Being on the ten week Volunteer USA programme means that you get time for five 8-day projects. Sometimes someone might go on more if they are shorter projects (some are 4 or 5 days), but I had been lucky enough so far to have been on four of the best 8-dayers; Zion Fencing, Bryce Canyon Trails, G.C. North Rim, and Zion Emerald Pools (possibly the best project we currently work on). I wasn't too surprised to see on the project schedule that for my final hitch I'd be at G. C. South Rim.
As usual this project was Wednesday to Wednesday, so for my last time we loaded the van and trailer with all our food and bags and drove off up the road. I say 'up the road' because the South Rim is only about 90 minutes from Flagstaff. Although this meant a shorter drive, it also meant that we had to work on the first day as we got there so early. We pitched camp and had lunch first, then drove to the work site.
We were going to be working on the South Kaibab Trail. This project is on-going, and I am pretty sure there will always be a volunteer crew working there alongside the Park Service guys. The trail is basically getting a bit of a facelift, and the surface in places was being reinforced to make it more durable and better for the mules if they ever go down. It isn't specifically a mule trail, but it is one of the most popular trails at the canyon and thousands of people walk down it each week.
The work here mostly involved collecting rocks of various sizes; big rocks to put into the ground to make holding structures and walls, and small stones called 'crush' to fill in the gaps. Whilst it was a long week – particularly as we had to work on the first and last days this time – one thing did keep us all motivated...
....the view!! We were about half a mile down the trail in the canyon, and behind us we possibly had the most spectacular office window you could ever get! The view of the canyon when walking to work every morning and through the day was amazing, and it helped to just pause every now and again to look at it and remind ourselves where we were. That is what kept us going. We had a good crew too, and for a few of us it was our last projects we had a lot of fun.
Once again it was really hot on this project; the South Rim is a lot lower than the North Rim so while I was pretty chilly when I was on the north side, here it was very warm. Some days mules came down to bring us water as we didn't have a spring like last time. Also, we finished work early most days to try to minimise the chance of us getting sick from the heat. After work we had a pretty tough hike back up the canyon, and after a day's work it felt even worse. Thankfully by that stage we'd drunk most of our 6 litres of water and eaten all of our food so our bags were a bit lighter!
During the hike back up I hated the Canyon. Tired, hot, sweating like crazy, aching, dehydrated, hungry (and extremely smelly), I was cursing the Grand Canyon in my head with every step I took. But once at the top I could look back and admire it again once more! I think that is the funny thing about all the projects, you go through times when you just want to be anywhere else but there, but they only last temporarily and afterwards you can look back with such a sense of reward and laugh at how you were feeling just a few minutes ago.
The South Rim at the Grand Canyon is so busy with tourists, more so than any of the other places I'd been on project. We were camping on a normal campsite with the general public; this meant that we had normal toilets (no showers), but also had to put up with the noise from tourists. The volunteers here are trying to get a new campsite there in a better place, but I'm not sure how long this will take. On the plus side, we had a shop near by and other facilities like a Community Centre which we could go to in the evenings to use the internet, play frisbee etc.
I did make it through the week (obviously) and survived to tell the tale! It was a relief to get back to Flagstaff, although we still had the job of cleaning all of our food boxes and the van which always takes ages, especially when everyone just wants to get home for a shower! Now I'd completed the 'big 5' projects, I was ready to leave Flagstaff (after one more night at the Green Room of course).
The 10 week Volunteer USA programme gives you about 3 weeks to travel at the end so now I’m off to San Francisco, LA and then to Austin, Texas to stay with my uncle. I need some relaxation time after all this hard work!!
Find out more about Volunteer USA