Trip Number: 12056A
Staff: Barry Morenz
- Enjoy abundant opportunities for swimming in aquamarine waters
- See breathtaking views in remote areas
- Visit historic pioneer and Native American sites
- Good camaraderie and adventure
- All meals and cooking equipment
- Permits and guidance on routes
Looking northeast from the historic Watchtower at Desert View in the eastern Grand Canyon an endless vista to the Echo Cliffs can be enjoyed. Barely visible, bisecting this magnificent wilderness is the impenetrable barrier of the 2,000-foot Little Colorado River Gorge on the Navajo Reservation. The aquamarine waters of the Little Colorado meander peacefully down this canyon when it is not flooding, which is rare in late May, long after the high elevation snows have melted and the summer monsoons have yet to commence.
The headwaters of the Little Colorado are in the White Mountains rising to
almost 12,000 feet north of Flagstaff. Along its path to the Colorado, the
Little Colorado has seen a great deal of frontier history. Navajos, Hopis, Zunis,
Spanish Explorers, Mormons, and cattle ranchers have all used the waters of
the Little Colorado. About 13,000 years ago, humans made their first impressions
in the Grand Canyon area. Tools, figurines, petroglyphs, pictographs, baskets,
pithouses, and other archaeological artifacts have been found sprinkled throughout
Photo: Barry Morenz
There is very little written about the route we are taking and very few people
hike in the area. Part of our route is an ancient one used by Hopi, Navajo, Prehistoric Puebloans,
and prospectors. Prehistoric Native American dwellings can be seen along our
route and prospectors used some of them to build their own shelters. Ben Beamer
prospected and farmed along the banks of the Colorado, leaving an old cabin
we will visit.
The geology of the Grand Canyon is appreciated around the world. We will hike
through many of the typical layers, Kaibab, Toroweap, Coconino and the Supai,
but the most spectacular part of our journey is where the Little Colorado Gorge
narrows as it cuts through the Redwall Limestone. Here the heavily mineralized
waters of the Little Colorado create massive travertine dams and a myriad of
waterfalls. Probably one of the most interesting geologic aspects of our hike
is the abundant springs. Everywhere there seems to be water gushing from rocks
in the walls.
Our trip is paced so we will have time to relax, swim, and enjoy this vast
and magnificent wilderness even though we will have some challenging and long
days. The weather is usually dry this time of year so rain should not be a problem.
Usually warm during the day -- in the high 80s to low 90s -- and cooler at night
at about 65 degrees, the weather could be ideal for all the time we will spend
in or near the waters of the Little Colorado. The water of the Little Colorado
is not frigid like the water of the Colorado but rather pleasantly cool, about
75 degrees. Canyon weather can be unpredictable, and be hotter, colder, or wetter
Photo: Barry Morenz
Day 1: Meet at 7:00 a.m. in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel
where the leaders will stay the night before the trip. We will caravan together
and complete a vehicle shuttle. We will first leave vehicles at the head of
the Salt Trail, where we will end our trip on the Navajo Reservation, and then
proceed to the trailhead at the top of the Horse Route. After a brief trailhead
talk we will descend over 3 to 4 miles and 1,200’ to the Little Colorado
on the Horse Route. We will camp and layover in this area for two nights.
Day 2: Today we will be day hiking up the Little Colorado
River Gorge past Waterhole Canyon and other side canyons. The Little Colorado
is mostly dry in this area, allowing us to easily explore side canyons and enjoy
Day 3: As we hike downriver today, we will gradually see increasing
amounts of water and will often be hiking in water 1 to 2 feet deep, but the
grade is almost flat with only a very slight downhill slant. Occasionally we
will hit a bit of quicksand for some added fun. Swimming holes will begin to
be more frequent as we make our way 5 or 6 miles to a camp just above Blue Springs.
If time allows we can hike the Blue Springs Trail to the rim for a view, or
simply enjoy swimming in the pool created by the beautiful Blue Springs.
Day 4: Today will be a challenging and spectacular day. The
grade gets steeper and the Canyon narrower as it cuts through the Redwall. We
will have to cross the Little Colorado multiple times, bushwhack, and sometimes
swim a little as we make our way down and around the numerous travertine dams
and waterfalls. Although there are many waterfalls, none is higher than 4 or
5 feet. Although we will only hike about 5 to 6 miles today, we will be tired
by the end of the day as the going is sometimes rough.
Photo: Barry Morenz
Day 5: Just around the bend from camp, Big and Salt Canyon
come into view and the canyon widens. We will still have some tough going, but
after a couple of hours the hiking becomes much easier. By early afternoon we
will be at the base of the Salt Trail at a nice camp where we will stay for
two nights. On the way we may decide to explore Big Canyon before we get to
Day 6: Passing some sacred Hopi sites we will dayhike about
7 miles to the confluence of the Little Colorado with the Colorado and take
a peek at Beamer’s old cabin. After a couple of miles, we leave the Navajo
Reservation and enter Grand Canyon National Park for the first time. We will
have some great views of the Desert Facade up Marble Canyon, and downcanyon
we'll see the soaring 4,000’ walls of the Desert Palisades. We will return
to camp the way we came. Although we cover 14 miles today there is only minimal
elevation change and the hiking is relatively easy.
Day 7: Our last day will be a steep ascent almost 2,000’
over 5 to 6 miles on the historic Salt Trail to our cars. We will enjoy lovely
vistas as we gradually hike up to the rim where our hike will end -- probably
by noon. We will ten pick up the vehicles we left at the Horse Trail and return
to AZ 89.
At 5:00 p.m. on Saturday May 19, 2012 we will meet in the lobby of the Hilton
Hotel in Flagstaff (where the leaders will stay) to do a trip briefing and to
distribute commissary. Regular flights are available to either Phoenix or Flagstaff,
and ground shuttles are available from either city to Grand Canyon Village (http://www.arizonashuttle.com).
We need to traverse about 25 miles of dirt road to the trailhead. The road is
in pretty good condition, but an ordinary sedan would have difficulty making
it all the way to the trailheads so a high-clearance vehicle will be needed.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: Barry Morenz
Our first trip meal will be lunch on May 20, 2012 and the last meal will be
breakfast on May 26, 2012. Trip meals will include some meat, but vegetarians
can be accommodated. Trip participants share in meal preparation and clean up.
We try to bring enough food so everyone is satisfied, but also want to keep
our packs as light as possible. We try to make the food appetizing yet fairly
simple to make, and everyone will likely be more than satisfied. Much of the
waters we will need to use for drinking and cooking are highly mineralized and
do not taste very good without some type of flavoring.
We cover approximately 25 miles with packs on this trip and another 14 or
so miles without packs. We have a steep ascent and descent at the beginning
and end of the trip, but no dramatic elevation changes in between. The challenges
are that most of this route is off trail. Multiple crossings of the Little Colorado,
quicksand, bushwhacking through thorny acacia trees, potentially hot conditions,
and highly mineralized drinking water all make this a hike for experienced backpackers.
Equipment and Clothing
We bring the pots, stoves, Sierra cups and spoons. We will distribute about
12-14 lbs. of group food and gear for each participant to carry at the beginning
of the trip. Group water will be purified with MicroPur chlorine tablets or
boiling. We will distribute MicroPur tablets to participants for purification
of personal drinking water.
A specific equipment list will be sent later after you have signed up for the
Photo: Barry Morenz
- The following USGS 7.5 minute series maps will cover our route; Blue
Spring, Cape Solitude and Salt Trail Canyon. Maps can be purchased from Map
Express 800-627-0039 or http://mapexp.com/.
- Ranney, Wayne, Carving Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon Association,
2005. Read about how the Grand Canyon may have come into existence.
- Osborne, Sophie A. H., Condors in Canyon Country: The Return of the
California Condor to the Grand Canyon Region. Grand Canyon Association,
2008. An epic attempt to save a great bird.
- Childs, Craig, House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across
the American Southwest. Back Bay Books, 2008. A non-fiction cultural
adventure about the Anasazi.
- Price, L. Greer, An Introduction to Grand Canyon Geology. Grand
Canyon Association, 1999. An accessible book with plenty of illustrations
and photos about Grand Canyon geology.
- Anderson, Michael F., Living at the Edge. Grand Canyon Association,
1998. About the colorful people who explored and settled in the Grand Canyon.
- Houk, Rose, An Introduction to Grand Canyon Ecology. Grand Canyon
Association, 1996. A brief primer on the complex web of life in the Canyon.
- Coder, Christopher M., An Introduction to Grand Canyon Prehistory.
Grand Canyon Association, 2006. A short overview of the early people of the
Grand Canyon area.
- The Grand Canyon Association is a great resource with many books of
interest. See http://www.grandcanyon.org.
Photo: Barry Morenz
There are numerous conservation issues regarding the Grand Canyon; the introduction
of condors, noise from sightseeing aircraft, air quality over the park, uranium
mining near the Park, control of the Colorado River by the Glen Canyon Dam,
and visitor management, including backcountry use. The biggest issue though
is water use in the West by burgeoning cities such as Las Vegas, Phoenix, and
Tucson. These cities largely depend on the Colorado River for their water and
are running it dry.
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
Barry Morenz has lived in Tucson for over 30 years and loves to travel in the nearby mountains and canyons, as well as
throughout the American West. He has led Sierra Club trips for many years, and travels regularly to the Caribbean where he
enjoys the varied cultures, Mayan history and magnificent coral reefs of the region. A lifelong student, Barry enjoys studying
the natural and cultural history of the areas he visits, and experiencing with others the wild and historically significant places
of the world. The camaraderie of sharing adventure travel with other Sierra Club trip members is especially rewarding, as it
provides a way to educate people about the need to protect these fragile corners of our planet and leave an environmentally
sound legacy for generations to come.
Mike Wise participated on several Sierra Club Trips into the Grand Canyon, which inspired him to become a Sierra Club Leader. He led the North Bass trip last year in the Canyon. Mike was on one of the exploratory trips with Barry to develop this route in the fall of 2010. He looks forward to the reward of helping others experience the same joys of backpacking he experienced and the importance of preserving our wilderness areas. Mike is from the Midwest and had completed the Sierra Club National Outings Training Program and is certified as a Wilderness First Responder (WFR).
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips