12 Miles; Havasupai Gardens to Phantom Ranch to Cottonwood Campground
After a night of endless wind, we awoke to a cold that had settled throughout the region, and especially sunk into the canyon. We got up, immediately starting making some hot water for tea, and then heard someone yell, "Howdy Neighbor!" I turned around as my neighbor Jesse and his girlfriend Kelli beckoned to us from the site directly next to ours. We laughed realizing that we had spent the night camped exactly next to each other without realizing it. We packed up and headed off down the canyon past the numerous deer that fill up Havasupai Gardens.
After traveling down a shallow box canyon, we exited around a curve that brought us within eyesight of The Corkscrew. We continued down as the morning light finally hit us and brought some momentary warmth. A mule train passed us heading upwards when we reached the bottom. Janna and I quickly made our way over to the Colorado River with its gorgeous sand beach. From there, a kayaker heading downstream from Lee's Ferry paddled over to talk for a bit. He was part of a larger flotilla of whitewater rafters who came spilling around the turn in the river. As Janna and I walked up the trail section parallel to the river, we caught sight a raft that had somehow gotten lodged on top of a boulder submerged in the middle of the river. We watched from an overlooking cliff as the team used their bodies and ropes to sway the boat by redistributing weight.
From there, we entered Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Campground. It was super quiet with few campers yet checked in for the night. But every cottonwood along Bright Angel Creek was flaming yellow with the last vestiges of fall that had finally caught the desert trees sunk in the ever-summer canyon bottom.
Making a move up the North Kaibab Trail, we passed through miles and miles of box canyon. Here, Bright Angel Canyon is relatively narrow with shear surrounding walls and a narrow valley through which Bright Angel Creek flows. The trail has been blasted and carved away into the banks and walls of the dense granite hallway. By mid-afternoon the box canyon opened up into a wider sprawling valley. Yuccas, prickly pears, and other desert-typical plants grew across the slanted sandy floor. We passed a crew of fish biologists who were using electrofishing to check the population status of endangered native Humpback Chubs living in the creek. They excitedly reported that populations far upstream had been found. Additionally, beaver were doing well, in fact so well in Bright Angel Creek, that they've had to put chicken wire around the bottoms of the largest cottonwood trees because the beavers were chewing them all down.
As early winter evening crept in at 4 pm, we arrived at Cottonwood Campground. We setup our shelter and walked around a bit to see the lay of the area. We ran into a woman who was down here for her 50th birthday, and a rare bit of geographical coincidence, it turns out she lives in Alliance, Ohio (which meant she knew where Louisville is). At this point, Janna and I had not made plans to walk up to the North Rim; we presumed it lay under feet of winter snow. Our plans were to explore the old and rarely used Old Bright Angel Trail that shoots out from Manzanita Resthouse just a few miles up. However the woman reported that with our La Nina winter, that little snow and barely any ice resided on the trail up on top.
Cold sank hard into the campground as the sun went behind the canyon walls. Janna and I climbed into our Triplex quickly for warmth as temperatures sank into the 20s if not the teens.