14 Miles; Cottonwood Campground to Phantom Ranch to Havasupai Gardens
Feeling charged from doing the North Rim, we woke up earlier after a noticeably warmer night. We packed up camp, and started down the shadowed canyon where sun had not yet crept beyond the rim to bring any warmth. We approached Ribbon Falls which is close to a mile off-route and had a bridge that was out (due to surging water from the creek during a past storm that pummeled it into twisted brokenness). Two day hikers up from Phantom Ranch greeted us and asked if we were going to go check it out. It's like their question spurred us for immediately we said "Yes." We hopped down to the side spur trail. The creek was full of melt and so dry feet weren't in store. We did a creek crossing and started up towards the falls just in view.
From far away, we could see the falls up the narrow side-canyon. But THEY WERE AMAZING when we got up close. Ribbon Falls was an absolutely massive cascade of water falling from high up on a rim edge that fell and looked to have created a giant dome of mineral deposit over time. The dome now played host to a diverse number of water-loving plants like ferns and mosses that coated it in a cascading dress of green. Even in winter, it was spectacular to see. I can't imagine what it would look like in a more verdant growing season.
You could even walk up and around and back behind the falls. From there, rogue splashes of water had cooled to ice forming incredible sights on the back walls. We both agreed that this was one of the coolest things we had ever seen in the Grand Canyon.
Back on the route proper, we headed down the trail back towards Phantom Ranch and the Colorado River. It was super cold in the box canyon this time. Wind rushed up it and the sun never seemed to get enough of a peek into it to make a significant difference with warmth. It seemed to just sit at 35 degrees or so.
At Phantom Ranch, the cottonwoods were still in gorgeous golden yellow gowns. It was Christmas Day and it seemed that few people were there. We stopped to eat at the Colorado River, sit in the sun, make use of the bathrooms, and get some purified easy water from a spout. Then, we began our push back up. Surprisingly, the rest of the day went quick. It seemed super-fast to go back up The Corkscrew. The next thing we knew, we were walking into Havasupai Gardens around 4 pm at a casual pace. It was significantly warmer here (though still below-freezing at night). We managed to grab our same campsite from before and setup. We sat and ate for hours as tomorrow we would be out, and we both didn't want to carry the extra weight.
It was interesting to see everyone head in early. Two campers were asleep and loudly snoring by 4:30 pm. They were still asleep and loudly snoring at 7:30 am the next morning when we left. I find laying down for that long super unpleasant.