Grand Canyon Hike

HORSESHOE MESA, HANCE CREEK, and THE COLORADO RIVER

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It’s not a secret to many hikers that acquiring permits for backpacking trips in the Grand Canyon has become an intensely competitive process with thousands of requests arriving every month and many people leaving empty-handed. One of the reasons for this is the overwhelming focus by many on “The Corridor” which comprises the most moderate – and most popular – trails in the Canyon. For this hiking review, I’m going to focus on an equally beautiful area with much more solitude and one tenth the permit competition. We call it the Horseshoe Mesa, Hance Creek, and Colorado River Adventure.

Beginning at Grandview Trailhead, you’ll descend the Grandview Trail for 3 steep miles on a maintained trail. This trail is aptly named for it’s amazing views of a large expanse of the Canyon as well as distant view of the Colorado River snaking its way from the east.
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This trail was built by Pete Barry, one of the Canyon’s original entrepreneurs. He began mining, but even after finding some of the richest copper ore in the world, the transportation costs of getting the ore out ate up his profits. He eventually turned to tourism, even building a small lodge on the rim (which is no longer there). Horseshoe Mesa still boasts some amazing relics from the Pete Barry era, including his old cabin and an array of old, rusty mining machinery.

At the Mesa, you’ll see a trail cutting to the right (east) and that’s the one you want to get down to Miners Spring and/or Hance Creek (2 of the 3 closest water sources). I recommend going all the way to Hance Creek the first day, which will take you another mile and a half past the Mesa, for a total of 4.5 miles of hiking that day.

The drop off the Mesa down to Hance Creek is steep and rugged and should be traveled with caution. There are some spots where tripping is not an option. Hance Creek is a beautiful oasis in the desert, with a perennial flow of spring-fed, clear water makes for excellent camping.

I recommend spending two nights here at Hance Creek and making a day trip to the Colorado River on your layover day, which is approximately 13 miles round trip. It’s a long day but totally doable. Hance Rapid is a breathtaking area of the Colorado River, decorated by the famous Red Canyon – one of the most beautiful layers in the Canyon.

From here you can exit via the New Hance Trail, but I recommend camping the last night on Horseshoe Mesa. Start by circling around beneath Horseshoe Mesa on the Tonto Trail to Cottonwood Creek. Fill up your water here, with plenty for the night and the next day because there’s no water on the Mesa. Set up camp and go check out Cave of the Domes, which is the only cave in Grand Canyon National Park that guests are allowed into. Hike along the western edge of the Mesa until you come to the point where the last major ridge coming down off the butte in the center of the Mesa meets the trail. Keep an eye out to your left for a thin path that leads to the cave. It’s at the end of one of the major gullies that drains off the Mesa on the western edge. Bring headlamps along and be sure to turn them off to experience some absolute darkness (can’t even see your hand waving in front of your face).

The last day will take you back up to the Grandview Trailhead at the South Rim, where you’ll fully deserve the shower and all-you-can-eat buffet that I’m sure will await you. Enjoy!

Thanks to  Scott Cundy, owner of The Wildland Trekking Company, for this report. For more info on Grand Canyon hiking tours be sure to check out his company’s website.  Then you can book your next adventure.
www.wildlandtrekking.com

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Grand Canyon – a Trip you Have to Take

LOOKING NORTH ACROSS THE CANYON AT THE NORTH RIM, GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK.
LOOKING NORTH ACROSS THE CANYON AT THE NORTH RIM, GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK.

Every American (okay, every human for that matter) owes it to him/herself to head to Arizona and visit the Grand Canyon at least once in their lifetimes. It’s truly amazing to see how a little trickle of water eventually turned into the Colorado River, which eventually carved out the Grand Canyon.

You can approach your trip to the Grand Canyon in a couple different ways. One way is to stay within the park at one of the lodges on the South Rim and take the time to experience all the different things the park has to offer. The other way is to stay in one of the surrounding Arizona towns and take a day trip to the Grand Canyon for a “hit and run” view of the Canyon. Both have their plusses.

The part of the Grand Canyon The South Rim is the part of the Grand Canyon most people are familiar with. It sits on the Arizona side and can be accessed all year round. The North Rim is closed from mid-October to mid-May and is not as visited as the South Rim.

The benefit of staying within the park is the ability to take your time to view the magnificent Canyon from different viewing points, which you can access by walking the rim trail or taking a shuttle from point to point. For those of you staying for several days, a trip to the Northern Rim of the Grand Canyon would be a lovely addition, though the drive is about 4 – 5 hours long. For those not wanting to drive, there is a shuttle which provides rim to rim service from mid-May to Mid-October.

For those staying on the South Rim, there are numerous trails down the canyon, as well as a trail along the top of the Canyon called the “Rim Trail.” If you’re staying in one of the lodges and are planning a day hike into the inner Canyon, just be aware that you probably cannot make it down and back in one day. As a matter of fact, each year around 250 people is rescued from the inner Canyon, the majority of whom are able-bodied young men between the ages of 18 to 40 who attempted to hike down and back in one ay. Don’t be one of them. A good day hike would be a couple hours down and then back up. The hike up will take longer than the hike down. Also, be sure to wear good hiking shoes as some trails can be very rocky.

Some people choose to hike down one day and either camp at the bottom or stay in the Phantom Ranch. Be aware, however, that you have to make arrangements well in advance of your trip if you choose to stay at the bottom. Campers require a backcountry permit, and Phantom Ranch is usually booked months ahead. Permits are sometimes available on that day, but why risk it? For reservations at the Phantom Ranch, you can call 888-297-2757.

Some people prefer to stay outside the park and visit the Canyon for a few hours and move on. There are numerous areas in Northern Arizona where one can stay and take a side trip to the Grand Canyon, such as Sedona and Flagstaff. While such locations are still lengthy drives (an hour from Flagstaff, two from Sedona), it’s still close enough for a day trip. Both Sedona and Flagstaff are lovely places to stay, with Sedona being the most ‘touristy” of the two towns. Flagstaff, to me, is the quirkier of the two, perhaps because it is a “university town,” home to Northern Arizona University.

Sedona and Flagstaff are also visually different. Flagstaff is surrounded by a pine forest while Sedona is in “red rock” country. Sedona abounds with numerous high-end resorts, galleries and expensive eateries. Flagstaff is cheaper all-around, with inexpensive lodging and restaurants. Both are close enough for a day trip to the Grand Canyon.

Of course, you can always opt for an even quicker bus tour, hopping from one tourist stop to the next. But, why not take a cue from that little trickle of water which started it all? Take your time and enjoy the view.