The Dripping Springs Trail
Day Hike

with a visit to Sweetheart Spring

Sunday, October 23, 2005

by Dennis Foster

Sunset view of the El Tovar.

Click on any picture to see a larger image.

The assembled group waiting for
the West Rim Shuttle.

Mules at the ready at the top of
the Bright Angel Trail.

Looking across the canyon from
the Bright Angel.

      For many years now, at the behest of my colleagues, I lead an autumn hike into the Grand Canyon, and this year we went down the Hermit Trail to Dripping Springs and back, for a total of six to seven miles.  You can see (most of) the assembled group above - Lena, Kathy, Eric, Russell, John H., T.S., John E. and Dennis (Cara Lynn was taking the picture).  We left from Flagstaff at 6:30 a.m. and were parked at the Bright Angel Lodge at 8:10 a.m.  Just as we were pulling our packs from our vehicles we could see the nearby West Rim shuttle bus leaving, which meant that we had to wait another half hour to get the next bus, which we did at 8:50 p.m.  For more on our trials and tribulations with the transit system, read my blog on the The West Rim Shuffle.

     We were out at the end of the line - Hermit's Rest - and ready to begin our hike at 9:40 a.m.  There were two things I wanted to do during this hike.  One was to see the small natural arches that are near the trailhead, and the other was to visit the old, abandoned, Sweetheart Spring.  As to the arches, I will have try again, as we could not find them in the time I allocated to this detour.  We headed down the trail and, just before you come out to the canyon-facing cliffs, a few of us headed into the ravine we had been paralleling.  Then, we headed back up to look for these arches.  We reached a fork in the ravine and opted to go north, and I still don't know which direction is right from here.  But, as we ran out of time, we found that we were less than a hundred yards from the restrooms at Hermit's.  So, we scampered up the hillside and returned to the trailhead to continue our trek to Dripping Springs.  [When I try to look for these arches again, I'll just go down the hillside behind Hermit's Rest and check out that ravine more fully; if I come up empty I'll try the other fork.]

     As we switchbacked our way through the Coconino sandstone, we stopped to look at the fossil footprints*.  They aren't very big, and probably 90% of the people who pass by here don't see them.  I am sure that I didn't see them the first few times I headed down this trail!  At the bottom of the Coconino, John and I meandered along to the south of the trail, looking for the seep spring that has been referred to as Sweetheart Spring by local author Scott Thybony.  We didn't find it, but, then, we were heading the wrong way!  Although I read the directions out loud, and it was clearly stated that the spring was to the north, we headed south.  So it goes.

* For some reason I used to refer to these as dinosaur tracks, although I should have known better.  In a later report, I did the same thing and this was pointed out to me (The Gems hike), so I made the change to "fossil footprints" in September, 2011.  Look at the footnote on this other hike for a fuller accounting on this score.

John sits alongside some of the
ancient fossilized tracks.  They were made millions of years ago, and they are quite small!  They have held their shape in the Coconino Sandstone.

More fossil footprints.

The Dripping Springs basin.

And, more still.

Trail junction; a half mile to go.

     At about 12:30 p.m. John and I arrived at Dripping Spring.  Kathy and Lena were about 10 minutes behind us, and everyone else was already there.  We had seen quite a few hikers on the way down - but, they were all heading up.  For about an hour we had Dripping Springs all to ourselves.  In fact, at least half of our group had already started on the hike back to Hermit's Rest before a few other hikers arrived at the spring.  It was a pleasant fall day, warm in the sun and still comfortable in the shade.  For lunch, I brought along some liverwurst in a can.  It tasted fine to me, but Eric thought it tasted somewhat suspect.  He noted that the date on the can was 2002.  I commented that I had seen episodes of CSI that were older than that, and they were still good.

The white speck is Dennis, on
the Dripping Springs trail.

Dripping Springs.

View of the cliffs through
Dripping Springs.

A flock of birds above the springs.

Towering cliffs and autumn colors
along the Dripping Springs trail.

Looking east along the Dripping Spg Trail; Hermit Rest shown by arrow.

A view into the canyon from
the Hermit Basin.

     On the way back, we all stopped at the spot that John and I had picked out to resume our search for Sweetheart Spring.  From the trail near Dripping Springs, we had a good view looking back on this spot and had picked a couple of likely places along the Coconino/Hermit interface where a spring might be found.  This spot turned out to be exactly right.  Both Johns, T.S., Eric, and I contoured over to the spring in just a few minutes.  We found an old cement trough, with a pipe leading into in and another pipe leading out, and down the hillside at least 20 yards.  I didn't continue to follow it, but wondered if it leads to a lower trough that might have been more accessible to horses and cattle more than a hundred years ago.  We also came across some old tin cans, and a larger container that looked like it was used as a stove or oven.  In one wall of the Hermit shale, we found a dozen, or more, drill holes.  It may have been that this spring was the site of a much more extensive living area so many years ago.  We were also looking for some inscriptions and found two.  One we couldn't decipher completely, while the other one was quite clear - Harry Kislingbury "89.  I thought it could just mean 1989, but the "writing" was rather old-fashioned and looked like it took some time to chip into the wall.  Once back home, I did a web search and found Harry Kislingbury had lived in Flagstaff in the late 1800s!  He died in Prescott and a photo of his gravestone is on the web, and shown to the right.  I found some more info on him from a summary of stories from the old Arizona Champion - the local paper in Flagstaff at/about the turn of that century.  He was, apparently, a leading citizen of the community in his time here.  He would have been 21 at the time he carved his name into the wall above the spring, so, perhaps he was working for Dan Hogan, or for Bucky O'Neill, both of whom had business interests in this area.

Dennis, John and T.S. inspect the
remains of Sweetheart Spring.
A patch of lush grass being fed by
a seep near Sweetheart Spring.
Eric at the remains of a crude shelter built at Sweetheart Spring.

Trash near Sweetheart Spring
included this stove box.

Wall inscription at Sweetheart
Spring - Al. Roh*e* ... it seems.

Wall inscription at Sweetheart Spring - Harry Kislingbury (18)89.

     The last of us got out to Hermit's Rest at 4:15 p.m., caught the 4:30 p.m. bus and were back at the Bright Angel Lodge at 5:00 p.m.  By then it looked like rain was falling in upper Bright Angel Canyon, although nothing fell on us during the time we spent along the rim, nor while we were having dinner in the AZ Room - the perfect end to a perfect day hiking the canyon.

 Fossils in the Kaibab limestone
near the top of the Hermit trail.

Eric and Cara Lynn at the bell in
front of Hermit's Rest.

Bighorn sheep along the
West Rim Drive. 

Photos taken by Eric Dhooge and Dennis Foster

Return to Hiking Grand Canyon home page