I’d never seen Grandview Lookout on the South Rim of The Grand Canyon deserted before. 8am. Friday, February 1st. there were no cars and no people. The lookout point was slick with ice, clearly in the freeze of a freeze – thaw – freeze cycle. I popped the microspikes onto my boots and hit the trail which makes its way into the Canyon directly below lookout point.
The plan: drop down Grandview Trail onto to Horseshoe Mesa, investigate the Last Chance Mine and ruins, check out the Cave of Domes, grab lunch at the west point of the mesa and head back to the rim…, and take the whole day about it.
There are many advantages to living in Northern Arizona. A key bonus for me is that I get to see and experience the Grand Canyon in all seasons. Today it was winter and the trail had a good foot of snow on it. The snowfall had come a couple of days earlier so thankfully I was not the first hiker to kick through it or to identify where the switchbacks switched back.
The initial set of switchbacks on the trail hug the cliff wall down off the rim and are a bit exposed in places. The odd protruding rock from the cliff may force you a little closer to the trail edge than you are comfortable with. The trail follows a traditional Native American route into the Canyon and was improved by miners to enable the mule trains to haul the copper ore from Last Chance Mine onto the rim. Some of the original trail woodwork from the mining days still exists!
As you leave the initial section of the trail it skirts along the side of a short ridge before dropping down a series of steep cobbled switchbacks to Coconino Saddle. This is about a mile down the trail and is a good place to stash some Gatorade for the return trip.
Leaving the saddle the trail curves north then east and a final set of switchbacks, (I generally don’t notice these till the way back up), before a long easy traverse / descent to the neck of Horseshoe Mesa.
As the trail opens up above Horseshoe Mesa there is a small rise just right of the trail. This is a good point to orient yourself:
- The small red butte in front is on the curve of the horseshoe, the arms are facing away from you.
- Last Chance Mine is down to the right
- Pete Berry’s Cabin is front left
- The trail to Cave of Domes is beyond and slight right at the cabin
From here the trail drops down to the 3-way junction between Cottonwood Creek on the left, Last Chance Mine and Page Spring on the right and Horseshoe Mesa and Cave of Domes ahead.
If you decide to take a look around the mine take care. The trail across is very tame before getting a bit sketchy, exposed, and very steep as it heads down to Page Spring and Hance Creek.
Leaving the mine, head back to the junction and make your way out towards the west arm of Horseshoe Mesa. Beyond the Cabin you’ll pass the sign to the Group Campsite on your right. If you have time and energy this trail would also take you out to the east arm of Horseshoe Mesa and a more secluded lunch. However if the Cave of Domes is your goal keep ahead.
The Cave of Domes is familiar to most Canyon regulars but is missed by most first time visitors. To find the the entrance follow the trail towards the west arm of the horseshoe. About five minutes beyond the red butte follow a wash, (dry stream bed), on your left. There are a few so you may need a little trial and error. The wash becomes a trail pretty quickly. If it doesn’t then make your way back and try the next?
You’ll need a flashlight or head torch if you want to investigate the inside, (and a head for dusty, dark, and enclosed spaces). There is a lot to investigate. First time I was in I was with one of the National Park Service Rangers and did a good bit of climbing in beyond the first few halls. The next time I visited on my own I was less inclined!
Back on the trail make a left and head out to the point of the west arm of Horseshoe Mesa. Keep on the Mesa plateau, there is a trail that drops down to the Tonto Trail on the right, this is best left for a day with less messing around. Out at the point is the most spectacular lunch spot and unrestricted view up and down the Canyon. With a glimpse of the Colorado and a bit of shade thrown in.
All that is left is for you to haul yourself back to the Rim.