Mike and I search for one of my in-flight landmarks and almost find it.
I got Sunday off.
It was a weird thing. I showed up for work and discovered I was the fifth of five spare pilots. And because maintenance had a bit of a backlog, there were only seven helicopters flying. There was no way in hell that I would fly that day. So I asked for the day off. After all, why should Papillon pay me to sit around and do nothing? And why should I waste the day in the pilot break room, watching the crap the guys usually watch on television, when I could be doing something with Mike?
Mike had come for the weekend and although he planned to spend the day horseback riding and cleaning mouse debris out of the trailer, my day off changed his plans. We went into the park for breakfast at El Tovar, visited the new Visitor Information Plaza, and decided to search out Dripping Springs.
Dripping Springs is one of my in-flight landmarks on my return from a North Canyon or Imperial Tour. I fly south across the Grand Canyon, toward Whites Butte, up the right side of Travertine Canyon. There’s an odd-looking meadow there, formed by a forest fire years ago. Dripping Springs. Nearby is a nice view of the canyon with plenty of roads.
We bought two maps that, when used together, provided enough information to get us started. Leaving the park, we made a right at the Moqui Lodge, which is closed for renovations. We followed that improved dirt road west for a few miles, making a right near the railroad tracks. We followed the tracks, then crossed them. Then made a left at a closed-off picnic area and followed a narrow dirt road west southwest into the forest.
Things got sketchy for a while. We wound up at a locked gate near a clearing. The place looked familiar. Mike and I climbed the fence and walked into the clearing. It was the ponds! Another one of my landmarks. After Dripping Springs, I turn left and follow the boundary road until it turns left, then head for the sewer ponds. Here were the ponds. It was weird to see them from the ground.
We backtracked and made a turn we’d missed. Suddenly, the boundary road was before us, with a sign that said, “No vehicular traffic. Foot traffic only.” Not what I wanted to see.
But there was another road on one of the maps, a road that paralleled this one. We found it easily. And Mike began driving on a road that was almost too narrow for his truck.
The road wound through the forest, sometimes barely wide enough for us to pass, especially on tight turns. The surface was rugged and, more than once, Mike had to shift into 4WD. We reached Horse Thieves Tank, where the road on the map ended and a trail began. According to the map, the trail crossed the boundary road, where it turned into a road again. Mike stopped the truck and we got out to scout ahead. It was very narrow in a few spots, but opened up suddenly. From that point forward, it was easy. And there was the intersection I’d seen on the map, less than a half mile away.
We went back to get the truck and drove carefully to that point. Then we joined up with the boundary road. There was no sign there. We continued west.
The map showed a road leading off to the right. The road would go to Dripping Springs Trail. We followed the boundary road, but couldn’t find a turnoff. It wasn’t until we realized that we’d gone too far and were on our way back that we found it. The road had been blocked off by logs, turned into a trail. We parked at the trailhead while helicopters flew over us.
We were getting close.
We got out, grabbed our picnic lunch and water bottles, and started hiking. If the map were right, it would be about a mile to Dripping Springs. We followed the trail, keeping to the right when it forked. It was relatively flat and very quiet — except for the helicopters flying over to the west of us. Suddenly, we came upon a wooden structure made of logs that had been arranged vertically in a circle. Mike and I explored it a bit and guessed that it had been a corral. But it was old — there were small trees and cacti growing inside it. It had obviously been abandoned a long time ago. Near the end of the old road, we found an old corral made of logs dug into the dirt.
The road ended shortly after that, turning into a narrow trail that began a descent. But we weren’t near the big clearing I knew as Dripping Springs. And we weren’t near the canyon rim. It was very disappointing. Here I am, at the end of the road. No Dripping Springs here.
While I settled down in the shade and unpacked our lunches, Mike explored a bit down the path. He returned a short while later and reported that the trail started down a hill and crossed a little wash. He thought the springs might have been up the wash, but everything was dry. He didn’t seem too enthusiastic about continuing down that way. So we had lunch in the shade, listening to the helicopters pass by to the west of us every now and then.
We hiked back a while later. The hike back seemed shorter — it always does. Mike drove back on the boundary road — there was no sign about foot traffic in that direction and we weren’t prepared to do the other road again. When we hit pavement, we stopped for beverages in Tusayan, then headed back to the trailer.
The next day, I flew over the area again. I realized that we parked the truck in the clearing I know as “Hermits” when doing my first position report to Grand Canyon Tower. As I flew over the area again and again, I clearly saw a good portion of the road-turned-trail that we’d hiked down. But I still haven’t been able to see the corral or the end of the road.
But I’m not done with Dripping Springs. I’ll find it one of these days.