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Bright Angel Trailhead; Tom, Sean, RichardDay One: Bright Angel Trail to Horn Creek CG
Interactive Map: Bright Angel Trail
Distance: Approximately 7 miles
Elevation Change: 3,090 ft.
Departure Time: 10:15 am

We spent the previous night in the Thunderbird Lodge with a second story canyon view and all agreed to wake up at our leisure, have breakfast, and begin the hike around 10:00 am. I decided to get up early and catch the sunrise along the rim trail, which turned out to be a very peaceful morning. We met at the Bright Angel Lodge for breakfast and discussed the final details of our departure. As luck would have it, the night before we were able to park Tom's truck in the third parking spot from the South Rim right in front of the Thunderbird Lodge. This, of course, made checking out of the hotel a breeze. Our plans were to leave the truck right where it was for the next five days for our return via the shuttle. Hopefully it wouldn't get towed.

Indian PictographsWe left the Bright Angel Trailhead at approximately 10:15 am with temperatures in the low 70's. The park ranger at the Backcountry office had given me some information about Indian pictographs (painted on not etched) along the Bright Angel Trail. There is a set just past the first tunnel, which is pictured here. The rock art was not accessible by hiking and can only be photographed using a telephoto lens or a digital camera with a 10x zoom or greater. Thanks to Richard's new Kodak camera we were able to get a good shot of them. The second set of pictographs are located between the 1.5 mile rest house and the 2 mile turn around. This second collection of rock art can be reached by scrambling up about 40 yards.This is a pretty tricky scramble so only attempt it if you are confident with your balance and footing. Evidently, the large rock containing these drawing was originally located along the rim, but has since fallen down the cliff walls of the South Rim. Richard and I scrambled up the cliff and got some really nice photos (view 1, view 2, view 3). The site is marked with an archeological plaque set into the rock just below the art with some pretty strong wording about defacing the property. There was a couple from Italy that had stopped just below this area for a break and had no idea the pictographs were above them. In fact, I walked past both of these locations on my 1997 trek twice and didn't see them. These rock drawings are probably no big deal for folks from Arizona and the Southwest, but for some guys from East Texas they were pretty neat.

Bright Angel TrailAt this point, we were all doing well as far as conditioning and hydration (no blisters - yet). We weren't making as good of time as I had intended; however, my motto for the trip was; "This is not a race, it's an experience." We made the two stops for the rock art and the occasional stops for mule trains and a lot of stops for photography not to mention yielding for the uphill hikers (trail courtesy). I stopped on the outside edge of the trail for a mule train group to pass and one of the nice mules decided to stop and relieve himself exactly in front of me. I backed up as much as I could without falling off the cliff to try to avoid the splatter - Tom got a nice chuckle out of it. Water was available at the 1.5 rest house and we stopped at the 3 mile rest house for lunch. There was a small crowd under the shelter resting and refilling water. 3 Mile Rest HouseWe ate lunch and got in a good 45 minute rest. The three mile rest house was basically our half way point for the day. Shortly after leaving the 3 mile rest house we came across three guys in their 20's sucking up some shade on the east side of boulder - they weren't looking too good. One of the guys mentioned they were doing a rim-to-river-to-rim in a day (not recommended by park officials) and were on their way up. By the looks of them they would be lucky to make it to the rim by nightfall. They were definitely flirting with dehydration, but they had both the 3 and 1.5 mile rest houses for water (note: On July 14, 2005 a rim-to-river-to-rim 28 yr. old hiker died of a heat-related illness). We made it to Indian Gardens late afternoon. The plan was to top off all of our water since water was not available at Horn Creek CG due to the abandoned uranium mine on the rim just above the creek. The water we were filling would be needed to cook 2 meals, get us out to Horn Creek and back, a side trip to Plateau Point, and then back to Indian Gardens (about 7 miles). I filled up both my 48 and 32oz bottles. My plans were to drink 48oz and cook with the 32oz. We would refill the next day when we returned to Indian Garden before trekking on to Bright Angel CG.

Experience taught me that the hike from Indian Gardens to Horn Creek seemed longer than it really was (2.5 miles). Mainly, because you can't see your destination. Although the tonto platform in relatively flat, the trail drops in and out of shallow washes. We could pretty much see the cottonwood trees down at Indian Gardens on the previous 4.5 miles so we were used to being able to see where we were going. Tom on the Tonto Trail heading to Horn Creek CGAnyway, knowing all this and seeing that we were all getting tired I thought I would try some "trail psychology." I suggested that we play a game of who could spot the first rattlesnake between Indian Gardens and Horn Creek. The winner would be rewarded with a cold beverage at Phantom Ranch the next night. I was hoping this would keep everyone's mind off the strains of the trail and that before we all knew it we would be at Horn Creek. Didn't work..... Thirty minutes or so later, the guys started asking me where the turn off was to Horn Creek. At a rest stop Richard had taken off his backpack and when he bent over and tried to hoist it up on to his back it went too far and was going over his head. He was able to recover and we all got a laugh out of it. He mentioned something under his breath about the rattle snake game. After we made the turn on to the Tonto Trail (west) the questions were directed to where exactly is this Horn Creek? I later pointed to the south end of the gorge that the creek flowed in to and said that it was at the base of that point. Evidently, my wording cause some confusion and Tom and Richard were doing some talking behind me on the trail. The next thing I knew Tom scrambled in front of me on the trail and said, "Where exactly is the campground!" So much for snake hunting (trail psychology is pretty tricky). When I said "point" they thought I meant the western side of the northern point of the gorge that Horn Creek flows in to, which was a long way from where we were. I was a little rattled by their dissension and said that I would show them when we got there.... No harm, no foul - we arrived at Horn Creek around 5:45 pm. Here is a 360 degree VIDEO (1mb) of the Tonto Trail.

Day One SunsetIt felt good to take the packs and hiking boots off knowing that we wouldn't have to put them back on until the next morning (although Richard failed to bring any camp shoes). We relaxed and then set up camp. Richard immediately blew up his "Academy special" air mattress (bought the week before the trip along with all of his other gear) and was chilling when he realized it had a hole in it. We needed some more comic relief. At this point he also realized that he failed to pack a camp pillow (he improvised). One of the best parts about camping at Horn Creek is that you are the only ones there - the serenity was immeasurable. I put on my camp sandals and a fresh pair of loose fitting hiking shorts and enjoyed a cigar and a merlot. Just in case, I explored the location of the new compost toilet (in 97' it was simply a standing toilet over a piece of plywood) and set up a few cairns to assist in finding it again. The evening clouds turned a fire red along the eastern horizon and the sky was soon chock full of stars. Everyone cooked their own dehydrated meal (lasagna and meat sauce for me), we enjoyed the star show from above, and before long we were all asleep.

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