Zen On Dirt

Canyons, Condors, Toads, Lizards, and Running

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One of the most common questions we get asked is ‘Where to next?’

While on some level, we do wander around aimlessly and see what adventuring falls into our lap, there generally is a method to our madness. Or at least some event in the near future at a faraway place that we’re aiming for. In this case, we had about nine days between when we left Tucson on a hot-as afternoon and a date with my Best Bad Idea Adventure Buddy up in southern Utah.

Clearly, the most logical pit stop between these two locations was the Grand Canyon because cell reception is awesome, and it’s a great place to just chill and rest my legs in preparation for my big running date. #alternativefacts (Cell coverage stinks, WiFi is horrendously slow everywhere, and I can’t resist the allure of the Big Ditch)

We started with a little bit of a Big Ditch run warm-up the afternoon we rolled in. Scott forced us to turn around long before I wanted to citing rational reasons such as: I don’t want to get sore during my first afternoon at the Canyon. He’s a smart one, that boy. Still, a sunset run down below the rim is always a special event.


We went on a couple of exploratory rides from our campsite. The entire area is crisscrossed with lightly trafficked dirt roads. New connections were discovered, and we saw a horny toad, which is always a noteworthy experience. Little dinosaurs, they are.


Then Danielle and Nancy showed up from PHX. The goal: Lemonade from Phantom Ranch.


I’m not all that sure why I have such an obsession with running to the bottom of the Big Ditch for a $3.75 cup of ice-cold lemonade, but I do, and I’ve accepted it as such.


It might have something to do with the massive views on the way down South Kaibab Trail.


Or the semi-well manicured trail that is oh-so-runnable, most of the way down.


Or the chance to people watch at Phantom Ranch and on the trail.


Whatever it is, it was awesome to get to spend a day with Nancy and Danielle, and when we emerged from Bright Angel trail back on the Rim, none of us were wrecked. Which is always awesome.

But I was sore the next day. Doh! But luckily, I’m also a bit dumb, so when Scott proposed a 24 mile run on the Tonto trail a day later, descending the Hermit Trail, diving in and out of three drainages on the Tonto Plateau, and then climbing back up Bright Angel trail, I immediately agreed.

Because tapering. I was resting up for my adventure later in the week.

We woke up long before we’re used to waking up and took the Hermit’s Rest shuttle out to the far end of the road. If all went according to plan, we’d emerge from the Canyon just feet from the van. I love it when shuttles are easy.


We made quick work of the descent to Windy Point, down the Cathedral Steps, and onto the Plateau.


The Tonto was absolutely exploding with flowers and devoid of people.


The miles went surprisingly easily and quickly to Monument Creek, our first water stop for the day. Birds chirped. Lizards posed. Water flowed. Wind blew gently through the tress. Quite idyllic, if I may say so myself.


On to Salt Creek (too salty), Horn Creek (radioactive from Uranium), and Indian Gardens where we once again joined back in with the crowds of the Canyon. 20+ miles in by this point, we stopped to soak our feet in the spring, cool the core temperatures, and partake in my favorite Grand Canyon activity: People watching.


I’d love to say we walked out of there in a spirited manner, but really, it was more of a slog. But it was okay, because we were surrounded by other people who were equally on the Suffer Bus, so we had plenty of company.


We went for burgers and cake as the Maswik Lodge afterwards to celebrate. I was so impressed by Scott. He’s definitely spent a lot less time running than I have, and aside from nearly letting the wheels fall off the Suffer Bus near the top (I gave him my walking sticks, that helped), he pulled the route off with grace.


Then I committed myself to resting. Megan was showing up in two days and had decided that she also wanted to do a Canyon run before our main objective. Part of my resting routine is to take care of all of those pesky life chores that have to be taken care of even if you live in a Scamp. Chores like laundry, which can actually be done incredibly cheaply on the South Rim of the Canyon at the campground.

Laundry was also a good excuse to take a break from work that day, but when it was done, I was ready to get back to the computer screen to earn Fun Tokens. But Scott insisted that we go wander around at the rim for a little bit. We were at the Grand Canyon after all.

I relented, and I’m so glad I did.

Condor #87 was sitting at Mather Point putting on a show for any one who wanted to watch. With sub-500 condors alive, it’s a true treat to see this gigantic bird. I’d never had the pleasure, and here was one seeming to be completely content to sit on a rock and have it’s picture taken.


Except of course, since we’d only come to the Canyon to do laundry, the only camera we had was my iPhone. (There’s a life lesson here: always carry a camera, even if you’re just going to do laundry) Lucky for us, there was a #birdnerd who happened to be there with a spotting scope, and we got to get an up-close and personal look at the head of this giant bird.


He stretched. He dried his wings and let the UV from the sun kill bacteria on his feathers. He preened. And eventually he took off, dropping straight into the Canyon, not to be seen again.


What a special, special experience. Pretty glad I wasn’t actually that motivated to work that afternoon. I could have left the Canyon that night, completely content with the experience. But it turns out, I have a Best Bad Idea Adventure Buddy who was having FOMO from afar and wanted some Canyon time for herself.

I wasn’t about to object.




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