So this is the Esplanade

As we headed north from Timp Canyon this morning we had our eyes peeled for some sort of path that would take us up to the Rim. All morning we brush-bashed through pointleaf manzanita and circumnavigated cryptobiotic soil. But we never found a trail. Near Crazy Jug Spring we found a few cairns and short stretch of path, but we couldn’t see where it went. Ascending up slope, Gabriel had the good idea to zigzag traverse about in hopes of encountering a trail. The approach worked!

I have to give credit to Gabriel this morning, he picked a fine line to weave through thickets of vegetation, duck under pines, and avoid the the cryptobiotic soil. I followed him and was distracted by flowers like larkspur and cliffrose and wondering what Harvey Butchart and company did to get around these parts and the vast expanse of Supai to the west.

Once on trail, we made good time hiking up to the Rim by early afternoon. We walked a network roads west toward the Bill Hall Trail. Up on the Rim, at times we could had views stretching north across the Arizona Strip to the Vermillion Cliffs and Zion NP. Seeing Zion, we had thoughts of Daybreaker finishing the official route, likely today. Oh it would be so nice to see him before we all wrap up the Hayduke… but the only way to do that is to keep walking… down into the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. As often happens on our long walks, sometimes we go south to go north.

To get back down into the Canyon, we took the Bill Hall Trail. The route goes from Monument Point and and steeply descends the Kaibab, Toroweap, and Coconino formations down to the wonderland of the Supai formation and the grand benches of Esplanade sandstone. We admired the trail’s twists and turns, views, and abundant wildflowers. The slopes were brimming with flea bane, apricot globemallow, clusters of pink buckwheat cushions, and beautiful tall grasses. It’s a stunning bit of trail. And getting to experience it makes our Hayduke alternate all worth the while as it’s now my favorite trail into the Canyon.

We strolled in awe across the vast benches of red slickrock that are the Esplanade. Admiring the cactus gardens and agave groves, the red sandstone toad stools and domes of orange slickrock. Potholes shined with fresh water. This stretch of the Esplanade has Gabriel and I thinking about longer explorations in the Grand Canyon and seeing what it’s like on the west half of the Canyon. For the week plus that we’ve walked in parts of the national park from rim to river to plateaus, we’ve come to realize that we’ve barely begun to comprehend the Canyon.

A few other parties were out hiking or setting up camp as we were walking, one fellow commented that he liked our packs (yeah Hyperlites!). Two day hikers we met seemed to have a hard time wrapping their minds around the idea that we didn’t take a car to get here from Moab. Given the 17 cars we saw back up at the TH parking lot, we were surprised that we observed only five or six parties in the area.

Eventually we parted with the beautiful Esplanade and descended through a break in the Redwall limestone to Surprise Valley. Heading down, we glimpsed the green ribbon that is the Colorado River. The valley floor a wide rolling bench with large boulder gardens growing blackbrush, agave, and barrel cactus.

The air is warm down here, just a thousand feet above the Colorado. We are amused to remind ourselves that two evenings ago we were camped in snow with all our layers on. Earlier this morning we were trail-less and brush-bashing, feeling our way through the Canyon. Now we’re camped close to the trail that is part of the Hayduke route. So many contrasts in such a short stretch of time.

While eating dinner, we admire the light as it changes the color of the Canyon’s walls from washed out shades of gold, red, and brown to brilliant glowing hues. Canyon light shows a blend of magic and physics. Tonight it’s back to relaxed, warm, oh-so-comfortable cowboy camping. Tucked into our sleeping bags, we watch the stars come out.

Day 52: 13.6 miles; 764.5 miles total. Esplanade north of Timp Creek to Surprise Valley.

GPS: used once; people sighted: several backpackers and day hikers along the Bill Hall Trail; roads: several miles from the Crazy Jug Spring exit to the Bill Hall TH.

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Sunrise colors and the west half of the Grand Canyon.

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Cryptobiotic soil – the amazing stuff we do all sorts of contortions to avoid harming. Communities like this can be well over a hundred years old and are essential for sustaining the diversity of native flowering plants and grasses.

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Cluster of flea bane tucked into Esplanade.

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Gabriel looking up toward Crazy Jug Spring, we’re hoping we can find a trail somewhere up there.

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Amazingly, we found the trail! Up the switchbacks to the land of Coconino and Toroweep we go.

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Firecracker penstemon and Gabriel.

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Rock art likely by Fremont people.

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An crumbling cement trough near the top of the old trail. Gabriel recalled finding this guy’s TR as we figured out options for this alternate and was amused by the assessment of the trough.

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Walking the road to the Bill Hall Trailhead with views northwest toward Trumbull and the Arizona Strip.

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Yep, this is the Bill Hall Trail.

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Ancient clam in the Coconino.

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Cushion buckwheat.

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Looking back up toward the Rim.

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Pink prickly pear and cryptobiotic soil.

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Lovely lovely burnished orange and red walls in the Supai formation.

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The Esplanade beckons for exploration and no impact parkour.

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Yellow prickly pear.

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Descending the Redwall break into Surprise Valley.

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Surprise Valley.

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Sunset from our camp in Surprise Valley.

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Moon over Surprise Valley and an agave near camp. A night of bright stars.

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