain versus climbing slick rocks in the dark (with hopefully less or no rain).

Zena and I watched the sky get dimmer and dimmer, and we finally decided to go.  We climbed carefully in the rain and I finally peaked at the top with Zena not too far behind.  I found the little cave where I tucked my rope.  It was coiled up and only one end of the coils got just a little wet.  It was safe where we were at, so I left Zena behind at that point and started moving fast.  I didnít want my two ropes to get any wetter than they were.

I practically hurdled the stone wall at the saddle point and ran up to the Samurai.  True to form, the back was facing squarely into the rain and the inside was soaked halfway to the front seats.  I threw the ropes in and was starting to zip the top down when Zena called me back to the stone wall where she was standing.  It seems in my haste to get to the car, I neglected to look around.  I had planted my foot mere inches from a rattle snake before jumping over the wall.  Zena wouldnít move with it there, I had to nudge it out of the way with a stick.  It was the exact same color as the rock, it was easy to miss.  Luckily it was cool and the rain probably chilled the snake some more; I probably scared it when I ran by but it was too cold and sluggish to react fast enough.

Zena and I zipped up the Samurai back window and drove to a low point to spend the night (to avoid lightning strikes--I know all the hiking tricks).  By then the sun was down and we were too pooped to put up the tent.  The rain had stopped and we had a tarp for the ground, but we were just too tired to care about it.  The sleeping bags were still dry so we were just going to drop the seats back.

We relaxed a little bit and warmed up over the car heater, then I climbed into the back of the Samurai to inventory the damage (Short climb.  One of the selling points is not "Spacious storage area").    The first thing was to get the little candle lantern lit; it spreads quite a bit of light.  We hung that up off the cab light and started rearranging.  Everything that was dry we moved all the way forward to keep dry.  We made a layer of dry but nonessential gear on the wet part of the cab.  Everything wet we spread out on top of that to dry.  Then I dug out the food and burner and went outside to cook.

The rain had slowed to a mist, so I lit the burner and prepared our gourmet meal.  I boiled some water to heat up an MRE I had left over from my last military exercise.  We ate everything that came with that and drank some kool-aide that came with it.  After we had finished and cleaned everything up, we settled down in the cab to relax.  A few minutes later we smelled something cooking.  It smelled deliciousómuch better than freeze dried or the MRE we just ate.  We looked all over the cab in case we had dropped some food--nothing.  I got out and looked all around the burner to make sure that I didnít somehow set the wet grass on fire.  Nothing.  No one around that we could see (and perhaps visit with our empty platesÖ)  It smelled good, but only inside the Samurai.  A few more seconds and I located it--a small, mosquito-like bug had landed on top of the metal protector on the top of the candle lantern and had been fried.  It still smelled like the best thing around.  After that, we blew it out and settled in to sleep.

The next day we drove out of the Canyon and back into Civilization.  We could tell it was civilization because there were Indians all over the sides of the roads trying to sell us cheap costume jewelry.  We drove down towards Flagstaff and stopped in Bedrock along the way.  Talk about a dump.  You know those little curio shops you see in tourist traps with the junk they carry?  Well, this one looks like it bought up ten smaller ones, stamped "Bedrock" or "Fred" on every wallet and snow dome in sight, then stuffed the total inventory within their walls.  Iíve never seen so much junk in one spot.  Thankfully, we made it through safe.  On the other side of the shop was the entrance to the Bedrock park.  We paid for that, too.  Ten bucks a person.  There are no words to describe it except "Cheesy."  All the "houses" were almost exactly the same.  Everything electronic (the prisoner in the jail was supposed to speak when someone walked in) was broken down.  The movie theater (continuous Flintstones cartoons) had the picture of a cheap TV set.  Small kids who knew the Flintstones cartoon would get a kick out of it, but at ten bucks a head it could get real expensive.

When Zena and I left there, we took a detour (yet another Wayne detour) to get to the ice cave/lava tube.  We were headed down a two-lane highway (opposing traffic at 60 miles an hour).  Everything was going fine until a big logging truck thundered by.  The Samurai is small and it shook us up and blew us around a little bit.  A little bit later I was ready for the next semi coming at us.  Then, when it was about halfway past, we watched it throw a mid-sized rock off the back.  We watched, in slow motion, as it flew toward Zenaís head.  It smashed into the window--and stopped.  Iíve got a nasty little crack on my window now, but Zena is OK.  Now Iíve got an excuse to fix that little rust patch by the window.

Not much later we turned off the main "highway" and onto a forest road.  The ride was slow and bumpier, but a lot more fun.  We searched around for a smaller cave thatís on my National Forest map, but we couldnít find it.  We did have fun tromping around, however, running into deer and grasshoppers.  But we eventually gave up and went to the main 3/4 mile lava tube.

This is the same lava tube Iíve been to several times before, but this was Zenaís first time going there.  We went down to the end and found some graffiti some kids had left.  I also saw a hole that I had originally grabbed a rock out of.  Itís a break in the hard, melted walls of the cave where you can reach though the crust and grab a pumice rock.  When I first looked, the hole was smaller than a shoe box.  It was now quite a bit larger.  This is part of a continuing saga of the lava tube hole.

When we hit the largest opening (itís like a huge cathedral), I wanted to take a picture.  Thatís when I learned my camera flash batteries were dead.  That was a bit disappointing.  I had one picture from the outside and that was it.  We made it to the rear of the cave and back again,  then left the area uneventfully.  We mooed at a few cows on the (my favorite PA pastime) and they mooed back. 

There is a danger to mooing to cows, as Zena and I noticed. They all started getting excited and started trotting over. We saw some more of the cows mooing as they came out of the woods. The little calves were jumping around and around, and up and down, all excited that a big blue cow had come to play. We had stopped and were having fun with this--until they cows started getting a little too close. They started jostling up to and against the little Samurai (which probably weighed about the same as a big cow) and blocking off the road. I didn't want any cow horn dents at this point, or any amorous bulls to be getting the wrong idea of my little vehicle, so we took off slowly until we got clear.

From Flagstaff to Phoenix, it's all downhill from here.