Because sometimes you might get lucky, this time they might say yes.
Especially in Arizona, where snow passes on like doubt over lunch options.
We’d never stayed at Indian Gardens, a mere 4.5 miles from and 3k below the South Rim, but of all the quasi-frontcountry campgrounds within the NPS, the ones “hardcore” backpackers are likely to pass, this one was at the top of my list. Like so many glamour locations the hordes have long since rubbed off the aura. Which is not a good reason to not try to rediscover what it must have looked like before, and is a good reason to try to imagine it as it should be.
So when we drove up from Williams in an ebbing ground blizzard and walking into the Grand Canyon Backcountry office at 230 in the afternoon, I thought what the hell, and asked if they had a spot for the night halfway down the Bright Angel Trail. They did, we took it, and the snow abated just enough for a 20 minute packing job.
By the three mile rest house, 3 miles (duh) and 2000 feet below the rim the precipitation had stopped, and the sun was almost strong enough to melt the wet out of Little Bears toque.
Even though Arizona rightly shrugs the yoke of daylight savings time, and the storm had placed innumerable tempting puddles in LB’s path, we easily made the campground with time to set up, cook, look around, and get tired before full dark. Gravel tent pads, two story composting toilets, and a metal picnic table with freshly painted brown wooden awning for each site made Indian Gardens seem close to the road. The vibrant cacti, luscious cottonwoods, and spring which an effulgent winter had forced from the ground 8 inches from the manicured borders of our site made the place seem what it ought to be seen as; one of the more poignant, piquant locations in North America.
The next morning, a stroll out to Plateau Point and back gave us spring in full there on the cusp of the proper desert at 3700 feet. Several species of Pricky Pear, grass, flowers, and wrens, as well as a few groups of mule deer, all well on their way towards topping off the fat of spring to survive the heat of summer.
This fullness of the landscape, emphatically polished by the river properly silty and loud 2000 feet below, contrasted nicely with the moody schist and granite of the inner gorge. This ever-present glower, perspicacious but fervent, is fitting for rock whose formation predates the advent of bacteria on Earth. The gravitas reminds me of that constant paradox, that any attribute I might see in it is at once only in my head, and all that might be there. Proportioning belief is distinctly problematic when the evidence at hand so far exceeds both the senses, and time.
Carrying a 40 pound pack which is nearly 3/4 child, one now possessing both the height and strength to crane directly at the ground when he so chooses, is a good reminder of the frailty of the individual human. Doing so up a steady 3000 foot climb is good practice making the passions consistent slaves to reason, in that no matter how dispiriting, a certain number of additional steps will lead inevitably to the rim. A decade ago I envisioned how exciting it might be to haul our at the time exceptionally hypothetical child over the final stretch. Which it was, and my excitement blunted and delayed the realization that afterwards, at lunch, said child would be imbued with energy, having napped while I labored, making relaxing with a beer no longer possible in the way it used to be.
I’ll keep mourning that, a little.