Once back from my white knuckle drive from White Pocket, the rains roll in right on cue, just as forecasted. I am feeling a great deal of gratitude for making it back safely without getting stuck. Rain on the 10 mile sandy stretch could possibly help pack down the loose sand, but the rest of the road is likely to be a muddy mess.
I’d planned to do some hiking in the Lees Ferry area, but Cathedral Wash behind me is now more like Cathedral River. A rushing sound behind the Winnie reveals that runoff from the rains into the wash is now flowing at a rate to match the Paria River in the next gully over. The rain seems to be coming in waves, directly proportionate to my motivation to hike. Every time I get up and start to don the raincoat, the deluge returns. So hiking is out. Time to move on.
I accepted an invitation to Thanksgiving Dinner at Lake Havasu friends Joel and Kathy again this year, because last year was such a treat. And having spent a week with their family at Yosemite this summer, bonding on the backpacking trip to Half Dome, I feel like an adopted family member…one of those eccentric aunts that gets invited for holidays. 😉
Knowing Kathy and son Jona just finished up a “Rim 2 Rim” hike through the Grand Canyon, I am excited to hear all the details of their trip. I had this same itinerary booked two years ago, when I had to make a sudden detour back to Texas due to a death in the family. So I am eager to relive the experience vicariously through Kathy.
Her enthusiasm for the hike is infectious. I listen with intent as she talks effusively about experiencing the canyon from the top down, and then the bottom up. I come back to the Winnie and on a whim, place a call to Xanterra’s Phantom Ranch reservations. While on hold, the recording states they are now accepting reservations 13 months in advance. Fat chance. Once the reservationist answers, I start the conversation by saying “I realize this is a ridiculous long shot, buuuuutt…” I am shocked out of my socks when the guy replies, “Well, we do have two nights in the woman’s dorm next week…” I jump to my feet and grab my credit card.
A check of the weather forecast for the South Rim the week after Thanksgiving reports an “arctic blast” on the way, bringing nighttime temperatures down into the low teens. But the bottom of the canyon, where I’d be staying is typically 20 degrees warmer. Highs should be up into the 50’s at Phantom Ranch. With no wind and lots of sun in the forecast, it could be perfect hiking weather. I send a quick note to my favorite Grand Canyon Ranger Gaelyn to ask her opinion. She replies, “Inner canyon temps look perfect for day hiking. You could hike up to Ribbon Falls.” So I won’t have to worry about myself…only about the Winnie.
My last day in Lake Havasu, I spring into action winterizing the Winnie. (No photos…it was all business!) I borrow Joel’s air compressor, dump the fresh water tank and hot water tank in the boondock area, and blow the water out of the lines. I add a gallon of “pink stuff” to the holding tanks and P-traps, and hope I’ve covered all the bases.
The drive toward the South Rim grows increasingly challenging the further east (and higher elevation) I go. The arctic blast overtakes me, bringing with it sub-freezing temps and sideways blowing snow! I have driven through fallen snow before in the Winnie, but never when it was snowing hard enough to bring out the sanding trucks! These “white knuckle drives” are starting to do a number on my shoulder muscles! I have my doubts about the road leading into the canyon, so I decide to make Williams, AZ along I-40 my target for the night. I will re-evaluate the situation the following morning, and decide whether my call to the Bright Angel Lodge will be to reconfirm as they have requested, or to forfeit my deposit.
The Grand Canyon Railway RV Park (Passport America!) is covered in snow and ice when I arrive, though they must have some system to keep the parking pads thawed out, as they are clear. It’s a relief to have hookups, since clouds have been stealing my solar. I crank up the small electric heater to wait out the forecast….
One interesting tidbit I learned about the National Parks…they do not use any traditional methods toward deicing roads…no salt, no chemicals. I may be wrong, but I don’t believe they even use a snow plow. They do use mechanical means such as breaking up the snow with shovels along entrances to lodges. But as for the roads, well, it’s strictly up to the sun. Lucky for me, I awake to a sunny day.
I check in with the woman at the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park to see if she has heard any news on the road conditions. “I come in to work that way. The roads are dry. You’ll be fine. Well….at least up to the park gate, that is.” I decide to make my attempt midday when the sun is at its highest point, with the promise to myself that I will turn around at the first sign of discomfort.
The hour drive on Highway 64 is clear of any ice, but once I drive through the park gate, it’s a different story. Thankfully, there are never long stretches, only icy patches where the roads are shaded. I creep along below the 25 mph speed limit, and pull safely into the parking lot of the Backcountry Information Office, where I plan to leave the Winnie for my hike down into the canyon. There are two large lots here, one even has RV spaces. The lots are less than 1/3 full, so I find myself a nice secluded, level spot, and prepare for my coldest night yet without hookups on the Canyon Rim…