From Hermit to Bright Angel
Detours to Hermit overlook and 1919 tram survey site.

Saturday, Sept. 29 to Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018

by Dennis Foster

With John Eastwood at Santa Maria Spring on the Hermit Trail.

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     As a general rule, my hikes between Hermit and Indian Garden have been day hikes.  There have been only two exceptions - in 1980 I did this same trip with one overnight at Monument; in 2010 I did a three night trek the other direction which was the first hike I did following knee surgery in the summer of 2009.  This hike wouldn't seem especially noteworthy for a trip report, but there were some interesting historic sites that were visited along the way, and those seemed worthy of extended commentary.  I was joined on this hike by John Eastwood.
     My primary interest was to have the time to explore the old Tonto Trail route around Monument Creek.  I have scanned in the relevant part of the old map (shown to the right) and highlighted (in yellow) the old route that is no longer used.  The blue arrow (and numbers) point out the general route for the current trail as it descends below the Tapeats (#1) and passes by at the base of the namesake monument tower (#2).  It drops down to the creek and follows it up a short distance before switchbacking up the Tonto Plateau (#3) where it meets up with the old route and continues to Indian Garden.  This old map predates the construction of the Hermit Trail and the tourist facility at Hermit Creek.  I am quite sure that the newer route through Monument was constructed by the Santa Fe as part of their trail building.  They (through the Fred Harvey Company) would run mule trips down the Hermit Trail to Hermit Camp for an overnight stay.  Then they would ride across the Tonto Trail to Indian Garden and return to the South Rim via the Bright Angel Trail.  At least, that's how I understand it.  So, it would make sense that they would do some improvements along the Tonto Trail and the route through Monument is the most extensive.
     As it would turn out, it was so hot by the time we reached Monument Creek that I had no energy to go out onto the scorching Tonto Plateau to scout around for this old trail.  [I can see faint traces of in Google Maps so I know it is there!]  Indeed, we had thought to hike down to the river instead, but even that was too much.  Despite that omission, the next day we did get to poke around the old 1919 tram survey site out in front of Dana Butte before continuing our way to Indian Garden and up the Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim.
     But, there was one other site that had piqued my interest for some time.  Almost ten years earlier, in looking through Thomas Ratz's excellent book, Postcard History Series: Grand Canyon National Park, I happened upon an image showing stone steps leading down the steep slope right in front of the patio at Hermit's Rest.  The description noted that this "set of large stone steps lead down ... to a series of stone benches built into the hillside and a viewing terrace.  Only fragments of this staircase remain ... and access to it has been blocked by a railing" (p. 50).  I had also seen this image in Linda Stampoulos' book, Visiting the Grand Canyon - Views of Early Tourism, which has some shortcomings, but does have loads of interesting old pictures.  It would be more than a little awkward to look for this site with tourists milling about.  However, with this hike, John and I planned to catch the first bus from the village out to Hermit's and so we'd likely be there all by ourselves.
     To make that plan work out, we did need to camp out near the south rim.  Flagstaff isn't horribly far away, but the logistics of catching the 5 a.m. bus meant it would be better if we camped in the nearby Kaibab National Forest overnight.  We arrived at the rim late in the afternoon on Friday.  I had forgotten to bring my headlamp, so I bought one at the gift shop at the Maswik lodge.  We also had dinner there.  [We both got the spaghetti special - lol.]  We camped in John's FlipPac camper.

Day 1 - From the Hermit Trailhead to Monument Creek (Saturday, September 29):

     We were up around 4 a.m., packed up, ate a cold breakfast and drove in and parked in front of the Bright Angel Lodge.  We caught the first bus to Hermit's Rest while it was still quite dark.  Only a few others on the bus - tourists wanting to see the sunrise, but they were way too early for that and should have waited for the next bus.  They got out at Hopi Point I think.  I am also thinking that some tourists got out at Pima Point.  Regardless, John and I were the only ones to get out at the end of the line and so we had no qualms about searching around for the route down to the old overlook.
     There is a metal railing that blocks this route and it does look quite out of place.  Just below it the gully was washed out but we were able to soon find a path to follow.  And, it didn't take long for that path to turn into a constructed trail, complete with stone steps.  They led down to the viewing terrace and then down below to a stone bench cut into the cliff (with the terrace overhanging this bench).  Too cool!  We were not here for long.  Before dawn broke, we had returned to the patio and retrieved our packs and started our hiking in earnest.

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On the rim and at the old, abandoned Hermit Rest overlook.

Dinner at the Maswik cafeteria.

Camped in the forest.

Hermit Rest patio.

After heading down the hillside a little ways you come to much better preserved sections of this old "trail."
Some of the old stone steps leading down to the overlook are still in good shape.

At the bench under the overlook.

Discernible stone steps.

Heading back up the steps.
We were here before sunrise.

On the Hermit Trail.

The sun rises on the canyon.
     We started down the Hermit Trail at 6:20 a.m.  Forty minutes later we passed by a rock where an old sign had been chipped into it years ago.  It reads, "800 FT BELOW RIM."  I'm guessing that we were then 800 feet below the rim!  After another fifteen minutes we passed by the major site where you can see prehistoric tracks in the Coconino sandstone.  We made a very brief stop here.  I posted more photos from a hike I did in 2005 here.  At 7:35 a.m. we reached the Hermit Basin and the junction of our trail with the Waldron Trail.  There used to be an old camp here (and at a spring nearby).  We looked around and found an old can and pieces of what looked to us like a concrete pipe.

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From the Hermit trailhead to Hermit Basin.

In the Coconino sandstone.

Old sign - "800 FT BELOW RIM"

Near the prehistoric tracks.

Prehistoric tracks in the sandstone.
Signs of some more recent trail construction.  The Hermit Trail was built to handle mule loads and has weathered the years well, but this is newer work to keep it in shape.

Old can in Hermit Basin.

Old?  "1915" or "1945" or "1995"?

Looks like a pipe.  Water?
     At 7:50 a.m. we were at the junction of our trail with the Dripping Springs Trail, which contours over into that canyon at this elevation.  Our trail starts to drop down through the Supai layer here.  Over the next couple of miles we will mostly follow a level trail, punctuated by steep descents as we pass through the various cliffs in the Supai layer.
     We reached Santa Maria Spring at 8:15 a.m. and took about a twenty-five minute break.  It is about 2.5 miles to this spring from the rim.  There has always been water here when I've hiked by, collected in a metal trough next to the wooden rest shelter.  If you look around you will find signs of other construction in the area.  This seems to have been a major stopping/resting point for the mule trips.  Down below the trail is an old outhouse with well-built rock walls!

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From Hermit Basin to Santa Maria Spring.

The exit out of Hermit Basin.

Approaching Santa Maria Spring.

The water trough was full.

The water trough is right next to the shelter.  Not a bad place to spend some time on a hot day.
Old outhouse below the spring.

Looking into Dripping Springs canyon.

Pipe where mules might be tied up.

On the trail in the Supai.
     About an hour after leaving Santa Maria we passed by some old construction material.  We were likely at "Lookout Point," which is on the route of the old supply tram that ran from Pima Point to Hermit Camp.  After another hour, at 10:40 a.m., we reached the top of the Cathedral Stairs, which switchback down through the Redwall.  This was pretty much the last shade that we had until we reached Monument Creek.
     It was 11:40 a.m. when we reached the junction of the Hermit Trail and the Tonto Trail.  From here we would be going east.  We took a fifteen minute break here.  From here we are often along the edge of the Tapeats rim with great views, not only up and down the canyon but also of parts of the river.  We could see down to Boucher Rapids, which is the next canyon west of Hermit.  We also could see a piece of the river right at the mouth of 94 Mile Canyon.  In 1981 I did a day hike down Hermit, over to Monument, down to the river and then followed the river to Hermit Rapids and then back up the Hermit Trail to the rim.  This piece of the river that we could see was where I stopped for lunch on that hike.
     Hiking along the Tonto was grueling. As we crossed the saddle into Monument we met a guided group of six, or seven, people headed to Hermit Camp.  We chatted for a few minutes.  In my notes at the time I wrote, "Hot!"  And, so it was.  At 1:40 p.m. we reached a camp site in Monument that was getting some partial shade from the trees here.  Willows I believe.  I read somewhere that there were cottonwoods here but I don't recall seeing any.  Too bad, because they usually produce good shade!
     As noted earlier, we were so drained by the heat that we ended up just hanging around the camp for the rest of the day.  It's only been a few years since I was last here - well, 2010 - but I was surprised to see that this site now has a decent new outhouse building.  That is a great improvement over what used to be here.  I presume that the same is true at the Hermit Creek campsite.

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From Santa Maria Spring to Monument Creek.

Remains from the old tram?

Trail descends Cathedral Stairs.

Craggy Redwall with views.

Switchback in Cathedral Stairs.
River and 94 Mile Canyon.

John on Hermit/Monument saddle.

Boucher Rapids.

Granite Rapids & Monument Canyon.

"The Monument."  The trail comes down a shallow side canyon to Monument to get below the Tapeats cliffs and then contours into the main bed right past this rock pinnacle.

New-ish outhouse in Monument.
Our camp at Monument Creek.

Day 2 - From Monument Creek to Indian Garden and the South Rim (Sunday, September 30):

     The park service has this hike pegged at nearly 25 miles altogether and this day's portion is 15.5 miles.  Given the heat, we decided to get an early start.  We were up at 4 a.m. and ready to go two hours later.  The well-constructed switchbacks are impressive, especially so when you consider that this is the Tonto Trail, known for its rather strict adherence to following a constant elevation as it snakes in and out of the many side canyons that lead to the Colorado River.
     We reached Cedar Spring, where there is another campsite, at 7:20 a.m., one hour after we left our camp in Monument.  We could see some water pockets in the bed as the ravine starts to cut its way through the Tapeats.  If you could rely on water here, this would make for a great place to put up your tent for the night.  About twenty minutes later we had our first taste of the sun on our faces, although only lasting for twenty minutes as we entered the bay of Salt Creek.
     We reached the bed of Salt at 8:20 a.m. and took a forty minute break here.  It was nice and cool in this shady canyon and there was a trickle of water flowing down the polished rock.  Some have questioned the quality of this water, but I have camped here twice in recent years and have had no problem with drinking it, after filtering of course.
     At 9 o'clock we headed out of Salt and reached the southern tip of the Tonto at 10:25 a.m.  Just as the trail bends here you can find some hardware bolted into some nearby boulders.  There is also some wire and some poles cached here.  I suspect that they were from the trail building by the Santa Fe.
     We took a 45 minute break here and hiked out to the edge of the Tapeats, where in 1919 a survey crew had rigged up a tram line to haul supplies across to the north side of the river.  They were here scouting out a route for an aerial tram across the canyon for tourists.  They surveyed from the South Rim to the top of the Redwall below the Tower of Set on the north side of the river.  We found some of the old hardware around here and I got a nice photo of John posed next to some rocks that had been used to anchor their platform here.  It matches up well with a photo taken by the survey crew a hundred years ago!
     While here we also looked over an intriguing old route/trail in the canyon.  On the original topo maps of this area, from the early 1900s, a trail is shown going down Horn Creek (which is further east of us) and then wrapping around below the Tapeats until it descends to the river opposite 91 Mile Canyon.  From our perspective we could see where a route might descend through the schist, but end up at a beach further downstream.  A month later John and I would camp at Horn for two nights so that we could see if we could follow this old trail all the way to the river.

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From Monument Creek to 1919 Tram Survey site.

Folded rock.

Switchbacks up to the Tonto.

Looking back at Monument Creek.

Sunrise on the south rim.
Tower of Ra (I believe).

Isis Temple.

Cedar Spring Camp Site.

Campsite and water at Cedar Spring!!

But, you wouldn't want to hug it.

Salt Creek.
Trail crosses Salt; sign points to camp.

On the Tonto Trail.

The river was pea soup green.

Pipes and wire for old trail?

From rim north of Dana Butte.

Remains of 1919 tram survey.
Matching John to 1919 photo of supply tram site north of Dana Butte.
     At 11:10 a.m. we left the site of the old tram.  Seventy-five minutes later we reached the bed of Horn Creek.  We spent only a few minutes here taking a break from the heat.  Then it was on to Indian Garden, which we reached by 1:50 p.m.  We stayed here until 3 p.m. relishing the fact that clouds were rolling in and providing some respite from the sun.  We made good time hiking up the Bright Angel Trail - we rested at the 3 Mile House from 4 to 4:15 and at the 1.5 Mile House from 5:10 to 5:19.  At 6:22 p.m. we topped out at Kolb Studio.

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From the 1919 Tram Survey site to Indian Garden.

West arm of Horn Creek.

Main bed of Horn Creek.

Indian Garden.  The tree is no more!

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