Tag Archives: Grand Canyon National Park

Arizona Game and Fish Little Colorado River Fish Monitoring volunteer trip

LCR showing travertine formations

I recently had the chance to spend 10 days on the Little Colorado River near the Colorado River confluence. I had applied for a US Fish and Wildlife volunteer trip which was full. The US Fish and Wildlife person forwarded my info to Arizona Game and Fish which had a similar research trip. The trip lasted 10 days and we were sent in and extracted via helicopter.

There are three research camps on the Little Colorado River (LCR). I stayed in the Boulders Camp, the furthest downstream, only a mile from the confluence of the Colorado River.  With three to five people in each camp, and several sling loads of scientific equipment and food and water, the helicopter had to make many trips. When carrying gear the helecopter used a long line to lift slings, which are large cargo nets. The pilot had us limit loads to no more than 500 pounds.  When he was carrying the sling he took on no passengers and actually removed the side door in order to stick his head out and have a good visual with the sling load.

Gear in piles waiting to be transported

Hooking up sling load

The flight is quite short and the scenery is stunning. The flight is classified as a special use and I had to don a flight suit and complete an online training before the flight. It’s an extremely low elevation flight into the LCR canyon.  Commercial flights and general aviation flights are not permitted to enter the canyon.  The helicopter landing site is very small and is located outside Grand Canyon National Park jurisdiction on tribal land. The landing site is situated next to the LCR bank and a large boulder; it’s a very tight space.  If the helicopter landed at the wrong angle the tail rotor would impact a large rock.  As I learned in my pre-flight training module, even a small impact to the main rotor or tail rotor will cause the helicopter to vibrate into pieces and turn over on its side.

This might just be an optical illusion

The purpose of the trip was to continue a long term monitoring project of the humpback chub, an endangered native fish. The humpback chub monitoring and research is carried out by the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center (GCMRC). The GCMRC is a partnership that provides science for the Glen Canyon Dam adaptive management program. The US Geological Survey, US Fish and Wildlife and Arizona Game and Fish all get logistical and other support from the GCMRC.

Baby Chub

Speckled Dace

Sucker with characteristic color. Either a flannel mouth or blue head I do not remember and I can see its head in the photo.

Each day Brian, a field biologist from AZGF, and I would haul in the nets and work up any fish caught. Then we would place the nets to be checked again the following day. While working up the fish, we would scan the fish for radio frequency ID tags. If there was a tag I would record it in the log. If the fish was new with no tag, Brian would use the tagging gun to inject a tag into the fish.  The tag is about the size of a grain of rice and gets injected into the fish’s belly (the specifics vary depending on the species). I also recorded the lengths and characteristics of each fish. The RFID tag is like an easy pass toll transponder for fish.  There is a permanent array of antennas from USGS that act like toll booths and read the tags as the fish swim by.  We also installed temporary antennas underwater for the spawning season.

I did have a decent amount of free time on the days when the nets were mostly empty. I got to hike down to the Colorado River confluence.  I also hiked upstream and saw Spider Cave, Redbud Canyon and the Sipapu. According to Hopi legend the Sipapu is their place of origin. It’s a very spiritually important location to the Hopi and I observed from a respectful distance on the opposite side of the river as the tribe requests. I will not be posting any photos of the Sipapu or its location. I did feel honored and privileged to see it.

This lizard was fearless and would get very close and just stare at you. It hung around our camp and ate globe mallow blooms. Watching it jump up and grab the globe mallow blooms was very amusing.

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Jay’s Trip to Toroweap

Looking down at Toroweap campsite

A couple of weeks ago I found out that the Grand Canyon National Park Vegetation Program’s Invasive Species Crew needed volunteers to go to Toroweap. Since I am not working and could go, I jumped on the opportunity. For those of you who have never heard of Toroweap, it is a point on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon out on the Arizona Strip situated near Vulcan’s Throne. This pocket of Grand Canyon National Park is very remote and totally cut off from the rest of the park.

Large cluster of Mammillaria cacti in bloom.

While there for five days, I worked pulling a few exotic invasive species, Horehound, Blue Mustart, and Scotch Thistle. We removed the Horehound from the dry lake beds in the Toroweap valley. This was the majority of the work. Horehound is in the mint family and looks sort of like catnip. Its every bit as prolific as any other mint.

Small blooming Mammillaria cacti

Small blooming Mammillaria cacti

We also helped the back country ranger Todd with some projects around the camp ground. Toroweap is so remote that Todd is often flown in for his stints in that area.

View from tuck up trail near Saddle Horse Canyon

Even with Toroweap being so remote that it is an eight hour drive from Flagstaff, it’s hard to believe the trip was not full. This particular Grand Canyon National Park volunteer trip usually fills up fast, but this one was only five of us instead of the typical ten.

A well hidden and totally shaded pot hole. This one had a lot of water in it despite the dry and dusty prevailing conditions.

Pot Hole close up. This thing was a miniature oasis, with a water glider and tiny ferry shrimp.

Removing Tamarisk From Bright Angel Creek – A Volunteer Trip into the Grand Canyon

Michael (volunteer) hidden behind a large tamarisk tree

Michael (volunteer) hidden behind a large tamarisk tree

I don’t know what I thought removing tamarisk (an invasive non-native tree) would be like, but it wasn’t what I expected.  When you hear tamarisk, think riparian plant, a plant that loves to grow next to water.  Which means in order to remove it you need to be next to water and sometimes in the water.  Did I mention that the water is 40 degrees?  Oh, and this is a desert riparian zone, which means that most of the native plants surrounding the tamarisk are covered in thorns.  And the water is the Bright Angel Creek, which cuts through a deep narrow gorge in the middle of Grand Canyon.  Which is strikingly beautiful.  It is also difficult to navigate with the stream bed frequently disappearing into steep cliff faces, which lead to some delicate rock scrambles, climbing up while also trying to avoid prickly plants.  Basically, if my mom had known what is required in removing tamarisk she would have been worried all week.

Luckily we hiked in and out and worked for three days without any injuries beyond minor scrapes and sore muscles.

Mary Beth crossing Bright Angel Creek

Mary Beth crossing Bright Angel Creek

Did I mention that this trip was in the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  Yea, that part was awesome.  It was a challenging but rewarding hike down into the canyon.  Six straight hours of walking down and down and down through different layers of rock until you reach the darkest steepest walls of granite schist in the inner gorge.  Unlike any other hike of that magnitude and remoteness, you are surprised to end up in a small village.  There are flush toilets, showers, telephones, cold beer, and restaurant reservations.  We were lucky enough to stay in the Trail Crew bunkhouse for the first three nights, which meant that we had a full kitchen, washer and dryer, and bathrooms.  The first night we almost jumped when the phone rang.  It was our crew leader’s husband calling with the scores from the football game.  Visiting the Grand Canyon as a volunteer is a special experience since you get to see behind the scenes and spend a week in the canyon for free.

Bright Angel Creek where we were removing tamarisk

Bright Angel Creek where we were removing tamarisk, you can see hikers on the trail river left and our group next to the creek river right.

After dinner we would go outside the bunkhouse and the cacti would be lit by the light from thousands of stars.  With narrow canyon walls we could only see a sliver of the night sky.  The canyon walls rose up like sky scrapers around us and I found myself feeling oddly claustrophobic in the middle of the great outdoors.  We fell asleep to the gurgling sounds of the creek and woke to the steady clomp of the mule train bringing in the day’s supplies to the canteen.

Della climbing back up to the North Kaibab Trail

Della climbing back up to the North Kaibab Trail

Our group of two National Park Service (NPS) employees, four volunteers, and two Student Conservation Association interns hiked down the South Kaibab Trail on Monday.  We spent Monday evening stretching our sore calf muscles and reviewing what we would be doing for the rest of the week, removing tamarisk along Bright Angel Creek.  Starting our day at 7:30 am, we worked in small teams, with the volunteers spotting the tamarisk and either pulling them out if they were just seedlings, or cutting them off at the base.  The NPS employees then painted the base of the tree with herbicide so that it would not re-sprout.  Tamarisk is an obstinate weed and several times we were cutting off new growth from previously treated trees.  After three full days of work our team removed over 400 tamarisk trees from the creek corridor.   It was far more than the NPS vegetation program staff were expecting to find and it felt satisfying to do such a thorough job.

Jay and Sharon at the South Rim having completed our hike up the South Kaibab Trail

Jay and Sharon at the South Rim having completed our hike up the South Kaibab Trail

Friday we hiked out the way we came in, up and up for almost eight hours.  Each step bringing us closer to civilization and all of the business that life on the rim entails.  I look forward to the next time we can go back below the rim, into that canyon, the immensity of which helps you recognize that you are just one small part of this great puzzle.

For more information on the Grand Canyon Vegetation Program click HERE.

To find volunteer opportunities at the Grand Canyon click HERE.

 

 

Photo Review 2 of 2: Grand Canyon, Phantom Ranch and North Kaibab Trail / Bright Angel Creek

A continuation of yesterday’s post which showed photos from the South Kaibab trail and the South Rim, today’s photos are from the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  We entered the canyon via the South Kaibab Trail on Monday and stayed at Phantom Ranch through Friday.  During the week we were working on tamarisk removal along Bright Angel Creek which parallels the North Kaibab Trail.

If you want to see past photo reviews, click HERE.

View from above of Phantom Ranch

View from above of Phantom Ranch where the Bright Angel Creek meets the Colorado River

Foot bridge over Colorado River

Foot bridge over Colorado River

Bright Angel Creek

Bright Angel Creek

View from North Kaibab Trail

View from North Kaibab Trail

view from North Kaibab Trail

view from North Kaibab Trail

View from North Kaibab Trail

View from North Kaibab Trail

Bright Angel Creek

Bright Angel Creek, with people (Jay in green shirt) for scale

Schist, the walls of the inner gorge

Schist, the walls of the inner gorge

View along North Kaibab Trail

View along North Kaibab Trail

Bright Angel Creek

Bright Angel Creek

The only red leafed tree we saw, probably a sumac

The only red leafed tree we saw, probably a sumac

Photo Review 1 of 2: Grand Canyon, South Kaibab Trail and Views from Desert View Drive

Yesterday we hiked out of the Grand Canyon after spending four nights at the bottom.  As I mentioned earlier this week, the Grand Canyon is where Jay’s and my relationship was born and by now it feels like a second home to me.  This was my first time staying overnight at Phantom Ranch and it was an amazing week.  These pictures are ones that I took from the South Rim and from the South Kaibab Trail.  Tomorrow I will add a series of pictures that I took from Phantom Ranch and the North Kaibab Trail along Bright Angel Creek.  Of course these photos do not do justice to the wonder of the canyon, but I hope they can share some of its beauty with you.

view of Grand Canyon from Desert View Drive

view of Grand Canyon from point on Desert View Drive

sunset at Grand Canyon, view from point on Desert View Drive

sunset at Grand Canyon, view from point on Desert View Drive

view from South Kaibab Trail

view of Grand Canyon from South Kaibab Trail

View of Colorado River from point on Desert View Drive

View of Colorado River from point on Desert View Drive

View of Grand Canyon from South Kaibab Trail

View of Grand Canyon from South Kaibab Trail

View of Colorado River from South Kaibab Trail

View of Colorado River from South Kaibab Trail

view of Grand Canyon from South Kaibab Trail

view of Grand Canyon from South Kaibab Trail

view from South Kaibab Trail

view from South Kaibab Trail

sand blowing on South Kaibab Trail

sand blowing on South Kaibab Trail

view of Grand Canyon from South Kaibab Trail

view of Grand Canyon from South Kaibab Trail

How To Make the Most of a Day Trip to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park

And now, the second in our Friday How To Series: How to make the most of a day trip to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.

Grand Canyon girl at geology center

A girl checking out the view from the Geology center at the Grand Canyon

Jay and I met through Grand Canyon Semester, a college program where we spent 3 months studying all aspects of the canyon from geology to park management. We even lived in the park for a month rafting the Colorado River and backpacking on the North Rim. So of course we would encourage you to explore the whole park, not just the popular and easily accessible South Rim. The Canyon is also amazing in all seasons from different spots. That said, recently we went to the South Rim for a short visit and since the majority of visitors spend only a few hours there, we thought we could offer some advice.

Grand Canyon, Mohave point

Grand Canyon, Mohave point

  1. Enter or exit from the east through Desert View. The Eastern entrance (closest town is Cameron) gives you an entirely different view along the South Rim. You can see more and the Desert View overlook provides the best view of the Colorado River as it makes an unexplained 90 degree turn here. This view overlooks a lot of critical archaeological sites as well.
  2. Stock up on food and gas in Flagstaff or Williams — the food options in Grand Canyon NP and Tusayan are very limited and not worth the wait time.  The only good food exceptions are breakfast at the El Tovar lodge (try the pecan french toast!) overlooking the South Rim or Navajo Tacos at the Cameron Trading Post near the Eastern entrance to the GCNP (note: the tacos are huge, get one to share).
  3. Park at either the Canyon View visitor’s center or Shrine of Ages (both accessible from the main drive and well signed).  They both usually have parking available and are good stops on the free shuttle that loops around the park.  Shrine of Ages is set back from the rim of the canyon, but it has a nice paved path through the pine forest to the rim trail.  I suggest this for first timers, it is fun to walk up to the canyon edge in a natural, uncrowded setting.
  4. Hike at least 10 minutes below the rim of the canyon.  Two recommended trails are Hermit Trail (on the western most edge of the Canyon) or Hance Trail (near Desert View on the Eastern edge); both of these trails are less popular, but incredibly scenic.  For any hiking in the canyon, make sure to have sturdy footwear and bring at least one bottle of water.
  5. In the historic section, we recommend Kolb Studio and the El Tovar Lodge.  Both are worth a quick look.  Most of the other buildings along the rim are less interesting, more touristy, and are just basically a waste of time.
elk at El Tovar Lodge

Elk grazing outside the El Tovar Lodge ... a common problem that park staff are hoping to one day implement a solution to

With that advice I hope you can make your trip to the Grand Canyon worth the price of admission ($27 per car). Of course you can always invest in an Annual Pass and see several of our nation’s most beautiful places.

Employee Bike Sharing at Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon employee bike fleet

30 brand new bikes for the employee bike fleet


While we were visiting our friend Kirstin at the Grand Canyon, we had the opportunity to help her with a project she has been working on. What started as a great idea during a leadership program is now a fleet of 30 bikes, almost ready to go into the hands of national park employees at the Grand Canyon. As a serious bike enthusiast and professional mechanic, Jay was perfectly suited to prep the bike fleet with quick release (easily adjustable) seat clamps and racks. I enjoyed serving as Jay’s assistant and test riding the bikes.
Jay riding commuter bike with trailer

Jay doing a short test ride of the commuter bike with attached trailer


In helping with this project I realized how much goes into an employee bike sharing program. From what I can tell, there is only one other employee bike share program within the National Park Service, and that one was installed as a prepackaged service and offered for free as a trial in DC. I don’t remember hearing anything about it when we lived there. Kirstin is ready for the challenge, she has already thought about how to distribute the bikes, finding champions in each division to look after them, and providing the necessary accessories and parts. Add to that the great bike paths around the park, a bike culture and the company town peer pressure of GCNP, and I think this program is going to be a big success. Employees taking the cruisers on beer runs after work probably is going to be the biggest concern.

Jay's mobile bike repair shop

Jay putting a rack on the bike from his mobile bike repair shop


Where I used to work, they introduced an employee bike sharing program and unfortunately it was not a big success. In our department I was the only one still trying to use the bikes after a few months. There were several issues, primarily: the bikes were not maintained, there was only one person in charge of the bikes and they were at a different building, there were limits placed on usage that made it unrealistic to use one and the bikes were low quality and awkward to ride. I shared my experience with Kirstin and I think they will be able to avoid these pitfalls. I am eager to hear how the program comes along.
Sharon on the blue cruiser bike

Sharon modeling the smallest bike in the fleet, a cute teal cruiser

helmets for Grand Canyon bike sharing

helmets for Grand Canyon bike sharing

jay installing a bike rack

Jay installing a bike rack