By Ian Campbell*
To establish camp in a place deserted for some years is a prospect unpleasant to many; but to geologists who have had none too frequent opportunities to compare the comforts of a solid roof to the uncertainties of a tent or a cloud-ridden sky, a headquarters at Hermit Camp1, especially at the beginning of the winter season, proved most attractive. The further item of being able to place all camp gear in the aerial tram car near Pima Point, rather than on one's own back or the back of a mule, constituted another propitious feature.
We hiked down the Hermit Trail and arrived in time to see the cables move and the wheels start turning at the lower terminus. Presently the tram car with its load of food, instruments and other impedimenta, made a perfect landing. We had just begun to unload when a sudden screaming along the cable announced the arrival of a belated package. Suspended on a wire hook over the cable, it had completed in a little over 30 seconds the perilous journey for which the tram car had taken 30 minutes.
It might be mentioned, incidentally, that the Hermit Trail is in good condition for the most part. It is easily traversable on foot and while there are several places that would offer difficulty to animals, there is none that is really impassible. The worst place is about 1/4 mile up the trail from the top of Cathedral Stairs. This would require careful handling and perhaps moving of some rocks, in order to get pack animals past.
The tram landed and unloaded; we took stock of our surroundings. All of the cabins are standing and still in quite good state of repair, both as regards externals and furnishings. These buildings have been the almost undisturbed haunt of mice for some three years. Consequently our first day was spent in the arduous task of packing water from Hermit Creek, some 1500 feet along and some 150 feet up a none too good trail, and then trying to make this water go as far as possible in the cleansing process. Of course, we explored the old water intake pipe for the camp reservoir, but found too many sections cracked or disjointed by freezing to offer hope of amateur repairs.
This section of the Tonto is distinctly lonely as compared to a camp at Indian Gardens. From there one can see the friendly lights of El Tovar and Bright Angel on the rim almost any night. Here one feels almost cut off from the world of living things; one sees no rangers, no cowboys, no antelope, no deer. Even insect life practically disappears at this season. Only a very occasional hiker ever comes through here, either from the rim, or from Indian Gardens to the east. We saw none during our stay. To the west the Tonto Trail is all but obliterated, except where wild burros2 have seen fit to adopt it for their own comings and goings, but more often than not this results in a confusion of many trails, rather than the maintenance of one. The burros are more often heard than seen and this mostly in the more distant parts. It would have seemed a dead world indeed, around the Hermit Cabins, had it not been for the mice which were, of course, our ubiquitous companions in camp. But it is a rare individual who would look with any favor or friendship on the creature that gnaw into his flour sack or drowns in his water pail. Imagine our pleasant surprise, then, on our first trip down lower Hermit Creek, to find two Dippers or Water Ouzels (Cinclus mexicanus unicolor) which, seeing a pair of geologists clumsily working their way down the gorge, proceeded to put on a demonstration of how really to traverse the Archean areas. From thenceforth the theme song of this field season became the well known refrain: "Had I the Wings of an Ouzel." On every subsequent trip up and down to the Colorado we did not fail to see these most characteristic birds, almost alone among the water-loving birds in their power of song.
In Hermit and Monument Canyons, and indeed in almost every large gulch where a cluster of acacias is to be found, we have seen one or more of the small Shufeldt's Juncos (Junco oreganus shufeldti) flitting about. A solitary Hermit Thrust (Hylocichla guttate auduboni) shared the bottom fastnesses of Hermit Creek with the Ouzels.
Those living on the rim will recall the first big snow of the season, It came the day before Thanksgiving. We had early warning of that, for two days previous a small group of Western Robins (Turdus migratorius propinquus) alighted in the cottonwood grove that surrounds the camp, and evidently laid plans to last out the winter in this favorable spot. There was a neglected bird bath in front of one of the cabins, and we should have liked to have filled it for these friendly birds, but on second thought, it seemed easier for the robins to fly down to Hermit Creek than for us to climb back up, loaded down with water buckets.
Even without the attraction of interesting work upon interesting rocks, a stay at Hermit Camp today would be a pleasant one. It has features found in no other camps located within the walls of the great Colorado River gorge. It is sad to think that some day the deserted buildings will eventually collapse or be destroyed; it is sadder still to think that the tall-standing cottonwoods and the grape vines will have to die for lack of the water that once made possible their growth at this place on the dry Tonto Platform.
NOTE: With his colleague, Dr. John H. Maxson, the writer of this article has been engaged in studies of the Archean rocks of the Grand Canyon under the auspices of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. During the previous season they worked from Indian Gardens and from a camp at the mouth of Bright Angel Creek. In extending the mapping this season to the western edge of the Bright Angel Quandrangle, they had occasion to use Hermit Creek camp for a headquarters for some weeks.
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