Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Shoshone Point

Grand Canyon from Shoshone Point
2 miles round trip, 160 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Grand Canyon National Park entrance fee required

Most viewpoints along Grand Canyon's South Rim are permanently crowded, but- for the moment- Shoshone Point remains the exception. Why? Unlike the other grand views of the South Rim, such as Mather, Hopi, Grandview, or Yavapai Points, Shoshone Point requires a bit of walking to reach. Additionally, national park-issued literature and signage in the park all gloss over the fact that this viewpoint exists. However, it's just a mile walk along a dirt road to reach this secluded view of the eastern canyon.

It's not fully clear to me why Shoshone Point gets no publicity from the national park, although it may have something to do with the fact that the park currently rents out the viewpoint and its picnic shelter for private events. Apparently Shoshone Point has been the setting of many Grand Canyon weddings.

I hiked to Shoshone Point during a brief winter visit to the Grand Canyon, choosing to watch the sunset there to avoid the crowds packing the better-known viewpoints. From Grand Canyon Village, I took Arizona 64 (Desert View Drive) east. A little over a mile after passing the turnoff for Yaki Point, I pulled off into a dirt parking area on the north side of the road. Although unmarked, this parking area was noticeable and there was a white gate at the far end of the parking lot. This is the unmarked trailhead for Shoshone Point; I parked here, making sure not to block the gate. The trailhead is fairly easy to find even though it's unmarked, as it's the only substantial parking area on the north side of the road along the stretch of Desert View Drive east of Yaki Point.

The trail was simply a dirt road leading through the Ponderosa pine forests of the Coconino Plateau towards the canyon rim. After recent snow, the trail was at points dry dirt, mud, or snow, but the level nature of the road surface made the hike quite easy. Elevation gain was very gradual, with a slight climb as I approached the rim. I saw only two other groups during my hike, a nice change from the crowds of Mather Point, where tourists have to line up to take photos of the canyon.

Dirt road/trail to Shoshone Point
After 15 minutes of walking along the road, the road passed a local high point and began a slight descent. The canyon rim came into view through the ponderosa pines, the angled afternoon rays of the sun painting the upper layers of the North Rim. Soon, I came to the end of the road, where a single-track trail continued leading onward past a picnic shelter to the canyon rim. A bit of descent brought me to the end of the trail, at a ledge with a limestone hoodoo and a sweeping view into one of the most spectacular geological wonders in the world.

Hoodoo at Shoshone Point
What a view! The Grand Canyon is immense and overwhelming, but at first glance our minds often fail to comprehend its true size. With few markers to convey scale, our brains trivialize the canyon; unable to believe that a gorge of such size could exist, our minds attempt to tell us that everything is perfectly normal. The river at the bottom must only 10 or 20 feet wide, we convince ourselves, only to find out later that the river is in fact 300 feet wide, that the canyon is a mile deep, 18 miles wide, and 200 miles long, and that even the greatest urban skylines built by humans would be swallowed whole by this masterpiece of erosion. When Coronado's expedition became the first group of Europeans to see the canyon, they assumed that large boulders in the canyon were the size of men. Scouts who descended into the canyon returned reporting that those boulders were at least as large as the tower of Seville, nearly 200 feet in height. Photos can report the shape of its temples and capture a slice of the magic of light playing on the walls of sandstone, limestone, and shale, but photos do nothing to help one understand the size of the Grand Canyon. It is unfathomable, deeply moving, awesome, terrifying and heartbreakingly inspiring.

Zoroaster Temple aflame with evening light in the Grand Canyon
Shoshone Point had a commanding view towards the eastern part of the canyon, although the western part of the canyon was blocked out in part by nearby Yaki Point. From my lofty perch, I spotted the Colorado River to the east, just before it entered Granite Gorge carved into the Vishnu Schist basement rock of the canyon. Above the river rose the Palisades of the Desert, multi-colored ramparts leading north from the just-barely visible Desert View Watchtower. Wotan's Throne and Vishnu Temple were carved out in the eastern part of the canyon, while closer in, Zoroaster Temple, Brahma Temple, and Buddha Temple were remarkable formations capped by the cream-colored Coconino Sandstone.

The Colorado River flows in Granite Gorge below Shoshone Point, last light on Vishnu Temple
It was a cold day and the wind at the point was fairly strong, but the extraordinary view easily justified the discomfort. I had the point entirely to myself as the sun set and the shadow of the earth gradually filled the sky.

After darkness set, I returned to the trailhead. Looking up, I found a remarkable night sky in this remote locale: above, the Milky Way spilled across the vastness and Orion stood guard in the winter sky with his bright and ever-present canine companion. Far from the city lights, I realized that the Grand Canyon was a good place to contemplate the scale of not just our Earth, but a universe filled with planets governed by the same physical laws as ours, many of which likely sport yet-to-be-discovered immensities.

The Milky Way spilled across the night sky

No comments:

Post a Comment