Comanche Point Vicinity Hike
An Overnight Hike from Desert View - Grand Canyon National Park
Location: North of Desert View / Grand Canyon National Park - Use Area SA9
Geological Formations: Kaibab, Toroweap Formations
Other Attractions: Dramatic overviews of the Colorado River and the "Big Bend" region in Eastern Grand Canyon from the Palisades, the gorge of the Little Colorado River and beyond into the Painted Desert. Several archeological and historic sites including still well preserved ruins of a stone cabin.
Hiking Difficulty: Easy hiking from Desert View along a closed jeep trail and a scramble across the scrubby, gully carved erosion surface of the Kaibab Formation atop the Coconino Plateau to reach the Palisades cliffs north of Comanche Point. This area is dry but suitable for overnights by novice Canyoneers.
Access: Hike southwest on the highway from Desert View to about 1/8 mile past the entrance to Desert View Campground, then head southeast at the turn off to the district ranger station, just before you reach the east entry station to the park. Follow the dirt road past the ranger station and sewage disposal ponds until you reach the fork about 2 3/4 miles from the highway, and take the northbound (left) branch, which is closed to all but hikers. Take the southbound (right) branch to go to Cedar Mountain instead of the Palisades.
USGS 7.5 Minute Arizona Topo Map: Desert View
During May and June 2000 I did a series of hikes in Grand Canyon National Park. I decided to stay several days longer than originally planned when I read in the Grand Canyon News that the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association would be holding a star party at Yavapai Point the coming weekend, and I came up with this hike to occupy an intervening couple of days. I had just returned to the South Rim from a 7-day inner canyon hike and it was hot, so I wanted to take it easy and cooler, but I also wanted to get away from the crowds.
I did not have a car at GC, having traveled by buses from Tucson via Phoenix and Flagstaff, and was temporarily camped in a backpacker's site at Mather campground. So on June 2nd after stocking back up on Kodachrome and a couple of days worth of provisions at Babbits General Store in Grand Canyon Village, I purchased fare at Yavapai Lodge on a regular tour bus that took me over to Desert View near the east entrance to the park (much cheaper than a $40 one way Fred Harvey taxi ride). I've read the Park Service has plans for expanding their noncommercial shuttle system to transport visitors and hikers between Grand Canyon Village and Desert View and outlooks/trailheads in between as part of their General Management Plan. Until they get that together, I've found the tour bus folks to be very helpful and facilitating regarding using them as an alternative to the more expensive taxis for hiker's transport, and they even issued me duplicate tickets so I'd have a second copy to give to the driver on the return ride from Desert View to Grand Canyon Village. The woman tour bus driver on the way from GC Village to Desert View was actually quite an entertaining character who presumed the authority to mercilessly scold and chastise a number of visitors who had ventured past the guard rails on the edge of the abyss during several stops at popular overlooks along the way. Personally, I'm for noninterference when it comes to the process of natural selection... ;)
I arrived at Desert View in the afternoon and went straight away to the Desert View Campground to stake a claim at one of the car camper's sites there for the night. Unlike Mather Campground at Grand Canyon Village, the Desert View Campground is "self-service" for drive-ins and there was no reduced-fee backpacker's area dedicated to walk-ins. So it cost me $10 to camp there for the night, verses $4 at Mather Campground. However, there was a method to my madness, as I needed a BBQ grill at the Desert View Campground to build a charcoal fire (forbidden anywhere in GCNP outside the grills provided in the designated rim campgrounds) to prepare a deluxe feast of three jumbo pork chops, baked red potatoes and Roma tomatoes, grilled green onions and some other fresh delicacies I'd purchased at Babitts earlier that morning before catching the tour bus to Desert View.
I returned to the rim at Desert View late that afternoon to do some photography of the Watchtower and of course the Grand Canyon beyond it. Above right is a view from the point below the Watchtower, across Tanner Canyon to Comanche Point, prominently jutting up in the far right at an "as the crow flies" distance of about 3.5 miles, and the Palisades beyond it. Throughout the afternoon there was a large gaggle of ravens entertaining each other as well as Desert View visitors with their cliff side aerobatics and chases. Comanche Point is no doubt further than 3.5 miles "as the raven flies" as they seem more intent on chasing each other about and just generally flying around in circles than getting anywhere in particular. I swear I observed a raven do a barrel roll and another on its tail in pursuit follow it through as I watched their antics and displays of acrobatic prowess. They also strategically deploy their feet and legs as dive brakes while engaged in their chases. While I do try not to hike around in circles too much, of course it is also further than 3.5 miles from here to Comanche Point by foot. You wouldn't think from this view that anybody could possibly miss Comanche Point when they hiked up to it, would you?
Above left is the Watchtower at sunset. This Mary Colter designed structure was built in 1932 and I think it is particularly interesting as a photographic subject around that time of day. Desert View seems to be a popular place to take in Grand Canyon sunsets and the entire area in the vicinity of the Watchtower was flooded with visitors just prior to sunset that evening.
The evening before I'd gone to the Arizona Steak House at Grand Canyon Village as a reward and recharge meal after completing the longest hike of my May/June 2000 visit, where I waited at least 2 hours in a crowd outside for a table. While this restaurant seems to have a reputation for good food I think their service must have been suffering due to the heavy business that evening, as when my steak was served it was raw and cold in the center. I do like my cow on the rare side, but not frozen. While this was being remedied an unfortunate lady at a nearby table choked on a string in her prime rib, and an alert waiter performed the Heimlich maneuver on her with happy if rather unappetizing results. I'd consider eating there again but not when they're so busy. My campfire meal that night at Desert View Campground was much more satisfying not to mention cheaper too even with the $10 for the campsite factored in, and left me nice and full for some serious digesting during a good night's rest and chomping at the bit to get started at first light the next morning.
I had no trouble obtaining an overnight permit for camping along the Palisades (use area SA9 - Cape Solitude) from the Backcountry Office at Grand Canyon Village upon request the previous day. While there's no guarantees regarding doing that as a walk-in, the ranger processing my permit told me the odds were relatively promising for camping atop the Palisades. The route of my June 3-4 hike is indicated on the map at right, with the portion along the old jeep trail indicated with the darker blue line, and the bushwhacking portion indicated with the lighter blue line.
I was surprised when I traced this route out using TOPO! software and it calculated just over 24 miles for the round trip length, as I had guestimated it to be more like 16-18 after hiking it. That must be due to the relatively easy going along the old jeep trail and the (relatively) flat topography, the maximum change in altitude being only 1450 feet or so, from ~7500 feet at Desert View to ~6050 feet in the lowest gully I crossed.
After departing Desert View Campground I walked southwest along the highway for about 1/8 mile and just before reaching the east entry station to the park I headed southeast at the turn off to the district ranger station and followed the dirt road past the ranger station and sewage disposal ponds. This road is maintained in good shape in the vicinity of the ranger station but it degrades the further you follow it and a 4 wheel drive vehicle and adventuresome spirit are soon required for anyone trying to drive on it. Of course the going is easy and carefree for a hiker.
I cached some extra clothing, food, stove fuel and other items I wasn't going to need on this hike in a tree a half mile or so past the ranger station and logged the UTM coordinates of my cache with my GPS for a little help relocating it on the way out. It's funny how all the trees can look familiar a couple of days later.
The jeep trail skirts the head of Tanner Canyon, and a north looking view of that vicinity is shown above left. About 2 miles past the ranger station a short section of the jeep trail splits where it passes several campsites with views down the head of Tanner Canyon. Above right is a westerly view from one of those campsites back towards Desert View. Note the Watchtower which is barely discernable atop the ridge in the picture's upper left. Tanner Canyon and Tanner Trail are named after Seth Benjamin Tanner, a Mormon prospector who worked claims in the vicinity of Seventyfive Mile Creek, Palisades Creek and possibly Cardenas Creek in the late 1800s. An old Indian route originally known as Bunker Trail and Horse Thief Trail was improved by Tanner and other prospectors working claims in these vicinities. The trailhead for the Tanner Trail, now at Lipan Point, was originally located here in Tanner Canyon east of Desert View.
A fork in the old jeep trail is encountered about 2 3/4 miles from the highway and I followed the northbound (left) branch bound for Cape Solitude, which is closed to all but hikers. Hikers can follow the southbound (right) branch to go to Cedar Mountain and the gorge of the Little Colorado River on the Navajo Reservation instead of the Palisades/Cape Solitude. The Cedar Mountain fork is still open to vehicular traffic that can can handle it's extremely rough and eroded condition. I would definitely recommend against attempting this whenever there is a possibility of encountering rain or snow.
The upper section of the old jeep trail passes through pinyon-juniper forest typical of the South Rim and the pinyon pines and Utah junipers provided a nice fragrance in addition to ample shade and cool morning hiking. Shortly beyond the Cape Solitude/Cedar Mountain fork it begins following the bed of a north trending drainage feeding Straight Canyon. The trail along this section is shown above left. The drainage is normally dry of course but it was evident where the bed cuts the trail that the flow of runoff down this drainage can be significant. Cottontail rabbits bounded out of my way here and there as I made my way down the trail and pinyon jays occasionally scolded at me from their perches in nearby trees. There were numerous tracks and signs of mule deer that obviously also use this trail and I also saw some coyote tracks, but I did not see any deer or coyote during this hike. I did happen across a still decomposing, maggoty deer carcass not far off the jeep trail on my way back through this section of the forest which was not so pleasant a discovery.
The old jeep trail veers away from this drainage about 1 1/4 miles beyond the Cape Solitude fork and crosses a relatively flat stretch across the head of Straight Canyon and then climbs a hill out of the Straight Canyon drainage where it leaves the forest shade to continue out onto an open scrubby region of rolling hills and gullies. The transition from woodland to scrub environments is very pronounced and sharp here. The picture above left depicts the flora just before the trail bottoms out in the Straight Canyon drainage and then climbs into the scrubby hills just beyond it.
Above right is a southeasterly view from the Straight Canyon drainage towards Cedar Mountain, about 1 1/2 miles away as the crow flies and sitting on the border separating Grand Canyon National Park and the Navajo Indian Reservation to its east. The rubble surface of the Coconino Plateau underfoot here is composed of the Kaibab Formation, dolomitic limestones which were deposited by ancient seas at the close of the Paleozoic Era. By this time ancient life was well developed and represented on land with plants, insects, amphibians and both herbivorous and carnivorous reptiles, but the dinosaurs had yet to appear. The Kaibab Formation was once buried beneath a mile or more thick layer of Mesozoic strata that was subsequently eroded and lost from the vicinity of Grand Canyon as the Colorado Plateau uplifted during more recent geologic times.
Cedar Mountain, together with nearby Gold Hill, and Red Butte between Tusayan and Valle, are scarce, isolated ramparts of the Mesozoic Moenkopi Formation that yet survive atop the Kaibab Formation in the immediate vicinity of the Grand Canyon. The Moenkopi Formation is named for a Hopi Indian settlement east of Grand Canyon near Tuba City and consists primarily of mudstones deposited during the early Triassic Period by an extensive tidal flat environment.
While I wouldn't describe the number of flowers I saw during this hike as abundant, there were still plenty to appreciate and keep me guessing at what I was seeing as I'm always learning more. I've tentatively identified the above left, which was blooming along the trail near the head of Straight Canyon as "Paperdaisy" or "Greenstem Paperflower" (Psilostrophe sparsiflora), a member of the Aster Family that blooms from April through August and is common to South Rim woodland and scrub habitats.
Not far from the paperflower was this cholla aka "jumping" cactus in bloom, above right These yellow-green cholla blossoms were attracting a lot of bees.
Outcrops and benches of limestone poked out of the surrounding hills here and there, contributing numerous boulders to the area that will eventually find their way down to the mouth of Straight Canyon where it empties into the gorge of the Little Colorado River, about 6 miles distant as the crow flies and perhaps double that for ravens and hikers contouring down the canyon bottom. I have intentions of returning here and doing some scouting down Straight Canyon and I will of course let the boulders know what lies ahead of them on my way back out.
Not to be outdone by the flowers were colorful displays of orange, green and yellow crustose lichens adorning some the limestone outcrops and boulders at the head of Straight Canyon. Some lichenologists describe lichens as "fungi that have discovered agriculture", as lichens are symbiotic organisms composed of a dominant fungi hosting a photosynthetic algae or cyanobacteria. These composite lifeforms are capable of exploiting and pioneering niches that are too harsh or limited for most other organisms, including bare rock.
Needing only rainwater, sunlight, air and a few minerals, their ability to shut down metabolically during periods of unfavorable conditions to survive extremes of heat, cold, and drought makes lichens well suited for Grand Canyon habitats. Lichens are among the most overlooked organisms in the natural landscape, estimated to be the dominant vegetation on 8 percent of the Earth's surface. Most lichens grow extremely slowly, often less than a millimeter per year, and some lichens are thought to be among the oldest living things on Earth. I've tentatively identified the lichen depicted above left as a species belonging to the genus Caloplaca, but I'm still looking into that.
About 3/4 of a mile beyond the Straight Canyon drainage another fork is reached in the old jeep trail. A customary route to Comanche Point takes the left, west bearing fork but I followed the trail for another 3/4 of a mile or so down the right, east bearing fork before I left it to bushwhack across a scrubby knoll in a northwesterly direction towards Comanche Point. Above left is a view to the northeast from the crest of a knoll, which was beginning to provide some tantalizing glimpses of the lower gorge of the Little Colorado River dissecting the Coconino Plateau in the distance, and the Painted Desert beyond.
Before long I descended down the side of a gully where I found a tin can. I didn't think too much of it until I came upon several more nearby, which at first I took to be indicative of an old camp in the area. I found yet more tin cans and when I found what looked like an old wash basin mixed in with them I began to scout around for their source in earnest.
The trail of rusted cans and other artifacts soon lead me up the east side of a draw to what appears to be the remains of a sweat lodge, waypointed by my eTrex GPS at 12 S 0429442, 3992624. There were quite a few tree stumps and hacked up trunks in the immediate area which no doubt was the source of these wood members. Note Comanche Point jutting up above the horizon in the northwesterly view above left.
Much to my delight I spotted the remains of this stone cabin not far away on the west side of the draw at 12 S 0429615, 3992880 and of course I checked it out as well. The masonry work on this cabin exhibited some nice craftsmanship and attention to detail. The fireplace chimney and hearth are pictured above right through a still in place wooden window frame. It wasn't until I went to mark the location of these ruins on my 7.5 minute USGS Desert View topo that I noticed this cabin was already symbolized on it.
I stopped in at Desert View after returning from this hike the next day and inquired regarding these ruins, but no one on duty at the time seemed to be familiar with them. Jerry Dickey of the Grand Canyon Hikers email list subsequently identified this cabin as having been built by a cattle company in the 1920's. According to Jerry the company brand is caved into one of the limestone blocks near the doorway, a detail which I unfortunately overlooked and missed documenting. (Oh well, next time...) I intend to research the history of these ruins and artifacts a little further by hobnobbing with a park archeologist for information and leads on references that I might pursue through the park library and other potential sources on a future visit to Grand Canyon.
Navigating to Comanche Point looked to be a done deal after departing the ruins so I stowed my map and GPS and continued on following my feet along a generally westbound heading contouring and zigzagging through a dendritic fan of several gullies for about a mile or so (as the crow flies) between the cabin and Comanche Point. Above left is the view to the northeast from a knoll across this route looking out across the flats on the Coconino Plateau towards Gold Hill, with the gorge of the Little Colorado River just beyond. Above right is an easterly view from the same vantage point, note Straight Canyon cutting into the LCR gorge towards the left side of the image. After meandering across this hilly terrain I finally descended into a major drainage that more or less parallels the Palisades in the general vicinity of Comanche Point. If followed downward, this drainage eventually leads past the north side of Gold Hill just beyond which it dumps down a short side canyon of the Little Colorado River that can be discerned in the image above left.
While contouring along the bottom of this drainage for a ways, I encountered a mostly overgrown ledge of Kaibab Limestone that seemed to harbor a horizon of chert nodules typical of a variety I've encountered along trails elsewhere in the Kaibab. This type of nodule is believed to have formed around fossilized sponges. Some get pretty good sized, a 55mm lens cap provides scale in the above pictures. According to my geologic map several of the low points along the trail and route I followed bottom out at the surface of the Toroweap Formation in small, isolated areas. But the Toroweap exposures here are poor and obscured for the most part by a thin, sandy soil and rocks and boulders which have eroded from the overlying Kaibab. I also found specimens of another, smaller variety of chert nodule ubiquitous in the Kaibab which were completely weathered out and making their way down this and other drainages in the vicinity.
It was siesta time and I had become hot from bushwhacking across and exploring in the mostly exposed hills and gullies to the east, so I took an extended break on a rock ledge beneath an inviting tree in the drainage bottom to eat, lift my legs, cool down and hydrate. I brought nine liters of water for this hike and comfortably got out with one remaining. While not nearly as hot as the inner canyon had been during my hike over the previous week, the midday temperatures here were reaching into the 90's and a gallon per day seems the minimum allowance to me for hiking this vicinity in late May or early June. About this time I began to be bothered by some rather nasty and persistent flies that were biting and swarming about. I applied some DEET when I finished eating but it didn't seem to be discouraging them, so a few minutes later I really slathered it on, but it might as well have been Kool-Aid in terms of the lack of deterrence it was providing for the flies, which just seemed to be getting thicker and more persistent all the while.
After a couple of good bites right through my shirt I began swatting at and killing them in earnest but they just kept coming. I was too deep in the drainage to use my GPS for a fix but confidently dead reckoned I was immediately east of Comanche Point and the flies motivated me to get back on my feet and start ascending it. Unfortunately the flies stayed with and there seemed to be a persistent swarm of several dozen if not scores of them pursuing me. The air was still in the drainage as it is in the lee of the Palisades cliffs above, but I anticipated a good breeze along the edge of the cliffs and was hoping that would provide some relief and blow away the flies.
Comanche Point presents a false summit to the drainage bottom and by the time I had ascended far enough out of the drainage to realize I come down it a little further than I'd thought, I had just missed the northern flank of Comanche Point, which is not the easiest way up it. By the time I did get my bearings it was evident it was going to take a while to descend back into the drainage and backtrack up it to a more appealing approach, and I just wanted away from the flies ASAP no matter where by then. So I continued in a motivated manner on up to the Palisade cliffs immediately north of Comanche Point, picking my way a little more directly that usual through breaks in the limestone ledges as I zigzagged up a final backside leg to the cliffs, depicted above left, with the flies from Hell in hot pursuit.
The route I picked was a little steeper in places than they may appear in this picture, and at one point I slipped and fell on loose gravel sized rocks near their maximum angle of repose, but happily there was a low lying tree limb just within reach I was able to grab and arrest my slide before encountering some formidable looking stickies immediately below. That was my only unplanned landing during all the hikes I did on my May-June 2000 trip, and I counted myself lucky to suffer just a minor abrasion as a consequence of that indiscretion. A couple of bad words combined with a packet of triple antibiotic ointment and a Band-Aid from my first aid kit and I was back in business, however the potential consequences of falling while solo hiking in the Grand Canyon backcountry are not something I take lightly. If there is an easier but longer way that's the way for me. I figure the journey is the destination so except when under murderous bug attacks I'm generally not in any rush to shortcut or hurry it along.
Once topped out at the edge of the Palisade cliffs I wasn't disappointed in either the breeze or the views. Above right is the scenery that greeted me downriver to the southwest across Tanner Rapids on the Colorado, and over Unkar Valley towards the southern end of the Walhalla Plateau where Wotans Throne and Vishnu Temple are prominent features of the skyline.
The most ubiquitously exposed geologic formations in Grand Canyon are the Kaibab, Toroweap, Coconino, Hermit, Supai Group, Redwall, Muav, Bright Angle, and Tapeats (all sedimentary rocks of Paleozoic Era origin) and the highly altered basement rocks of the Vishnu Group underlying them, which was deposited and subsequently metamorphosed during early Proterozoic time. These Paleozoic formations cover the contorted, crystalline Vishnu rocks like layers of a cake and are stacked one upon the other in an orderly and continuous fashion. A tremendous span of geological time exceeding a billion years lapsed between the formation of the Vishnu Group rocks approximately 1.75 billion years ago and the deposition of the Tapeats, lowermost of the Paleozoic strata, approximately 550 million years ago.
During this lengthy Precambrian interval, from approximately 1.25 billion to 700 million years ago, nearly two vertical miles of sediments of primarily marine origin and volcanic extrusives accumulated in horizontal layers over the highly eroded Vishnu Group rocks to a depth of several miles. These Precambrian formations, collectively known as the Grand Canyon Supergroup, were subjected to extensive faulting and tilting after their deposition. In most places in Grand Canyon the Supergroup was completely removed from the underlying Vishnu by erosion prior to the beginning of the Paleozoic Era, and the Vishnu further eroded prior to encroachment by the Cambrian sea depositing the Tapeats. However, wedge shaped grabens of Supergroup survived where they were downfaulted and tilted below the late Precambrian erosion surface between five major, northwest trending extension faults, from east to west: Butte, Phantom, Crystal, Muav and the 137 Mile Faults. These faults exhibit a combined vertical displacement of approximately 20,000 feet and the hinging and tilt of the blocks between these faults suggests they rotate towards the horizontal as their depth increases.
The surviving Grand Canyon Supergroup rocks have not been extensively metamorphosed and altered like the underlying Vishnu Group, and Supergroup remnants, where exposed, are generally well preserved. Geologists have broadly divided the Supergroup into the Unkar Group, the Nankoweap Formation, the Chuar Group and the Sixtymile Formation. The Unkar Group is further subdivided into the Bass Limestone, Hakatai Shale, Shinumo Quartzite, Dox Sandstone and the Cardenas Lava. The Chuar Group is further subdivided into the Galeros Formation and the Kwagunt Formation. Most of these formations are yet further subdivided into up to 4 or 5 constituent members based on their lithologies. The earliest record of life in Grand Canyon rocks are stromatolite fossils found in the Bass Limestone of the Unkar Group, the most ancient of the Supergroup formations.
Various Unkar Group members are exposed in seven vicinities, from east to west: the "Big Bend" region in eastern Grand Canyon; Clear Creek; Bright Angel Creek; Phantom Creek/Phantom Ranch; Crystal Creek; Shinumo Creek/Hakatai Canyon; and Bedrock Creek/Tapeats Creek. However the Cardenas Lava, youngest of the Unkar Group rocks, and the overlying Nankoweap, Galeros, Kwagunt and Sixtymile Formations outcrop only in an eastern region of Grand Canyon that is roughly bounded between the East Kaibab Monocline (Nankoweap Creek) to the north, the Butte Fault and Palisades segment of same to the east, Seventyfive Mile Fault (Seventyfive Mile Creek) to the south, and the Vishnu Fault, which roughly parallels the eastern border of the Walhalla Plateau, to the west. Due to their pronounced dips towards the northeast, erosion into Supergroup preserving grabens tends to expose the deepest and oldest Supergroup formations towards the southwest, with younger formations progressively surfacing and cropping out towards the northeast.
Above left is a westerly overview of the short Comanche Creek drainage that catches runoff below the Palisades between Comanche Point and Espejo Butte, which is about two miles to the north along the Palisades as the crow flies. Tanner Rapids at the mouth of the Tanner Canyon drainage to the west of Comanche Point is visible towards the far left in this picture. The floor of the open valley in this neck of the Grand Canyon is composed primarily of Dox Sandstone. Above the Dox, the Comanche Creek drainage cuts across a ribbon of the Cardenas Lava that is exposed along the base of the Tapeats Sandstone most of the way along the Palisades from Lava Rapids to Cardenas Creek. Above this ribbon of the Cardenas Lava in the Palisades are intermittent outcrops of the Nankoweap Formation sandwiched between the Cardenas and the overlying Tapeats, one of which occurs in this section between Comanche Point and Espejo Butte. These intermittent exposures above the Cardenas Lava in the Palisades are the only occurrences of the Nankoweap found on this side of the river.
The dark curtain above Tanner Rapids in the picture above left is part of the Cardenas Lava, wedged in on either side by Dox Sandstone. Immediately above this curtain of the Cardenas Lava are cliffs of the Nankoweap Formation, and above the Nankoweap cliffs is a lighter colored cap of the Galeros Formation. Here these downwardly displaced formations ride atop a relatively small, locally downfaulted block bounded by the Butte Fault at the right edge of the Cardenas curtain and the Basalt Canyon Fault at the left edge of the curtain.
Above right is the view upriver to the northwest from the Comanche Creek vicinity, looking out over striking red and steeply terraced Palisades outcrops of the Supai Group overlying the characteristically shear Redwall cliffs. The Redwall Limestone is stained red by iron oxides leaching out of the Supai Group and overlying redbeds, but exposures created by fresh falls reveal that just beneath a thin veneer the Redwall limestone is gray colored. Just upstream and across the Colorado are Lava Butte, Chuar Lava Hill and the Temple Butte Formation. The Butte Fault parallels the Colorado River and passes immediately to the west of Temple Butte, and Chuar and Kwagunt Buttes and Nankoweap Mesa lining the west side of the river further upstream and north of Temple Butte. Each of these structures and the river bed below them are composed of Paleozoic strata spanning the Tapeats through the Kaibab. However, the west side of the Butte Fault across from these Paleozoic structures was downfaulted by approximately 5000 feet during Precambrian time, preserving the Supergroup formations on the west side of the fault.
This fault was much later reactivated in the opposite direction after deposition of the overlying Paleozoic strata, with a gradual uplift of about 2700 feet on the west side of Butte Fault partially offsetting the Precambrian displacement and folding rather than breaking the horizontal, cake-like layers of overlying Paleozoic rocks, creating the East Kaibab Monocline. There are several major branches and a number of spurs associated with the Butte Fault in this vicinity serving to further jumble up and complicate the topology of the formations and their exposures.
As anticipated, there was a substantial breeze at the edge of the cliffs which provided some relief from the heat. I guessed some of the stronger gusts to be in the neighborhood of 25 miles per hour. However, much to my amazement, while this breeze helped beat back the flies that had pursued me all the way from the bottom of the adjacent drainage, some continued to plague me and were now joined in harassment by another type of insect resembling those known to me as "sweat bees".
The spectacular views from this vantage point were blocked only to the south by Comanche Point, which juts out beyond and rises another two hundred feet or so above the adjacent cliffs. I considered making my way back down, across the drainage and climbing it for a full 360 degree view, but it was beginning to wear into the afternoon. Part of my game plan entailed conducting a bird's eye survey and taking some documenting photographs of the vicinity just upstream along the base of the Palisades, the Beamer Trail close by the river, the Butte Fault and beyond into Unkar and Chuar Valleys to provide inspiration and a first hand look-see for future hikes into these regions. I wasn't yet familiar with the going immediately along the Palisades rim and wanted to be sure I'd have plenty of time for doing that, and also I was chicken to go back down into the stills of Hell's kitchen, so I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon hiking and exploring the air conditioned cliffs along the Palisades to the north of Comanche Point.
I hiked northward along the Palisades towards Espejo Butte and found the going to be relatively easy and to my liking. I did have to contour back from the rim a bit at several points to negotiate some small clefts, but basically what you see from a distance is what you get here, which is an awesome rim skirting hike. Along the way I spotted a shallow cave just below the rim nestled back in one of the clefts, which I was able to visit by working my way around and under the finger of rock pointing out in the lower right.
There wasn't much of a ledge between the tip of the finger and a shear drop just below it. As the cave turned out to contain just a hole in the rock I don't think I'm going to do that one again. It's definitely not worth dying for, which would no doubt be the consequence of losing it here. As I hiked towards Espejo Butte I stopped frequently to enjoy the panoramic views afforded of eastern Grand Canyon from the Palisades cliffs and to scan and study the terrain and fantastic exposures of Precambrian Supergroup rocks gashed open below me.
Above left is Chuar Lava Hill, a heavily eroded exposure of the Cardinas Lavas between the confluences of Carbon Creek and Lava Creek on the west bank of the Colorado River. Underlying and to the left of Lava Hill is pinkish purple Supergroup Dox Sandstone (note its pronounced tilt), with the banded Supergroup Galeros Formation, cut by Carbon Creek Canyon, forming the background. A Palisades Segment of the Butte Fault forks off to the southeast and crosses immediately behind Chuar Lava Hill in this picture, crosses the river just north of Lava Canyon Rapids, runs up Palisades Creek Canyon, across Espejo Butte and then cuts southwards along the edge of the Palisades cliffs to the vicinity of Tanner Canyon.
Above right is Temple Butte, the namesake and type section for Grand Canyon's Temple Butte Formation, which dates to the latter part of the Devonian Period of the Paleozoic Era. Here the Temple Butte crops out in superb exposures as a relatively thin, horizontal band of rocks just above the talus slopes and immediately below the vertical cliffs of the Redwall, as indicated with the arrow. The Temple Butte Formation is not as familiar and commonly recognized as many other Grand Canyon formations as it occurs in the eastern areas frequented by hikers as thin, discontinuous lenses typically under 100 feet thick, surviving as channel fill on the erosion surface of the Muav Limestone prior to deposition of the overlying Redwall Formation. In western regions the Temple Butte Formation becomes thicker and more continuous and tends to merge and grade into the Redwall.
A significant unconformity in the geologic column at Grand Canyon exists between the Cambrian Muav and the Devonian Temple Butte, where sediments from the latter part of the Cambrian, all of the Ordovician and Silurian and the earlier Devonian Periods of the Paleozoic Era are missing, either because the region was above sea level and sourcing sediments during this 100 million year plus span of time, or whatever sediments were deposited were lost to subsequent emergence and erosion prior to the deposition of the overlying Temple Butte and Redwall Formations. Evolutionary milestones occurring where these chapters of natural history are missing from the Paleozoic strata at Grand Canyon include the emergence of vertebrates during the Ordovician as small, primitive armored fishes with backbones, and the emergence and rapid development of land plants during the Silurian.
While hiking along the cliffs I was also checking out the views towards the east and stalking advantageous outlooks for photographing Gold Hill at the edge of the Little Colorado River Gorge and the Painted Desert beyond. I decided I liked a vantage point near where I had emerged on the Palisade cliffs next to Comanche Point for that picture best so far, and I also liked a spot nearby there in the shade of a beautiful juniper for my overnight camp. So around mid-afternoon I turned back towards Comanche Point and I hiked about half the way back zigzagging around and exploring along the plateau just back from the rim. It was really startling how you could hike along here so close but slightly downhill from the rim without a clue regarding the gaping maw just beyond. However, that spectacle soon pulled me back to skirt the edge where I spent several extended breaks poring over my geologic map of Chuar and Unkar Valleys and orienting and working at identifying and reconciling the features I was seeing against it, as well as just admiring the Palisades views at a purely aesthetic and spiritual level. The bugs had subsided as I hiked back along the rim but were still bothersome at moments until dark.
The progression of color changes and hues in the Painted Desert towards sunset is a thing of beauty to behold. At right is a picture I took as I watched the sun set over both Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert from a vantage point nearby my campsite that evening. In it, Gold Hill, about five and a half miles southeast from the confluence of the Little Colorado and the Colorado Rivers, stands before the gorge of the Little Colorado and the Painted Desert at sunset. The Echo Cliffs, eroded from the Echo Cliffs monocline, span the background about 35 miles away at the western border of the Kaibito Plateau.
Happily the bugs that were harassing me either retired or were finally blown away about sunset. There must have still been plenty of bugs in the neighborhood however, as there was no shortage of bats buzzing the rim as the light faded in spite of the wind. Dinner that evening hit the spot, even though it consisted primarily of rice, gravy, dehydrated vegetables, jerky and Pack Rat's Delight #3 trail mix. I also dusted with brown sugar and ate for desert one of several apples I had purchased at Babbits store a few days earlier and brought along for treats. The wind had really come up and I had to deploy a tinfoil wind screen around my stove to cook and heat a couple of cups of coffee afterwards. I stripped down and splurged a liter of water or so on the luxury of a "bandanna bath" just prior to retiring, which was very refreshing in the wind.
I eventually dozed off while star gazing and it got cool enough that night that I moved inside my sleeping bag. I was camped just back from the rim and the wind really ripped at times that evening. I don't know if I managed to kick it or if the wind blew it over but somehow during the night my pack, which was standing near the foot of my sleeping bag, fell over on my feet and lower legs. This woke me with quite a start, as my first impression was something pretty good sized had just pounced on the foot of my sleeping bag... Other than this incident I slept pretty well. If you come out this way overnight and wind is a bother to you (likely if you are a tent camper), you might want to consider camping further back from the rim and down in the lee. Also be sure you bring a flashlight for scaring away sleeping bag devouring predators such as bobcats, mountain lions, wolves, giant ground sloths and the like.
I was up to greet first light the next morning and prepared some oatmeal and dehydrated blueberries with powdered milk and coffee for breakfast. After breaking camp I stood at the rim and watched the early morning light build and begin to fill the canyon as swifts carved up the air and whistled by over the dull roar of Tanner Rapids below. As I was taking all this in a flock of thirty or forty ravens passed close overhead in a noisy gaggle, headed out past Comanche Point towards Tanner Canyon. It was a transcendental moment.
I had not forgotten my slip the previous day and decided to descend a shallower but lengthier route away from the rim to a point intersecting the old jeep trail a little further down than where I'd turned off it. So I contoured down along a tributary drainage that's north of the fork I'd followed in. Depicted above left is the cloudless sunrise over Gold Hill that morning as I approached a broad wash where three forks of this drainage merge at about UTM 12S 0430200, 3994700. Just before reaching the flat floor of this wash I came across this handsome tree standing as a lone sentinel. It was too inviting a place for a break not to take that advantage of its shade, so I did even though it was still early in the morning and not too hot yet. The old jeep trail runs along the ridge on the skyline to the southeast beyond. To rejoin it I climbed a little ways up the fork and gully along the base of the ridge after crossing this wash. There was a spur of the old jeep trail, not indicated on the Desert View 7.5 minute topo, running up the flats into the central, southwest bearing fork of this confluence which seemed to be serving as a two-lane game trail for mule deer nowadays judging from the tracks and signs about. I followed along it a little way out of curiosity before backtracking out of that drainage and continuing on to intersect the old jeep trail at a point central on the ridge skyline in the picture above right.
I encountered these showy specimens of Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa) as I began my climb out of the wash and up the hillside to the old jeep trail. This wide ranging, shrubby member of the rose family typically inhabits dry washes and open areas within the canyon and on the rims. It actually has a white, conventionally lobed flower and blooms from April to October. The feathery plumage phase depicted above adorns the fruit. I only noticed several of these in spite of their being considered common and so wide ranging (distributed from approximately 3,500 to 8,000 feet).
Above right is a view towards Gold Hill to the northeast from nearby where I rejoined the old jeep trail and began following it back towards Desert View. This picture illustrates the hill and gully topography and scrub species that are typical on the plateau surface below and away from the pinyon-juniper woodlands. The dominant plants in this landscape include blackbrush, rabbitbrush, century plants, yucca, Mormon tea, and cholla, prickly pear, and hedgehog cacti.
In the foreground above left is archeological site AZC:13:512, the remnants of an Indian "mescal pit", with Cedar Mountain in the background behind it. When in use the stones were piled up and arranged to create an oven with a fire built within. Agave hearts and stalks were roasted in the hot stones for several days prior to consumption. I encountered this site just off the old jeep trail, located by my GPS receiver at UTM coordinates 12S 0430132, 3992813 just before reaching the point I'd turned off it the day before. While the Indians lived in harmony with nature in the large sense, they were pretty heavy users as they went. Eating the agave's (aka "Century Plants") stalk, which is generated only once at the end of its life cycle to support its flowers and fruit, assures it will provide no progeny. Also note the nearby remnants of a hacked off tree which was undoubtedly harvested to fuel this roasting pit.
I considered hiking back to the Palisades to climb Comanche Point when I reached that fork in the trail, but it was already beginning to heat up by then and I was down to about 2 liters of water remaining at that point. I decided that while I had time for a look and run I didn't have enough water left to do that comfortably and the flies were also manifesting themselves again, so I continued on back up the old jeep trail to Desert View. The pinyon-juniper forest provided some welcome shade by the time I reached it, and after retrieving my cache bag from nearby the ranger station, I hiked into Desert View early that afternoon with about a liter of water left. There I had two $2.00 soft ice cream cones while waiting for my return ride via the tour bus and they were worth every penny.
Above left is a transcanyon view of the North Rim fire I took during a tour bus stop on the way back to Grand Canyon Village. This escaped fire originated as a "controlled burn" by the Park Service well before and basically burned out of control atop the Kaibab Plateau throughout the duration of my May-June 2000 visit. This was just one of several extensive forest fires burning out of control in Arizona at the time, another of which was very visible from the park in the mountains outside Flagstaff. I had been looking forward to another charcoal cooked feast that night at Mather Campground and was disappointed to learn that a "No Campfires Anywhere, Not Even Charcoal in the Campground BBQ Grills" rule had been officially decreed and gone into effect park wide and basically all through the backcountry of Arizona while I was off at the Palisades.
Above right is a view from another tour bus stop on the way back to Grand Canyon Village - "Duck on a Rock", one of the more whimsically eroded pinnacles at Grand Canyon, with Vishnu Temple on the immediate skyline beyond it. The Palisades cliffs peak out on the rim to the right in this picture. According to the bus driver, a major section of the duck's bill fell off about 7 years ago and is now laying at the base of it.
After showering at Camper Services and getting situated in a backpacker's site in Mather Campground for my last night in the park of my May-June 2000 visit, I caught a shuttle bus to Yavapai Point to attend the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association's Grand Canyon Star Party.
This annual event has become a legendary "happening" in amateur astronomer circles, with some participants traveling significant distances to attend. There were numerous telescopes set up in the parking lot at Yavapai Point for public viewing of various celestial objects and their owners were pleased to share viewing experiences and explanations with curious and appreciative onlookers. One participant from Sedona brought and assembled a 28" Dobsonian type scope that required standing on top of a ladder to reach its eyepiece. The views of globular clusters through that instrument were truly awesome.
Should you happen to be in the vicinity, the TAAA Grand Canyon Star Party is a must see for any nature appreciator. And if you are a fellow star gazer be sure and bring your binoculars along for some awesome dark sky viewing no matter when you visit Grand Canyon.
The Next Time
Straight Canyon really called out to me for exploration and I'd like to do a hike down it beginning from where I crossed head tributaries of it along the old jeep trail. Of course that's not a Palisades hike as Straight Canyon leads off to the east across the Coconino Plateau to empty into the gorge of the Little Colorado River. I don't know if I'll be able to follow Straight Canyon all the way down to the LCR but I think it will be interesting to find out and I am confident Straight Canyon will no doubt prove to be interesting in its own right.
As mentioned, in spite of slathering on the DEET, I was bothered by biting flies and some other buzzy, nasty winged insects on this hike. While I've come to appreciate I've really got to watch the "just in case" stuff to keep my pack weight reasonable, as a result of this close encounter with the flies from Hell, the worst bug problem in my recollection except for mosquitoes on a Minnesota campout many moons ago, I've added a little bug netting to my warm weather gear that I can rig under my hat to protect at least my head, face and neck. That really doesn't demand too much in the way of weight or space but I'm also considering a solo tent with bug netting or maybe just a larger piece of bug netting for future hikes during bug season. While I hike and backpack to experience nature first hand, I particularly appreciate gear that helps insulate me from some of the more difficult and hostile aspects of it, and those flies were damn hostile. Killing them just seemed to draw more and work them up into a frenzy. Maybe the things can smell the distress of a live victim when others are feeding off it...
Of course I'd still like to do the top of Comanche Point, so that's likely to be on my agenda for a next time out this way, as is revisiting the stone cabin ruins to document the cattle company brand said to be carved into one of its stones near the doorway. The old jeep trail runs all the way out across the plateau to Cape Solitude on the Palisades cliffs overlooking the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers. Cape Solitude looks dicey in hot weather to me because of the amount of water that would need to be carried, but I think it has appealing potential as a destination for a multi-day hike during cool weather. Gold Hill would no doubt be a spectacular place to spend a sunset overlooking the gorge of the Little Colorado and out into the Painted Desert beyond, and I'd like to take one in from there.
My Comanche Point vicinity hike out to and along the Palisades was truly a Grand Hike, and one that I think definitely merits consideration by others who have yet to venture out this way, and recommend especially when the inner canyon temperatures are set to "Broil" and the rim trails are crowded. I did not see another human being from the time I passed the ranger station near Desert View until I returned there the following day. Your own milage might vary regarding getting a spur of the moment permit like I did, but if the solitude I enjoyed during this hike is any indication, the Palisade cliffs rank as 'undiscovered' jewels in my book considering the awesome vistas and their accessibility and proximity to Desert View.
There are no doubt hikers who do Comanche Point as a day hike, as the going is relatively easy and flat and the milage would be reasonable if you didn't diddle around too much getting there and back. Other interesting day hike possibilities starting out the same way would be to go poking around in the head of Tanner Canyon, or to follow the fork in old jeep trail leading to Cedar Mountain and hike around and/or to the top of it.