|Phantom Ranch Location, AZ|| |
Phantom Ranch Location, AZ
||no linked trail guides|
|Phantom Ranch 2018|
For our 2018 Grand Canyon excursion we stayed not just one night, but rather two nights, at Phantom Ranch. While an extended stay runs a bit pricey, we relished the added time at the Ranch. My wife walked and relaxed amidst the nature and calm; I hiked Clear Creek Trail, a bit of North Kaibab, and the start of Utah Flats; and we both enjoyed the immersion in the power of the rocks of the lower canyon.
With our positive experience, and and longer stay, we thought it beneficial to share what we learned and encountered.
All good on this account. The staff, including the mule captains and the ranger and the servers and the cooks, all treated the guests with a genuine friendliness. Not in a corporate, formal, polished manner – just a personal, warm kindliness.
Similarly, the fellow guests engaged each other. People from all over the country and the world had trekked or rode down to the Ranch, and the conversation flowed easily as people talked about their home country, or how they came down, or what they had seen.
Spectacular. The variety at Phantom Ranch delights the visitor. Start with the rocks. The basement level of the Canyon, visible at Phantom Ranch, and especially with a walk a short distance up North Kaibab, features strong, powerful granites and schists that rise forcefully up into turbulent towers, in all varieties of textures and colors and striations.
Then of course the creek. It gurgles as it flows gently through the camp, the water clear, crisp, the banks lined with trees and grasses. And thanks to the creek, Phantom Ranch overall sits among not the scrappy, hardened desert vegetation of the general canyon, but among leafy, vibrant trees, and a range of green underbrush.
Observe the sunrise, either at the Ranch or if you leave pre-dawn as the sun rises along your way out. The low sun at dawn will heighten the colors of the upper canyon walls into an almost fiery hue. And admire the Colorado. Muddy yes, but the Colorado provided the genesis of the Canyon, cutting and blasting an incision. Then wind, rain, ice, vegation, creeks, thermal expansion, wind, gravity – all the subtle and powerful and varied forces of nature carved away the rock and soil to create the Grand Canyon.
Finally, for those inclined, observe the suspension bridges. While not the most complex engineering, the design and execution exhibits cleverness and ingenuity in the support and stability cabling, in the bridge decking, and in the abutments and anchoring of the bridge and cables into the rock.
For us, breakfasts and dinners at Phantom Ranch filled and fulfilled our hunger. These meals come family style, with ample portions, and we rarely saw any item run out.
Breakfast featured dollar pancakes, bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, with plenty of syrup, butter and for those desiring it, ketchup. We reluctantly skipped breakfast the second morning, a trying decision given how good we found the meal the first day, but prudence won, as we left in the dark at 3:40 to beat the heat on the way up.
Dinner our first night offered a choice (we had to pre-pick) of beef stew or vegetarian chili. I selected chili, which consisted of beans, carrots and corn in a rich mixture, and found it tasty and delightful. My wife picked the stew, which was equally rich, but which my wife rated only a bit above average. Not that the stew lacked ingredients, or strong consistency, but rather the taste wasn’t what she found to her liking.
For our second night, we picked the second sitting, featuring the steak dinner. The steak was cooked nicely, about medium (you could not pick how you wanted it done), and came with a baked potato hot in aluminum foil, carrots and cornbread. Excellently done and excellent to eat.
A bright, fresh salad of lettuce, tomato and other items came with dinner both nights, and dessert featured one night chocolate cake and the second a rich chocolate brownie.
Now for lunch. Basically trail food. Cookies, nuts, electrolyte mix, trail bars, a sausage roll, bagels, sugar and chocolate candies, apples, a small cheese snack. Smart items for hiking; rather monotonous if one, like us, needs lunch the middle day of a three day, two night stay. But no complaints; we knew Phantom Ranch didn’t feature a full lunch.
How about drinks? Well, no soda. Yes, beer and wine, but no carbonated soft drinks. The redemption came in the form of ice tea, lemonade and endless ice cubes. A large cup of those items costs $4.75, a bit of a steep price of entry, but refills cost one dollar. Over our stay we refilled a good dozen times, maybe more.
Functional. Not fancy, or luxurious, or plush. But everything did what we needed, Let’s cover the cabins, the canteen, and shower house.
Our cabin proved perfectly adequate. The bunk beds gave reasonable sleep, sufficient electrical outlets existed to charge our cell phones (no service, but still needed to take pictures and write up logs), the toilet and sink meant no odd trips out to a rest room, and a couple chairs and tables allowed us to spread out our items and food to stay organized. And the cabin provided air conditioning.
True, the cabins feature hard, concrete floors, simple stone and wood construction, basic curtains, and a plain sink and toilet, in other words nothing glamorous – but otherwise clean, sturdy, functional, effective and serviceable.
The canteen proved the same. The building served as dining hall, gathering place, general store, and front desk, efficiently. Enough tables existed to accommodate guests at and between meals. The air conditioning provided enough cooling to give a respite from the August heat. The ice tea, lemonade and ice cube machine never ran out. A great variety of trail food, and personal care items (e.g. analgesics, tooth paste), and souvenirs, and hiking needs (e.g. head lamps) could be purchased. Post cards could be bought, and mailed by mule.
And just right sized to serve meals – the servers could readily and quickly bring the food to each end of the tables, and the guests handed it person-to-person.
The common showers did what was needed. Absolutely nothing fancy, but nonetheless effective, though at times quirky. The shower room provided three private stalls, with wood partitions, with enough room to shower, dry and dress. And plenty of large, somewhat stiff, towels. But quirky. The ceiling light operated on a timer, not a problem, but one had to figure out that the timer in the entry room turned on the lights in the shower room. And each shower was controlled by a slightly different set of plumbing, each which (for me) took a bit of experimentation to get the temperature and flow to what I desired. But again, the showers did the job.
The Ranch provides a few interesting diversions. The first, the Ranger talks, proved interesting and enriching. Range talks occurred twice a day, at 4 and 6:30 PM, with the earlier talk under the tree-covered benches near the canteen, and the second further towards the creek in the amphitheatre. In our two days, we had four talks, and in those talks, our Ranger, Kate, explored four different topics – geology, lightning, ravens and snakes – with gusto, passion, a flurry of visual aids, and ample audience participation, while providing interesting and authoritative information and explanations.
Two small libraries, one at the Ranger station and the second in the canteen, plus a small book store, in the canteen, offer books. Now maybe reading a book has slipped down a typical list of activities, but no cell service exists at Phantom Ranch, so reading amidst nature has an attraction and a serenity.
A final diversion, a natural one, flowed right past the Ranch. It is the creek itself. Temperatures topped 110 degrees each day, as registered on the informal thermometer (sitting high over a message board, in direct sun, but still hot). So cooling off is desirable, and can be accomplished, and by many was accomplished, by sitting, or laying , or just dangling feet, in the cool waters of Bright Angel Creek.
The Layout and Trails
Phantom Ranch, in its totality, extends a good distance. Right at the river, on both sides, the trail system allows a direct connection from South Kaibab to Bright Angel. Along the connection on the north side, using the black and silver suspension bridges, one can get water and use rest room facilities. The south side appears to only have rest rooms. Both sides access emergency phones.
Turning north away from the river, into Phantom Ranch, a long stretch of trail (this nominally represents the start of North Kaibab) passes the campground area. Bridges cross Bright Angel Creek at both ends of the campground. Past the campground, the trail continues past the Ranger Station, the ranger talk amphitheatre, the mule ring, and other assorted buildings, again for a good stretch. Finally, the trail passes the cabins, which come in two sizes, then the shower house, then the canteen (i.e. where one checks in), then the dormitories.
Note web searches and maps will reveal all of this quite readily, but I describe it here more to offer a bit of preparation. At the end of a hike down from the South Rim, legs could likely be tired and temperatures rising. One might feel they have arrived once at either of the suspension bridges, but much remains to traversed to get to check-in
On the list here we should put Clear Creek Trail. Not highly featured, Clear Creek Trail offers a decidely uncrowded encounter (I met no-one in my several hours) with the lowyer canyon walls. The trail starts a short walk north from the canteen, and quickly ascends about 1200 feet in the first mile then levels off for several miles. The trail runs for 8 miles; I followed it for about 2 and a half. The trail provides long vistas all the way to the South Rim, and in-your-face close-ups of the stratifications, layerings, intrusions and granules in the rocks and facades.
Special Note – Utah Flats
For the adventurous, and also (caution note here) experienced, the Utah Flats route leaves at Phantom Ranch. This route takes one to canyon and climbing locations considerably off the path. I highlight such routes here to identify that paths exist not necessarily shown on typical trail maps.
Now as a route, Utah Flats is not just unmaintained, but not even developed. The grade is step, the footing loose, the continuity of direction uncertain, the rocks sharp, the cactus ever present. Not impossible though. With an early start, or in a cooler month, one (fit, able, being careful to not loose the route, and willing to expend some effort) could traverse Utah Flats (all the way to Phantom Creek) with acceptable even good pace. But I had hiked part of Clear Creek in the morning, so I started early afternoon, and as another consideration temperatures had risen to 110. So I deferred, and covered a few thousand feet, to see Phantom Ranch, and the Canyon, from a viewpoint not commonly reached.