It was a hot day and I was wearing a light day pack, carrying mostly water. I had been down into the Horn Creek area before and felt I could follow the scant details in Harvey Butchart’s book, Grand Canyon Treks, that would get me to the river.
I descended a steep slope full of crumbly Vishnu schist until at last I reached the river … except I didn’t really. I was still about 20 feet above the water and there was no discernible way through the cliff barrier that flanked the river. So I turned around and hiked some nine miles back to the South Rim.
Fast-forward 37 years and I am about to make another try for this route. My interest has been rekindled by two things: I have gotten a copy of the first detailed map made of the canyon, which shows a trail through here to the river, and a couple of years ago a local hiker wrote up a short report of his grueling day hike over this route where he ended up at a small beach on the Colorado River.
Long gone are the days when I could do this as a day hike from the rim. I need to be camped much closer in order to make this work – two nights at Horn Creek would be ideal. Then I can day hike this route from my camp.
After three years of trying I was finally able to get this itinerary for the last weekend in October. There are two sweet spots for hiking in the Grand Canyon – October and March – and winning a prized permit during these times is cause for much elation.
Accompanying me on this hike was longtime hiking companion John Eastwood. We left Flagstaff in mid-morning and lucked out in finding a parking spot in the ever-shrinking lot in front of the Bright Angel Lodge. We were on the Bright Angel Trail a bit before 11 a.m. on a day where the high temperature at the river was expected to be close to 90 degrees. But it is autumn, the sun is lower in the southern sky and most of our hiking would be on shaded north-facing terrain.
To add to our enjoyment of this hike, John brought along copies of some pages from the book Hiking The Grand Canyon’s Geology so that we could note some features along this trail. Two that especially stood out for us were the Coconino-filled cracks in the Hermit shale formation and the brief appearance of the Temple Butte limestone below the Redwall. By 1:30 p.m. we had covered the 4.8 miles to Indian Garden, where we had lunch and filled up with water before continuing on our way. From here it is another 2.5 miles to Horn Creek.
We hadn’t seen too many hikers on the trail. Quite a few that we did see were doing a day hike to the south rim from the north rim, which is most popular at this time of year. Once we left Indian Garden and started on the Tonto Trail, we met only one other hiker on our way to Horn Creek. We wouldn’t meet anyone else until two days later when we got back close to Indian Garden.
We arrived at Horn Creek at 3 p.m. with plenty of time to set up our camp. This part of the canyon has designated camping sites for use, and there is only one at Horn. In years past there were warning signs here about uranium contamination of the water, but none here now. Still, on my hiking permit there is a rather nuanced warning about the water. But I have done some research on this and was quite comfortable drinking the slight flow of water that we found trickling down the bed.
At this time of year it is light for only about 12 hours a day – from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. On our second day we were up at 5:30 a.m. but it took us two hours to finally get on our way.
There are two branches of Horn and the campsite is on the east branch. The route begins by passing through the Tapeats cliffs in the west branch. The old map, published in 1906, shows trails that were passable with pack animals at that time. We were hopeful that with some careful study we might be able to still see some of this old trail. At the start of our descent, we found the best preserved section of this old constructed trail. It directed us down into Horn, but didn’t last very long.
Once below the Tapeats cliffs and past the east branch there is a terrace on the east that has a path one can still follow, maintained today by the deer and perhaps the bighorn sheep. This will allow you to bypass a fall in the bed and to mostly avoid the thorny catclaw acacia that grows here.
This faint path comes back to the bed of Horn across from a high hill to the west, whose top is at the base of the Tapeats. We were able to locate a good route that angled up through the hillside that felt like it was the old trail. From here you must continue along a narrow slope that exists directly below the Tapeats. We followed a very faint trail here, sometimes aided by an occasional cairn. Often we would be somewhere in the middle of the slope, but sometimes we’d be right at the base of the cliff. Other times the route went low and I felt uncomfortably close to the cliffs that were below us.
At about 10 a.m. we rounded a corner and left the Horn drainage and were now flanking the Colorado River. What scant signs of an old trail that existed up to here would now completely disappear. It took us an hour to cross a large bay to the west, and when we were next at the base of the Tapeats we took a 45-minute lunch break.
According to the old map, we needed to go further west before descending through the steep broken Vishnu layer. It seemed far away and while we were quite sure that we’d get to the river, we were concerned about being able to get back out before dark.
We decided to follow along the base of the cliff a short way to get a different perspective and in just a few minutes we saw a small beach down at the river. With some inspection it looked like we could work our way down here and not have to go further west. Our progress was slow, but after an hour we reached the beach. It was sunny and pleasant at the river, and we both waded out into the refreshingly cold water.
We kept our stay to a half hour and at 1:20 p.m. started back up the steep and crumbly slope. We found a more direct route that led to the base of the Tapeats where we had eaten our lunch. When we were about a third of the way up the slope we saw a river party float by. We yelled out to them, but I don’t think they saw us.
We made good time on the return as we were now somewhat familiar with the route. We got back to our camp at 5:50 p.m. and 10 minutes later were fixing dinner with our headlamps on.
On our final day we were all packed up and on our way by 8:15 a.m. We made a detour to the rim of the Tonto Plateau, atop the Tapeats cliffs, to look at the river that is more than a thousand feet below us. We were back at Indian Garden before 11 a.m. We decided to wait and have lunch on the rim, so we hiked up the Bright Angel Trail without taking any long breaks. We reached the rim a bit past 1:30 p.m.
I can’t imagine that this route down Horn Creek enjoyed much use even if at one time it was passable with burros. It is longer and harder than the Bright Angel Trail, which goes down to the river east of Indian Garden at Pipe Creek. Still, it was nice to tie up the loose ends of a hiking project begun almost 40 years ago.
The cozy, domestic feelings prompted by the holiday season are made even more poignant by the fact that November is National Adoption Awareness Month, during which families are encouraged to open their homes to children in need.
According to Patty Laux, Program Manager of Flagstaff’s Catholic Charities’ Foster Care and Adoption program, there is always a need for more foster and adoptive families in northern Arizona. The same is true throughout the state.
The Arizona Department of Child Safety’s semi-annual report revealed that there were 14,491 children in out-of-home care as of June 30, with 57.6 percent of those children under age 10. Of the 4,260 children with the case plan goal of adoption, 1,371 were not able to be placed in an adoptive home. Foster homes remain in short supply, as 1,111 foster homes were closed from January through June 2018, while only 747 new homes opened in the same time frame.
Each day, roughly 25 more children require out-of-home care in Arizona, said Kailey Jensen, the Northern Arizona Region Coordinator of Arizona 1.27, a church-based organization with the goal of seeing “families thrive at every stage of their foster care or adoption journey.” There are six Flagstaff churches that partner with AZ 1.27 to provide a local support community for these families.
Children become candidates for out-of-home care for a variety of causes. The goal for each child is unanimous, though: finding them a safe and caring home, whether temporary or permanent.
“We are a faith-based organization, but we will work with anyone,” Laux said of Catholic Charities, an 85-year-old organization which also offers housing, financial and veteran resources, among others. “We’re here to provide support to families so they can provide for these children.”
One of the biggest challenges of foster care and adoption in northern Arizona, Laux describes, is keeping children in their home communities.
“We try very hard to place the majority of kids here locally,” she said.
Unfortunately, though, when there are not enough willing families in a community, these children are sent to the nearest shelter – in Maricopa County.
Relocation is the very last resort, though, Laux said. Even in Mohave County, where needs are the greatest, when there are not enough local resources, homes can often be found in nearby counties like Yavapai and Coconino.
Nevertheless, Jensen revealed there are approximately 220 children sent out of Coconino County alone each year because there are not enough beds for them.
Becoming a foster care or adoptive family is a thorough process because it is essential to a child’s wellbeing. Homes are inspected for safety and the family is interviewed directly and through personal references to determine if it is fit to care for children physically, mentally, emotionally and financially.
“It’s not as intrusive as they think it is,” Laux said.
Families must also complete at least 30 hours of trainings both in local classrooms and online, including a foster parent course, CPR and first aid. These courses can impart useful skills whether or not a family chooses to adopt. Jensen says the preparation process can take three to six months, depending on how fast the family and the state progress.
Resources to help adoptive and foster families are always available through local agencies and the state. Adoptive families can receive supportive services from the state after an adoption is finalized, while independent organizations like Catholic Charities and AZ 1.27 can answer questions throughout and following the adoption process. Foster families are given monthly stipends, including funds for clothing and personal allowances for each child. AZ 1.27 also organizes drives throughout the year for items like backpacks and winter clothing in order to help locals provide for these children.
“The cost of living in Flagstaff makes it difficult for families,” Jensen said. “We really want to help with those tangible needs to make sure families are well supported.”
Lauren Belcher has lived in Flagstaff for most of her life and is a licensing specialist at Arms of Love Foster Care, a ministry of Arizona Baptist Children's Services & Family Ministries. She and her husband Zack, who works full time as a therapeutic foster parent (for children with higher behavioral needs), have been foster parents for six years.
“We’ve had seven placements in the two years we’ve been doing therapeutic foster care,” Belcher said.
The couple has two biological daughters – a 6-year-old and a 6-month-old – and two adopted sons, who are now 21 and 17.
Although Belcher knew she wanted to be involved in social work, it was not until she met her husband, who was fostered and adopted himself, that she considered foster care. As a licensing specialist, she recommends that people get involved with foster care and adoption as soon as they can, even if they are not totally committed yet, because they can stop the process at any time.
“It is not an easy thing… but the need is so great,” she said. “If it’s something you feel called and led to do, it’s amazing.”
For those unable to foster or adopt, there are other opportunities to help local children, including participating in the Court Appointed Special Applicants (CASA) program, the Foster Care Review Board (FCRB) or Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff.
In honor of Adoption Awareness Month, northern Arizona residents are encouraged to start asking questions and tell others about Arizona’s adoption and foster care needs. Spreading the word about these resources – and the state’s continual need for them – is as important as opening your own home to a child in need of one this holiday season.
FLAGSTAFF — The Navajo Nation is seeking a court order to allow tribal members to fix problems with signatures on early ballots in Arizona's general election — a request that could delay the state from certifying ballots next month.
Voters statewide were given more time to address mismatched signatures after Republicans alleged in a lawsuit that Maricopa and Pima counties contacted voters illegally after Election Day about signatures on ballot envelopes that didn't match those on the voter file.
A lawsuit filed this week by the largest American Indian reservation makes a broader argument to count ballots that Navajos properly filled out but didn't sign. It alleges Navajos have fewer opportunities to participate in early voting and not enough translators to tell tribal members with limited or no English proficiency how to complete early ballots so they aren't thrown out.
The tribe said more than 100 votes cast by Navajos were disqualified.
"Navajo voters know our history of being denied the right to vote," outgoing tribal President Russell Begaye said in a statement. "We know our history of being denied access to the political process. We know how we have been treated unfairly in the past. However, we will not let these injustices continue."
The Navajo Nation's federal lawsuit alleges violations of the state and federal constitutions as well as the federal Voting Rights Act. It names Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan and election officials in Apache, Coconino and Navajo counties.
Navajo County recorder Doris Clark and a spokesman for Reagan did not return messages seeking comment this week. Coconino County recorder Patty Hansen said she had not seen the tribe's lawsuit.
Edison Wauneka, a former longtime Navajo Nation elections director who now serves as the Apache County recorder, said he disagreed with allegations that the county is disenfranchising Navajo voters.
"I believe very strongly that we're making sure all of the citizens of Apache County are afforded the right to vote," he said. "There's no question in my mind we did that."
Wauneka's chief deputy, Bowen Udall, said voters were allowed to fix mismatched signatures. But he said the county doesn't allow those who haven't signed the envelope at all to fix it other than before polls close on Election Day.
Apache County had two early voting sites on the reservation in Chinle and Fort Defiance. Udall said the county didn't have the staff to open four more as the tribe requested, and the tribe's Aug. 8 offer to recruit workers didn't come in time to train people for the Nov. 6 election.
Coconino County had one early voting site on the reservation in Tuba City. In a letter, Hansen said she could not open three others the tribe requested because she was prohibited from doing so under an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department over access to polling sites for people with disabilities.
Clark, from Navajo County, responded to the tribe's request for more early voting sites by saying the county already had doubled the number of locations. Most were open for five hours at a time on different parts of the reservation. Clark said to have them open for days or weeks would have required a vault to store ballots.
Joyce Lee, an 81-year-old Navajo woman who voted by mail, said in a court affidavit translated from Navajo that she wasn't advised she had to sign her name on the envelope and is concerned her vote won't count.
"I believe that if some voters have the opportunity to correct ballot affidavit deficiencies, all voters should be able to correct ballot affidavit deficiencies," she wrote.
The tribe's lawsuit asks a judge to order counties to establish in-person voter registration on the reservation and open nearly a dozen more early voting sites with consistent hours for future elections.
The tribe also wants instructions on how to cast a ballot broadcast in Navajo over the radio — the primary means of communication for elderly voters — for 30 days leading up to an election.