Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Blue Spring


Blue Spring

The Grand Canyon - The Little Colorado River - The
Navajo Reservation - Scary drop offs - Turquoise Blue
Spring water - Anasazi ruins - soaring red canyon

Sound interesting - the trip to Blue Spring, on the
Little Colorado River is amazing, breathtaking,
nerve-wracking, and wow. My friend Dan and I set out from
Flagstaff, AZ in his Nissan pathfinder 4x4. We made
our way up through Cameron, AZ, and then crossed into
the Grand Canyon National Park at desert View. Just
after saying goodbye to the Navajo woman ranger, we
turned turned east for Cedar Mountain and Gold Hill,
two buttes that mark the way to Blue Springs trail
head, out across the stunning emptiness of the Navajo
Reservation. We passed old hogans, old cabins, stone
corrals, abandoned trucks, and even some seemingly
lost cattle. After 15miles of single track, we
managed to reach Gold Hill, the last guardian of the
plateau above Blue Spring. In all, the drive to the
trail head took about 2 hours from the pavement at
Desert View, and there we were, perched at the edge of
the Little Colorado River Gorge. From rolling green
sagebrush plains, the gorge cut like a red scar -
dropping thousands of vertical feet to the Little
Colorado River. Out here, the exposure is intense,
ravens ride the updrafts, and you struggle against
vertigo as you stare over the edge. It is a beautiful
canyon carved from red, white and yellow sandstones,
and somewhere down there is the elusive Blue springs.
We still had about 2 miles to go after passing Gold
Hill - and finding the trail head wasn't easy.
Everywhere you look likes like a suicide mission, the
edge dropping straight down through insane rock bands.
After some search, we managed to find a trail
scratched over the rim, through a small stone fence,
and basically straight down to the river. The only
thing was it wasn't really straight down. Following
stone cairns like mystical hoodoo guides, we picked
our way down rock slides, waterfalls, and one foot
wide ramps with thousand foot exposure. Some of the
trail required making climbing moves, and at these
crux spots, usually the exposure was at its
mind-numbing greatest. With sweaty palms, and racing
hearts we scrambled and worked our way through, until
we finally could see the river. Alas, we never
checked the river in Cameron from the bridge, and the
river was running muddy chocolate milk, it must have
rained in the white mountains. Dejected, we stumbled
on down to the river, and because of the high water,
had to search to find decent beach camping and even to
find the Blue Spring itself.

After dumping our packs, we found a nice beach,
replete with driftwood and tarantulas, right next to
the springs. The water seeps from limestone cliffs
along the river, and is supposed to form aquamarine
pools. Because it is a year round spring, the
temperature is supposed to be a constant 70 degrees
Fahrenheit. We got to swim in cold, chocolate milk,
with suspended sediment so fine it coated everything
like brown paint. Did I mention that drinking water
is very important when hiking the canyons of the
Southwest. The super low humidity, hot sun, and
relentless steeps, dehydrate a man pretty quickly. we
were counting on filtering water from pools in the
river, but the sediment rich runoff made this option
impossible. The blue spring water is barely
drinkable, even after filtering so we collected water
from pools of quicksand, where the sediment had
settled enough to let us drink. We also had to find
diluted areas of the spring, where it mixed with the
river in hydrodynamic eddy lines that you could watch
unroll for hours. I don't know the mineral content of
the water, but where it seeped, the ground and sand
were stained orange, green and blue. Evidence of this
occurred when we tried to mix up our powdered milk,
and it came out as a green slurry, that gagged on the
way down.

We spent a beautiful night on the beach next to a
driftwood campfire, watching falling stars until the
harvest moon rose and flooded the canyon with silver
light. I would wake periodically, warm in my sleeping
bag, and keep track of Orion as he marched across the
sky. After a morning wake-up swim, we saddled up, and
reversed the trail to climb back to the car. We knew
the way up would be better than down, but the cruxes
still loomed in our minds. On a large shoulder of
limestone, climbing the side of a big waterfall, we
had to squeeze up a crack and over a ledge all the
while staring into a thousand feet of empty space -
not for the faint of mind.

Back at the rim, at the sight of the truck and level
ground we rejoiced having survived the climb. We both
knew we would someday return to the magic of Blue
Springs, we had to see it in its full blue glory.

Trail Notes of Note

I forgot to mention a sketchy pack belay that we used
around an early crux move that proved too difficult
with a large pack. There is a rope in place, but you
need to belay from a small overhanging ledge, and
avoid knocking rocks down. There is also a 8-10 foot
crack that would be hard to navigate with a large
pack, and that would probably require a rope if
climbing alone.