Rock Garden

Tonto Platform — The ubiquitous Tonto Platform (sometimes erroneously called Tonto Plateau) is one of the most dramatic geologic features of the Canyon along with the Redwall cliffs. This broad area is formed by the tough layers of Tapeats sandstone overlaying the even tougher inner canyon schist and granite. The Tonto Trail covers 93 miles from Red Canyon to Garnet Canyon, and other routes extend both upriver and downriver (see Little Colorado, Escalante and Royal Arch). Even though there is a trail along it through every place you can view from the south rim, most of it is not visible from the rim without binoculars. Of all the famous names of persons associated with Grand Canyon trails, such as John Hance and W.W. Bass, no accomplishment is more impressive than that of Tonto.

Agave clusters growing on the Tonto terrace provided an important food source for early Grand Canyon dwellers and the stone and charcoal remains of agave roasting pits can be found in nearly every significant side-canyon along the Tonto Trail.

Trails — Tonto Trail of course. The Tonto Trail, by its name, gives the illusion of purpose. This route is really a network of game trails frequented only in recent history by hikers. Over the years, the trail seems to defy cartographers, never staying in exactly the same place for more than a decade or two. Some sections support several well-worn tracks and in other places it nearly disappears. Flat, open sections make for fast, easy travel, and narrow sections with limestone boulders can be rugged. The unbendable Blackbrush demands and gets respect from every hiker, especially those in shorts. Remote areas with concentrated growth and no trail can be as impassable as deep forest.

People can often get a little off the way when navigating the less-traveled Tonto Trail sections. Watch for the numerous small cairns, but the easy places to miss are:

  • Crossing a side-canyon and missing the exit -- as you come into a drainage, stop and look across to the other side and pick up the line of trail and follow it back to where it meets the bed.
  • Crossing a ridge with sparse vegetation or a clearing -- pause and look around for footsteps, a track, or cairns before continuing.
  • Going up or down a minor wash where the trail follows in or next to the bed -- the trail turns out of the wash at the top or bottom but sometimes the wash looks more like a trail. Look around before starting up a wash and scan the sides carefully when tracking a wash.
  • Passing through a shelf -- the trail often breaks through several small drops near a side-canyon or side-side-canyon. The trail can become alternate tracks above and below a shelf that rejoin. Especially when coming up a slope, watch for the easy step up or a break in the shelf, or find where the track continues above.

If you really get off the trail, best to track back to where you are sure you were on it. Usually, when you are off the main track the trail will be upslope. Getting off-trail will slow your travel but you can't really get lost following the Tonto Trail. If you find a place where you get side-tracked very easily, you can put a line of stones across the place you went to show it is not the way the trail goes.


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