Thursday, March 24, 2011

North Rim of the Grand Canyon - April 2011 Part 1

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

We have long time friends who have traveled quite a bit, first with their growing kids and tents, and now with a large cabover camper on a two wheel drive pickup. They were the first to tell us about Toroweap on Grand Canyon’s north rim. They said, “Go, we think you would really like it.”

And then this busy winter MarkBC made a post on Wander the West about Toroweap and his planning to visit there. Upon seeing the post the Lady said, “We could make it there for my spring break trip, couldn’t we?” Excitement was building. “And wouldn’t we be close to Hoover Dam so we could walk over that new big bridge that we saw being built? Isn’t it done now?” She was smiling. We brought out a map and roughed out driving distances, checked on agency websites for information, and the trip planning was in full swing.

In typical fashion, we launched from here well before dawn on Saturday, April 16. We enjoy getting breakfast out the first day of a trip and the Hays Street Café in Bridgeport is a favorite. We were there shortly after they opened at seven.

It’s rare that we drive in a metropolitan area. “I don’t want to drive through Las Vegas; can I drive from Beatty until we get close?” “Sure, that’d be fine”, I said, but I wasn’t looking forward to it either. It’s funny that we’re completely at home on rough back roads but freeways, traffic, noise, that’s foreign and scary territory. The bright lights of Vegas here we come!

Smooth sailing through Vegas, the poor suckers in the north bound lanes weren’t so lucky.

After getting our camper searched at the security check point on the Hoover Dam access road and being asked, “Do you have any guns, ammunition, or cans of gasoline?,” we found the parking area for the bridge walkway.

The exhibits and walkway are really very well done. You just have to love late afternoon light in the desert.

All the different views of Hoover Dam from this vantage point made for some fun photography.

The bridge walkway was crowded; this must be a popular short trip from Vegas. The weather was warm. This was a good start to the trip.

Well, you guessed it; we didn’t want to head back into Vegas. At the first opportunity in Boulder City we turned into the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and headed north along the huge reservoir. The further we drove, the less traffic, and soon we found ourselves about the only vehicle on North Shore Road, newly paved and with concrete curbs. This is a pretty drive. You don’t often see Mead, but the ever changing landscape holds your eye. We would occasionally spot a signed dirt road leading away from the pavement and finally one called to us. It led up a broad wash with deep gravel and we found an out of the way spot for the night.

We did not see another person during our stay here. This was going to be a great trip. After washing up and supper, we rambled the hills and watched the sunset and the world grow dark.

It’s our habit to awake at 5 am, brew a cup of coffee and go for a walk and just watch and feel life change from night to day. This morning was pretty near perfect. We were rested. We were happy. We were on vacation.  And, after the spring that will never come at home, we had slept in the camper with all the windows open, only the screen door closed, and laying on top of the sleeping bags…….ahhhhh.

Sunday we continued out the North Shore Road until we were finally on Interstate 15 and headed to Saint George and the turn off to Hurricane, Utah, the home of Chums, the eyeglasses holder. Chums used to have a lifetime guarantee, send back an old beat up pair with a story about how you wore them out and you’d get a new pair. No choice on color, but so what! The Lady was taking them at their word. Her school kids would tell stories and laugh about the funny colors of her chums. It was fun while it lasted. Alas, those days are gone.

There is a Chevron Station at Pipe Springs. This is a good place to gas up before the 65 mile drive out to Tuweep. They also have a convenient water faucet for topping off all your tanks, your last chance. The Park seems to use “Tuweep” saying that “Toroweap” is the valley and the point that sits above.

This being spring break for many we were concerned that the Tuweep Campground would be full. There are only nine sites, first come basis. There is one site large groups can reserve. Thinking the campground would be full, our plan was to camp out on BLM land and plan on being at the campground around 9:30 am Monday, probably a good turnover time. We had made good time with this day’s travels, it was mid afternoon, and we decided to go all the way in and check it out, we had plenty of daylight for a plan B. This was a very good decision.

We found only three sites occupied, and one other couple came in and took a site about dinner time. The campground was half full this Sunday night. This was a good trip.

This is site seven at Tuweep Campground. Sites are small with a table and fire ring. There is no charge for camping or entering the National Park in this area.

We stayed in site eight just around the corner.

After getting settled, we took at walk out to the point and made a new acquaintance along the way. This is a Grand Canyon Rattlesnake, a unique species with beautiful markings. We really liked the two stripes across the face.

Besides the half or three quarter mile walk out to the main Tuweep Point, there are a couple of marked trails starting from the campground. One leads out to Saddleback Point and loops out to the road near Tuweep Point. We enjoyed a nice supper sitting in our chairs out on the redrock. The campground was quiet. It seemed everyone was content and just in awe of this wonderful place. We put the camera on the tripod and headed out to Saddleback Point to see what the sunset light would offer.

Last light on the south rim.

The incredible glow in the canyon after sunset.

The top of the plateau in this area is littered with potholes, at this time of the year many are still filled with water.

This was a spectacular end to only the second night of our trip. We sat out on the point until well after dark. We did not want to leave. Finally we walked back with no need for our headlamps; we climbed on top of our sleeping bags in the camper, and called it a good day, a very good day, indeed.

Day three –

Right after waking, the Lady wiggled a bit and got the flame going under the coffee water. “You get out with the camera. I’ll be right behind you with the coffee.” Soon we were both out in the desert air of dawn. The eastern sky slowly brightened.

And then the sunrise. This was taken about ten yards from our camp. Position your bed right and you can probably catch a sunrise as you awake.

Our plan for today was to hike. From our adventures in the Canyon from the South Rim we had enjoyed the Tonto Trail along the inner canyon plateau. Here at Tuweep were we on the corresponding plateau on the north side of the river and far west from the South Rim. The Tuckup Trail runs to the east from Tuweep along this plateau. This is where we would explore all day.

Toroweap Point above the Tuckup Trail.

There was a diverse array of wildflowers.

I always get a feeling of timelessness at the Grand Canyon. I feel like I am on ancient ground. Hiking, I was lost in these thoughts when the Lady, ahead, said, “What is this little guy?” Like a kid she already had the baby dinosaur in hand.

On this cool morning it looked like this little horned lizard enjoyed the warmth of the Lady’s hand.

If you stay at Tuweep, we highly recommend you hike at least 3 miles or so out the Tuckup Trail. Here the Trail finally winds close to the main canyon edge, high and directly above the Colorado. Walk out to the first point and you will find an oven built from native sandstone and about six feet in height. I wanted to believe it to be of ancient origin, but the Lady, standing on top and looking down inside said, “Yeah, but how ‘bout the metal grill inside?” Continue to the edge, off trail, and along the red sandstone and the views into the canyon get better and better.

The Lady was ahead, in heaven, excited to see what the next view would be, and then sat down to just take it all in.

I wandered up taking more photos and said, “So you just sat down right on the edge with your feet dangling 3000 feet above the river?” She looked completely at home.
“Yes, but it is a little bit spooky!”

If you work this edge out to the east you should end up on the point overlooking the Colorado and Big Cove.

All this area, as is the Tuweep area, is covered on the USGS Vulcan’s Throne quad. Recommended if you hike in this area.

Make it this far out the trail if you can. We were completely alone out here this day, this huge expanse all to ourselves with new vistas around every corner. We continued out a few miles further to just about the top of Big Cove. We explored redrock ledges and snacked and napped under overhangs. We watched the light move across the canyon as morning changed to afternoon. All too soon it was time to wander back toward the campground.

This was the only downside to our trip. Upon returning to the campground we found the entire character had changed. The campground was full, continuously barking dogs, too many people crowded into sites, and not a moment’s quiet. How would the Ski3piners cope? Would a happy ending evolve?

We got back to our campsite late afternoon. Tiny site 9 and the reservation only site 10 were both empty. Our clue that things were different was the constant barking of dogs. The composting toilet sits around the corner across from site 7. Needing a visit, I stepped around the corner to find all the other sites filled and a line of vehicles coming in the rough narrow road. As soon as I came into view, another dog announced my presence. “The world has changed here,” I told the Lady on my return. “I can already tell by the noise,” she replied. This has to be an age old question and don’t get me wrong, I’m really a tolerant person. I even like dogs, well at least the well behaved ones. Why to people bring their constantly barking dogs with them, dogs they have no ability to control? There were folks in site 1 with a dog, at least on a leash, that constantly barked and they constantly yelled at it to stop. I could figure out the dog wasn’t listening and had no concept of obeying a command; continuously yelling at it was no route to a solution. They could not? Another couple had a huge dog with them, off leash, at site 5. People on that side of campground passed site 5 on the way to the restroom. They had to. Every time someone passed by the huge beast would confront the person by approaching with a menacing bark, the owners darting around trying to grab the dog. This would, of course electrify the dog human chorus across the way. We became pretty adept at hearing the clues. “Some poor person has to use the crapper,” one of us would say as a chorus of barking dogs and human yells echoed across the broad expanse of the Grand Canyon.

And then they showed up.

Three vehicles came by. The first two were new, almost matching except for color, Toyota FJ things with every add on gadget/accessory available to properly outfit them to tame the savage wilderness. I should have taken a picture, but I just couldn’t do it. One was pulling a pop up camp trailer. They were followed by a Subaru Outback. There is barely space at site 9 for the allowed two vehicles. The women folk piled out and headed for the toilet at a fast clip. Several dogs feverously announced their need and the big dog’s owners got some exercise. A newly arrived mid size dog started through our camp, a flanking maneuver to keep up with one of the husbands, moving fast also showing signs of the delay of a necessary bathroom break. I stood up and stopped the man.
“Sir, could you please do something for me? I’d really appreciate it.”
“Would you please put your dog on a leash?”
“Yeah, I think we probably have one somewhere in the car. Why should I put my dog on a leash?”
“Well, it is the rule. You are in a National Park. Dogs are to be kept on a leash at all times. I’d really appreciate it if you could do this for me. And if you need, all the tables have the rules on them just like our table here.” I pointed out the sign.
“Okay, I’ll put the dog on a leash.”
He really was a nice guy and this was not a confrontational encounter. But as the evening progressed, both dogs were soon wandering about, unattended.

They set up camp and openly discussed how to get around the 6 people, 2 vehicle limit. Someone was aware of the rules. They discussed moving into the reserved site that was empty, until a moment later and three vehicles showed up, the people with reservations for site 10. With jockeying of vehicles and hiding a couple of tents in brush away from the campground they were satisfied with their planning and settled in to……………… incessantly. They never stopped. I got away for a little while to find where they had parked the Subaru. I was just curious. They were good. I did not find it.

Basically, these were good people. They treated their kids well, invited them into conversations. They just did not have a clue.

We had to get away. We fixed supper, grabbed our chairs and went a couple of hundred yards out on the sandstone, away, and ate. We came back and grabbed the camera, tripod, and walked out to the Point, wondering if we’d get another spectacular sunset. We weren’t disappointed.

Evening light to the west, down canyon.

And the Lady enjoying a classic Tuweep sunset.

Any cares that the busy campground may have brought, quickly faded with the brightening evening colors.

We stayed out again until it was dark, the world on the Point was quiet, still with the approaching night.

As we walked back the Lady said she would really like to be away from the noise, the people.
“How ‘bout we pack up early, drive to the trailhead, climb down the Lava Falls Route tomorrow, and then head out to that remote trailhead and find a dispersed camping spot? We could be alone, just us?” she asked.
“Sounds like a good plan.” I answered.

Happy with our decision we walked backed to camp, saying quiet prayers hoping that alcohol wasn’t kicking in at site 9.

Tuesday morning, we wiggled and stretched, the stove was ignited with the promise of coffee, and we climbed out of the sack, quiet to respect the still sleeping neighbors and dogs. Breakfast, pack up, clean up, morning light, and taking a few moments just to stand out on the sandstone together in the first rays of the sun, and it was time to go.

This is really a special place. Put it on your list.

The story continues in Part 2 - Click Here


  1. Awesome. What a great place. Wonderful photos, I especially liked the canyon and blooming cactus.

    Perhaps due to issues such as you encountered, folks reading this blog in the future all need to know that the GCNP website now states:

    Effective September 1, 2014, a backcountry reservation permit will be required for all camping at Tuweep Campground. Reservations can be made on the first of the month up to four months prior to a trip and will be accepted through the park's backcountry reservation system.

    Visitors may also be able to obtain a walk-up permit, up to six days in advance and based on availability, by visiting Pipe Spring National Monument near Fredonia, Arizona or the St. George Public Lands Visitor Center in St. George, Utah.

  2. Bill, thanks so much for posting this updated information. Although some may balk at what could be seen as another hindering regulation, this will help with the increased use at this small campground. It will also assure you have a campsite after making the long drive. It should also help visitors' awareness of the rules.

  3. A perfect destination with breathtaking scenery. I liked the photo with the sunset. Just beautiful. The pictures are great. Keep up the good work! And thank you Bill for the updated information!