Arizona Trailblazers gather at the Cameron Trading Post. [picture by Cyd]
After several hours of driving, hunger dictates our first stop of the
day at the historic Cameron Trading Post, celebrating its centennial
year as one of the oldest surviving trading posts in Arizona.
The small community of Cameron sits on the south side of the picturesque
Little Colorado River Gorge on the Navajo Reservation and marks the
location of the first bridge to span the river back in 1911.
The trading post was built in the same year on the west side of the
bridge and the community of Cameron, founded in 1916, gradually built
up around the post.
Clockwise from left: Barbara, Dave, Lisa, Chuck, Wayne, Vanessa
(standing), Cyd, Wendy K., Wendy R., Ajay, and Frances, with Yanis
behind the camera.
Hungry Trailblazers waiting for lunch. [picture by Yanis]
After looking over the large menu a number of us decide to try the
signature Navajo Tacos, the most popular item on the menu.
We soon discover that just one of these mammoth tacos is enough to
feed a hungry family of four. Even those of us sharing a single
“Mini Taco” are challenged to finish half of that.
After lunch we leave the trading post, both fuller and wiser to the
reality of Navajo Tacos (actually made with thick and tasty Indian
fry bread). Perhaps a more appropriate name for these gargantuan
meals would be Paul Bunyan Tacos.
Next stop — Marble Canyon and the Colorado River.
With the spectacular Vermilion Cliffs dominating the background, two
massive steel arch bridges span the Colorado River at Marble Canyon,
representing the only crossing over the river for almost 600 miles.
The bridge on the right is the original one completed in 1929 and now
used only as a pedestrian bridge, while the bridge on the left is its
replacement, completed in 1995.
We take a break here to stretch our legs, visit the Navajo Bridge
Interpretive Center, and then walk out to the middle of the bridge
where we look directly down into the dark green swirling waters of
the Colorado River, flowing 467 feet beneath us on its journey to
the east end of the Grand Canyon and beyond.
Old and new Navajo Bridges spanning the Colorado River. [Chuck]
Trailblazers survey the amazing scenery from
the old Navajo Bridge. [picture by Wendy R.]
With a face that only a mother could love, California condor C1 takes
time out for a little R&R in the shade of the old Navajo Bridge while
perched precariously on a narrow steel beam hundreds of feet above the
Colorado River. Every condor in the wild is marked with a large numbered
ID tag on the left or right upper wing for easy long-range identification,
in addition to being outfitted with two tiny radio transmitters to aid
in tracking. On December 12, 1996, six condors were released high atop
the Vermilion Cliffs, marking the species first return to the state since
the early 1900s. Today almost 70 condors fly wild and free over their
historic range in Arizona, thanks to the hard work and ongoing dedication
and commitment of hundreds of people, many volunteers, who acknowledge
that the price of extinction for any species is far too high to accept.
California Condor at rest on a steel I-beam. [Wendy R.]
Marble Canyon and the Colorado River
from Navajo Bridge. [Chuck]
Completed in 1965, Glen Canyon Dam sits 20 miles upriver from Navajo Bridge
and now regulates the flow of water through the Grand Canyon, pulling it
from the icy depths of Lake Powell through 8 large-diameter penstocks
supplying water to power turbines and generators at the base of the
710-foot high dam.
A once free-flowing and often muddy and raging river is now artificially
tamed and held in check by a massive man-made plug.
But despite man’s best efforts to tame the beast, in reality the
mighty river will have the final word as it simply buys time until it can
finally burst free from its concrete and steel shackles and once again flow
wild and free through the great chasm that it carved out over eons of time.
The Vermilion Cliffs dominate the skyline for miles along Highway 89A.
[Picture by Chuck]
On the scenic drive along Highway 89A the Vermilion Cliffs are the
predominant landscape feature for almost 40 miles between Lees Ferry and
Jacob Lake. In geological terms these massive 2,000 to 3,000-foot cliffs
represent the southern and eastern escarpment of the Paria Plateau. These
two formations, in turn, are part of the immense sequence of five
sedimentary rock layers known as the Grand Staircase, running from the
bottom of the Grand Canyon all the way north to Bryce Canyon National Park.
The Vermilion (meaning reddish in color) Cliffs are comprised of seven
distinct geologic layers from Navajo sandstone to Kaibab limestone.
Major John Wesley Powell named these magnificent cliffs, in addition to
Echo Cliffs, Glen Canyon, Marble Canyon, and many other geographic
features along the Colorado River during his epic journey through the
Grand Canyon in 1869, marking the first navigation of the wild and
fearsome Colorado River through the full length of the Grand Canyon
(Exploration of the Colorado River of the West and Its Tributaries).
Something doesn't look right here, Wendy.
Brewmaster Dave is my hero! [picture by Ajay]
Are you sure we have all the tent poles we need, Dave? [pictures by Wayne]
It’s almost 5:00 PM in the afternoon when we finally pull into the
North Rim Campground and check in at the front office. With the necessary
paperwork out of the way, we then make the short drive over to Group Site
A, which will be our home on the rim for the next three nights.
After the ordeal of finally unloading our seven vehicles at the campsite,
we select our individual tent sites and immediately begin assembling our
temporary (thank goodness!) fabric and aluminum abodes. These pictures
capture Wendy and Lisa in the process of putting one tent together, while
Dave and Barbara are busy assembling their much larger structure.
Trailblazers’ version of Tent City on the North Rim. [Picture by Ajay]
Kim and Michael relax by the campfire. [Cyd]
Wayne catches a quick cat nap before dinner. [Quy]
Frances, John, Martha, and Wayne
gather around the campfire. [Cyd]
Wendy is field-testing different camp
chairs to find the perfect fit. [Quy]
Altogether, we have 18 campers putting up 14 tents. This group site is
large enough to easily accommodate another 5 or 6 tents, but we’ll
settle for just 14 right now. With that little chore out of the way,
it’s time to kick back and relax a bit with a cold one (or two)
before thinking about dinner for the night. Dave comes to the rescue
just in the nick of time for this thirsty crowd with an ice-cold
six-pack of Grand Canyon Amber Ale, brewed in nearby Williams, Arizona.
How appropriate is that? Does it get any better than this, people?
I think not.
Saturday morning dawns cool (about 45 degrees) and crystal clear at the
North Rim Campground, and it’s going to be a perfect day for hiking.
Fueled with a hearty campground breakfast that will energize us for the
day’s hike, we pack up our hiking gear for the short drive north to
the North Kaibab Trailhead parking area. But before we can even leave
the campground, the question begs to be answered. Just how many
Trailblazers can we stuff into Michael’s F-150 pickup?
Could we possibly set a brand new record with at least 17 people?
In the end we settle for 10 hikers altogether, with the remaining
group going in another couple of vehicles. I’m just
keeping my fingers crossed that we don’t get rear-ended on
the way. That would really smart, especially for Wayne and me who
would essentially serve as back-up bumpers for the truck’s
All Aboard! Next stop: Uncle Jim Trail. [Picture by Wayne]
17 fully charged Arizona Trailblazers hit the trail running. [Wayne]
The North Kaibab Trailhead and the Ken Patrick Trailhead both share
a common parking area. Today we’ll hike the Ken Patrick Trail
for almost a mile before finally linking up with the Uncle Jim Loop
Trail. The Ken Patrick Trail continues for another 9 miles all the way
out to Point Imperial, but we’ll have to consider that one for
another day and another trip. The Uncle Jim Trail was named in honor
of James T. “Uncle Jim” Owens who served for 12 years,
beginning in 1906, as head game warden on the Kaibab Plateau’s
Grand Canyon Game Reserve. During that period game management practices
dictated the complete elimination of predatory species such as wolves
and mountain lions, primarily to increase the herd sizes of both deer
and elk for hunters.
The head of Roaring Springs Canyon from the Uncle Jim Trail.
[Picture by Chuck]
The Ken Patrick Trail winds its way up and down through a thick forest
of ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, blue spruce, and aspen for a quarter-mile
or more before we finally catch our first views of Roaring Springs Canyon,
a major tributary canyon of the much larger Bright Angel Canyon that
descends all the way to the Colorado River. After we reach the Uncle
Jim Loop junction and begin heading south, the views of both canyons
become ever more expansive and spectacular. This view of the head of
Roaring Springs Canyon clearly shows the steeply descending multiple
switchbacks of the North Kaibab Trail, which drops almost 6,000 vertical
feet in 14.2 miles from the trailhead to the Colorado River, firmly
establishing its reputation as one of the premier hiking trails in
all of Arizona.
Uncle Jim claimed to have personally killed over 500 mountain lions
during his tenure and was widely applauded for his actions.
But without predators to hold their numbers in check, the deer
population exploded to unprecedented numbers during those years.
The plan ultimately backfired since the deer eventually outstripped
their food resources, and the limited range of the Kaibab Plateau could
no longer sustain such large numbers, estimated at more than 100,000
at its peak. The result was malnourished and underweight deer whose
population crashed during an exceptionally harsh winter in the mid-1920s
when tens of thousands simply starved to death. The mountain lion
population has gradually recovered over the years, and the result is
a smaller and much healthier deer population, giving credence once
again to the old adage that you can’t fool around with Mother Nature.
Rest break in the tall pines on the Uncle Jim Trail.
[picture by John]
Step aside for the mule riders! [picture by John]
North Kaibab deer along the Uncle Jim Trail. [picture by Wendy R.]
This is one of several Kaibab mule deer we would see during our stay
on the North Rim. Because of the extreme isolation of the Kaibab
Plateau and Kaibab National Forest, a number of species, most notably
the Kaibab mule deer and the Kaibab squirrel, are indigenous to this
region and found nowhere else in the world. We spot this curious, but
cautious, deer somewhere along the Uncle Jim Trail on our first day of
hiking. Back at the campground, we would frequently see one or two
Kaibab squirrels scurrying around in search of food. Although they
were seemingly unafraid of humans and would move in pretty close if
they thought we had food for them, they were still too fast to
photograph, dashing up the nearest tree at the first sign of danger.
The Uncle Jim Trail skirts the rim of the canyon over much of its course
all the way out to its apex at the southernmost point, with Roaring Springs
Canyon to the west and Bright Angel Canyon to the east. The views are even
more spectacular as we continue making our way south, eventually culminating
in this magnificent scene at Uncle Jim Point. From our 8,300 foot vantage
point on the edge of the North Rim we are treated to unparalleled views of
the confluence of Roaring Springs Canyon and Bright Angel Canyon, Brahma
and Zoroaster temples, the South Rim, and even beyond to the snowcapped
San Francisco Peaks, Kendrick Peak, and Bill Williams Mountain just visible
on the far horizon.
Canyon view from Uncle Jim Point. [picture by Wayne]
Arizona Trailblazers at Uncle Jim Point. [Wayne]
After finally making our way out to the somewhat elusive Uncle Jim Point,
we gather for our first major group picture of the trip with one of the
greatest backgrounds to be found anywhere in the Grand Canyon.
Front Row L to R: Martha, Wendy K., Quy, Wayne, and Vanessa.
Middle Row L to R: Kim, Cyd, and Yanis.
Back Row L to R: Chuck, Ajay, John, Michael, Debbie, Wendy R., Frances, Lisa, and Dave.
Yanis and Vanessa at Uncle Jim Point.
[picture by Wayne]
Four bumps (you’ll have to ask Debbie about
that one) on a very big log. [picture by Dave]
Yanis and Vanessa are enjoying their first camping trip with the Arizona
Trailblazers and are already making plans for future hikes and camping
trips with us.
Yanis, Debbie, Kim, and Frances take time out from hiking to rest on this
mammoth ponderosa pine while enjoying the surrounding views. Mother Nature
was gracious enough to let this forest giant fall just close enough to the
trail so it would provide the perfect bench for weary hikers. Just be sure
to watch out for those stubby little branches poking up from the trunk
before sitting down to avoid an unplanned colonoscopy.
Outhouse with a view. [picture by Ajay]
This is unquestionably one of the finest views from an outhouse to be
found anywhere in Arizona. What better place to answer the call of
nature than from the very edge of the Grand Canyon with the added bonus
of no door to restrict the awesome view?
With that, you’ll have to use your own imagination and fill in
the blanks for the rest of this story since I’m too
embarrassed to say any more.
Trailblazers check out the Grand Canyon Lodge lunch menu.
[picture by Wendy R.]
These boots are made for napping.
[picture by Vanessa]
Grand Canyon Lodge main dining room.
[picture by Wendy R.]
Can the view possibly get any better than this?
[picture by Wendy R.]
The Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim. [picture by Chuck]
After completing the Uncle Jim Trail, we gather back at the North Kaibab
Trailhead parking lot and discuss lunch options. The majority of the group
decides to do lunch at the Grand Canyon Lodge, while the rest of us
po’ folks head back to the campground for lunch. Perched on the very
edge of the North Rim, the Grand Canyon Lodge’s expansive picture
windows and especially the large patio provide spectacular views of the
canyon. What better place to take in the views, read, day dream, or take
Ajay admires the view from Bright Angel Point. [Quy]
Chuck admires the work of an artist working on
the rim of Transept Canyon. [picture by Cyd]
After lunch we decide to walk back to the lodge area and join the rest
of our group. Some Trailblazers are still relaxing on the lodge patio,
others are scattered along the trail out to Bright Angel Point, and the
remaining few are already hiking back to camp on the Transept Trail which
runs from Bright Angel Point and the lodge all the way back to the North
Rim Campground. Cyd and I decide to take the Transept Trail back as well
and see if we can catch up with some of our group. This short trail hugs
the east rim of Transept Canyon and provides breathtaking views of this
major side canyon to Bright Angel Canyon.
“Let’s see now. Where in the heck did I put my spatula, Cyd?”
Preparing the Great Saturday Night Potluck Extravaganza.
[pictures by John]
“Dave, I can’t seem to find those darn brats.
Didn’t we bring them with us?”
We move three large picnic tables together at our group site to provide
sufficient space for both food preparation and eating. Overall, this is one
of the better group campsites we’ve stayed at over the years, with the
exception of the parking arrangements.
Each of the three North Rim group sites will accommodate up to 25 people and
15-18 tents, but we can park no more than three of our seven vehicles at the
site which makes it very inconvenient for storing ice chests, food boxes,
and various other camping gear.
So the three vehicles left at the site essentially become storage vehicles
that have to hold our entire collection of these items since they cannot be
left out unattended, which often results in major gear shuffling, futile
searching for missing items, and sometimes complete chaos.
Most of the time the large, six-foot bed and even the cab of my Dodge
Dakota pickup is packed to the rafters, almost resembling some of those
overloaded vehicles heading to California in the classic movie
The Grapes of Wrath.
Every single person on this trip contributed to make this one of the
greatest potluck dinners of all time.
The eclectic menu includes such
delicacies as three-bean salad, cold spaghetti salad, a garden salad,
cilantro salad, a veggie platter, chips and salsa, a vegetable/egg/rice
entrée, shredded chicken and tortillas, cowboy caviar with
dip chips, BBQ chicken breasts, baked ham, grilled brats, mashed herb
potatoes (first-time potluck fare), and fruit salad, with desert items
including brownies, chocolate-chip cookies, and a tasty gelatin salad,
all washed down with beer, wine, soft drinks, and iced tea.
Holy Smokes! I think we have enough food here to feed most of the
campground and then some. One thing is absolutely certain – no
one ever complains of going home hungry from these car-camping trips.
After a hard day of hiking and exploring, 18 hungry
Arizona Trailblazers sit down to a scrumptious
potluck dinner. [picture by Cyd]
Nothing like a good back rub to top off a long, hard day of hiking.
Debbie brought along several of these unusual five-point plastic massage
tools to field test on this trip, and they turned out to be an instant
hit, providing deep, soothing relief for tired and sore back muscles.
This is going to be a must-have item for all future camping trips, and
Debbie will officially be in charge of providing them from now on
(and when this comes out, I’ll officially be in hiding).
Trailblazers gather around a blazing campfire in preparation
for the chilly night ahead. [Wayne]
Forming an almost perfect campfire circle, we all gather around the
fire after our gut-busting potluck dinner to talk about the day’s
events and swap stories and tall tales. We probably have enough food
left over to stay on the rim for several more nights, in addition to
firewood. We brought along more firewood than we could possibly burn
in three nights, so for at least a couple of us our load of firewood
will make an unplanned round trip to the canyon. Thanks to Kim for
the interesting word games that would keep us both entertained and
often in stitches for two consecutive nights around the campfire.
On our second consecutive Grand Canyon trip we are celebrating another
birthday. On last October’s South Rim trip it was Bill Z.’s
birthday, and today on the North Rim, Yanis is celebrating his 39th
birthday. H’mm – can that be right? He looks a little older
than that to me, but anyway...
Okay everyone, on the count of three now ...
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday Dear Yanis,
Happy Birthday to you!
Nuts! I baked a cake and left it sitting in the fridge at home!
Early Sunday morning at the North Rim Campground. It’s cold to
the bone and dark as Kartchner Caverns with the lights turned off.
Unbelievably, someone or something is scratching at my tent door!
I look at my watch and the time is precisely 4:15 AM. What the heck?
Are you kidding me? Where’s my shotgun? Then a soft, almost
apologetic, voice announces that it’s time to get up and watch
the sunrise. Is that you, Quy? Groan! Then it hits me: five of us had
agreed last night that we would get up early this morning and head
out to Bright Angel Point to take pictures of the sunrise. Do I
really want to do this after all? Sigh! Reluctantly, I crawl out of
my warm sleeping bag, splash some cold water on my face to wake up,
throw on a jacket and some shoes, and stagger out in the dark to
orient myself. Quy, Wendy, Ajay, Wayne, and I gather the rest of
our gear and walk in silence over to Michael’s pickup to make
the short drive out to the point.
Sunrise in the Grand Canyon. [picture by Chuck]
Sunrise in the Grand Canyon. [picture by Ajay]
Master lensman Wayne is in position, ready
to capture the moment.
[picture by Wendy]
Trailblazers wait patiently for the perfect light.
[Picture by Wayne]
The point is a beehive of activity with photographers swarming all over
the place, and it’s not even 5:00 in the morning yet! Are you people
out of your minds? Apparently, we’re not the only crazies out here
this morning. We try to maneuver into the best positions to capture the
moment. Wayne scrambles up a huge boulder to get the best vantage point
(dang—why didn’t I think of that?) and sets up his tripod. Well
before the sun peeks over the rim, camera shutters are tripping from all
corners of the point, trying to capture any light present in the canyon.
We all wait patiently, with only hushed voices occasionally breaking the
golden silence of the canyon.
Sunrise in the Grand Canyon. [picture by Wayne]
Then, almost as if on queue, the first bright shafts of sunlight breach
the canyon rim behind us and slowly begin to paint the canyon’s
walls, terraces, cliffs, and temples in a fusion of soft pastel colors
from pink to burning gold, starting from the uppermost points and almost
imperceptibly working their way deeper and deeper into the unseen depths
of the canyon. This is truly a magical moment like few others in life,
beyond the ability of mere words and photographs to fully capture, and
definitely worth the early wake up call since this is sunrise like
nowhere else on Earth. You have to see a Grand Canyon sunrise before
you can really say that you’ve seen the Grand Canyon.
Sunrise in the Grand Canyon. [picture by Wendy]
Wayne, Michael, Wendy R., Quy, and Wendy K. take a
shade break on the North Kaibab Trail. [picture by Ajay]
Careful – not one more step backward, people! [picture by Ajay]
When we five early birds finally arrive back at the campground, some
of the others are already busy preparing breakfast. As we all assemble
to eat a hearty breakfast before starting another day of hiking, the
soft and soothing sounds of choral singing fill the surrounding forest.
A small group of worshippers is gathered at the nearby Campground Amphitheater,
just a short walk from our group campsite. Sunday morning services are
underway in this hushed and peaceful forested setting of Kaibab National
Forest, only a short walk away from the very precipice of the Grand Canyon.
Coconino Overlook from the North Kaibab Trail.
[picture by Wayne]
Yanis, the fearless photographer. [picture by Cyd]
As we talk among ourselves and listen to the enchanting harmony drifting
on the winds of this forest cathedral, it occurs to me that there are few
more fitting places on this Earth to worship God than the Grand Canyon
of Arizona. How can even the world’s greatest cathedrals compare
as places of worship to what is arguably the ultimate place of worship
and human reflection? Few mortals among us can possibly walk away from
this place, especially for the very first time, without being deeply and
profoundly affected by the experience.
To stand on the edge of this
seemingly infinite chasm carved deeply into the Earth’s crust and
look out over such a monumental and surreal scene that is far beyond
our meager abilities to grasp and fully comprehend has to be one of the
most humbling and moving of human experiences.
Since this is our last day for hiking and there is no way we can possibly
see everything I had originally planned, we need to tweak our schedule
just a bit. So we make a decision to split into two separate hiking groups.
A smaller group of six, led by Michael, will head back to the North Kaibab
Trailhead and hike down the trail for a mile or so before turning back.
The rest of us will hike part of the Widforss Trail around the head of the
Transept and return along the same route. All of us will then rendezvous
back at the campground for a relaxing lunch break and perhaps a few power
naps, before caravanning out to all of the major lookout points along the
rim drive before dinner.
View from the head of Transept Canyon. [picture by Chuck]
After a relaxing lunch break we pile into several vehicles and make the scenic
20-mile drive out to Cape Royal, the furthermost point on the rim drive.
Most of the rim drive hugs the eastern edge of the Walhalla Plateau overlooking
the Grand Canyon.
The exception is the road out to Point Imperial, which contours along the
southeastern edge of the Kaibab Plateau out to the point.
From Cape Royal we slowly work our way back north, stopping at several more
viewpoints along the way before finally reaching Point Imperial, our last stop
and the highest viewpoint on the North Rim at 8,803 feet.
The views from here certainly don’t disappoint us.
And since one picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll let the remainder
of these images speak for themselves.
Wotans Throne from Cape Royal overlook.
[picture by Chuck]
Vishnu Temple from Cape Royal overlook.
[picture by Chuck]
Angels Window on the approach to Cape Royal.
[picture by Wayne]
Timeless and profound words from President
[picture by Cyd]
Trailblazers pose for one last picture at Cape Royal.
[picture by Wayne]
Mount Hayden from Point Imperial. [Chuck]
Saddle Mountain from Point Imperial. [Chuck]
Dave and Barbara. [picture by Dave]
[picture by Chuck]
Then it’s back to the campground again for Potluck Part II:
Trailblazers taking a rest break before breaking out the potluck
leftovers. [picture by Ajay]
OK, let’s see those forks moving! The goal tonight
is to finish all of the leftovers. [picture by Quy]
Ajay makes a point, while Cyd hoists a
cold one in agreement. [picture by Wendy]
As a final footnote, I would like to thank all of you once again for your
participation in the June, 2011 North Rim Grand Canyon trip and especially
thank those of you who sent me pictures and comments (following). I really
appreciate your kind and generous words. They help provide the incentive
to continue planning these trips. Hopefully the words and pictures within
this trip report will help preserve the memories and the good times we all
shared together at the North Rim for many years to come. And may all of
our paths converge again one day on the amazing trails of Arizona.
The Colorado River at Lees Ferry. [picture by Wendy]
Thanks again for a WONDERFUL time!!!
One more time thanks for organizing this wonderful and memorable trip.
Had a great time, and wish for many more with such a great group.
So when is the next one???
from Wendy R.
What a great trip!
Thanks for all your hard work putting this together.
To all our friends hikers/campers who participated on this trip: you
were all wonderful to meet and to know, and to share with 3 exciting days.
The camaraderie, the sharing, the cooperation, the games played around the
fire, the laughter, the jokes, the picture taking and the hiking etc.
Will always be etched and treasured in our memories. We look forward to
seeing you again on future hikes or camping trips.
Yanis and I would like to join the chorus of those who have already
thanked you for all of your work in providing such a memorable, enjoyable
time for us at the North Rim! We agree that everything felt just right,
including the camaraderie in our delightfully diverse group. It certainly
broke the ice for me, the most novice hiker-camper of the group, so I
thank all of you!
Thanks for the great camping and hiking trip. It was a dream come true
to finally see the North Rim. And what a great group of people to do it
with. Vanessa and I enjoyed it immensely.