Grand Canyon and the Arizona Strip

sunset drama from Mather Pointsunset drama from Mather Point on the Grand Canyon's South Rim

A thunderstorm had soaked many visitors on this July afternoon before the sun broke through to create rainbows and illuminate canyon cliffs against the dark clouds. Inclement weather can produce wonderful spectacles of shadow and light, most often experienced during winter or late summer.

 

Desert View WatchtowerDesert View Watchtower on the East Rim/Desert View Drive

The Watchtower, designed by Mary Colter, incorporates design elements from both prehistoric and modern Indian tribes of the region. The Fred Harvey Company built the 70-foot structure in 1932, using stone around a steel frame. The interior contains reproductions of Hopi paintings and petroglyphs; stairs lead to several levels inside and to an outdoor terrace. You enter the watchtower through a room shaped like a Navajo hogan with a traditional log ceiling.

Hopi Indian paintingRain clouds, snakes, feathers, and other sacred symbols appear in this Hopi Indian painting inside Desert View Watchtower.

 

view from Bright Angel Point on the North RimThe Grand Canyon from Bright Angel Point on the North Rim

The North Rim offers an experience very different from that of the South Rim. Elevations 1,000 to 1,500 feet higher result in lower temperatures and nearly 60% more precipitation. Rain and snowmelt have cut deeply into the North Rim so that it is now about twice as far back from the Colorado River as the South Rim.
 

atop Mt. Logan on the Arizona Stripatop Mt. Logan on the Arizona Strip
(north of the Grand Canyon)

Mount Logan Wilderness
Scenic features of this 14,600-acre volcanic region include Mt. Logan (7,866 feet), other parts of the Uinkaret Mountains, and a large natural amphitheater known as Hell's Hole. A jeep road climbs the east side of Mt. Logan to within a half mile of the summit; the rest of the way is an easy walk—just continue north along the edge of the ridge. On top you can peer into the vast depths of Hell's Hole, a steep canyon of red and white rock. The sweeping panorama takes in much of the Arizona Strip and beyond to mountains in Nevada and Utah. Trees, however, block views to the south.

 

On the trail in the Grand Canyon

Tonto Trail near Grapevine CanyonTina Dodd and Tony Rose hiking the Tonto Trail near Grapevine Canyon

Tonto Trail
Canyon views change continually along this 92-mile trail as it contours along the Tonto Platform, winding in and out of countless canyons and sometimes revealing spectacular panoramas from the edge of the Inner Gorge. The Tonto connects most of the trails below the South Rim between the mouth of Red Canyon at Hance Rapids and Garnet Canyon far downstream. Average elevation on the gently rolling trail is 3,000 feet. You might lose the trail occasionally, but with attention to rock cairns and the map, you'll soon find it again. The sun bears down relentlessly in summer, when it's best to hike elsewhere.

 

Utah agave or century plant (Agave utahensis)Utah agave or century plant (Agave utahensis) overlooking the Grand Canyon's Inner Gorge

This species grows eight to 10 years, blooms only once, then dies. Its yellow blossoms appear in May or June, but the tall stalk can remain standing long afterwards. Hooked spines on the edges of the leaves distinguish the agave from the similar looking yucca.

 

Saddle Mountain Trail after a surprise snowstormSaddle Mountain Trail after a surprise November snowstorm on the North Rim

Colleen Huston and the author had been hiking on the Nankoweap Trail when we stopped for the night. Next morning we found six inches of snow on the narrow ledges that lay between us and home!

Nankoweap Trail
Thrilling ledges on the Nankoweap Trail discourage hikers afraid of heights. But if you don't mind tiptoeing on the brink of sheer cliffs, this trail will open up a large section of the park for your exploration. The trailhead lies at Saddle Mountain Saddle, 2.4 crow-flying miles northeast of Point Imperial. You must approach on foot, either three miles one way from House Rock Buffalo Ranch Road (south from US 89A), or three miles one way from near the end of Forest Road 610 (east off AZ 67). Both access roads are dirt, passable by cars, but House Rock Buffalo Ranch Road lies at a lower elevation and is less likely to be snowed in.

The Nankoweap Trail drops several hundred feet, then contours along a ledge all the way to Tilted Mesa before descending to Nankoweap Creek. Some care in route-finding is needed between Tilted Mesa and the creek. Nankoweap Creek, 10 miles from the trailhead, is the first source of water; you may want to cache water partway down to use on your return. The remaining four miles to the river is easy. Allow three to four days for a roundtrip journey, with an elevation change of 4,800 feet.

 

a tired Peggy Taylor on the upper Hermit Traila tired Peggy Taylor on the upper Hermit Trail; She’s almost to the top after several days of hiking a loop from Hermit’s Rest to the Colorado River and back via the Boucher, Tonto, and Hermit trails.

Hermit Trail
Although named for Louis Boucher, the trail was actually built for tourists by the Santa Fe Railroad in 1912. Visitors took this route to Hermit Camp, which operated until 1930. Most of Hermit Trail is in good condition; the few places covered by rock slides can be easily crossed. The trail begins just beyond Hermit's Rest, at the end of eight-mile West Rim Drive. Water is available at Santa Maria Spring (two miles one way) and Hermit Creek (seven miles one way). Hermit Rapids on the Colorado River is an easy 1.5-mile walk down the bed of Hermit Creek; a sign on the Tonto Trail points the way. Elevation change from rim to river is 4,300 feet; allow five to six hours going down and eight to 10 hours climbing out.

Hermit Trail also connects with Waldron, Dripping Springs, and Tonto trails. Day-hikers can head to Dripping Springs, a six-mile roundtrip hike requiring four to six hours with an elevation change of 800 feet. Descend the Hermit Trail 1.5 miles, then turn left 1.5 miles on Dripping Springs Trail. Carry water for the entire trip, as the springs offer only a tiny flow. The 22.5-mile Hermit Loop hike, which follows the Hermit, Tonto, and Bright Angel trails, is quite popular. You can find water on this loop year-round at Monument Creek and Indian Garden. Hikers can easily descend the bed of Monument Creek to Granite Rapids, 1.5 miles one way.

 

Ribbon FallsRibbon Falls pours into a miniature paradise of lush greenery, nestled in a side canyon a short hike off the North Kaibab Trail.

North Kaibab Trail
Few other Canyon trails compare in the number of interesting side trips and variety of scenery. Hikers on this trail start in the cool forests of the North Rim, descend through the woods into Roaring Springs Canyon, then follow rushing Bright Angel Creek all the way to the Colorado River. Look for the trailhead at the lower end of the parking lot, two miles north of Grand Canyon Lodge. Snows close the road from some time in October or November until mid-May, but you can reach the lower end of the North Kaibab at Bright Angel Campground year-round on trails from the South Rim. A long section of trail between the rim and Roaring Springs has been cut into sheer cliffs; waterfalls cascade over the rock face in spring and after rains. A picnic area near Roaring Springs makes a good destination for day-hikers; it's 9.4 miles roundtrip from the North Rim and has an elevation change of 3,160 feet; there's water from May to September.

Cottonwood Campground, 6.9 miles below the rim, is a good stopping point for the night or a base for day trips—it has a ranger station and, from May to September, water; winter campers must obtain and purify water from Bright Angel Creek. Ribbon Falls is nestled in a side canyon 1.5 miles from Cottonwood Campground. The Transept, a canyon just upstream from the campground and across the creek, offers good exploring too.

The North Kaibab Trail continues downstream along Bright Angel Creek, entering the dark contorted schists and other rocks of the ancient Vishnu Group. Near the bottom you'll walk through Phantom Ranch, then Bright Angel Campground. Most people can descend the 14.5-mile North Kaibab in eight to nine hours of steady hiking (elev. change 5,700 feet). Climbing out requires 10-12 hours, and is best attempted over two days. Anglers are often successful in pulling rainbow trout from Bright Angel Creek, especially in winter.

 

Havasu Creek from the top of Havasu FallsThe mineral-laden water of Havasu Creek forms these beautiful pools enclosed by travertine. This view is from the top of Havasu Falls.

Hikers can reach the creek and its waterfalls by hiking in from the trailhead at Hualapai Hilltop off old Route 66. The Havasupai Indians own this tributary of the Grand Canyon; they issue permits and provide camping and motel facilities.
 

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