Hiking the Big Saddle Trail

A car camping trip on the North Rim

Saturday-Monday, September 2-4, 2006

by Dennis Foster

Grand Canyon Rattler.

Click on any picture to see a larger image.

     Cara Lynn, Eric and I headed up to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, to spend the Labor Day Weekend camping and enjoying the Big Saddle Trail, which leads to the Esplanade level of the western Grand Canyon.  Although the trail goes many miles, to Muav Saddle, it is only easy to follow to Lower Crazy Jug Spring.  The trail is a prehistoric Indian trail.  Although there are no obvious ruins in the immediate area, the trail does pass by an intriguing pictograph (shown to the right), similar to ones seen further north, in Snake Gulch.  Perhaps a hundred years ago, the trail received a major makeover, as cowboys herded cattle into this basin during the winter.  There is a crumbling cement trough along the upper trail, and barbed wire fencing at three spots above the Coconino sandstone, and two spots below.  In the 1960s, famed Grand Canyon hiker, Harvey Butchart, reported seeing a horse party in this area, returning from a trip to Powell Plateau.  Never having heard of this trail, Butchart decided to follow it on his return, topping out at the rim near the old Big Saddle hunting camp.  Since then, very few people have trekked over this part of the Grand Canyon.

     We arrived at a campsite, along the rim (and, still in the National Forest) late Saturday morning.  In the afternoon, Eric and I hiked down to the top of the Coconino, where a very marginal fault has left one side about two feet higher than the other.  It is just enough to create a narrow, and rather spectacular, passage through this impressive rock layer.  For those of you with copies of the Geologic Map of the Grand Canyon, don't look too hard for this fault - it's not marked on the map!

     On Sunday, all three of us trekked down to the Esplanade, a broad plateau that dominates this region of the Grand Canyon.  We detoured to the west of Lower Crazy Jug Spring, in an attempt to better locate the route to another spring, the Lower Big Saddle Spring, which is in the north-running ravine and tumbles over some Supai cliffs alongside an impressive pinnacle of rock.  The trail is rather obscure through here, although there are still occasional caches of fencing along the route.  We got a few sprinkles of rain in the mid-afternoon, and all bundled up under our ponchos. It did not last long, but did cool things down quite nicely.  In the late afternoon, Eric and I stopped off at the Lower Crazy Jug Spring, to top off our water bottles for the hike out.  As we were racing up through the switchbacks in the Coconino, Eric was startled by a sudden noise.  He jumped back in surprise, as he was about two feet away from his first Grand Canyon rattlesnake.  It was not only an impressive specimen, but it was located in a good spot for a photo!  That, in my humble experience, is a rarity.  We backed off a bit, and, perhaps, a bit too far.  By the time we decided on a path to follow, the snake was gone!  We quickly hopped over about 20 feet of rocky trail, hoping that it hadn't decided to move into those rocks.  Well, we didn't hear, nor see, anything else.  Later, Cara Lynn told us that she, too, had seen a rattler, but one much smaller.  Our detour for additional water, which turned out to be unnecessary, caused us to finish up our hike by the light of a three-quarters full moon.  It was a full and rewarding day for all.

Overlooking upper Crazy Jug Canyon.  Lower Crazy Jug Spring. At a crumbling trough.

The Esplanade.  Muav Saddle at sunset. Steamboat Mountain.
     On Monday, we packed up and headed out.  We had come in over the dirt roads from Jacob Lake, but returned to the highway at the Kaibab Lodge.  The effects from the Warm Fire (see stories here, and here and here) were quite apparent, as you can tell from the photo below (click on it for a larger image).  There are some neat satellite photos, posted up on the NASA site, where you can see the far-reaching effects of the smoke from this fire, blanketing vast amounts of the Grand Canyon.  The locals were quite p.o.-ed with the Forest Service letting this fire develop as it did.  We saw (and signed) petitions asking for an inquiry into the policy of letting such a fire burn at the driest time of the year!

     As an aside . . . I wonder how much this fire contributes to "global warming"?  And, please, put it into something easy to relate to, like auto miles traveled.  That is, might we say that the consequence of this action was the equivalent of 100,000 vehicles driving 20,000 miles a year for 10 years?  Hmm...  Then, you can tell me that it is a good idea for the Forest Service to let these kinds of fires burn.

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