Miner's Spring is now hidden.
Impressions of the dazzling topography of Grand Canyon have changed and shifted since that day in the summer of 1540 when Garcia Lopez de Cardenas gazed out from the South Rim. The conquistador saw a worthless desert wasteland, nothing more than a barrier to political expansion. At the opposite extreme, the modern view tends toward the romantic, reveling in what we today perceive as the remarkable spirituality of the gorge. Products of the age in which they lived, American pioneers arriving in the 1890s were more practical and utilitarian: they assumed with so much exposed bedrock inevitably there had to be mineral riches waiting to be claimed by those willing to go below and look. Would-be miners fanned out across the inner canyon, probing everywhere, and at a place called Horseshoe Mesa found what they sought. Rich copper deposits initially averaging 30% pure promised wealth, but only if transported from the depths. Optimism reigned supreme, a route was scratched out, and in February 1893 an endless succession of mule trains began moving raw ore to the rim along a rough canyon track originally known as the Berry Trail, more recently as the Grandview Trail. More than any other canyon trail, the Grandview is steeped in the legacy of the mining days at Grand Canyon. Numerous small artifacts associated with these halcyon days are scattered across the top of Horseshoe Mesa, providing a link across the years. Hikers can inspect the physical remains of this bygone era while enjoying canyon scenery at its finest.
My brother George was attending a company conference in Las Vegas at the end of March, 2003. I planned on meeting him there a few days early. Having done a Grandview/Horseshoe mesa day hike a year before (our first GC experience) we were determined to return. This trip had been months in the planning.
We met at the Las Vegas airport around noon on March 27, 2003. We grabbed our luggage and the rental car and were off down route 93 S to I40 E then 64 N up to the Canyon. The trip would take about 5.5 hours. Our route took us over the Hoover Dam. Neat but not as impressive as I was led to believe.
We arrived at the South Rim around dinnertime. Being rookies, we spent some fruitless time looking for the BCO to pick up our permit. By the time we found it, it was closed. That would mean we would have to wait until it opened in the morning. Bummer... we were hoping to get on the trail early.
Our plan was to hike down the Grandview to Hance Creek and spend the night. On the second day, we would hike back up to Horseshoe Mesa for another night before hiking out the Grandview on the third day.
We checked into Yavapai Lodge and grabbed some dinner. After dinner we headed over to the store to buy last minute supplies... water, power bars, etc. We also need fuel for George's ancient camp stove. This thing hadn't been used in like 10 years. And, not unexpectedly, our tests of it in the hotel bathroom revealed that it had seen better days. Back to the store to buy a camp stove. We ended up with a pretty good small and lightweight one for not too much money.
Back in the room, we went through our packs and did a last minute jettison to get rid of excess weight... we were brutal and I am glad we were. It turns out, like many folks, we had over packed. Fortunately, we took care of that before hitting the trail.
Before bed, we headed over to the bar for a beer... this is becoming a tradition. We hit the hay around 11:00pm.
I was up at 5:00am and George was up at 5:30am. We got up to the rim in time for the sunrise. Amazing. We wondered over to the BA for breakfast taking our time since we had to wait for the BCO to open at 8:00am to get our permit.
Down the Grandview Trail:
We picked up our permit and headed down Desert View Drive to the Grandview trailhead. After a little stretching and a bathroom break in the porto-potty, we started down at around 9:30am. It was cold at the top but halfway down the steep switchbacks, we started shedding clothes. We took one break before the Coconino Saddle for water and trail mix, enjoying the view.
The first drop down to the Saddle is the steepest and most precarious part of this non-maintained trail. There is one point where the trail narrows to eighteen inches or so and requires a sideways shimmy around a bolder. We remembered this from last year. At least this time there was no snow on the trail. That made things easier.
We reached the Coconino Saddle around 10:45am and dropped our packs for a break. We met a couple on their way out. They had spent the night on Horseshoe Mesa in the rain. We told them our planned route and they mentioned that they had heard that the Miner's spring could be drunk without treatment. They had done it and suffered no ill effects. We had a water filter with us but kept what they said in mind.
Before heading out, they pulled some stashed water from under a rock overhang on the right side of the trail (going down). We took our cue and stashed some water for our trip out.
Soon after continuing on from Coconino Saddle, we passed a guy who was running (running!) up the Grandview. We thought, "Man that is serious hiking." A few minutes later we found out why. We came across a group of five people, one of whom was sitting off to the side of the trail. She had broken her ankle. Later that afternoon, we would hear the helicopter. That's a $2000 break. Grim.
The rest of the trail down to the Horseshoe Mesa is fairly easy and we reached it and the path down to the Mine around 12:30pm. Here we stashed more water, as we would be back up this way tomorrow. We had snacked on the trail so we weren't ready for lunch yet and decided to keep going.
Horseshoe Mesa to Miner's spring:
Now, I will tell you flat out. The trail from Horseshoe Mesa down to the Miner's spring, while only about 1/2 mile, is one hairy 1/2 mile. After a few hundred yards across the face, the trail turns steeply down. "Trail" might not be the right word for this part. It was more a collection of rocks falling off down the side of the face. We took it slow. It was now early afternoon and we were starting to feel all the downhill hiking in our knees.
We reached the mine (about halfway down to the Spring) and had lunch. We spent some time resting and decided we would explore the mine. The main shaft goes back a ways before two passages head off to the right and left. We explored both directions but the left passage is the more interesting one. After a while it comes to a small room with a pit in the center. If you decide to go in the mine, make sure you are paying attention. If you fall into that pit, that is all she wrote. Skirting the pit to the right, we came to a place where the passage had been blocked up. There was narrow opening between the rubble and the top of the shaft maybe a foot to 18 inches high. We stood there debating whether we should crawl through and continue our exploration. Well, I don't know what it was but we decided that the whole thing looked like it was ready to come down and thought it best to head back out and continue on our way.
Back out of the mine, we donned our packs and continued down the trail to Miner's Spring and the Hance Trail. George, who was hiking without poles, was really starting to feel it in his knees. We met some guys coming up and stopped and talked for a while. Finally, in the late afternoon, we reached the spring.
I had hiking poles but by this time I had done some serious damage to my left knee. It was killing me. That slowed me down and George reached the spring first. To find the spring, you descend from Horseshoe Mesa to the Hance Trail. Right at the bottom of the descent, the Hance Trail continues to the left and there is a marked trail to the right that takes you to the Miner's spring. We had not been here before and didn't know what it looked like so we had a few false starts. Once we actually saw it, there was no mistaking it.
The Miner's spring is a great place. Set maybe 10 feet above the trail, the spring is tucked in under an overhang and the water comes from above dripping into a small pool maybe 8 feet by 4 feet. On the left, someone had placed a flat rock under a strong drip where we could set our water bottles to fill them. We were pretty tired and what we had heard about drinking the spring water untreated sounded pretty good right about then.
We drank our fill and refreshed our water supply. We would be hiking to Hance Creek, where the water needs to be treated, so we decided to try and take enough spring water with us to minimize how much we would have to treat.
We headed back out to Hance and started down towards the Hance Creek campground. We didn't know what to expect so we didn't know what to look for. In retrospect, it seems stupid but I followed the wash down looking for the creek while George took the high path. I learned my lesson. Know where you are going and how to get there.
Down in the wash, I heard George calling from above saying that he had found a good place to camp. By this time, my left knee was making it hard to walk. George was suffering in both knees but not as badly as me. I climbed up the steep side of the wash crossing the Tonto Trail and emerged on top of a broad round plain. On top was a campsite that had obviously seen a lot of use. Given our condition, we decided not try to make it to Hance Creek but stay put for the night. We would discover that off to our right about 3/4 of a mile (looking toward the river) was Hance Creek. In fact, after setting up camp, George hiked over and was able to look down into the Hance Creek campsite from above. He was gone a long time and so, even with my bad knee, I decided to hobble over and see what had become of him. I met him on the trail coming back.
Back at camp, I made some coffee and settled down to enjoy the view. What a view it was. The campsite at the top of the plain provided a 360 view. One thing that amazes me about the Canyon is the silence. For a place that is so absolutely huge, there is little sound. Sitting in the setting sun, drinking my coffee, the only sound was the wind and the eerie echo of a bullfrog croaking somewhere in a nearby canyon.
By now it was getting dark so we cooked our dinner. We had brought the freeze-dried stuff. Tonight was Lasagna. We had brought a lot of food and after we polished off the Lasagna we both still felt like we could eat some more so we had the stew as well. One thing I noticed about my appetite while hiking the GC, I never really feel hungry but when it comes time to eat, I scrape the bowl clean.
We washed our dinner dishes, stowed our packs and settled in to watch the night come. What a scene! The stars came out and way off to the East we could see a light shining on the South rim. About that time, almost simultaneously, we both commented how great it would be to have a couple of really cold beers right about now. We conclude that it would be worth the weight... although they probably wouldn't have been cold.
We watch the stars for a while and then rolled into our tent for some much needed sleep.
In the morning I knew I was in trouble. My left knee was blown and I could hardly walk. I wrapped it in an ace bandage and that helped some. George had brought a bottle of Advil but when we opened it, we saw that there were only 8 pills left. Given his sore knees, we were going to have to do some serious rationing. I took two and in a while, with the help of the ace bandage, I was able to get along pretty well.
It was early and after coffee we decided to break camp and eat at the Miner's spring. Actually, we didn't have much of choice given that we had used a lot of water and wanted to make sure we didn't run out before getting to the spring. If we had made breakfast at the campsite, we would have to hike to the Miner's spring without water. No way. It wasn't that far but I remembered the old adage... "Always hike from water, not to water."
We made good time to the spring... the pain in my knee was helped by the bandage and dulled by the Advil. We filled our bottles and sat down to mix up some freeze-dried blueberries and cream granola. One of my fondest memories of this trip is sitting near the Miner's spring under a warm sun and blue sky eating blueberries and cream granola.
The hike back up to Horseshoe Mesa took the lion's share of the morning. We topped out, grabbed our stashed water and went to find our campsite. We scored. The campsites are on the East side of the Mesa. We found that the one right on the rim was empty. The view from our tent was incredible. We set up camp, ate an early lunch and talked about what we should do next. We had planned to continue our exploration of the Cave of the Domes, which we had started during our hike the year before. We decided that we could do that later that afternoon and that the short hike out to the end of the Eastern arm seemed like a good plan.
Here is a tip: Always wear sunscreen in the Canyon. I don't know what I was thinking. Maybe it was the pain in my knee that dulled my senses but I made the hike out the Eastern arm without sunscreen. By the time I got back I had a nasty burn on my arms and neck. Stupid!
The view from the end of the Eastern Arm is dramatic. You can see the river clearly and the view up and down the Canyon is fantastic. The hike out the arm is longer than you would expect but easy as it is flat.
We got back to the campsite around 1:30pm and proceeded to conk out for an hour or so for a much needed nap. When we woke up, we felt better. It was time to head to the cave.
First, though, we had to deal with something. How should I say this? You may have noticed that, so far, I have not mentioned... um... nature's call. Well, by this time both of us were in a position where it could no longer be ignored.
Horseshoe Mesa has two toilets. One is near the campground and the other is out on the Eastern arm. A wooden wall mostly surrounds the one in the campground. The one on the Eastern arm is right out in the open with nothing between you and the beauty of the Canyon. Unfortunately, the one in the campsite was in pretty bad shape (if you know what I mean.). It was a choice between cleanliness and discretion. I chose discretion and George chose cleanliness. He took a detour on the way to the Cave of the Domes to the Eastern arm.
Before we headed out, we stopped to look at a cave we could see from our campsite. It was right above the Eastern face of the Mesa right where the Eastern arm connects to the main part. We scrambled down to it and peered in. It was a cave all right. Unfortunately, there was a 20-foot drop straight down before it flattened out. Someone had placed some sort of old beam in there to fashion sort of a ladder but that was beyond what we were willing to do.
I followed the trail West passed the old Miner's cabin and waited for George under the giant rock to the right of the trial. I say "the" giant rock because you can't miss it. It is huge. It felt good to get some shade, as it was quite hot in the afternoon sun.
George met up with me there and we followed the path West around the Butte. We kept our eyes open for the faint unmarked trail off the left side of the main trail that would take us over the rim and along the face to the cave. Just like last year, we missed it the first time and had to back track. We found it.
We entered the cave and signed the book in the metal box on the big rock in the middle in the first chamber. We looked back and found where we had signed it the year before. A lot of people had come through since then.
We spent some time exploring some passages we had missed the year before but they really didn't go anywhere interesting. Finally, we arrived at a 15-foot wall that had stopped us the year before. After a few false starts with the rope, George was thinking that maybe it wasn't meant to be. Well, I had come all this way and had carried the rope so I wasn't ready to give up. Eventually, we got George up the face and he made his way along to see what was next. Unfortunately, what he found was that the cave continued for maybe a dozen feet before a 30-foot drop blocked it. That was too much. However, George claimed that he could see the end of the cave not much further on anyway. He came back and after a few tense moments we managed to get him back down the face without injury.
Back out we went and headed back to our campsite, the last part of the trail in the dark. We made dinner and took it easy for the rest of the evening... tomorrow we would be hiking out and my knee needed a rest.
After dark the wind started to whip up. By the time we were ready for bed, it was howling. I had heard stories of people being blown right off the edge inside their tents. We were about 15 to 20 feet from the rim and I had visions of waking up in free fall. In the dark, we grabbed the biggest rocks we could find and put them on the corners of our tent. I felt a little better after that but the sound of the wind and the lingering fear of being blown off the Mesa made for a restless night.
Out the Grandview:
Up early and right to coffee and breakfast. It was going to be a long day. Not only did we have to hike out the Grandview that day but we also had to drive back to Vegas in time for George's conference the next day. We packed up as quickly as we could and started up. I took the last of the Advil and wrapped my knee... the pain was bearable.
Right before we reached the Coconino Saddle some longhorn sheep prancing on the cliffs high above us pleasantly surprised us. Those things can really climb. It was early and we hadn't yet passed anyone coming down so we were the first ones that morning to pass that way.
It may just be me and I have only done it twice but the hike from Horseshoe Mesa to the Coconino Saddle always seems a lot longer than I remember. By the time I got there I was ready to drop my back and drink a good portion of the water we had stashed on the way down. We rested for a while munching on trail food and drinking water before tackling the steep, final ascent.
I will never hike without poles again and I was glad I had them on this trip. The year before, I had hiked out the Grandview from Horseshoe Mesa with only a day pack but without poles. It was brutal. I have heard that the Grandview is one of the harder trails to hike out. Whether that is true or not, I don't know. I do know that it is easier with hiking poles, even with a full pack.
George, although a year and half older, is in much better shape than me. Given that, he had gotten quite a bid ahead of me by the time we reached the top. I made my way up the final switchbacks, stopping for a few seconds every 25 feet or so to rest my knee. Three and 1/2 hours after leaving the Mesa, I limped over the top and into the Grandview Trailhead parking lot. I was dirty, smelly and limping with a bandaged knee as I made my way back to the car through the host of rim tourists. But I was happy. The hike out had not been as bad as I remembered and 3 1/2 hours is a good time, especially with a bum knee. Mostly though, I was happy and satisfied with the three days I had spent marveling and enjoying the Grand Canyon from below the rim.
We wasted no time at the top. We dumped our trash, changed into clean clothes, threw our packs in the back of the rental and headed over to the store for hot coffee before starting back to Vegas. We made good time and I dropped George at his hotel in time for dinner. I headed back to my hotel, which was near the airport since I was flying back East the next morning. I must have been a site checking in given I had not yet had the opportunity to shower or shave.
Room service and a soft bed were greatly appreciated. It turns out that George, on the other hand, had ordered dinner up to his room as well, including oysters on the half shell. He ended up with food poisoning and lost 10 pounds in the next two days. While he has his doubts, I still say his trouble was the oysters and not the untreated water from Miner's spring.
He and I have now hiked the Grand Canyon in March of 2002 and March of 2003. In February 2004, George will be spending three weeks hiking through New Zealand and will not be able to get back to the Canyon in March. So, I decided that I would return and bring along my oldest daughter, who will be 10 in April. We plan on doing the South Kaibab/ Bright Angel loop with two days at the BA campground. I can't wait to get back below the rim.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.