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Zion National Park Grand Canyon North Rim

9th July 2010

Grand Views from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon plus a Nature Trail

Panorama from Bright Angel Point      (please use scroll bar)

Panorama from Point Imperial      (please use scroll bar)

Panorama from Cape Royal      (please use scroll bar)

    Around the midnight hour last night I was typing up my day's notes when I noticed the laptop had stopped charging off the invertor. I immediately knew what the problem was, the van had not been driven for three days, and during that time intensive use of interior lights and invertor had almost flattened the battery. The repercussion would be I would not be able to start the van, but no problems, I could resolve that in the morning.
    The night was uncomfortably hot. Recently the temperature had been dropping off around 3am, but the heat didn't diminish at all through the night. I didn't get much sleep.
    Morning came and I tried to turn the engine over, but as anticipated with no success. I extricated the jump leads that Jody gave me in the Icefields Parkway, and found a kind guy to drive over and help me jump start it. The engine was soon running.
    I hung around until 8am when the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway would be opened to traffic again, and headed across to Kanab, a small town on my route south. My mission here was to find a shower, and the local fitness centre obliged. A quick refuel and breakfast at a diner, and I was on my way.
    As I was approaching the Vermilion Cliffs, I saw a monstrous thunderstorm lumbering its way across my route. When the rain hit me it was torrential, and there was a fine display of thunder and lightening too. I popped out of the other side into more glorious sunshine.
Bright Angel Fault Running Across the Canyon
    I was soon sweeping down a beautiful valley on the Kaibab Plateau, with wide stretches of short grass on either side of the road with deer grazing, all hemmed in by the Kaibab Forest. On reaching the Grand Canyon northern entrance, the park ranger told me the North Rim campsite was full, and I should try the Demotte campsite. There the warden was a friendly chap who originally hailed from Seattle (he had spotted my Washington plates). When I told him I just wanted room to park my van and no tent space, he said that there was room for me, but all he could offer was water and toilets, and since I appeared self sufficient to him, he advised I take a turn into the Kaibab Forest about half a mile down the road and park there. As long as I did not make a fire, and didn't park within 15' of the forest drives, it was permitted as 'dispersed camping'. Since I carried my own water, and the forest made a pretty big natural toilet, I thanked the chap for his frank advice, and decided to take that option.
    I then headed straight to the North Rim Visitors Centre and also to get my first glimpse of the Grand Canyon.
    The North Rim of the Grand Canyon received roughly one-tenth the number of visitors of the South Rim due to its remoteness and few services. It was for the more adventurous where hiking trips were more demanding and required greater physical endurance. The North Rim was closed to public facilities during the winter months. The views were equally as spectacular as those from the South Rim, but had minimal sightings of the Colorado River.
    The Grand Canyon was a powerful awe-inspiring landscape, full of dazzling and colourful eroded forms, but the overriding feature was its size; it was not called Grand for nothing. The canyon was 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. It was BIG. I could see mountains on the Coconino Plateau beyond the South Rim that were 65 miles away, which helped to provide a reference point against which to judge the width of the canyon, but the 277 mile river length was beyond comprehension, there were no yardsticks.
    Scientific study indicated natural forces of erosion cut the canyon while the land was gradually uplifted. The process had taken several million years and was still going on. In the depths, the rocks were nearly two billion years old.
    Anasazi people had lived on both rims and the inner canyon. The Piaute people also had a rich history on the North Rim and the Kaibab Plateau, hunting and gathering in that area for over 1000 years. Kaibab was a Piaute word meaning "mountain lying down". The Dine (Navajo) people arrived in the Grand Canyon area from the north, following a nomadic migration pattern. Some say they moved toward the Grand Canyon region and settled in the area around 400 years ago.
    I took a walk from the visitors centre out to Bright Angel Point, and climbed a rock and sat looking at the vista spread out before me. I could see the South Rim thirteen miles away, and could pick out the trail I had intended to walk down to the canyon floor, and the one I would have taken back up. I sat for over an hour trying to both absorb and comprehend the scale of the canyon. I started to compare it to: Maligne Canyon, Yellowstone Canyon, Colorado National Monument, Antelope Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, Canyonlands, Mesa Verde etc. All these other canyons I had met nose-to-nose, sensing their sizes, shapes and in some cases their human history . With Grand Canyon, I couldn't get any of those feelings, its sheer size made it almost remote. I could get a feel from the distant layers of rocks I could observe that I was traveling down the strata in time, hundreds of millions of years per layer; that was something firm which my mind could grasp, but the physical scale was beyond both my sight and mind. Perhaps that was it, the Grand Canyon was truly grand. But I couldn't say the Grand Canyon was the best canyon I had seen, since I considered some of the others to have more to offer, to me anyway. However, I could say with confidence that the Grand Canyon was the grandest canyon I had set eyes on.
    Clarence Dutton, an early Grand Canyon geologist once said:

    "Dimension means nothing to the senses, and all we are left with is a troubled sense of immensity"

    The trees in and around the canyon area were varied. The high Kaibab Plateau north of the canyon was cool and moist in contrast to parched deserts encircling it. It supported a forest similar to that which could be found in Canada. Here spruce, fir and quaking aspen mantled the higher elevations and surrounded beautiful mountain meadows. Ponderosa pines occupied the transition zone between upper elevations and the canyon rim. The lower southern exposures along the rim of the canyon were covered with pinyon pine and juniper; typical Southwestern trees.
    I drove across to Point Imperial, the highest point on the North Rim at an elevation of 8,803' (the North Rim was on average 2000' higher than the South Rim). From here I could see right across Marble Canyon, the top end of the Grand Canyon, the Vermilion and Echo Cliffs, and the Painted Desert. Swifts were soaring through the sky trying to catch the airborne insects. Somewhere down in the depths of the canyons I could hear helicopters whisking tourists from Las Vegas on a whistle-stop tour of the canyon.
    From there I headed down to Cape Royal near the Walhalla Plateau, stopping off at the Vista Encantada viewpoint on the way. I walked on down the Cape Royal Trail, from which I caught a glimpse of the Colorado through Angels Window. The walk lead to more grand vistas, but it also served as a nature trail, pointing out vegetation on the way.
    On the nature trail, sagebrush was highlighted as probably the most abundant shrub in western North America. The extensive root system was drought resistant, enabling survival in semi-arid conditions. Sagebrush was a valuable fuel for Indians. They also used it to treat colds, diarrhea and fevers.
    The pinyon pine was recognised by its short needles that usually grew in bundles of two. It thrived at elevations from 4000-8000'. Pinyon nuts developed in short, broad cones that matured in the fall, after two season's growth. These were an important food for wildlife and were gathered by the Indians of the Southwest.
    Cliffrose was a tall tree-like shrub, a shaggy evergreen member of the rose family. Its showy cream coloured blossoms and long white plumed seeds were conspicuous most of the summer. Hopi Indians made sandals, mats, and rope from its stringy bark, arrows from the wood, and medicine from the foliage.
Pinyon Pine
Douglas Fir
Sapsucker Wells
    Utah juniper berries (actually soft, fleshy cones) were used by wildlife and Indians. Indians also used the bark to make sandals and to pad cradleboards. Digging sticks and other farming implements were made from the wood.
Colorado River Seen Through the Angels Window
    White Fir and Douglas Fir appeared to be out of place on the trail. They were normally found at higher elevations where it was cooler and moister. However, below the rim on north facing slopes, shade provided a cooler microclimate for these trees to grow.
    The small holes found in juniper were the work of Sapsuckers. These woodpecker-like birds drilled these wells through the bark to the inner cambium layer, ate the cambium and drank the sap that oozed out. They also fed on insects that gathered on the sap.
    On the nature trail, a viewpoint offered dramatic views of the Colorado River through the Angels Window.
    At all the viewpoints I was gob smacked, and fascinated by the light and colour variations of the rocks due to the sun getting lower in the sky and then becoming obscured behind clouds. Ochres, pinks, oranges, reds and purples were part of this rich spectrum of colours.
Far Off Colorado River Viewed From the North Rim
Another Storm Rolling In
    The light was dying and I needed to go and find a place to park up for the night. I picked up the forest trail as indicated by the warden, drove up, took a turn off and found a flat area to pull in to. While there was still a little light, I cooked some chilli and drank a cool beer. It seemed as though I had all the forest to myself. I sat on a log sipping my beer, listening to the birds until they eventually called it a day. I retired to the van to type up notes, and soon a vehicle turned up with a gang of young Americans inside. They asked me if it was alright to camp there. I said it was as long as they abided by the rules. They seemed content with that, and pulled in at the next flat area to where I was. Ten minutes later I went through the same rigmarole again with another car full of young lads. They all seemed well behaved, and there was minimal noise. I completed my notes and drifted off to sleep, still trying to comprehend the size of the magnificent canyon I had seen today.
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Zion National Park Grand Canyon North Rim

Uploaded from Grand Canyon North Rim General Stores AZ on 10/07/10 at 11:50

Last updated 12.7.2010