It has been three years since I drove out west to attend the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. Of course, in 2005 and 2006 I lived in New Mexico all winter and sold my mineral art as a member of a co-op gallery. Thus, during these years the drive to Tucson was a lot shorter! Last year was the first time in a decade that I did not attend. This year since I have the new vehicle, I decided to drive. However, since I was driving out without staying for a few months, the driving was consolidated into a three week period. As a result, the total miles of 6,060 represented an average per day of over 275 miles! Considering that I spent five days in the Tucson area, three days in New Mexico, and four days at the Grand Canyon, it is obvious that there were several days that I drove over 800 miles – especially on the way home!

After visiting friends and relatives down state, I started driving south to Arkansas on February 2nd. Thanks to the books on tape loaned to me by my friend, Marsha, I drove to within an hour of Arkansas the first day. The next day I visited Garvan Gardens in Hot Springs, operated by the University of Arkansas. I needed a break to get some exercise. Although it was chilly, there were several trees in bloom. I am sure the blooms didn’t make it much longer since the temperature dropped to the mid-teens that night. During my travels, it was colder than I expected, but I stayed toasty sleeping in my Suburban on a roll-away mattress situated on a raised platform.

On Tuesday, I rendezvoused with Dee and Gee, who own one of the crystal mines located around 40 minutes from Hot Springs. They told me about a near-by campground that is free in the winter. We met up again the next morning and I followed Gee over to his mine. I enjoyed walking over his dump piles looking for evidence of any quartz crystals. I only stayed for a few hours, but found several dozen crystals, including the monster shown below – well worth the $20/day fee!

After continuing my drive to New Mexico, I spent the next few days visiting with friends, soaking in the hot springs at Ojo Caliente, and hiking at Bandelier National Monument. Pictured below are some of the pictures I took at the Tsankawi portion of Bandelier. This part of the national park has been left untouched by the National Park Service and remains the way it was when the cliff dwellers left over 500 years ago.

The driving continued on Monday as I arrived in Benson, AZ that night. The next morning, we were greeted with four inches of snow. Of course, everyone blamed me for bringing the snow from Michigan. I spent the rest of the week attending the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, which are actually 44 different shows. I don’t think that anyone actually goes to all of them, but I visited at least a dozen. I not only purchased some of my standard products, but I have several new things for the museum’s gift shop. I also had the pleasure to buy higher-ticket items for friends in Lansing. It is a good thing that I have a bigger vehicle because I had to fit a lot of product into the car. I don’t think I could have done it if I didn’t have room under my bed’s raised platform.

At one of the shows, to entice buyers to come in, they situated one of the most incredible amethyst geode that I’ve ever seen. How this was mined out of the earth and transported from Brazil to the J.O.G.S. show in Tucson – I’ll never know!

After I left the show, I camped at Tucson Mountain Park, which is located west of the city. Below is one of the cactus pictures that I took at sunset.

The next item on the agenda was the Grand Canyon. I drove through the eastern entrance of the park. The photo below was taken from the top of Desert View.

This was my 14th hike down the canyon, but only the second time that I hiked all the way from Phantom Ranch to the top in one day. I was glad that an opening occurred so that I could stay down an extra day to recover a little before I had to hike out. I descended down the South Kaibab Trail, which is the shortest rim to river trail at a little over 7 miles, but also the steepest. The first picture below was taken at the top of the Kaibab Trail.

As I walked down, since I was on a solo hike this time, it gave me the opportunity to read one of my Grand Canyon geology books as I descended layer by layer. Since the top section of the trail is in shadows all day, it is quite icy this time of year. Hiking poles and boot crampons are a must if you want to be safe. The trail starts with a long series of steep zigzags through the Kaibab Limestone. The tan walls are pitted with thousands of white and yellow chert nodules. These pockets formed from the silica spicules that accumulated from the sponges that lived in a shallow sea here 270 million years ago.

When I was around half way down and hiking through the Supai Group along the O’Neill Butte (formed 310 to 285 million years ago), I explored a flat area to the west of the trail. I was surprised to find some self-organized microcrystalline quartz pockets inside the sedimentary rock.

As you hike around the O’Neill Butte and past Skeleton Point, the trail descends down a massive cliff of red wall limestone that was deposited in a shallow sea that covered most of the North American continent more than 318 million years ago. After you finish with the switch backs, the trail straightens out as you pass outcrops of Mauv Limestone (350 to 400 million years old) that have ripple marks and worm burrows.

Next, after passing the rest area at mile 4.6, the trail reaches “The Tipoff,” when you enter the inner gorge. This is the first real good look you have of the Colorado River, which appears directly below you. On one hand you are relieved that you can see Bright Angel Campground and know that the end is in sight. Then you realize that you still have nearly 3 miles to go, including a good deal of the elevation change.

The last mile and a half of the trail seems to be a never ending series of switchbacks. I was entertained, though, by seeing my favorite Grand Canyon rock: Zoroaster Granite. This salmon-pink rock is comprised of pink orthoclase feldspar, white quartz, and shiny silver mica. Around 1.7 billion years ago, the area that is now the Grand Canyon was an ocean. The continental plate ended at what is now Wyoming. The ocean plate collided with the continental plate, and the ocean crust subducted down approximately 7 miles below the earth’s surface. Some of the rock heated and metamorphosed to form various schists and gneisses. Other rock subducted a little deeper and melted. As the magma rose back toward the surface in big blobs, similar to the wax blobs in a modern-day lava lamp, it squeezed its way into and around the metamorphic schists to cool into veins of pink granite. Below is a close-up picture of the granite, as well as a photo of the inner gorge wall showing the seams of granite inter-twined in the Vishnu Schist.

After leaving the top at around 8:30 a.m., I arrived at Phantom at 4:30 p.m. I stopped in the canteen to get my cabin assignment. Each of the dorm cabins have 5 bunk-bed cots, a toilet, and a separate shower. After a quick shower, I headed to the steak dinner, served family-style, at 5:00.

On the in-between day, I hiked to the top of the inner gorge on the north side, down the Cedar Creek Trail. This was a tremendous day. I found a south-facing ledge and parked myself for a few hours. I spent the time reading my geology books, taking pictures, eating my Phantom Ranch bag lunch, and taking a nap. As I sat there, I really studied the rocks and layers of the Grand Canyon. One of the surprising things I learned is that there are many gaps in the geologic record. One of the largest is the gap named by explorer, John Wesley Powell. He named the gap: The Great Unconformity. The amount of geologic record missing varies across the length of the canyon. In the picture below that I took from the Cedar Creek Trail, you can see that the horizontal Tarpeats Sandstone (525 million years old) sits directly on top of the 1.7 billion year old Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granite. Thus, 1.2 billion years, or one-quarter of the earth’s history, is missing! This gap is shown below in the left photo. The picture on the right was taken from the Cedar Creek Trail, looking down the inner gorge toward the east.

At Phantom Ranch, when you are preparing to hike out of the canyon, the day starts early when one of the employees knocks on your door at 5:00 a.m. Breakfast is at 5:30. I started hiking out by headlamp just after 6:00 a.m. I took the shot below with the self-timer, by placing my camera on the corner of the silver bridge.

Then, I hiked the 9.6 miles out the Bright Angel Trail getting to the top at 3:00 p.m. In total over the three days, I hiked nearly 23 miles with an elevation change of over 12,000 feet! Although I enjoyed it, I must admit that it does not get any easier, especially since I am now in my mid-50s! Below are a couple of the photos I took on the nine-hour hike out of the canyon. I sure was glad to get to the top!

I would like to thank all those who helped me and/or spent time with me along my travels including: Kim Amthor, Jonathan and Jessica Brzys, Marsha Hendrickson, Clare Comstock, Ardis and Ed Hannish, Karen and Harold Boaz, and Sandra and Mark Lange.

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