By 4:30 in the afternoon on Friday, September 16, Sean and I were back in the general vicinity of Grand Canyon Lodge. The Visitor Center had not been open in the morning when we went to breakfast, so we stopped in and stamped our passports for Grand Canyon. We also noted the times of sunset and moonrise and the time of the ranger talk at the campground amphitheater, all of which we wanted to experience.
We had a busy evening ahead of us, so we headed back to camp to relax for a bit.
In camp, Sean strung up his hammock right at the rim of the Transept. Talk about a National Park moment: lying in a hammock on the rim of the Grand Canyon.
Once the shadows grew longer at about a quarter to six, we set out along the Transept Trail, which wound past our campsite and led to the Lodge, 1.2 miles away. We wanted to catch the sunset and the rise of the full moon over the canyon.
Out past the mouth of The Transept, the temples and buttes of the main canyon were already glowing as the sun dropped lower and lower.
It was quite delightful that there was such a distance between the bustle of the lodge area and the campground. Over a mile of forest made a nice buffer.
All day, at each of our stops and short hikes, I’d been keeping an eye out for Kaibab Squirrels. Each time, I’d thought that this was surely the trail where we would see one. Yes, we had glimpsed one that morning, but I was desperate to get a good look at and a good photo of one. But it wasn’t to be. We had seen no other Kaibab Squirrels that day.
Along the trail was the foundation of an ancestral Puebloan summer home, a two-room dwelling 1,000 years old. The ancestral Puebloans farmed maize, beans, and squash on the North Rim in the summer and moved into the warm canyon during the winter, where they were able to plant and grow two more harvests of crops.
The sun was setting quickly, so we were likely to miss sunset from Bright Angel Point, our ultimate destination that evening. That was fine, since our primary objective was to watch the moonrise.
The trail dropped into a ravine and then rose out again on the other side in one long switchback.
As we approached the lodge campus, the trail passed beneath cabins strung out along the rim of The Transept.
The trail became paved, and soon we were curving around the end of the plateau beneath the terraces of Grand Canyon Lodge.
The final rays of sun illuminated the lighter Kaibab Formation stone at the top of the buttes.
And then the sun was gone.
Bright Angel Point is accessed by a quarter-mile-long paved trail, extending south out onto a narrow ridge from the lodge. On one side is Roaring Springs Canyon. On the other is The Transept. The path is wide and smooth with rocks and railings to hold onto, but nevertheless I got wobbly with a touch of acrophobia. I don’t know whether it was the weariness of my tired legs or the other people coming and going on the trail or even the half light, but I was decidedly uncomfortable on Bright Angel Trail. So we settled in, sitting on some rocks with an easterly view, to watch the moonrise.
And it was magnificent.
Once the moon came up, the light in the west faded quickly in an intense, orange glow over the rest of the canyon and the Mojave Desert far beyond.
Venus, the so-called “evening star” held court in the western sky while the moon dominated the east.
Back off of Bright Angel Point and on the terrace of the lodge, a ranger had lit a massive bonfire in the outdoor fireplace. I don’t recall what the ranger program at the lodge was that evening. As cozy and inviting as the terrace looked, we couldn’t linger since we wanted to attend the talk at the campground amphitheater, which began in fewer than twenty-five minutes at 7:30.
Instead of Transept Trail, we took the smoother Bridle Path, which largely paralleled the road, for the mile-long walk back to the campground. It was very dark, and we relied on our headlamps to get us there. Happily, the Bridle Path was broad, well maintained, and easy to follow.
The program, which was attended by about fifty people, concerned the legendary mules’ of the Grand Canyon. Ranger Kim shared the history of mules being used at both the North and South Rims as beasts of burden and as conveyance for tourists. She shared anecdotes of specific mules and incidents that she had witnessed and throughout almost one-hundred years of the National Park.
She also reminded us, as part of her general safety talk, to make certain that we drank enough water and ate enough food, particularly because we were at a relatively high elevation. Sean took this to be a “license to eat” and followed Ranger Kim’s advice with gusto for the rest of the trip.
Back in camp, we made our own cheery, inviting campfire. It was cold again, but not quite as cold as the night before, thankfully.
We had our supper and then sat and enjoyed some wine by the fire.
That night, while I prepped a hot water bottle, we ran out of camp fuel. Oops.
Tomorrow would be the final full day of our trip, and we looked forward to a grand hike on Widforss Trail.