What do I do once I am down there?
You will spend a lot of time and effort getting down to Phantom Ranch, so if at all possible, you should arrange for a layover day in the bottom. Then of course, rises the burning question, "what the heck do I do for a whole day?"
Yeah, I know you just hiked down anywhere from seven to fourteen miles. But if you sit around all the next day, you will be stiffer going out. A little hike is called "an active rest day". There are several dayhikes from Phantom, ranging from one mile to twelve plus.
Go to the ranger talks.
At certain times of year (usually March through October) there is a naturalist ranger posted at Phantom. When this is the case, there is a 4:00 talk under the trees, an evening program in the amphitheater, and often an early morning hike along the River Trail.
Park Rangers are over-educated, under-paid individuals who do their job because they love where they are. Allow them to share their expertise and enthusiasms with you and you shall come away the richer for it. I have never known a Ranger without some area of obscure expertise, be it geology, biology, or the life styles of bacteria in the thermal pools of Yellowstone. And all anyone ever asks them is, "Where is the bathroom?". Talk to them about their area of excellence, and they will discourse with wit and ingenuity.
You can also ask them all the stupid questions you want, and they will be polite because it is their job. It is not my job, which is why I wax sarcastic.
Stroll around and enjoy the wildlife
Brad and I once stayed in the dorm. Since they are segregated by gender (which they aren't in the White Mountains, so why doesn't Xanterra get its act together?) we spent most of our time wandering around the grounds.
We followed a little yellow and red bird from tree to tree, trying to get a good enough look at it to find out what it was (Desert Tanager).
We sat and watched a herd of deer wander through the trees.
We sat at watched the bats after dark. They flutter around the lights of an evening eating up all those nasty mosquitoes. Walk to the trees just uptrail from the dorms, and you will see hundreds of bats swooping and eating. They come close enough for you to feel the wind on your face.
Yes, I know many do not share my enthusiasm for bats. But they do not fly into your hair, they do not carry rabies, and they are agile little flyers and voracious eaters of biting bugs. They are also a hoot to watch.
Take the Phantom Ranch Treasure Hunt
I have compiled a list of odd things to find in and around the Ranch, including palm trees, a hidden grave, and the "no poodles" sticker. Enjoy.
Talk to the hikers/mule riders
Along about one or one thirty, the mule riders come in down the Bright Angel. It is fun in a mean sort of way to watch them get off their mules and try to walk. It will also make you glad you walked down.
That activity aside, most of these people came from a long way away and have stories to tell about their impressions of the Canyon. Some people come to Phantom several times a year. Some have been planning the trip for years. They will gather eventually in the canteen or by the water faucet and chat.
If you are of the mother hen variety, you can advise the day hikers to fill up their canteens and drink as much water as they can before they try hiking back out of that hole. You can admonish the hikers who thought they would con their way into staying at the ranch without reservations. You can turn in illegal campers who sneak past the campground and set up their tents in the middle of the trail (some of us procure more enjoyment out of this than others, but I almost always find someone to rat on when I am down there).
Those who are nicer than I am, like my mother-in-law, have made lasting friendships by talking to their fellow Ranchers. She has even wheedled the secret Phantom Ranch Stew recipe out of the cook. An example, I guess, of getting more flies with honey than with irony.
Visit the canteen.
It is also called the "beer hall", but I don't think they should be serving beer (don't get me started) so I call it the canteen.
During the day, one may play cards, one of several board games, read the loaner books, drink lemonade, tea, or booze and nibble on junk food. Of an evening, the canteen is much more crowded, and I tend to avoid it. Us anti-social types would rather watch bats.
However, in the evening, if you can find a place to sit (which is tough) the talk is rapid and varied, and there is always something going on. One evening a group which shall remain nameless entered en mass to serenade the celebrants with a rousing chorus of "Stars and Stripes Forever" on nose flutes. One can't always expect that type of entertainment, of course. Only when nameless persons have their large group cabin in the spring.
The canteen closes at ten, by which point sensible persons are in bed and asleep, so keep it down when you wander back into your cabin or dorm. Some of us have been known to take revenge at 5 AM.
No, not the card game. Trout fishing in Bright Angel Creek is famous. You do have to get your hands on an Arizona Fishing License and bring down your own gear, but it is a good excuse to wander up the down the creek looking picturesque. If you catch something, the staff at the Ranch can often be talked into cooking it for you.
That's why you came. You can't use your cell phone. No one can get ahold of you. No matter what needs to be done back home or at the office, you are unavailable.
Read a trashy book. Or a good one. Write in your journal. Sit under a tree and watch the leaves fall. Put your feet in the creek. Relax.