In the Grand Canyon, mules transport riders to and from Phantom Ranch, bring food, luggage and other supplies down, and carry trash and luggage back up. On any given day, the inbound and outbound mule requirements may not match. On our first morning in the canyon, they didn’t need to send all the mules up. One was left behind in his pen, and he didn’t care for being left alone.

If you have ever been awakened at 5 a.m. in your tent by the sound of a mule screaming, you will agree that it is a disorienting event. At first it sounds human, then you notice there are no words and you realize it must be some other animal, wild or domestic. I told Marcy it was a rooster and tried to go back to sleep.

Between the continued screaming and my natural early hours, I was out and dressed an hour later, walking around the canyon floor. The morning light was beautiful, hitting the top of the canyon only.

And no one else was around.

The previous night over dinner, our guide Emily laid out our Day 2 options. Basically, this was a freeform day. We could relax, play in the Colorado River, hike some more, read, whatever. If we decided to hike, she offered three suggestions: Clear Creek Trail to an overlook down to Phantom Ranch, up the North Kaibab Trail to a narrow canyon called The Box, or the River Loop, which included the Silver Bridge, the Black Bridge and a swimmable beach. She suggested we should see how we felt in the morning and talk about it at breakfast.

Over scrambled eggs and hot coffee (good, and improved by the amazing scenery), we agreed we were feeling fine and wanted to do pretty much everything. The weather was much better. Sunny, clear, already in the upper 50s and heading to 70s. All three hikes had comparatively small elevation gains, so it seemed plausible to do them all.

For reasons I haven’t bothered to research, the naming of Grand Canyon trails and the streams they follow is really inconsistent. Bright Angel Trail follows (sometimes) Garden Creek. North Kaibab Trail follows Bright Angel Creek, which also flows past Phantom Ranch. Phantom Creek is further up the North Kaibab Trail. We left the campground and passed this sign, heading north.

Makes me happy for some reason.

The North Kaibab Trail passes through Phantom Ranch, and about half a mile later, the Clear Creek Trail goes off to the east. We went that way, and started a steep but short climb with a big pay-off.

Phantom Ranch, from Clear Creek Trail
Colorado River, from Clear Creek Trail. Note beach and rafts.

Back down to North Kaibab, and off to the Box. This is an area where the steepness of the Vishnu Schist is really obvious.

Phantom Creek (across) flowing into Bright Angel Creek (horizontal).

We went a way into the Box, and then it got hot. Back to the campsite for lunch. New plan is to shorten the afternoon’s activities and just hit the beach. Tomorrow we’re going to the Black Bridge anyway as part of our hike out. The beach was delightful, smooth, soft sand. The water, really cold.

Me, explaining that I’m not going further in. Also Black Bridge.
Marcy was much braver.

In the evening we saw two more talks by Ranger Kate, one about condors and the other about Search and Rescue teams (especially interesting). Although we picked a wonderful time to go, she reminded us that Grand Canyon weather can be downright dangerous. So can doing stupid things like leaning too far over for a “really good” picture, and so can the current in the Colorado. It looks calm in these pictures, but there are some serious rapids not far away.

Pre-trip | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3