Rock Garden - Grand Canyon Routes

Cattle Trail and Connecting Route to Phantom Creek, 9 Dec 2003


Whether the purpose of this trail was to move cattle to grazing in Phantom Canyon is doubtful but that is the basis for the name of this route. Signs of trail construction show that the story is more than just rumor. This location is quite accessible but very little visited, mostly because camping in the areas near Bright Angel Creek is not permitted.


Follow the North Kaibab Trail from Bright Angel Camp through the narrow section known as The Box. As Bright Angel Canyon opens up, pass through a swampy area called Willow Springs. The trail makes a sharp bend to the right above this area and on the 7.5min map is the "B" in the blue legend for "Bright Angel Creek." Start here.

The Route

Look to the west slope of Bright Angel Canyon and locate a large white slab of Tapeats lying on the upper part of a dark ridge. The trail begins at the bottom tip of this ridgeline. Cross the creek. On this visit there was a convenient group of rocks for a dry leap at lower flow. Find a suitable spot to scale the high west bank of the creek and get up onto the flat and continue to the base of the target ridge. The trail starts up the nose and then angles left across the slope parallel to the adjacent ravine. As the slope levels the track disappears but continue across this level area at the lowest contour into the minor drainage below the next slope.

No trail is present here, but go somewhat up the drainage and then contour across the slope to the south toward the top of the next hill at a low angle. Look for first sign of a track over the level surface here. Vegetation is sparse on the dark and resistant surface. Cross the flat of this area and on the other side of the hill begin a descent to the west providing an approach to the bed of the major ravine. Wildlife travel has kept the trail bed more intact passing though the ledges and layers, and then follows a level shelf to enter the bed.

Go up the bed a very short distance and then start up the opposite slope, then turn back to cross the apex of the ridge to where a huge block of sandstone lies on the slope. Clear trail construction passes above this block and switchbacks up, and then turns to follow along the side of the ridge to a meadow area with many large boulders standing above the surface.

No trail here again, but look to the south for a gap at the top of the meadow leading toward the rim. Switchbacks and trail improvements appear again passing up though this gap. Contour left across the slope to reach the bench that forms the upper meadow. Go up through the meadow and then contour right under the Tapeats rim to the obvious break on the west side of the point.

Trail Ends

I could find no sign of any real trail beyond this except one place, but there are substantial game tracks to help connect to the Upper Phantom area. The area between Johnson Point and Sturdevant Point is a very rugged place, but no serious obstacles. The next drainage west is not so difficult. My recommendation would be to bypass the next saddle beyond this and go from here directly southwest across the lower slope to reach Phantom Creek just upstream of the falls.

Harvey Butchart Record

The existence of this route was described in GCT-I p23 (new GCT p44) as a way into Phantom Canyon from the North Kaibab Trail. Also for reference are photos of Harvey's maps published by Green and Ohlman (HGCB), and new GCT p19. These map references are slightly misleading because Harvey refers to the trail origin "a half mile downstream from Ribbon Falls." This is entirely different from the description here. Harvey's map notes "W" (water) and "MP" (mescal pit) also seem transposed. There is no water source below Johnson Point as shown on Harvey's map (along the same high game track here), but there is an unusual spring below a cluster of cottonwoods at contour 3200 southwest of Sturdevant Point, and agave pits in the drainage west of Johnson Point, and a faint track connects these locations. This cottonwood seep spring is not mapped on the 7.5min survey and the spring that does show on the map is likely wrong.

Difficulty and Appeal

Appreciation to Bob Audretsch, GC interpretive ranger, for specifics locating where this trail could be found. The trail is about as obscure as possible and still be present. Frequently, it is necessary to scan the terrain and imagine where a trail should go and follow that until the next hint that it exists. Beyond the trail a route continues across rugged slopes and two difficult side-canyons to reach the upper basin of Phantom Creek. Occasional game tracks assist with travel, but this route is very rough off-trail stuff.


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