Thunderhead at Tonto Trail | Mark Lindsay

The first afternoon and early evening on the South Rim was tempestuous. The Arizona skies were heavy and swirling. This is never a good sign in the monsoon season of early September, especially for a hiker about to descend into the enormous gash that is Grand Canyon. When stimulated, monsoon season means a heavy diet of rain, wind, thunder, and lightning. It means clear skies that turn to into an apocalyptic fury that can curdle the blood of the most fearless of campers. One look at the sky upon our arrival and I knew it was going to be an interesting week.

The sky turned from gray to almost black. Thunder rolled around the canyon as if it were the sound of a gargantuan boulder on the loose. Behind it came terrible bolts of lightning and then curtains and curtains of rain. The roads and gullies flash flooded and turned to muddy rivers. All this was happening on the gentle rim in the park's developed village. I imagined what it was like down there, down deep into the canyon itself. Soon I'd be there with nothing but a poncho to protect me. My futile hope was that it would all blow through and the morning would greet us with sunshine and chirping birds. But, deep inside I knew better. Monsoon season isn't like that.

The rain was getting heavier and heavier. For the first time ever I thought I might leave my camera at the rim, safe and dry inside the truck of our car. But hiking without the camera seemed unthinkable even if it might suffer some damage in the process. Cameras are meant to be used not coddled. No photographer ever made a great image by playing it safe. The idea quickly passed. At this point I just wanted the lightning to stop. It didn't.

And so it was on the night of our arrival. Anticipation is always thick on any night before a canyon hike. Seeing the monsoon season agitated and in full force only added to the drama. There was nothing to be done, the wheels were in motion, the hike was going to happen. The camera was going to get wet and I'd need to somehow protect it while still using it. The other side of monsoon is its dramatic beauty and I would be presented with photo opportunities like no other. Leave the camera at the rim? Not a chance.

The rain gave way to a stunning sunset. The trees dripped and glistened in the waning light. After retreating to my cabin on the rim I unpacked my pack to make sure everything was set and in its place. I filled my water containers. I made certain that my green poncho was accessible in an instant. A backpack is like a booster rocket, heaviest at the departure point of the voyage. I lifted the water-heavy pack and groaned. It seemed so light just moments before the water was added. I groaned again as I propped the pack against the wall.

I tried to sleep, trying to ignore the sounds of rodents scurrying inside the walls. The air was uncharacteristically humid and still. I tossed and turned to visions of steep and rocky trails. Rodents and trails…rodents and trails…rodents and trails. The repetition started to drive me mad but was suddenly broken by another sound. The rain had started again and was pounding the roof. I sat up, shook my head and plopped back down again. Rain, rodents, and trails…rain, rodents and trails…

To be continued…