On the Plateau, Part IV: The Grand Canyon's North Rim

Early June on the less-visited North Rim gave us a two-day exposure to one of the world's most amazing places.

On the Plateau, Part IV: The Grand Canyon's North Rim

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by callen60 on September 9, 2007

The Grand Canyon is nearly impossible to comprehend. Its scale forces mistaken identifications on a visitor—such as interpreting a distant plane as a bird, as a friend experienced, because the brain can’t possibly believe that the surroundings are that large.

‘Sublime’ is hardly a new description, but it’s used for a reason. Early western visitors retreated in puzzlement from the forbidding ‘wasteland’ (while Native Americans continued centuries of living along its banks and atop its plateaus). As Stephen Pynes’ excellent book, How the Canyon Became Grand describes, appreciating the canyon awaited a new aesthetic that incorporated the late 19th century discovery of geologic time. Given that 4 million people a year now visit the rim, it’s hard for us to make sense of Lt. Ives’ claim that his 1851 party would certainly be the last white men to visit this spot.

As Pynes points out, the Canyon gives you no advance warning: unlike a mountain range visible for miles ahead, the Canyon takes you by surprise. One moment you’re in the Kaibab forests, the next you step to the edge of a 5,000-foot, 10-mile-wide chasm. It’s worth preserving this effect, and saving your first view until you’re on foot, up close. Those who developed the North Rim clearly agreed, and kept the road away from the Transept to the west and Bright Angel Canyon to the east. Grand Canyon Lodge plays along as well, standing between the Canyon and arriving visitors—so that your first glimpse comes as you descend into the large, three-picture-window viewing room, with the spectacle stretching 180° about you.

The 200-mile canyon showcases the action of ancient seas, volcanoes, cracking crusts, and flowing water. A continental divide in reverse, it severs northwestern Arizona from the rest of the state, making bridges impossible for hundreds of miles—natural conditions that practically begged to include the North Rim in Utah.

This setting demands attention, care, and reverence. Surprisingly, every visitor here seems to grant it. With one exception—pre-teens whose parents were stunningly content to let them race along the cliff-edge path to Bright Angel Point (while I fought the instinct to hold my 16-year-old in a half-nelson)—people seem humble and reverent before these vistas and in each other’s company. Everywhere, we struck up quiet, cordial conversations with others who were thrilled to be in the presence of this awesome display of nature’s work.

${QuickSuggestions} The North Rim is considerably different from the South Rim. Blogs and travel boards are filled with arguments from each side’s defenders—and I have yet to visit the southern edge—but there is simply no way that a visit here will not exceed your expectations, or give you an experience of ‘the Canyon’. If, as some claim, the South Rim is more beautiful—wow. But in addition to the evidently debatable aesthetic advantage, the North side has several things going for it. Foremost among them is fewer people. The oft-quoted stat that ’10 times more people’ visit the South Rim is only slightly misleading: since (unlike the South) the North Rim is closed to motor vehicles from mid-October to mid-May, that does cut down the numbers. Even so, in summertime you’ll encounter only one-seventh or one-eighth the company of the more popular and accessible side (and truthfully, it felt like even less).

To reduce your encounters with others to zero, consider heading to Toroweap, 40 miles west as the crow flies, but considerably longer if you’re not a crow. Kanab to Toroweap is 65 miles, and you’ll retrace most of that and then add 80 more to reach the North Rim. But you’re highly unlikely to meet anyone here (we didn’t) or pass more than one or two cars on the road—and you’ll be face-to-face with the vertical walls, vertical drop (3,000 feet, no railings) and the river below—which you can actually see, unlike many other areas in the Canyon. The views here are frequently reproduced, but rarely seen in person. This was our first up-close encounter and it was amazing.

Short hikes at several locations take you out onto points reaching into the Canyon. At the Lodge, Bright Angel Point is at the end of a half-mile paved hike. We headed here as soon as we parked the car in late afternoon, weaving our way among the crowd. Don’t skip this, though—but I wish I’d returned at more of an off-hour to appreciate it with less company.

We just missed the actual moment of sunrise at Point Imperial, but the next half-hour was its own reward for the pre-dawn (5am!) dash from our cabin. Later that day, we soaked up every stop along the drive to Cape Royal, a major North Rim highlight.

${BestWay} There are a surprising number of transportation options to, through, along and over the Canyon. Most visitors arrive by car, with the North and South Rims both a 4-5 hour drive from Las Vegas. We came south from Zion, meeting the Canyon first on a guided 4x4 tour to Toroweap, the rarely-visited NPS site 50 miles downstream from the North Rim area. Proportional to the number of visitors, such services are greatly reduced at the North Rim. You and your own vehicle of nearly any type can explore the Scenic Drive out to Cape Royal; driving any of the other in-park roads (such as the trip to Point Sublime) can often—but not always—require something more rugged than our rented minivan as my brother reported a few years ago (thankfully, he made it back).

From remote, solitary Toroweap, we spied rafters on the river a mile below, moving swiftly through this narrow stretch of the canyon. Imagining their view from the bottom up—especially along this stretch, where the canyon walls are uncharacteristically vertical and close—convinced me that someday, one of those rafts will carry me.

At the north rim, Canyon Trail Rides offers mule-back trips through the rimtop forest—the one-hour ride we took, and half- and full-day excursions into the Canyon to Roaring Springs and back. The classic rim-to-river pack trips start only at the south rim.

The best way to see the Canyon remains on foot. Dozens of trails and overlooks run along the rim, with more into the Canyon. Leaving the rim was too intimidating to my kids, and not venturing part way down is my biggest regret from our visit (and a powerful motivator to return soon). Near the Lodge, the 1.5-mile Transept Trail is an accessible, well-marked (but not risk-free) rim-top hike.

Thankfully, the North Rim offered no helicopter rides or airplane tours. The controversy engendered by their growing popularity rages on, with the Park Service moving to restrict the number of flights—much to the consternation of operators. If you want info about that, you’ll have to head to the south rim and track it down yourself. This is a place that should never be filled with those noises.

Journals chronicling our ‘Grand Circle’ across the southwest include:

Grand Canyon Lodge & Cabins

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by callen60 on September 11, 2007

As you near the end of the drive south to the North Rim, the lodging finally comes into view. The road traverses Bright Angel Point, and is significantly closer to Roaring Springs Canyon on the east, so that all of the facilities lie to the west between the pavement and Transept Canyon. The motel-style units are first, about a mile before the road's end at the Grand Canyon Lodge. These are the most recently built, and date from the 1960s. Next is the large Campground complex, followed by the large array of the Lodge's cabins, which fill most of the continually narrowing space between the road and the canyon.

There are three styles of cabins: Frontier, Pioneer, and Western, in order of increasing amenities. The Western Cabins lie at the point's southern end, north and east of the lodge. Four units actually feature views of the canyon, and are immediately snapped up when reservations open two years out. (My brother was lucky enough to land one several years ago, and rearranged his life several times to keep that reservation.) Like the similarly named units at other parks, these sleep four, and provide more space and comfort than the others (and more proximity to the Lodge).

The Pioneer and Frontier cabins are on the west side of the roadway, in a tightly clustered village of log cabins with little separation. Your first impression may be that no lodgings that close together could possibly be quiet. You’d be wrong, however: we slept with windows open both nights, and enjoyed the breeze with little or no noise. Most people here tend to approach the entire experience with quiet reverence for the awesome formality of the canyon, and evidently that spills over into the evening.

Our Pioneer cabin had a ¾ bath in the middle—sink, toilet, and shower stall—that separates two bedrooms. One bedroom has a pair of twin beds (and its own sink), the other a queen and a twin. The simple, rustic surroundings were perfect for a stay here, and the five of us were very comfortable during our two nights. We checked in fairly late, and since Xanterra assigns cabins on a first-come, first-served basis, we ended up at the northern end of the complex. I’d read that several of the Pioneer cabins have views west into Transept Canyon, and were available on request if still open, but we were too late for that (although it looks like these are now booked on-line for $10 extra). Still, it was a only few hundred yards walk south to the Visitor Center, the Snack Bar (which we never visited), the Coffee Shop, and the Lodge and its amazing balcony.

If all five of us returned, I’d probably stay in a Pioneer again. At $112/night for summer 2008, they’re still a fantastic bargain. For $25 more, the Western Cabins have two queen beds in one room, but need a rollaway to sleep five (and have ‘finished’ walls). Space permitting, I’d definitely choose any of these cabins over the more distant motel units.
Grand Canyon Lodge & Cabins
Grand Canyon National Park
North Rim, Arizona, 86052
(928) 638-2611

Grand Canyon Lodge Dining Room

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by callen60 on September 11, 2007

Few restaurants are more beautifully situated: Gilbert Stanley Underwood knew what he was doing when he laid out this place. The dining room is just to your right as you enter the lodge (just past the bronze statue of Brighty, the mule immortalized by Marguerite Henry in her 1950’s children’s book). A few short steps lead down into the large, high-ceilinged room, which holds several dozen tables. The choicest ones are, of course along the long wall that faces south into the Canyon (with second choice on the shorter west wall). But at nearly any point in the room, the Canyon’s presence is certain to be a part of your meal here.

Options for dining at the North Rim are limited: the Rough Rider Saloon that doubles as a coffee shop during breakfast hours; Deli in the Pines, a small cafeteria serving pizza and sandwiches; and the main Dining Room. Like the restaurants at other National Park Lodges in the area, this one aims for a fine dining experience complemented by the unmatched natural surroundings.

We ate here on both evenings, believing that the splurge was worth it, and the food and service were excellent both nights. The rough-timbered lodge style extends to this room as well, accented by some decoration derived from native American designs. But most of your attention will be directed out the wrap-around windows, if not at your food.

On the first evening, we were seated by a western window during the last hour of sunlight, not long after our arrival and first view of the Canyon from the amazing location at Bright Angel Point. All of us smiled from start to finish of this meal, from rolls to salad to the excellent crab cakes. As is true at most parks, the wait staff combined college-age students from around the world with more experienced servers, happy to practice it in one of the world’s most beautiful locations.

Reservations are required, and you’re encouraged to make them by phone as soon as the North Rim opens for the season in mid-May. We booked an 8pm table for both nights, figuring we'd only want to eat after the sun went down. After I finished my hike along the Transept Trail, we headed to the Lodge for a drink and a spot on the patio to watch the sunset. By 8pm, the Canyon was fading as part of the experience, but the rim remained a silhouetted presence throughout our meal. We aimed for a slightly cheaper meal this time, sticking to pastas and appetizers, and again had a great experience.

The gap between the deli and the dining room is pretty large, in prices, food, and setting. We tried to keep our food costs down here by bringing our own breakfasts and lunches. On a longer stay, I’d certainly eat at the Deli once or twice. But I’m glad we had both evening meals here—it was a great part of the experience of the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon Lodge & Dining Room
Grand Canyon National Park
North Rim, Arizona, 86052
(928) 638-2611

Bright Angel Trail

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by callen60 on September 11, 2007

Bright Angel Point reaches into the Grand Canyon for about three miles, gradually narrowing as it heads further south. Siting the Grand Canyon Lodge here was a terrific decision—from its balconies, Sun Room, and Dining Room there are terrific views south into the Canyon.

But there's even better ones not far away. The Point rapidly narrows just south of the Lodge, turning into one of the many thin, tall rocky fins pointing towards the Colorado far below. A paved, fenced trail heads out to the southernmost tip of Bright Angel Point, providing you with the sensation of having the Canyon truly all around you.

We arrived here in early evening, after our expedition to Toroweap and stops in the Kaibab National Forest for overlooks of Marble Canyon off to the northeast. We parked the car, and nearly sprinted for the trailhead. After missing it by heading too far to the east, we regrouped and started down the path.

There were a lot of people here, and I imagined that the number would only grow as sunset approached. The natural colors of the rock were already enriched by the low angle of sunlight, and deciding to whether to stop along the way at one of the benches carved into the rock or keep going to the end was a tossup.

The trail was a little more of an adventure than I assumed. It weaves among and alongside large pieces of the rocky fin, and is so narrow in places that two people can barely pass shoulder-to-shoulder. It generally traces the fin's eastern edge, right on the edge. There are railings and fencing throughout, but those with fear of heights will want to stay close to the rocks on your right as you head out. Having my kids with me kicks my fear of heights into high gear; it obviously didn’t do the same for the parents of the 10 or 12 year old kids who kept sprinting up and down the path and wedging past people at high speed.

Out at the tip, the view was tremendous. The Canyon stretched all around us, and we felt that we’d arrived at a great time. Given the number of people who also wanted a chance at the relatively small observation point, it was hard to take too much time there. But this was the only place where we felt any pressure from crowds at the North Rim.

It was now after 7pm, and our 8pm dinner reservations were coming up quickly. After a full day, we were ready for a good meal—and we still had to check in to our cabin and clean up a little. We hiked back up the trail, thinking we’d make several more trips out here. We didn’t, much to my surprise, and I can’t come up with a good explanation. Given how easy it is to reach Bright Angel Point from the cabins, I’m sure it won’t be as deserted at sunrise as Point Imperial. Next visit, I’ll find out.
Bright Angel Trail
Begins near the main Visitor Center complex
Grand Canyon, Arizona, 86023
(928) 638-7888

Canyon Trail Mule Rides

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by callen60 on September 11, 2007

There are few National Park experiences more iconic than a mule ride at the Grand Canyon. You can mount up at either the south or north rims, but the north side’s elevation means that the longest ride is a full-day round-trip to Roaring Springs along the North Kaibab Trail. There’s also a half-day trip on the Kaibab that turns around at Supai Tunnel, or a half-day trip out to Uncle Jim’s Point.

None of these options were right for us—my wife wanted no part of riding, and my kids were anxious about descending into the Canyon with their lives in the hands (on the backs?) of a mule. But they did want to ride, so the one-hour ‘Rim of the Grand Canyon’ excursion seemed just right.

Canyon Trail Rides has the riding concession at Zion, Bryce, and the North Rim, and their website describes offerings at all three parks. Reservations can only be made over the phone or by mail, so in mid-January I scheduled an 8:30am ride for our first full day in the park. They made it clear on the phone and in person that age and weight limits apply (7 years, 220 lbs for the one-hour ride; 200 lbs; 10 years old for the longer trips), and aren’t afraid to ask anyone to step on the scale.

As we headed to the corral, we saw a cowboy leading the train of mules down from the barns, with a few dozen mules and horses trotting at a fair pace. Their hooves kicked up a substantial cloud of dust, and it was a pretty cool sight to see our mounts approaching.

At the corral, the hands matched groups and mules. Certain mules like to follow certain other mules, it seems, so getting the right person on the right mule takes a little time.

A few instructions—keep up with the mule ahead of you, use your heels and your switch if necessary—and we were off. The trail headed east out of the corral, through the wonderful aspen forests of the North Rim. They told us that it was not a ‘rimside’ ride, and that the canyon itself would only be visible a few times. Nonetheless, it was delightful. The warmer-than-usual weather (in the '80s) made time in the shade just fine, and it was terrific to hear and watch my kids enjoying themselves atop their mules. About 20 minutes in, each rider paused briefly by the opening through the trees that looked out into canyon, a spot I would gladly have stayed at for some time. Before too long, we turned around at the junction for the trail to Uncle Jim’s Point, and retraced our steps to the end. My kids moaned that it was over too soon, and I had to agree. I did my part to keep the trip alive by uncharacteristically springing for the photos of each one of us. Me on a mule beside the Grand Canyon—it still seems a picture worth having.
Grand Canyon Mule Rides
Grand Canyon Tourist Center, South Rim
Grand Canyon, Arizona, 86023

Point Imperial

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by callen60 on September 11, 2007

The sun crossing the horizon is a highlight nearly anywhere in the southwest. We’d watched it reach lower and lower into Zion’s sandstone canyon two mornings before, and despite the fact that Arizona stubbornly refuses to go on daylight savings time, even the kids were game to catch the sunrise on our first morning at the North Rim.

In early June, that puts sunrise at the challenging hour of 5:11am. Adding to the difficulty, Grand Canyon Lodge sits on Bright Angel Point, separated from the larger Walhalla Plateau by narrow Roaring Springs Canyon. The far eastern side of the Plateau looks out over a wider expanse of canyon, and offers a better view as the sun makes its first appearance.

That means some early-morning traveling if you want to see that first light from an optimal vantage point. Point Imperial, just north of the Walhalla Plateau, is the closest point to the Lodge on that eastern edge, as well as the highest point on the North Rim. It’s a great place for sunrise, but a 12-mile drive from the cabins. We set the alarm for what seemed to be an unfathomably early time.

Not long after we hit the road, we knew we’d cut it too close—it would take every minute of the 20 minutes described in the park newspaper. There wasn’t any other traffic headed our way—who would be leaving Point Imperial before sunrise?—so I cut across the roadway on some of the S-curves, hoping to speed our arrival. But when we arrived, we realized we wouldn’t see any of the Sun’s ascent to the horizon. Three other early-risers had planned better than us, one of them helpfully informing us that ‘you just missed it’ as he headed to his car.

Although the moments before sunrise may offer the most dramatic lighting of the sky—though given the day’s arrangement of clouds, even that’s debatable—the early sun on the sandstone that provides the most memorable colors and spectacle. It was cool at the 8,800’ elevation of Point Imperial, but having invested some serious effort in reaching that spot, we were all willing to see what the next half-hour brought.

Our other companions weren’t so dedicated. So soon we by ourselves at one of the most majestic overlooks of the Grand Canyon, watching the sun gradually light up the prominences, crevasses, and canyon walls. The pyramidal shape of Mount Hayden, just off to the south, was one of the first spots to catch the sun, and I recognized it from a black-and-white shot my brother had taken on his most recent trip.

When most of the western wall around us was in full sunlight, we headed back, arriving at our cabin sometime after 6am. Another hour of sleep proved too tempting for everyone but me. While they all catnapped before our 8:30 mule ride, I grabbed a coffee and staked out a seat on the Lodge’s veranda, joining a few dozen others as we quietly watched the Canyon enter the daylight.
Point Imperial
AZ State Route 67
Grand Canyon, Arizona, 86022
+1 928 638 7888

Transept Trail

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by callen60 on September 11, 2007

We’d crawled out of bed at 4am to catch the sunrise, mounted mules at 8:30, driven Cape Royal Road to Roosevelt Point, Angel’s Window, and Cape Royal itself. Sure, it’d been a full day already, but I’d waited years to come to the Grand Canyon. Rest? Are you kidding?

Everyone else took some downtime before dinner. I headed back down to the Lodge, where the Transept Trail starts below the veranda, along the west side of Bright Angel Point. You can either descend the steps from the Lodge, or veer off to the left as you return from the the tip of Bright Angel Point. From here, the Transept runs just over a mile and a half to the campground store, and is is in good shape throughout.

This route gives you a good feeling for the Grand Canyon’s many side canyons. From the Lodge, the trail heads northwest, over and around a surprising number of ridges on its way to the Transepts's edge. This section is completely in the forest of pine and aspens, and the entire trail never quite makes it out in the open: the trees run nearly to the rim itself for the whole mile on the canyonside.

It was partly cloudy as I headed out, and became even cloudier during the first half of my hike. For a while, I thought I might get to see the Canyon in the rain, but the skies eventually lightened and the sunshine returned.

The trail opens to the Canyon at irregular distances, with short spurs of 10 yards or so taking you right to the rim. There is no railing or warning at these spots, and the drop is often nearly vertical, so it pays to be careful.

The view here is terrific, and those with more courage than me might sit with their feet dangling over the edge. The Transept is fairly narrow and very deep, and you look straight across at the other wall, which seems only 100 yards away. To the north, you can easily see the end of this side canyon. The trail stops at least a half-mile before that, although the Widforss Trail runs along the north edge, a full dayhike past the Transept to Widforss Point.

After a mile or so, you begin to see the campsites off to the east, and I mistakenly hiked in here thinking I was finishing the trail. Back on the path, the sun was out again, lighting up the Canyon to the south, with the clouds occasionally casting contrasting shadows on the reddish temples. Hiking alone, I generally stayed away from the last foot before the rim, but carefully sat down and edged close enough once or twice to look down into the Transept and back to the Canyon.

After passing the campsites, the trail curls around to the back of the North Rim store where I met up with my family. We headed back to the cabin to get ready for dinner at the Lodge, and our departure the next morning.
Transept Trail

Grand Canyon, Arizona
(520) 638-7888

Cape Royal Road: North Rim Jewel

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by callen60 on September 11, 2007

My kids were understandably nervous about venturing down into the Canyon, and this drive was our substitute for exploring below the rim. (As we left the Canyon, though, they vowed to change this on the next visit). The vistas at every stop on this drive are amazing, with views across large extents of the Canyon.

It’s not quite 25 miles from the Lodge to Cape Royal. You begin by following the route to Point Imperial, but after nine miles, you bear right and head south along the eastern edge of Walhalla Plateau. Most of the altitude change and a few switchbacks are in this first stretch. One way to do this trip is to start early in the morning and drive directly to Cape Royal, making all the stops on the way back. Or you can start in late morning and make the stops on the way out (we did a little of both). Either way, the timing allows for a stop at Vista Encantada at lunchtime, a great place for a picnic. There are several tables in the shade, with a fabulous view off to the side. After finishing our salami sandwiches (the official lunch of this vacation), we explored along the edge, where a few trails run off along the rim.

Vista Encantada is oriented mainly northeast, and in a few miles another overlook points southeast, to the main part of the Canyon. This is Roosevelt Point, commemorating Teddy R’s contributions to making the Canyon a national preserve. The temperature climbed throughout the afternoon, but it was here that we had the optimal combination of blue skies and stark white clouds, and watched while the latter moved their shadows up and down the rock temples below. A short trail heads north from the lookout, partway down into the Canyon. My youngest and I followed it for a while, and it served as a great way to get away from any crowds that may be there.

From here, the road leaves the rimside for the last 10 miles to the parking lot at Cape Royal. When we arrived, it was midday and hot, and the parking lot was pretty full. It’s a short walk to the first overlook, with Angels Window off to the right, a hole in a fin that juts into the Canyon. This was a precursor to the hoodoos and windows of Bryce Canyon, with one amazing exception: at the right angle, you can see the Colorado through Angels Window.

The trail out to Angel’s Window runs along that fin, and is pretty narrow in spots, but the paving, railing and fencing make it safe. The view here, and further south from Cape Royal itself, are well worth the short hikes, which must be around a mile altogether. You feel as if you’re standing in the middle of the Canyon, with the castles and cliff faces rising around you on all sides.

Two of my family stayed behind at Angel’s Window, resting on a bench that was nicely situated in the shade. When the rest of us returned, we sat on the rim’s edge for a while, cooling off from our time in the Sun.

Before driving back to the Lodge, we stopped at Walhalla Overlook, just north of Angels Window, for one more vista. Across the road are the ruins of an ‘Anasazi’ village, used by people who regularly hiked from riverside to rimtop as part of their lifestyle.

There are two terrific hikes that we didn’t take advantage of: the Cliff Springs Trail at Angels Window, the Cape Final trail about 3 miles before Cape Royal. The first heads east to more wonderful view of the Canyon, and the second visits an Anasazi granary. I won’t skip either on my next visit, which will hopefully be soon.

The Canyon, Solo: Toroweap & Dreamland Safari Tours

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by callen60 on September 11, 2007

On an earlier trip west, rafting trips on the Snake River in Grand Teton and on the Flathead River along Glacier’s southern edge were definite highlights. As I planned this trip to the southwest, I wondered what experiences might provide us with a similar glimpse into the landscape, led by a knowledgeable guide taking us through parts that we otherwise might not see. Once we settled on visiting only the North Rim of the Canyon (I briefly entertained the insanity of trying to include both sides on an already overfilled itinerary), I was intrigued, enchanted, and eventually intoxicated with the idea of visiting Toroweap.

This isn’t easily accomplished. A relatively recent addition to the Park itself (1975), the Park Service "manages this area for its primitive values". Given the difficulty of accessibility, this will be certainly be easier to do here than elsewhere along the Canyon. From Kanab, Tuweep is a 75-mile drive, much of it along unpaved roads—and the further you go, the lower the effective speed limit. This seemed like a great place to have someone experienced do the driving (and someone who had the resources and knowledge to call for help if something went wrong).

In the end, I only found one company who offered to take people to Toroweap. Dave and Marilyn Devooght fell in love with southern Utah two decades ago, and eventually left their home in Northwest Missouri to live the area they loved to explore. Through their company—Dreamland Safari Tours—they take people to Utah’s backroads, as well as Toroweap. They met us at the Kanab HIE at 9am, and 6 hours later, deposited us back at the doorstep.

In between, they gave us a fantastic experience. The five of us piled into their Suburban, where Marilyn immediately offered us a bag of glazed donuts and bottles of juice and water from a full cooler. They provided this unexpected breakfast as well as the deli sandwiches and lunch that we later enjoyed in a picnic at the rim. Dave is a quiet guy, who handled the driving, keeping the rate of progress remarkably high and the discomfort low. Marilyn was knowledgeable about the area, and made the two-hour trip to Toroweap an event in itself.

About 20 miles from the rim, you cross the park’s boundary. A little further in lies the Toroweap Ranger Station, currently staffed by a young ranger and his wife and their large, attention starved dog (who just ate up the petting and cooing from my kids). There’s a small, rough airstrip nearby, with signs that comically label it ‘Toroweap International’, a remnant of the stewardship of John Riffey who served here as ranger for decades.

That’s it for official facilities. The terrain gradually changes as you approach the canyon. The elevation is lower than the Kaibab Plateau that leads to the North Rim, and thus the cool aspens forests that line the road to Grand Canyon Lodge are absent. The surroundings transition from scrub-covered to barren, and just before the canyon, the volcanic activity that makes gives much of this section its darker colors is visible in Vulcan’s Throne. This large lava dome lies to the west of the road, but lava from this flow tumbled over into the abyss, creating the challenging 1.5mi day hike (yes, full day hike) to Lava Falls.

We passed the few, primitive and empty campsites on the way in, arriving in a small ‘parking lot’ with one other car. We never saw its occupants, and for the two hours we were there, it was just what I’d hoped: we had the Canyon to ourselves.

A picnic table sits in the shade of the largest tree, and we ate our sandwiches, drank more water, and talked. I was itching to see the rim, but my fear of heights made me think it was better to wait until I had company. After lunch, Marilyn walked us around the area, and then left us to experience the surroundings on our own.

Chances are, if you’ve seen photos of the Grand Canyon, they’re of Toroweap. The rims are uncharacteristically close here—it’s just a mile across to the Hualapai Reservation on the south side of the River, but it feels like just a few hundred yards. And the drop to the Colorado that faces you is also uncharacteristically vertical, the rim falling away 3000’ nearly straight down, dropping to the river in what looks like no horizontal distance at all. In keeping with the commitment to primitive, there are no guardrails or improvements of any kind along the edge—this is NOT a place for small children, or anyone who has trouble setting their own limits.

We sat at the edge and just reveled in the view. It was noon, and the Sun shone down directly on the Colorado, lighting it like a mirror. Suddenly, we made out a pair of rafts moving down the still, grey-brown water, providing a sudden sense of scale. Even here, where the Canyon loses some immensity—but none of its grandeur—it was hard to keep track of its size.
Dreamland Safari Tours
265 North 300 West
Kanab, Utah
435 644-5506


©Travelocity.com LP 2000-2009