Friday, March 25, 2011

North Rim of the Grand Canyon - April 2011 Part 2

 please remember you can click on a photo to see a larger version

The trailhead at Vulcan’s Throne is a several mile drive and takes a bit of time. We were out there around 7:30 am. The Park Service does its best to discourage use of the lava falls route. The trailhead is not signed and it is not listed in Park information. We traveled about a third of a mile down, well away from the trailhead and came upon this sign.

Heed this sign. Take it very seriously. This is not a trail. This is a route. Many of the cairns you will find may not be on route. This is a treacherous and dangerous climb. It is a scramble the entire 2600 feet down on loose awful rock. There are places where rock climbing moves are necessary. If you are not completely confident in your ability to tackle this undertaking, do not attempt this route. Understand the risks and have experience in the desert environment? It is still a lot of work.

As you drop into the Canyon you pass through different life zones. About two thirds of the way down, you reach the ocotillos. They were just starting their bloom. This was incredible in the morning light.

“This is intense! You cannot relax for even a second. Every step needs to be carefully placed. This is intense!” The lady was leading the way. Just when you thought the grade just may lessen, it got steeper.

The last section was on awful gravel along a basalt cliff. As least there were lots of handholds. The Lady hit the bottom first and moved behind a screen of vegetation. I was making my last few moves when I heard the Lady say, “He’s buzzing at me. He’s giving me a warning. Oh, he’s beautiful! He is beautiful! He’s pink! I hope you can get a picture of this rattler!”

It was another Grand Canyon Rattlesnake. They come in different color phases and this coloration looks about perfect for red sandstone. Nature’s adaptations are just incredible. We watched our new friend as he moved under shelter and then we worked our way through the boulders and found a sandy beach at river’s edge.

We snacked, cooled our feet in the river, relaxed. The Colorado is cold. The route hits just upstream from the famed Lava Falls Rapids. Several boats had floated by as we clung to the cliffs, making our way down. The non-commercial boats had eddied out to scout the rapids. “Let’s head down to the rapids and see if we can watch the boaters run it,” I suggested. “Fun!” she replied.

Three boats were tied off on the beach on river right. The three gentlemen were returning from scouting. I think we shocked the hell out of them. They never asked, but their faces said, “Where in the world did you two come from?”
“How does it look? You going to run it now?” The Lady was grinning from ear to ear.
“Yup, we’re getting in the boats right now!” One of the gentlemen replied.
“Oh boy, we’re going to climb down and watch you go through!” She was heading down the trail before they could reply.

This was a working out to be a great trip.

From a distance it looks like a typical rapid. Stand beside it at river’s edge, this thing is big. It is powerful.

The grey cataraft moved into position first. He paused, holding back with the oars. And then he entered.

He took a conservative line on river left. He stair stepped down the drops catching every eddy and perfectly setting up for the next drop. He had complete control of his boat. It was a masterful run.

The red cataraft was next. He set up for the same line. Entering the first drop he lost control on an oar. It went vertical in the water, blade down, immediately ruddering the boat around 180 degrees. He ran Lava Falls Rapids backward as he continued to struggle with the oar. He was tossed out safely at the bottom, a lucky boater.

When the gentleman in the oar boat pulled back on the oars at the top to set up his line, we could see this was going to be different. He had come to Lava Falls to raft.

His was a line on river right, just off from the main tongue down the center. It was well done, our friend, very well done!

Could this have been any better of a day? Temps in the low 80’s, cold water to dangle the feet, sandy beach to lie back on, excitement of watching boaters match their skill against the Colorado, this was a great day!

We just had to get our butts back out of this canyon.

There was one spot on the descent where the route intersected a steep ridge. There were cairns below which led in to a steep gully that soon cliffed out. Not the way to go. There was a notch in the ridge to the right and a vertical drop of about 12 feet with an overhang. This led to a wider gully, could this be the way? Yes it was. On the way back up I took a few photos of the Lady handling this obstacle.

I hoisted the packs up after her and then it was my turn. Actually the rock here was pretty solid with strong hand and foot holds. Going up was much easier, we knew the route, set a comfortable pace, stopped for some water every half hour, and we were up.

We reached the truck, changed out of our boots and hiking clothes, and headed out.

The BLM’s Arizona Strip map is a must to have if you are traveling out in this huge area. But, still you will find roads that are not signed or that no longer exist. Venturing off of the main road, you need to be up on your navigation skills.

By late afternoon we were set up for the night, all by ourselves, right on the Park boundary, in a nice dispersed camping spot among the junipers and pinyon pines.

This was also at 6000 feet at the top of the plateau. Those 1700 feet above Tuweep’s elevation made a difference. This was a cold night, but the coyotes sang us to sleep.

What would be in store for the ski3piners for Wednesday?  Would they take a day off for rest?

"There's a large animal in the road ahead," the Lady said.
"Is it a cat?" I asked quick as I looked up from driving - negotiating the ruts, rocks, and tree limbs. We figured the 5 or 6 mile drive in to this remote trail head on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon would take us a bit over an hour. This was proving about right as we traveled along the plateau riddled with pinyons, junipers, and sage in the early morning light. We were searching for our own private piece of Grand Canyon National Park.
"No, it's a bear. It moves like a bear. It's a bear". The Lady knows animals.
I saw the rump about 20 yards ahead. He glanced over his shoulder and looked at us and stepped off the road into the sage and completely disappeared. It was a bear. Bears are incredible creatures.

I won’t give you specific details on where we went. Wouldn’t want to spoil your fun and with a map this should be easy to figure out. Figuring stuff out, that’s part of the trip, right?

We had greatly enjoyed the Tuckup Trail along the plateau. Grab your Vulcans Throne and Fern Glen Canyon quads and take a look at the trail as it continues along the inner plateau to the east. We didn’t see anyone on the trail out from Tuweep, head out further and the odds for solitude would be even better. It winds around long side canyons, there are springs to find, and it even takes you in the vicinity of the dome.  We were heading to a trailhead for a trail that dropped from the high plateau down to the inner plateau and intersected with the Tuckup Trail. Yup, we were heading back down.

After dropping down a couple of short steep sections the trail took a gentler grade and dropped into a wide open canyon with cliffs above. It was big country.

And like other spots in the Grand Canyon, everything was so fascinating.

In such a broad piece of the inner canyon, we figured this area had to have signs of recent human use. We soon found evidence.

Wildflowers were all around. As we got back down in the red sandstone belt, we came upon these beauties.

After about 3 or 4 miles we reached the red sandstone with overhangs and ledges and found this area mesmerizing. We explored around and then just found a nice place to sit.

We snacked and napped and the Lady put in some time with her book. But mostly we just sat and watched the world and listened to the sounds, the wind, the birds. We watched the shadows move across the rocks.

On our way back out there was a spot I wanted to check out that we had seen in the distance. It just looked like a great place for someone to live. My hunch was right. There was evidence of the remains of an old wall and the kitchen was still intact in the middle, left untouched for who knows how many years.

I am giving no information about the location or further photos. These are extremely special archeological treasures. When we come upon arc sites, it is my habit to treat these sites the same as if I had come upon a crime scene. Stop, don’t touch anything, record the location, take notes, take pictures – remember you stopped, you are not moving, so only from your initial vantage point – and back out exactly the way you came in. I will send a note to the Park archeology department along with copies of all the photos I took here. It is likely this is a known site but perhaps the photos can help with a date reference and help document any change. Bottom line, these sites are so special and to find one completely untouched is a special occurrence. It was left exactly the way we found it.

This had been another exceptional day in Grand Canyon. We were having incredible adventures with wonderful surprises around every corner.

The angle of the afternoon sun told us it was time to head back up.

Back at the truck we decided we’d have dinner on the rim and watch the sunset. We were completely alone.

And for our last morning at Grand Canyon, Thursday, it just was so fitting to have breakfast at sunrise on the edge.

As we were packing up, preparing to end our visit to Grand Canyon, the Lady’s eyes sparkled as she said, “This was such a great time and it was wonderful to learn there is so much more to the Grand Canyon than just the ‘big ditch’!”

We had a few days of travel ahead to get back home. Thursday was to be a day of exploring western history.

After so many days, when we hit the pavement back on Highway 389, it felt so strange and smooth. We headed back through Hurricane and then on through Saint George. We headed up Highway 18 toward Enterprise, Utah. Our first stop was Mountain Meadows Massacre site. Lots of new memorials have gone up here since the late 1990’s.

For us the most thought provoking and humbling were the small personal memorials placed by relatives of the two slain leaders of the doomed emigrant party.

From here we headed to find a very special spot along the historic “Old Spanish Trail” that ran from Santa Fe to Los Angeles. The spot we were looking for lies between Enterprise and Newcastle, Utah.

This was where the lost 49ers including Manly & Rogers, the Bennett & Arcan Party, and the Jayhawkers, left the wagon train led by Jefferson Hunt, a Mormon who had been hired by the group to lead them from Salt Lake to Southern California. This was the start of the infamous shortcut that ultimately led them into Death Valley.

From here we went west into Nevada and to find a spot to spend the night. We thought we’d check out Cathedral Gorge, a Nevada State Park.

We were unsure about campground living after our last experience. We pulled into the visitor center and the very helpfully woman said, “Go in, check it out, I think only a few sites are taken. If you want to stay, just pick a site and you pay there.” We thanked her and the Lady read the brochure as we drove in. “It says here there are showers at the campground.” “Really,” I replied. “We’ll have to check that out.”

The campground was quiet, the restroom was heated and the showers were free; hot showers and hot water in the sinks. Seven bucks to enter the park and seventeen to camp. The empty sites were all freshly raked. The gravel had been raked smooth. This place is well cared for.

We enjoyed our showers, had supper, grabbed the camera and did the four mile loop trail up the canyon in the evening light.

Cathedral Gorge is just east of what people like to call Area 51. One of the state highways that runs up to Highway 6 is called the extraterrestrial highway. People see strange lights in the sky around these parts. Watch the skies when you stay here. Trust me.

The next morning, after wiggling out of the sleeping bags, we headed for the restrooms. It was cold, in the thirties. The Lady said she’d meet me back at the camper. When I got back, she was busy at the stove.
“I’m making them hot chocolate.”
“Making who hot chocolate?” I asked.
“The site with the minivan and tent across the way. They came in after dark. As I was coming back the man asked if I could give him a sauce pan to heat water. He wanted to make hot chocolate for his kids. He was to meet a friend who didn’t show. The friend was to bring the cooking pots. He has a son about 8 and triplets that look to be about 3. He has his hands full. I told him I’d be happy to make chocolate for him."
She picked up a box of Quik and showed it to me.
“He gave me this, looks like he just grabbed stuff at the grocery store. He must not know this mixes with milk. I’m making them all hot chocolate from our stuff.”
The four cups were soon steaming and the Lady said, “You’re going to help me carry all this over to them.”

We are going to remember this place as a good overnight stop.

Our destination for today was the middle of Nevada. We needed a hot spring soak.

When the air temperature is 40, this sure feels good.

From here we headed to the sink in the Monitor Valley basin. We enjoy the Basin and Range. Finding the sink filling with water from winter run off along with waterfowl and with the striking mountain ranges on both sides, we figured if the clouds cleared some overnight this would be a spectacular place to watch the sunrise.

We had dinner and the wind increased. “Do you think it is blowing a storm in or a storm out?” I asked.
“We’ll probably find out,” she answered.

With snow coming down in the morning, the question was answered.

Our drive home was uneventful through snow and rain.

We traveled 1743 miles. We averaged 17.04 mpg. We paid $400 for gas. With breakfast in Bridgeport, a couple of blocks of ice and fresh vegetables from the market in Hurricane, and the Cathedral Gorge fee, this vacation cost around $500.

It was one of our best trips. We are rested. We are happy. Travel safe and we hope you've enjoyed our story.


  1. Terrific. You are indeed adventurers and stewards of the land. Great trip.

  2. Another great trip report. Makes we want to get the camper out for a trip.