Monday, August 18
I’m excited! It’s time to cross half of the last big local destination off my list: the Grand Canyon. It’s a 107 mile drive from the campground to the north rim, the south rim is even further and one has to detour far to the east to make it around, making it impractical to visit both sides in one day given I’ll have to drive all the way back to Utah.
While generally counted the less scenic, I figure the north rim will be the better side to visit today. The high in Mt. Carmel is 90, at lower elevations it’s set to get above 100. The north rim sits at 7,000 ft, the south rim at 6,000 ft, so the higher the better.
To get there, I drive down into Kanab on 89, then stay on 89A into Arizona past Fredonia. It doesn’t take long and the road starts some serious climbing up into Kaibab National Forest. The rim itself might sit at 7,000 ft, but on highway 67 getting there elevations top 8,000. The mixed Ponderosa pine and spruce forest that I’m accustomed to seeing at higher elevations makes a strong showing, although there are large areas of the Kaibab Plateau that are open. A large forest fire ripped through the area 14 years ago and the pines haven’t grown back, in some places young aspen compete for for sun, in others it’s just grass and brush.
Like other national parks in the area, the entrance fee is $25 per vehicle, but I flash my year pass and am on my way. Not far past the entrance a herd of bison lounge in a field near the road, close enough that I can get a picture from the truck without zoom. There’s no fence to keep them off the road, so I’m glad that they’re staying on their side of the tracks so to speak.
The visitor’s center is located near the rim itself near Bright Angel Point. Next to it is a large lodge with cabins, a gift shop, and two eatery options. Walking into the gift shop is sort of a surreal experience. Forever Resorts runs all the concessionaire stuff at the north rim, the same company that I worked for last summer at the Badlands, and the music and smell of the gift shop (old wood) remind me sharply of Cedar Pass Lodge. It’s like I walked through that doorway and crossed several states in a single step. The layout and size is different, but the atmosphere is very similar.
This lodge is a lot more…well, more than the Badlands one though. It clearly sees more visitors and has a larger staff. A seating area behind the sit down restaurant overlooks the canyon, which I get to see clearly for the first time.
It’s amazing to look at, it really is. But to be honest I don’t think I’d rate it among my favorites like most people. It’s a scale thing. It’s so vast, that it doesn’t seem as real somehow. It stretches so far into the distance that my brain has a hard time wrapping around it. It’s hazy enough that I can’t even see the opposite side clearly.
Maybe the Grand Canyon has just gotten so much hype that I had unrealistic expectations, like a good movie that gets ruined when critics and friends all claim it’s the best thing ever. I’m still very glad I came, and look forward to seeing the south rim at a later date to compare.
I do enjoy the cooler temperatures and fresh pine smell. It can’t be warmer than 75, and I’d love to go for a hike, but clouds are rolling in and thunder rumbles in the distance. I do take a quick walk down into the campground and peek at the sites. No hookups, but paved pull-throughs for all the RV sites, and the ones situated on the outside of the large loop offer a decent amount of privacy. It’s all full up today which isn’t surprising, we’re still in the busy season.
There are several other overlooks at the north rim besides the visitor center, and with the threat of rain, driving instead of walking seems like the most prudent course. At one pull-over though a sign advertises a very short hike to an alpine lake which I just can’t resist, and I run it at a dash as the rain starts.
It’s dried up. Oh well, it’s not like I came far and the scenery is still pretty.
By the time I make it to the first overlook, Vista Encantada, lightning is flashing overhead and it’s raining hard enough to make picture-taking a challenge. But I came this far and might not get out here again anytime soon, so there I stand on the edge of a cliff in a thunderstorm with my phone, capturing the view. It’s not as dangerous as it could be, the lightning seems to be all cloud to cloud, and I avoid standing under trees or in large open areas.
There is a bench under an old ponderosa pine that just begs to have it’s picture taken in the rain. Way out across the canyon I can see that the other side is sunny, but it’s hard to capture.
Continue on or turn around? The next overlook is Roosevelt Point and it isn’t as far as the two that come after it. It’s still raining as I get there and it’s more open than the last overlook. I dash under a tiny little roof that once held a sign visitors could read and snap a couple pictures before ducking under cover of the truck again. The rain shows no signs of stopping and it’s dropped into the 50’s. Fine monsoon weather, you win this round, but I’ll be back!
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