Rock Garden - Grand Canyon Routes

Exploration of Bass Esplanade, 18 Oct 1991

The Travelers

Doug Nering and Danny Weimer. This exploration was made during the last 2 days of a trip from Bass to Elves Chasm and back.

The Route

The structure known as the Esplanade begins where the Bass Trail crosses the platform on the Supai layer to descend into Bass Canyon, but the true nature of this extraordinary landscape is hidden behind Mount Huethawali. The object of this visit was to locate Mystic Spring.

The best access to the north projection of the Esplanade is from the rise just before the trail begins the descent into Bass Canyon. Keep an eye for breaks in the two benches that must be climbed before reaching the southeastern slope of the Mount. Cross the slope behind the Mount to reach the neck of the promontory. Just where the slope levels out are several very large boulders. This is a prehistoric site including at least 4 agave pits, quantities of flint scrap, and a few tiny pieces of painted pottery.

Much of the top layer of the Esplanade is bare rock, and for a short time after rain the surface would hold many small rainpools. A few determined pines grow where there is enough soil. The most unusual plant here looks like a tiny ball of little waxy leaves all overlapping, sage in color, wedged among the cracks.

Mystic Spring is located on the west slope just below the rim. I was looking for signs of a route descending this slope and could see none at all. In fact going very far down this side may not be possible without a rope due to numerous terraces and barricading cliffs. To satisfy our curiosity, we followed the top layer of the platform out to the point of the next big drop, and surprised a bighorn enjoying the solitude of this isolated spot. Here the Supai and Redwall combine to form a vertical cliff of 1500 feet into Copper Canyon.

On the return trip a streak of moss and water was visible just below the rim of the bay to the west of the narrowest part of the Esplanade. This was the clue to our objective: Mystic Spring.

The spring can be reached going down a crack in the rim directly above the spring, but there is an easy way. The original trail goes gradually down the best break further south. After passing a small arch, the trail follows the terrace to the terminus at Mystic Spring. A low rock wall remains that once formed a basin for the water. I believe this must have been the only reliable water source for the Bass home.

Harvey B reports in GCT-III, page 68-69, that Mystic Spring was mislocated on the Matthes-Evans map and was for years presumed dry. In hot weather, well after the rainy season, a trickle of water was present, and some other water streaks showed on the rocks just below.

For the return trip, we chose the west slope of Mount Huethawali thinking we would surely find an old trail. There was none and the brushy slopes were most unpleasant for travel. The route up the northeastern shoulder to the top of the Mount was attractive, but energy and water supplies were inadequate to this excursion.


At the end of a very long and dry summer there was no more than the tiniest trickle at Mystic Spring, but the water tasted good and enough could be collected to survive. It is not a reliable water source for all seasons.


The Esplanade is relatively flat except for some 15 to 20 foot drops that separate terraces. Care should be taken to minimize disturbance of the delicate environment. Walk on hard surfaces or follow drainage lines to avoid crushing cryptobiotic soils.


This is a different world of unfamiliar landforms and lifeforms.


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