Monument Creek to Indian Garden
Distance 16 km, 1350 m elevation gain, 1190 m elevation loss, 6 hrs 20 min
There are no reliable water sources along this stretch of the Tonto Trail, so we loaded up with water at Monument Creek. We filtered the water through our bandanas and treated with iodine overnight. This is a long, undulating day that adds up to a lot of elevation gain and loss. It is interesting that the maximum elevation gain in any segment is only 180 m.
We left camp at 7:40am, our earliest start for the trip, but we were the last of the 5 groups staying at the campground to leave. The day starts out with a steady climb of 140 m over 1.6 km to rise out of Monument Creek onto the Tonto Platform.
We arrived on the plateau after only 20 minutes, still in the morning shade. We took one last look back, spotting the spire we had seen the day before during our descent to Monument Creek.
A short descent over the next half kilometre had us passing by the small seep at Cedar Springs. We did not find any running water from the spring.
We passed around the end of butte, named The Alligator. A dry canyon provides a brief view of the river.
The trail took us back to cliffs overlooking the Colorado River. Views up and down the river highlighted the ruggedness of the inner canyon. The more resistant igneous and metamorphic rock is much more jagged than the softer sedimentary rock that overlays it.
The trail continued to undulate and after a total of two hours of hiking, we arrived at Salt Creek, a distance of 5.4 km from our campsite.
The water at Salt Creek is not radioactive, but is considered highly mineralized and is not recommended for drinking. Where the trail crossed Salt Creek, there was no water. We wandered up the creek a little to find water; it was quite a small trickle.
We arrived back at Tonto Platform 15 minutes after first getting to the creek. A short 35 minute hike, approximately 1.2 km, took us to the head of an unnamed drainage, which offered an another view into the inner gorge.
We hiked past rocks that appeared to be marble, white cubic rocks. We found an overhang that provided some shade and stopped for lunch.
The trail headed back to the river to navigate around Dana Butte. As it was spring, there were numerous flowers dotting the landscape and the cacti were in bloom with pink and red flowers.
The trail took us right to the edge of the cliff, affording an unobstructed view down to the Colorado River, restrained on both sides by the steep walls of the Granite Gorge.
As we came around Dana Butte, we could see the walls forming Bright Angel Canyon in the distance, but we first had to hike back away from the river to the head of Horn Creek. This was our high point of the day at 1188 m, 9.4 km from Monument Creek. It was about 2 km to Horn Creek, and another 4 km to the campsite at Indian Garden.
Horn Creek is quite a little oasis, home to a few large trees and many smaller green plants, making it an ideal place for a rest in the shade. There is a toilet at Horn Creek, and we seized the opportunity to “take the King’s advice” to use the toilet whenever one is available.
It took about 50 minutes to hike to the intersection with the Plateau Point Trail. We decided to skip the hike to the viewpoint, as we had already had some stellar views of the gorge, and continued to Indian Garden. It had been 6 hours and 45 minutes since we left our campsite at Monument Creek.
Indian Garden was quite a change for us. After so little interaction with people, there were people everywhere. We set up camp and hung our backpacks to keep them away from the nibbling critters. Our campsite came with a picnic table in a covered shelter with an ammo box to store our food. Very different from our first two nights on the trail. There were actually deer in the campsite.
We took advantage of a Ranger talk. I would recommend always attending a Ranger talk, if possible. This evening was about the human noise encroaching on the canyon and about taking the time to enjoy the sounds of the Grand Canyon while hiking. The Ranger had earned her Master’s in Music before becoming a Park Ranger and talked about a piano piece by John Cage, known simply as 4:33. The piece is one long rest note, so it is a song of silence. The message from the Ranger was to take time, in this case 4 minutes, and 33 seconds, to stop, and enjoy the sounds of nature. Emily and I did make a point of having a John Cage moment the next day during our hike.