Archive for the ‘Grand Canyon National Park’ 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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Grand Canyon’s North Rim   4 comments

Grand Canyon’s majesty is on display as viewed from the north rim at Bright Angel Point.

Here you’ll find the other, less-crowded side of the Grand Canyon.  Many years ago I visited the South Rim, and experienced the highway that some of the trails over there can be.  It is a spectacular place no matter which side you visit, so don’t let anyone convince you it is not worth visiting the South Rim.  What I would do, if I went over there, is hike one of the quieter trails too, like the trail down to Hance Rapids, or Grandview Mesa.  While hitch-hiking across the west in 1987, I did a two-night hiking trip down the Hance Trail to the Colorado River, camping next to Hance Rapids.  Then I ascended to Grandview Mesa to spend my second night.  It was a short steep climb out on the third day.  This is a rugged but not ridiculously strenuous backpack trip – truly spectacular.  But it was long ago, so perhaps it was easier than it might be if I did it today.

 

On Grand Canyon’s north rim is a spectacular overlook called Angel’s Window.

The North Rim is definitely less crowded than the South, but it’s not empty either.  There is another separate area on this side of the canyon that is certainly worthwhile as well.  It’s called Toroweap.  A couple years ago I was in the area and wanted to detour to the Canyon.  But being early Spring the road to North Rim was still snowed in.  Somebody told me about Toroweap, that it was lower in elevation and free of snow.  Toroweap is less visited than any road-accessible area in the this park because it is relatively unknown and also reaching it requires a long drive on gravel.

The North Rim proper lies between 7000 and 8000 feet in elevation, and is always cooler.  If you travel between the South and North it is a 2 ½-hour drive.  I much prefer the idea of accessing it from either Page, Arizona or Kanab, Utah.  I was headed from Page to Kanab (the gateway to Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument and Zion National Park).  It was a simple detour to visit the North Rim from here, and a very scenic one at that.

Dead trees tower over the north rim of Grand Canyon near Bright Angel Point.

There are quite a few short trails on the North Rim, and a few longer ones that descend into the canyon.  Unlike the South Rim, where the trails all descend into the canyon, and are thus strenuous, the North Rim is kind to casual hikers.  For example the trail out to Cape Final is only about 2 flat miles one way, and the view is outstanding.  Other trails visit viewpoints to the west, and are again nearly flat.  There is an outstanding backpack trip on the North Rim as well.  It descends into the canyon to run along the spectacular Thunder River.

The Grand Canyon’s temple-like formations are on display in the view from Bright Angel Point on the north rim.

 

But I was not able to hike much while here.  I did something to my foot in Page and was trying to let the plantar fasciitis symptoms that resulted calm down.  The Park Service was doing some prescribed burning during my visit, unfortunately, so the canyon was quite smoky in places.  Since the wind was mostly from the east, I headed out on the road to Cape Royal (which lies in that direction) and stayed out there for most of two days.  The skies were very clear on the night I spent out there, so I took the opportunity to do some stargazing and starscape photography.

Point Imperial is a viewpoint on the far east end of the road that provides a nice view up-canyon to the east.  Cape Royal has a nice view of the eastern part of the canyon as well, but you’ll also have a great view down-canyon to the west from there.  Between these two viewpoints along the road in several places, there are nice views to the east.  And so a setting sun will give you great light until it sinks too low and the light climbs out of the canyon.  The smoke lying to the west over the main road to the lodge actually made the light on the canyon ruddy and orange, and even softened it somewhat.

The attractive Grand Canyon Lodge sits spectacularly on the north rim at Bright Angel Point.

 

I also visited the main tourist area, where the visitor center, campground and the Grand Canyon Lodge are located.  Another nice viewpoint, the Bright Angel, is accessible from here.  I had a great time photographing along the short trail out to the point.  The ½ mile trail traverses a rock spine where you can scramble out to get interesting shots (if you’re not too afraid of heights!).  You will definitely feel as if you are traversing a catwalk – on a stupendous scale!

Cape Royal on the Grand Canyon’s north rim sees a colorful sunset under smoky skies.

 

There are unpaved roads that access areas to the west of the main road, but because of the smoke I did not explore this area.  You can also descend the North Kaibab Trail (from near the lodge) for a day hike.  Descending all the way to the river involves an overnight.  It’s easy to spend 3 or 4 days here just checking out the various viewpoints and shorter trails.  I spent about 2 ½ days, and hit most of what you can access from paved roads without feeling rushed.

 

Sunset at Bright Angel Point on the north rim of Grand Canyon.

There is a beautiful forest covering the plateau here, so make sure to spend a little time strolling through the pines.  The canyon rim, with it’s drop-dead views, is of course the main show.  But it is certainly not the North Rim’s only charm.  For example, wildlife encounters (including cougars!) are a possibility.  The South Rim is just too busy for this.  I hope to return someday to hike Thunder River.  Until then, it’s onward and upward.  I’m heading up the Grand Staircase and into the Canyons of the Escalante – the subject of my next post.

 

 

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