11-Oct-2003 -- [This commentary is dedicated to the memory of Captain John Wesley Powell, who, while commanding Battery F, Second Illinois Light Artillery, lost his right arm in the Battle of Shiloh, April 6, 1862, thus enabling him seven years later to become the first person to single-handedly traverse the length of the Colorado River through the grandest of canyons.]
Grand Canyon National Park is a place of tremendous beauty, peace, and scenic grandeur, established in 1919 to preserve one of the world’s great natural resources. Visitors willing to spend the time will find the Canyon is more than a great chasm carved over millennia through the rocks of the Colorado Plateau. It is more than an awe-inspiring view. It is even more than a pleasuring ground for those adventurers who hike its trails, or float the currents of the turbulent Colorado River.
The canyon is a gift that transcends what is experienced. Its beauty and size humble us. Its timelessness provokes comparison to our short existence. In its vast spaces we may find solace from our hectic lives.
The Canyon today is a gift from past generations. It is a gift to be savored and enjoyed. Sit and watch the changing play of light and shadows. Wander along a trail and feel the sunshine and wind on your face. Attend a ranger program. Follow the antics of ravens soaring above the rim, or catch a glimpse of the newly-reintroduced California condors. Listen for the roar of the rapids far below Pima Point. Take in a sunrise or sunset.
As the shadows lengthen across the spires and buttes, time passing into the depths of the canyon, understand what this great chasm passes on to us – a sense of humility born in the interconnections of all that is and an urgency to care for this special place. Each of today’s visitors has the responsibility to ensure future generations have the opportunity to form their own connections with the great, the one and only, the grand canyon.
Best Buy: At a cost of $50, the National Parks Pass admits the passholder and any accompanying passengers in a private vechicle to all US national parks for one year. Purchase one at a park entrance station, by phone at 1-888-GO-PARKS, or online at www.nationalparks.org.
October is an ideal time to hike the canyon, with many cool, clear days nestled between the heat and thunderstorms of early September, and the first snowstorms of November.
Day Hiking in the Canyon:
Plan Ahead. As a day hiker no permits are required. You are entirely on your own. Your decent into the canyon, however brief, marks your entry into a world in which preparation, self-reliance, and common sense are crucial.
Fall Weather Varies. Know the weather forecast and dress accordingly.
Double Your Calories, Double Your Fun. Salty snacks and water or sports drinks should be consumed on any hike lasting longer than 30 minutes. Food is the body’s primary source of fuel and salts (electrolytes) while hiking in the canyon. If you do not balance your food intake with fluid consumption, you run the risk of becoming dangerously debilitated and severely ill. For every hour hiking in the canyon, you should drink one half to a quart of water. Your best defense against illness and exhaustion is to eat a healthy breakfast, a snack every time you take a drink, and a rewarding full dinner at the end of the day. This is not a time to diet!
Watch Your Time. Plan on taking twice as long to hike back up as it took to hike down. Allow 1/3 of your time to descend, and 2/3 of your time to ascend.
For more information, go to the park website: www.nps.gov/grca
But I digress...
Located at about 7040 feet (2150 meters) above sea level, the intersection of Latitude 36N and Longitude 112W lies in a small alcove 7/10 of a mile west of Grandview Point, just about 430’ below the South Rim of the Grand Canyon [Photo 1].
Fortunately for anyone wishing to reach this spot, the invisible confluence rests near the bottom, but within the Toroweap Formation, a scant but crucial few yards above the beginning of the Coconino Sandstone. From the rim, the Coconino is easily recognizable as the Canyon’s third layer down, a tall, mostly vertical light-colored band of rock whose formation dates to ancient sand dunes first created by wind 265 million years ago, near the end of the Paleozoic Era, and now frozen in time. A few more feet to the north and this confluence would be on the face of a 500 foot cliff!
However, atop the steep sandstone, the Toroweap is a 45 degree slope much easier to both reach and traverse. Formed 262 million years ago when a warm shallow inland sea invaded the region from the west, the Toroweap layer offers a gentle respite from the characteristic sharp cliff faces found above and below it. It is here on this slanted shelf, amid a smattering of broadleaf and needle-leaf vegetation for much of the year cloaked in shadows of the Kaibab Limestone (age 260 million years) above, unseen by any of the area’s five million annual visitors, that one finds the only whole integer latitude-longitude crossing in America’s Grand Canyon National Park [Photo 2 shows the view towards the confluence from Grandview Point. The horizontal shadow in the lower left corner demarcates the Toroweap from the Coconino. The confluence is just around the corner behind the ridge with the longest green diagonal line of vegetation].
A mere 1100 meters from the southern end of the park’s fourth most prominent trail, the location of 36N 112W is nonetheless isolated and unvisited except by native deer and sheep. Through trees and bushes to the north [Photo 3] lies the imposing abyss of the Grand Canyon. To the east [Photo 4] the Toroweap Formation rises to touch the Canyon’s upper Kaibab Limestone Formation. This top-most layer is more hidden in the view to the south [Photo 5], but magnificently exposed high up to the west [Photo 6].
Some of the best views from this confluence are not towards the cardinal points: Photo 7 looks northwest towards Yaki Point and Cedar Ridge, the route of the famous South Kaibab Trail. Photo 8 is a telephoto view to the southwest and a Kaibab Limestone column just below the south rim. Photo 9, again a telephoto, looks across the inner gorge to the north rim.
The location is blocked from a clear view of the sky to the south by the steep southern wall of the canyon, and by a few inauspiciously placed trees, so that eight zeros on a GPS unit are (almost?) impossible to obtain. [In any case, the floppy disk holding those disappointing photo attempts died on the way home, leaving me only with Photo 10 of the waypoint screen].
It is not impossible to scramble back and forth straight up the Toroweap and Kaibab formations from the confluence point to the south rim, a distance of less than 250 meters, but using the Grandview Trail is a much more efficient way of getting down to the confluence elevation…