North Rim of the Grand Canyon Part 2

North Rim, Arizona – July, 2017 Once we set our sights on returning to the North Rim this year, I started looking at camping options. They were basically booked through the end of the summer but I checked back every now and then to see if there were any cancellations and I finally saw a spot available for two days right after the July 4th holiday. It wasn’t in the national park campground but in the national forest campground just a few miles outside the park’s gate. We would have preferred a longer stay but I continued to check back and never saw another option.

We made good time getting across the country so when we got to our destination a whole day early we decided to boondock our first night. We had thoroughly researched the area through freecampsites.net, the Days End directory available from Escapees, and on Google maps. We had a couple promising locations scouted out.

Our first choice was my favorite because there was a large pullout at the intersection of the gravel road, Forest Road 257, and Highway 89A. We pulled over and walked what turned out to be two roads leading into the woods. There were plenty of options and we chose a lovely site that was far enough from the highway to significantly reduce road noise.

We never saw another camper and the only traffic on the road was a few forest service trucks going by. It was a little hot until the sun went down without electricity, and therefore AC, but we persevered. The only other downside to this campsite was the flies were occasionally thick.

We were eager to explore the area and see how it compared to the way we remembered it. We set off for the Jacob Lake Inn where we spent that fateful night during our first visit over 20 years ago. It was pretty much how we remembered it except the phone booth is now a closet.

We didn’t really plan to visit the rim that afternoon but we were so excited to finally see it that we made the 45 mile drive anyway. The parking areas were almost full in the early afternoon so we parked some distance from the rim. The lodge sure looked different than I remember, mostly it seemed bigger. But a sign out front confirmed the lodge hadn’t been significantly modified since the 1930’s. The only other difference was that we both clearly remember a large parking lot right next to the lodge and there are rental cabins built there now.

We hurried through the lodge and finally got our first look at the Grand Canyon from the North Rim.

We then walked down to the viewpoint below it for a good view of the canyon and an even better view of the lodge.

We followed the path under the lodge to more views. I was surprised to see an abundance of lizards. The winters must get awfully long for these cold blooded fellows.

It was HOT and very crowded so we happily called it a day and headed home to enjoy our private camp site.

The next morning we went for a hike in the national forest while we waited for it to be late enough to move to our reserved campsite. After the heat of the last week’s travels, the cool morning at 7900 feet elevation was welcome. The air smelled strongly of the fresh scent of pine and we had the trail to ourselves.

About a mile from the highway we saw a flock of turkey and a herd of deer grazing in the same area. We also saw several Kaibab Squirrel, a very unusual squirrel that only resides on this plateau. It is black with a white tail and fast. I never could catch one in my camera’s sight so I finally swiped a pic from the internet.

After lunch we moved to the Demotte campground which had no hookups and cost $20 per night. The weather was a little more pleasant over the next two days. It still got a bit warm in the afternoons but cooled down by dinnertime instead of by bedtime as it had our first night in the area.

We jumped up the next morning and made the 18 mile drive to the rim before 8 am. We wanted to explore it while it was still cool and before the crowds arrived. It was around 50 degrees when we left camp so I brought a couple layers. But as the sun rose higher it warmed up fast. I chose to start the hike with a light jacket and I shed that pretty quickly.

We headed out to the main lookout near the lodge, Bright Angel Point. It’s a quarter mile hike with some ups and downs but the view is fabulous. As we’d hoped there was only a trickle of people coming and going at that hour.

We then hiked the rim trail. The 2 mile hike was mostly through the woods and the shade was already a welcome relief at 9 in the morning. There was one good viewpoint along the trail that included a bench under the trees.

We hadn’t had a cell signal since entering the park the day before so when our phones started pinging in our pockets we pulled them out and checked all our media outlets, posted a photo or two, and made sure nobody was missing us. Throughout our visit we only got the occasional cell signal on the edge of the canyon. We often found people hanging out at a beautiful viewpoint and talking on the phone. They were usually talking to the office, poor suckers.

After our hike we headed home for lunch. Our plan was to take a scenic drive to another part of the park during the heat of the day. When the time came to leave I wasn’t sure I was up for a two hour adventure but I knew it was quite possible we’d never come back this way so I sucked it up and we hit the road.

It was a 23 mile drive to the end of the scenic Cape Royal Road. It was a curvy, narrow road and the speed limit was 30 but curve after curve often necessitated going much slower. There was only light traffic on the road and it was mostly a joy to drive.

We skipped several pulloffs and drove straight to the end of the road. I was primarily interested in seeing something called Angel’s Window. The trail from the parking lot to the viewpoints was less than a mile round trip. There were plenty of people around but it was nowhere near as congested as it was near the lodge in the afternoon.

The views were amazing!

Angel’s Window is in the middle of that bluff. You can see the Colorado River through it if you zoom in.

Further along the path were more stunning views. Of Vishnu Temple…

… and my favorite, Wotan’s Throne.

The views from Cape Royal were way more expansive than at the lodge which was basically the same view from several different vantage points. It was so worth the drive and I’m very glad we didn’t miss it. We thoroughly enjoyed our return to the North Rim and are glad we finally got to actually see it.

North Rim of the Grand Canyon Part 1

North Rim, AZ – October, 1996 Our initial destination for this summer’s adventure was the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We’d visited the north rim once before over 20 years before but we’d never SEEN it. Let me explain.

Jim and I took our first real vacation for our 5th wedding anniversary in October of 1996. Other than our honeymoon in Branson, Missouri and some road trips to visit family we had never really gotten away. So only five years after our nuptials my cousin graciously agreed to watch our youngest and we flew to Las Vegas for a 5 day weekend.

Jim and I had done very little traveling up to this point so to say we were green would be an understatement. We enjoyed what Las Vegas had to offer but we very much wanted to see the country and the Grand Canyon seemed like an attainable goal. I had been there once when I was too young to remember it well and Jim had never been.

The North Rim must have looked closer on the map because that is where we set our sights. We rented a car in Las Vegas, a white Mustang convertible, and we headed north east. We planned to make this a day trip.

On the way we drove through Zion National Park. Then we pointed the car toward the North Rim in Arizona. We knew little of altitude but we learned quickly when white stuff started falling on us as we ascended the Kaibab Plateau. It was time to put the convertible top up and look for some warmer clothing as we were dressed for the desert.

We stopped at the turnoff to the North Rim and bought sweatshirts at Jacob Lake Inn. We spoke to a park ranger who said that the road to the north rim was currently open but that snow was forecast all day and it could close at any time. We’d come too far to stop now!

Snow flurries continued to fall as we made the 45 mile drive from Jacob Lake to the North Rim. When we reached the rim all we found was the North Rim Lodge, all boarded up for the winter, and an expansive parking lot with only a few cars in it. We hurried to the rim for a view of the canyon but we were standing in snow laden clouds and we could barely see 5 feet in front of us.

We stood on the precipice of one of the world’s natural wonders but we couldn’t see it! We hurried from one viewpoint to the next with no luck. I was cold and returned to the car but Jim stayed on the edge furtively hoping the wind would blow away the mist and allow him one good view. The only view he got was when he brushed the snow off a sign like this one and it revealed what he would normally see from that viewpoint.

He finally gave up and returned to the car. We were the second to the last car to leave the parking lot that season. It was around 4 o’clock when we left and with the falling snow it was almost dark.

The snow began falling in earnest and before we knew it it was almost a foot deep. It was hard to tell the sides of the road from the meadows and we were getting anxious. Jim switched the headlights on and that’s when things took a turn for the worse.

There appeared to be an electrical problem with the Mustang. The headlights only worked intermittently and then not at all. The car began to lose power and eventually Jim had to pull over to what he supposed was the side of the rode.

We were woefully unprepared for the conditions. We were underdressed with no back up plan and white stuff in every direction. Thank goodness there was one car behind us.

Within a half hour a couple pulled up and offered us a ride. This may be politically incorrect but it would be remiss of me to not mention that they were a flamingly gay couple. Jim has come a long way since the 90’s but at the time he was seriously homophobic. So suffice it to say that we only got in the back seat of their car as a very last resort.

They kindly dropped us off at Jacob Lake Inn. Jim headed for the payphone (yes they still had those) to call the rental car company. I headed for registration to request a room.

Jim was told the rental company would send a tow truck from Las Vegas as soon as possible. I had less positive news. There were no rooms available and the lodge was closing within the hour. I was told that when the lodge closed we would be forced to wait outside the lodge in the snow for the tow truck.

We anxiously waited to be evicted from the warm lodge. Just a few minutes before the anticipated expulsion I was gratefully ushered to the registration desk and informed that they had one no show. A cabin was available if we wanted it.

Jim made a quick call to the rental company to tell them where they could find us and then we were ushered out of a back entrance of the lodge but with the key to a cabin. Upon exiting the lodge it was pitch black and we were wandering toward what we hoped was our room. We soon questioned that this was our salvation as it began to resemble a scene from Deliverance.

Apparently that time of year the lodge is taken over by deer hunters as we were soon assaulted by hunting dogs tied to bumpers. Trying to avoid the hounds, I almost ran in to a skinned deer hanging from a tree. We finally made it to our assigned cabin, a single room with a double bed on one side and the facilities in the corner. Above the sink, instead of a mirror, was a sign that read “do not clean fish in sink”.

We gratefully laid down in the bed to rest. A few hours later came a knock on the door. I didn’t want to be left alone in that place but Jim insisted I rest and that he would soon be back for me.

He hoped that he would just be collecting our new Mustang in front of the inn and returning for me. Instead the rental agent insisted that they had to first recover our broken down rental from the side of the road before he could hand over the keys to the new car. Jim reluctantly climbed in their tow truck.

So the rest of this story is what Jim told me the next day and what he has repeated to family and friends over the years. Jim has never been prone to exaggeration so I’m sure you can believe every word of the following story.

Jim was picked up by a young man who was born and raised in Las Vegas. Since corporate policy dictated that he not come alone he had invited the receptionist from their office to join him. Neither had ever seen snow.

Jim opened the passenger door to find a Latino woman in a leopard print miniskirt, 6 inch heels, and super long fake nails. She scooched over to the middle and they headed down the snow laden road to find our lame car. There were no snow plows as the road was destined to be closed for the season. At one point the large truck started sliding on the snow and before the driver regained control Jim swears the young lady peed her pants.

When they finally reached the car they handed Jim the keys to our new ride and he hopped up on the tow truck and backed her off. He then took off like a bat outta hell leaving the tow truck driver to do his job. He last saw him in his rear view mirror scratching his head.

It was about 3 in the morning by the time Jim got back to our room. Neither of us wanted to stay there another minute so we hopped in our new green convertible and took off for Vegas. We reached the rim of the city just as the sun was rising and we headed to our hotel room and slept until checkout time.

Obviously we had to return to the North Rim at some point and we decided this was the year.