Monday, February 28, 2005

05-12 The North Rim Grand Canyon, Arizona

Northern Arizona
The North Rim, Grand Canyon
Week 12 of 52
June 19-26

Hmmm, traveling north by north west, do I take the “scenic” byway Alt. 89 or the safe 89. Having never been on either and not sure I’ll ever be on these road again, I opted for the scenic. What could have been a harrowing drive turned out to be pleasant with just a bit of excitement going past Echo Cliffs and Vermilion Cliffs. Actually the portion that led up the mountain switchback turns had such a heavy banking of the road, that it was actually fun making those sharp turns.

I crossed over Lees Fairy and had my first view of the Colorado river with it’s deep rich emerald green color down in the deep shear canyon with it‘s twin bridges crossing overhead, Then, past the neat rock house dwellings of Vermilion Cliffs.

I arrived on the Kanab Plateau and Jacob Lake. This is a part of the Kaibab National Forest and is the entrance to the North end of the Grand Canyon. Elevation 8000 ft. to 8800ft. Up to the Visitors Center and as luck would have it, my friend Dave Brackett was there getting information on a hike he was preparing to go on. After greetings, he went off on his hike and I was able to get a campsite right at Jacob Lake. That way Dave and I would be able to do a bit of touring and dinner together before he starts his summer volunteer job with the Kaibab National Forest.

Dr Dave helped me out with tape for my slow healing broken toe and we were off to tour the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. My first view being the grand view through the huge windows of the Lodge. A must if you visit the North Rim. You’ve seen pictures of the Grand Canyon, but for anyone who visits it, the first view is so overwhelming. The sun was still out and I was able to get a number of shots before the clouds rolled in. I might add in a very dramatic fashion as well. Some of my shots of the canyon with the sheets of rain coming down and the sun highlighting various canyon walls off in the distance are some of my favorite shots.

A quick lunch at the Lodge, make your own taco’s for $9.00, was actually pretty good along with the ever changing views of the canyon outside those huge windows in the enormous dining room. Dave and I decided to try to make it to one of the Archeological talks out at Walhalla Overlook. We were a bit late getting started as the lunch took longer than expected, but Dave drove like a bat out of hell and we made it just minutes after the Ranger started his talk. I, still reeling from the roller coaster ride, and imploring Dave to slow down, after all he had a “National Treasure” in the car! Me! But we made it and that’s what counts.

The Ranger was another summer hire, who was very knowledgeable about the subject of Ancient Indian tribes who lived in the area. Recently, just in the past year or two, over a dozen store houses of beans and corn were found on the mesas and plateaus in the Grand Canyon. Many questions lead to why the granaries, full of food, were abandoned. Examples of small animal figures made of straw and twigs preserved in perfect condition, pottery shards and other artifacts continue to add to the knowledge of those who lived here in the past.

All this along with the spectacular views of the Grand Canyon from the higher elevation of the North Rim, the rain that continued off and on to lightly pelt us, the dramatic lighting, which we were warned to stay away from the rim during thunder and lighting, only added to the excitement and feeling of being alive and living life to it’s fullest. Later I learned a girl had been killed by lighting up here just about a week and half ago.

I’ll be here at Jacob Lake for a full week before heading into Utah, just 30 miles away to visit a ton of other National parks.

Most of the historical buildings built for the Forestry department were demolished in the 60’s, with just a few remaining. Isn’t it interesting to see what we demolish, only to realize many times too late, that those structures were worth preserving. Like the CCC who did such great work on our National parks, who were not told to preserve some of the rock dwelling found in the area. So they salvaged some of the stones to make new buildings. Of course every age has done that. Reusing the remains of a past civilization. We are fortunate when those sites are so remote, as many are out west, that they were preserved until we could realize the importance of these sites.

On Saturday I attended the USDA Forest Service’s 100th birthday. It was held just about 100 yards from the campground at the historical North Kaibab Ranger Station directly across from Jacob Lake. A two room house and ranger station. History was reenacted and the current Park Ranger gave a heart felt talk about her love of the Forestry Department and shared a link to the past, that of her grandfather having also been a Forest Ranger. The reenactment of the early forest rangers lives and the mountain men who grazed thousands of cattle and sheep on this high plateau brought history to life and the evolution of this forest came alive. The Forestry personnel are the truest most honest workers who quickly admit past mistakes and are willing to learn better methods to ensure that these forests are used by all. For grazing, mining, tree cutting, recreation and wildlife and hunting.

Later in the day, after Dave finished work, he stopped by and we went for a hike through the forest. With the sun low in the sky, we walked along one of the many dirt and gravel roads that wind there way through the Kaibab forest. About half way into the hike, we came across a herd of grazing cattle. They looked at us, we looked at them. They started to moo in consternation that we humans were in their territory. I was concerned because a couple of the bulls with their horns pointed our way, were looking us directly in the eye ever so menacingly. Dave wasn’t worried. He said he could easily outrun me what with my damaged foot.

After a short while of us staring at them, they staring at us, they decided to moooove on to another pasture through the trees. A couple of the cows continued to look back at us as if to say, yah, we’re keeping an eye on you so don’t do anything funny.

We walked a good 45 minutes toward the setting sun, then, turned around to time it so that the sun would be hitting the horizon just as we returned to our cars. On the way back along that dirt road, we saw our shadows stretching for a good 30 feet in front of us. Two Gumby’s walking silently down the road.

On Sunday, I went back to the North Rim, a 40 mile drive from Jacob Lake and I’m basically at the entrance to the Grand Canyon. The drive to the Canyon is through forest and long stretches of pasture land. Natural open meadows along the Kaibab plateau that add to the expansive grandeur just ahead.

I revisited many of the viewpoints along the ridge then took one of the many hiking trails for a different perspective of the park. I chose a relatively short trail, barely a mile in length, since I was still testing my newly healed toe. It held up fine by the way. The Cliff Springs Trail was a perfect trail to see a wide range of landscape. Entering the trail, it was a gradual decline into a V shaped canyon with tall ponderosa pines climbing the hills. The first surprise on the trail was a well marked Indian grain storage site. I had heard so much about them on this trip and was excited to see one up close. A rock overhang which had stone walls built around it to form the store room. Continuing down the path, I thought I saw petroglyphs along one of the stone outcroppings, but on further investigation it was just natural stains on the rocks. There are areas in the forest and park where some can be seen, but not today. After the trail leveled off, it switched sides of the canyon and I was now hiking along a large cliff overhang. The view began to open up and I could see the Grand Canyon off through one of the side canyons that make up the Grand Canyon. I was now above many of the ponderosa pines looking down into a deep canyon. Walking under this natural cliff overhang was quite exciting, like having your own shaded skybox to view the canyon. A short distance along the cliff I discovered a wild range of plant life both down in the canyon and along the sides of it as well as huge spiky ferns, mosses and desert roses growing under the huge rock overhang, all being fed by a trickle of a spring that dripped from the ceiling of the cliff overhang.
My stay at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is coming to an end. But my memories of the vast expanses of scenery, the forest leading to it and the pleasure of meeting up with a friend along the way will be with me for a long time.

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