68.8 Miles; 4,054 Feet of Gain; Grandview to South Rim Village
Somehow the night was warmer than the evening. Whether it was the storm passing and taking its gale or a warm front slightly moved in, but the dawn broke even and comfortable. Today was planned to be a big day. My pelvis was doing well, so I planned to make up some distance/time by hitting up all the capes and making it to the South Rim Village for the night. No rain was forecast, so I didn't feel compelled to hurry my morning too quickly. Instead, I used the latrines over by Grandview Tower, enjoyed a long breakfast, and then got comfortably going for a big descent off the Coconino Rim down to the Upper Basin.
AZT singletrack was first for a short bout through the woods before a steep downhill that swept past USFS Hull Cabin. Red stalks/leaves of autumnal mint stood sentinel about the floor of the ponderosa woodland. The reds, yellows, and crushing oranges of their colors really made the whole scene fell like fall. But contrastingly, the recent rains had stimulated vibrant green new grass and a fresh bloom of rabbitbrush that spilled summer amongst the photosynthetically-depreciating leaves of other deciduous growth. I stopped over and over again to admire the colors making up the forest floor. Satiated, I pushed on and quickly sped down the road that traced a drainage by limestone walls and jutting cliffs before entering the outer edges of the Upper Basin. Here, the trees quickly gave way to an old burn scar now filled with rabbitbrush and grasses.
The road along this section is best traveled by bikepackers as a downhill (which is how I designed it) due to the frequent ATV use that often leaves washboard intermittently. It's a pain on the uphill, but manageable on the down as long as you watch your line and keep to the sides. Even then, there are always sections that require standing to avoid the jolting shakes. Rabbitbrush was fading away here, but small purple coneflowers stood resolutely violet against the browning landscape. I could see the general distant area of Desert View, and I noted gathering cloud that looked might anvil-esque. Thinking it couldn't be rain, I pushed forward to where the wide gravel intersected with the highway. I crossed the highway and joined that dirt that gave way to the Lost Highway - Old HWY 64, now abandoned and thickly growing with successional vegetation. It's a cool section of pavement that only cyclists, pedestrians, and the odd ATV get to enjoy. I sped down the slope dodging bushes and grass tussocks growing out of cracks.
Abandoned pavement turned to dirt doubletrack. I looked to my left only to see a massive gray cumulus system start rumbling thunder and throwing out lightning - and it was only 10 am. I sped up to dodge the cell lest it rain and turn my track to peanut butter mud. I turned right and started out to Cape #1 at the Little Colorado River Gorge Overlook. The road out to it is primitive, overgrown, rocky, and little-used. However, the hike-a-biking a times couldn't dissuade me from the epic view I knew lay ahead. Grasslands rose up. I turned to my left at a cowboy fence and gaped at the storm cell swelling my way. I quickly pedaled to the overlook of the gorge cut-in-Earth. It was awesome as always. I then turned and climbed up the grassy hill where the curtain of rain was fast approaching the Earth and making its way to me.
I jumped on the route and quickly made my way back to the highway as cooling temperatures descended along with a spittle of rain. I threw on my rain jacket. But as I reached the highway, it seemed the storm was just missing where I was at. Instead, the road looked absolutely soaked heading up to Desert View meaning I had just missed the downpour.
Feeling pleased, I started the long shoulder-ride up into Grand Canyon National Park. This is always a big, long ascent from just over 6000 feet to 7500 feet. I turned the pedals with that constant hum and vehicles gave me plenty of space as I kept to the side and entered the Park. I turned off for Desert View. Desert View Watchtower spiked the horizon and I descended to Cape #2. The swirling grays, bruised curtains, and scale-off-white clouds whipped around the Canyon just making an already stunning scene even more dramatic. I love it when storms brew over the Canyon - the play of shadow and light texturizes the inner gorge even more so, sprinkling color and contrast uniquely. I enjoyed sitting on a bench just staring at it all. I felt hungry so I headed over to the Market to grab some Gatorade (it was another atypically hot day) and some fresh fruit/hummus. As I ate outside, a couple sat down next to me. It turns out the guy used to head up the largest bike retail stores in Texas, and he was super interested in the riding I was doing. After peppering questions, they relayed that they now lived in Durango. And to quote him, "Durango is absolutely beautiful. I had never been to the Grand Canyon before, and I've held off a big part of my life because I thought we had the market cornered on beauty where we're at. I came here with no expectations and…was ABSOLUTELY BLOWN AWAY by how beautiful and epic this place is." He said the Canyon was the most amazing thing he had ever seen in his life. I always get stoked when I talk to people at the Grand Canyon for their first times as their excitement confirms that fire in me for this place.
The day was now in early afternoon, and I still had some good elevation gain and miles ahead, so I said goodbye and jumped back on the shoulder of the pavement. As is necessary for the eyes and heart, I stopped at every Grand Canyon cape to take in the views set amid the day's storms. Mid-afternoon found me climbing up to Grandview again, this time for the overlook. This is the highest point on the South Rim and oaks grow well here in the wetter climate. In fact, the mid-October season was pushing them all to burnt orange, soft yellows, and even some poignant reds. The road was slick with recent rain and the views of the inner Canyon were shadowed by the storm clouds that now passed more heavily over the Sun and over the chasm.
I rode quickly because one of my favorite sunset spots on the South Rim is at Shoshone Point. I wanted to hit it before sun slide behind clouds or below horizon. I raced up the dirt road leading to the point, left my bike at the pavilion, and then jogged out to the point proper just as a crimson slice of Sun slanted heavily on the top peaks of Canyon buttes while their masses lay in shadow. It was a powerful set of color and angle. I felt grateful. But the sun was now dipping below horizon, the cold was descending, and I still had some miles to cover. I got back on the bike, turned on my front light, and started biking along the Greenway towards Grand Canyon Village all while the rising bugles of male elk filled the woods.