October 1, 2018.
The night was a bit windy, parked on the edge of the canyon wall. But warmish temps and a late night, combined with the fact that we were a few hundred feet from the top of the canyon - so there was no reason to get up early for the orange glow of sunrise on the horizon - meant that we slept well and I didn't even think about getting out of bed before 8:30am.
Like the evening before, the sky was mostly cloudy - the resulting light being both muted and mysterious at the same time as I re-explored the area around camp, taking in our surroundings at the beginning of this new day.
It wasn't long before Mike @Digiratus was up as well - his new stove and the coffee it'd produce beckoning to him as it does every morning. As he made his coffee and we each enjoyed the peacefulness of our newfound seclusion, the silence was broken by the thump-thump-thump of a helicopter in the distance.
And then, it was no longer distant. Flying low and fast, it came hurtling down a path similar to the one we'd taken to our camp the night before. We looked up, we looked at each other, and we reached for our cameras as he plunged down into the canyon and toward the Colorado River below, skimming the surface as he headed upstream.
It was then that we saw a group of rafters - new arrivals during the night - 2000 feet below, and half a mile upstream of our camp. With practiced skill, the pilot alighted atop a small pad - just large enough for his skids - next to their camp. People got out, others got in, and it wasn't long until - with the same skill and speed - the pilot was off again, climbing quickly out of the canyon and directly over our camp - banking sharply as he did - and then disappearing to the north from where he came.
We knew two things for sure - he was good, and it looked like fun!
We puzzled over what was going on and then got back to our routine. Until - a second fly-over, and then a third. It was at this point that Monte @Blackdawg finally climbed out of his tent - just as curious as to what was going on as we were. In all, there were four trips down to the river - and we decided it was either a major injury on a Grand Canyon rafting trip, or a much more expensive rafting trip than any of us were accustomed to, that necessitated all the commotion.
Eventually we'd get the real story, but that would have to wait - for now, we worked to soak in the last of the views of our first night in the Grandest of Canyons and get camp put away.
And then, we were off - sort of. As Mike headed out to explore the path of the helicopter, Monte started up his truck to pull out of my way. As I turned the key, I was rewarded with no response from my truck - no starter, no click, nothing. Uh oh. The first night of our two week trip and I'd apparently killed the battery - which I'd borrowed from Mike after mine had died after the previous trip.
Hoping that a recharge would set things right, I had Monte pull up to give me a jump, just as Mike was returning from his exploration.
And so it was - with all three trucks running once again - that we pulled out of camp and headed back north the way we'd come the day before - unsure how far we'd need to backtrack before heading to Toroweap Overlook - a cut-off road hopefully shortening our route...if it was passable.
As we headed up and out, we marveled again at the scenery we passed. With seemingly a bit more time, we stopped here and there - either for photos we'd missed the day before, or because the light was in some way better this morning. As we did, I made sure to leave the truck running to charge the battery, not wanting to be the guy who needed a jump each and every day for a two-week trip.
As it turns out, Whitmore Overlook is the site of a 180,000 year-old lava flow that once dammed the Grand Canyon. Over the next 20,000 years, a lake grew behind the dam, eventually causing it to fail and sending a wall of water 600-feet tall thundering down the Grand Canyon - so powerful that boulders 115-feet in diameter were swept along downstream. We got a great sight of some of the lava from this flow - a stark black in an otherwise orange-white-and-blue landscape.
Eventually we made our way back to the Bar Ten Ranch, the point where we thought there might be a cut-off road saving us several miles on our way to Toroweap. The road to Whitmore had passed through their land, and we decided it would be a good idea to stop to thank them for keeping it open and ask about the viability of the road in question.
As we pulled in and turned off the trucks, we saw several folks lounging around outside - all of whom apparently recognized our Tacomas! "Were you guys camped down on in the canyon last night?" they asked. Of course, we were - and they'd seen us as they'd flown over in the helicopter...the final leg of their (likely very expensive) rafting trip down the Grand Canyon. The chopper pilot was there too, and upon meeting him, smiles and compliments were paid both directions, all of us clearly in possession of experiences the other wanted!
After thanking the hosts and chatting with the guests and pilot for a bit, we said our goodbye's and climbed back in the trucks. The hosts let us know that the bypass we'd been eyeing was perhaps shorter in distance, but would be longer in time, so we decided to head back towards the Mt. Trumbell schoolhouse, where a well-graded road would send us the right direction.
Except my truck wouldn't start again.
Monte gave me another jump, and as we made our way to the schoolhouse, I let the guys know that I wanted to take a look at the electrical system a bit more closely when we got there. readings from my Kiwi 3 OBD reader were good - the alternator seemed to be putting out 14.5V - but at that rate, the battery should have had no problem starting the truck at the ranch. Something else had to be going on.
In the end, it didn't take long to figure out and fix the problem - the clamp on the positive terminal was a bit loose - just enough so that there was no constant solid connection. Combined with the bumpy trail, this meant that power to the truck was intermittent - in fact, I'd noticed it on the morning drive - my ham radio rebooting (powering off-and-on) several times on the way up the trail. A quick snip of a plastic spacer to reduce the diameter of the clamp, and I was back in business for the rest of the trip!
Unfortunately, this is also where we found that Monte's radiator had a loose bolt, which we were unable to tighten up - but, he survived the trip without issue, so it wasn't all that bad. We pushed on, back through the National Monument, and along the plateau that sprawls northward from the rim of the Grand Canyon.
Eventually, we got to the turn towards Toroweap, on the edge of a large valley that opened up under the partly sunny skies. It was just one of many places that we stopped to soak in the surroundings, laughing and chatting for a while about how lucky we were to experience places like this.
And then, we were off - the well-graded road pushing our speeds higher and higher. The occasional whoops and sharp turn reigning them back in.
It wasn't long before we reached the Toroweap Ranger Station, and two volunteers gave us the rundown on what to expect at the overlook. Apparently, there were only a couple other trucks out today (both of which would pass us on their way out), and the road was "pretty rough."
Of course, none of that was bad news to us - we were all for having the place nearly to ourselves, and rough roads are well...not quite so rough when you're in a bad-ass Tacoma. So we thanked the volunteers and headed out - once again marveling at the landscape around us as we made our way to the edge of the canyon.
From the ranger station it was, as I recall, about six miles to the rim. The first three easy-going. The next two "requiring 4WD" (according to the volunteers), and the last mile "very technical." I think we'd have called it all "fun" with the "best part" being the point at which we could start to see the rim of the canyon - always a treat since it's so innocuous as you approach, it being just a deep gash in the ground, not really visible until you get close!
But once we arrived, it was simply breathtaking. It was - as far as I'm concerned - the absolute best Grand Canyon experience of the trip. Unlike other viewpoints where the vastness of the canyon opens up in front of you, Toroweap Overlook presents itself as a sheer canyon wall - 3000 feet straight down - with no fences or safety mechanisms of any kind.
It's not for the faint of heart, but for those of us who like dramatic views, it's near impossible to beat. Monte and I quickly setup shop to capture what we could of the moment, knowing full well that we'd only capture a fraction of the real thing.
Monte sitting on the edge, and me laying out over it to snap shots down the cliff edge were more than Mike could stomach. "Stop it guys, I can't watch!" he finally said as he headed back to the trucks to wait, letting us know that @mrs.turbodb and @MissBlackdawg would surely not be happy with us.
Eventually, and knowing that we had quite a distance to travel before reaching camp, we piled back in the trucks and headed out the way we'd come in, experiencing the "tough" road all over again - perhaps a bit faster this time, it's bumps and curves recently recorded in our minds. And on the way out - a second and third gen Tacoma on their way in.
Our destination for the night was SB Point - the meaning of SB still unknown to us, though internet rumors suggest "Son of a Bitch." Some 56.6 miles from Toroweap Overlook, our route took us back up one finger of the plateau and back down another, 20 miles to the east - once again allowing us to experience the plateau scenery and flora as we made the journey.
Most of this section was reasonably uneventful, a couple gates and cattle reservoirs breaking up the drive. Oh, and there was one place where Monte got a bit off-camber, caught off-guard by a hole a little deeper than he'd expected.
As evening approached, we found ourselves headed back out another finger of the plateau - a long, downhill section of road that was in relatively good shape, but was twisty as all get-out. We had a great time on this section, bombing through the curves and avoiding the Juniper's that crowded into the turns - our narrow first-gen Tacoma's a boon in this environment.
It was nearly 7:00pm when the canyon started opening in front and to the sides of us. We were tugged two ways - get to camp before dark, or stop to capture the moment - one we'd never experience quite the same way again.
And then, the final push to camp. Perhaps the "SB" is most aptly attributed to the feeling one gets when they arrive at camp after the long trek out the finger. The views are cool - grand for sure - but they aren't the views of Toroweap, nor even of Whitmore where you can "camp on the edge." As Monte described it over the CB, "I guess we're here guys."
Not that one can really complain all that much - after all, this...
From there, it was positioning ourselves in camp and attending to the important evening chores - tent deployment, camp fire positioning - that type of thing.
And then, an unexpected treat. The clouds that had been with us all day - flattening colors and threatening rain - made themselves useful. It was slow at first, as we deployed our tents - unaware of what was unfolding above. But then we noticed.
Eventually, it spread further and further across the sky. Oranges, pinks, and purples blasting forward, the suns rays shining up from below the horizon to illuminate the sky.
Every direction we looked, more color. We were, not for the last time on this trip, kids in a proverbial candy store.
The display lasted the better part of 15 minutes - an eternity for us, with two weeks of photos to fit on our microSD cards! - but eventually the light began to fade as we captured it's last moments.
And with the light gone, it was time for dinner and a camp fire. A hamburger and roast corn on my new Coleman grill were on the menu this evening, and they came out deliciously - a much better setup if you ask me than the two-burner stove I'd tried on the previous trip.
As we gathered around the fire, the smoke swirled - the wind rising up from the canyon, pushing the smoke in all directions. Still, we'd had an amazing day - our favorite parts of which we recounted around the fire. Views at Toroweap, solving battery problems, dual battery setups that negate battery problems - we discussed them all as the smoke blew around us and the clouds rolled in.
It was early - 11:30pm when we called it a night and headed to bed.
But that was because the rain had started. F.U. Rain!