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North Rim Trip
Grand Canyon
June 10-13, 2011
by Chuck Parsons
Arizona Trailblazers gather at the Cameron Trading Post. [photo 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.

Hungry Trailblazers waiting for lunch. [photo by Yanis]
Clockwise from left: Barbara, Dave, Lisa, Chuck, Wayne, Vanessa (standing), Cyd, Wendy K., Wendy R., Ajay, and Frances, with Yanis behind the camera.

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.

Old and new Navajo Bridges spanning the Colorado River. [Chuck]

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.

Trailblazers survey the amazing scenery from
the old Navajo Bridge. [photo by Wendy R.]
California Condor at rest on a steel I-beam. [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.

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. [photo 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! [photo by Ajay]
Are you sure we have all the tent poles we need, Dave? [pictures by Wayne]

It’s almost 5:00 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. [photo 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.

All Aboard! Next stop: Uncle Jim Trail. [photo by Wayne]
17 fully charged Arizona Trailblazers hit the trail running. [Wayne]
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 primary bumper.

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. [photo 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.

Rest break in the tall pines on the Uncle Jim Trail. [photo by John]
Step aside for the mule riders! [photo by John]
North Kaibab deer along the Uncle Jim Trail. [photo by Wendy R.]
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.

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.

Canyon view from Uncle Jim Point. [photo by Wayne]
Arizona Trailblazers at Uncle Jim Point. [Wayne]

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.

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: Martha, Wendy K., Quy, Wayne, and Vanessa
middle:  Kim, Cyd, and Yanis
back: Chuck, Ajay, John, Michael, Debbie, Wendy R., Frances, Lisa, and Dave
Yanis and Vanessa at Uncle Jim Point.
[photo by Wayne]
Four bumps (you’ll have to ask Debbie about
that one) on a very big log. [photo 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. [photo 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. [photo by Wendy R.]
These boots are made for napping.
[photo by Vanessa]
Grand Canyon Lodge main dining room.
[photo by Wendy R.]
Can the view possibly get any better than this?
[photo by Wendy R.]
The Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim. [photo 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 a nap?

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.

Ajay admires the view from Bright Angel Point. [Quy]
Chuck admires the work of an artist working on
the rim of Transept Canyon. [photo by Cyd]
Preparing the Great Saturday Night Potluck Extravaganza.
[photos by John]
“Let’s see now. Where in the heck did I put my spatula, Cyd?”

“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. [photo by Cyd]
table campers
[by Wayne]    Nothing like a good back rub to top off a long, hard day of hiking.    [by Wendy]

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! Sorry Yanis.


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. [photo by Chuck]
Sunrise in the Grand Canyon. [photo by Ajay]
Master lensman Wayne is in position, ready
to capture the moment. [photo by Wendy]
Trailblazers wait patiently for the perfect light.
[photo 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. [photo 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. [photo by Wendy]

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.

Wayne, Michael, Wendy R., Quy, and Wendy K. take a
shade break on the North Kaibab Trail. [photo by Ajay]

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.

Careful—not one more step backward, people! [photo by Ajay]

As we talk 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.

Coconino Overlook from the North Kaibab Trail. [photo by Wayne]

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.

Yanis, the fearless photographer. [photo by Cyd]

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. [photo 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. [photo by Chuck] CapeRoyal
Vishnu Temple from Cape Royal overlook. [photo by Chuck] VishnuTemple
Angels Window on the approach to Cape Royal.
[photo by Wayne]
Timeless and profound words from President
Theodore Roosevelt. [photo by Cyd]
Trailblazers pose for one last picture at Cape Royal. [photo by Wayne]
Mount Hayden from Point Imperial. [Chuck]
Saddle Mountain from Point Imperial. [Chuck]
Dave Barbara
Dave and Barbara. [photo by Dave]
Ajay’s cliff-hanger. [photo 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. [photo by Ajay]
OK, let’s see those forks moving! The goal tonight
is to finish all of the leftovers. [photo by Quy]
Ajay makes a point, while Cyd hoists a
cold one in agreement. [photo by Wendy]
The Colorado River at Lees Ferry. [photo 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.

from Cyd
Thanks again for a WONDERFUL time!

from Ajay
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.

from John
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.

from Vanessa
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!

from Yanis
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.

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updated October 4, 2018