Archive for the ‘Arizona Strip’ Tag

Adventuring Grand Canyon ~ Toroweap   5 comments

Ocotillo and barrel cactus in spring green: Lava Falls Trail, Toroweap, AZ.

The Grand Canyon is on the bucket lists of many of us.  Most head to the south rim where all the tourist facilities are.  This little story is about the much less popular north rim, which is worth visiting too.  But wait, it’s not even about the more popular north rim, where the lodge is located.  It’s about a little corner of the park that is a little tough to get to.  Called Toroweap, it’s in the northwestern part of the park, which means it overlooks the lower Colorado River.

On the road to Toroweap, Arizona Strip.

Toroweap, which is little more than a campground and overlook, is a Paiute word meaning “dry valley”.  And that’s what you drive up on a long gravel road from the Arizona Strip.  That’s the narrow, isolated strip of Arizona that stretches along the Utah border and north of the Grand Canyon.  I was in the area visiting Zion and the Grand Staircase and had a few extra days.

I’d been wanting to drive up to the north rim from Kanab.  But being late winter, the main route through Jacob Lake was still closed due to snow.  I thought of Toroweap, which is at a lower elevation than the rest of the north rim.  It was open!  So despite my allergy to washboard gravel roads, that’s where I went.  There were fields of flowers blooming along the way (image above).

Along the trail to Lava Falls.

The last short stretch to the spectacular overlook over the lower Grand Canyon is rocky and recommended for high clearance vehicles.  I babied my van over the rock shelves but still parked a couple hundred yards from the lookout.  I claimed a campsite and took a hike out along the rim to the east.  Recent rains had filled the potholes in the sandstone, adding to the atmosphere.  Toward day’s end the light got awfully nice and I got some nice shots before sunset (below).

A rainstorm leaves full water pockets at Toroweap on the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

I know what you’re thinking: not too adventurous.  That’s what I was thinking too.  Why hang around an overlook all day?  So next morning I took a little dirt road I’d spied.  It led down to the trailhead for Lava Falls, which I knew was somewhere nearby.  I decided to see how far down the trail I could get before chickening out and turning around.  The sign isn’t kidding.  The trail is super-steep and rough, though much worse in the heat of summer.  Each few hundred feet you drop down it you become more and more aware of how far back up you’ll be climbing in the heat of the day.

Trailhead to Lava Falls, Grand Canyon N.P.

As I went down I left the cool air of the rim and entered springtime.  I came across some just-blooming wildflowers along the way.  I saw a raft party pull off the Colorado, scout Lava Falls, and then run it.  It seemed as if I was looking straight down on them from the trail above.  After a certain point it was hard to stop; the river pulled me toward it.  On reaching the river I scrambled along the shore to reach one of the Colorado’s most impressive rapid, Lava Falls.  Pulling myself up over a boulder I was surprised by a rattlesnake (or vice versa).  I’d never seen this species.  It turned out to be an endemic (found nowhere else), the Grand Canyon pink.

A Grand Canyon pink rattlesnake, found nowhere else but here.

A blooming prickly pear attracts a pollinator within the lower part of Grand Canyon.

Sitting on the rocks next to Lava Falls is an interesting experience.  The water is so powerful that you can feel and hear large boulders roll with the current along the stream bed.  I got as close to the main rapids as I dared, and got the shot below.  It was remarkably warm at the river, and even though the water was ice cold, I took a swim below the rapids.  I figured I’d need the memory of it about halfway on the climb back up.  It isn’t a very long distance, but it was almost sunset by the time I reached the rim.  That last mile or so was a struggle!

Cactus blooming inside the lower Grand Canyon above Lava Falls.

One of Grand Canyon’s most fearsome rapids, Lava Falls, rumbles and roars.

After some great light and a nice shot of the Toroweap Valley at sunset (below), I was far too exhausted to go anywhere.  I slept right where I’d parked for the hike.  I never saw another soul either at the rim or along the trail.  Just those rafters on the river.  It had been the perfect shooting experience, at least for me.  I love being around people when doing travel photography but prefer shooting alone for landscape and nature photography.

Thanks for checking out the post!  Have a wonderful weekend.

I camped near the trailhead for Lava Falls: Toroweap, Grand Canyon N.P.

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Single-image Sunday: Vermilion Cliffs   2 comments

The Vermilion Cliffs, which straddle the Utah-Arizona border, are part of the Grand Staircase.  This is a huge feature on the Colorado Plateau, a series of long, east-west trending cliff bands separated by plateaus.  The “staircase” steps down to the south, ending on a very large step – the Grand Canyon.

Much of the Grand Staircase is covered by a National Monument of the same name.  This means it is largely protected.  Not as much protection as a national park, but off-limits to activities like oil drilling and mining.  Cattle ranching still takes place.

By the way I did a 4-part series on the Grand Staircase last year.  Check out Part I (overview), Part II (geology), Part III (travel tips), and Part IV (highlights, including tips for slot canyon hiking).

The Grand Staircase occupies geographic center of some of the American southwest’s most beautiful and famous scenery.  For example, the topmost step is made up of the Pink Cliffs.  These form the colorful rocks of Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.  Zion National Park is on the west side of the Staircase and Capital Reef National Park is on the east.  Lake Powell toward the SE occupies Glen Canyon.  As the Vermilion Cliffs drop down toward Page, Arizona, the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs National Monument covers a fairyland of strange rock formations and slot canyons.

The picture below captures a scene found along the western end of the Vermilion Cliffs, well away from the more popular parks.  The snow-covered pasture in the foreground is part of the ranch land surrounding Colorado City, Arizona.  The temperature was quickly dropping as the sun went down here. It was clear and cold!

Colorado City is one of America’s last havens for polygamy (multiple wives).  Many hard-core Mormons live here in the so-called Arizona Strip (the land between Grand Canyon and the Utah border).  It’s a quiet community.  They like to be left alone with their lovely view of the Vermilion Cliffs.

The Vermilion Cliffs near Colorado City, Arizona take on a russet color at sunset.

The Vermilion Cliffs near Colorado City, Arizona take on a russet color at sunset.

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