Started the day by heading to the Kanab BLM center to get info on the Escalante National Monument and found the drive was more than expected. Also I am to the point I actually need to pay attention to the date – time is going by too fast! Alas, no Escalante on this trip. Also missing Arches, Canyonlands, and others. Keeping those on the radar for future adventures.
Based on my errant driving route, the closest and most logical next stop was to the Grand Canyon North Rim. I had already planned to go here, just not in this order. Anyways, only about 10% of Grand Canyon visitors go here as opposed to the more travelled South Rim. Tomorrow I will go there and have a comparison, but from what I saw today they are missing some amazing views!
Starting from the north, the drive winds through so many different terrains it becomes hard to remember if you are going the right direction. Starting in the desert flatlands and passing through Indian reservations, this changes sharply to mountain passes, back down to lowlands, then up again to forests of all tree types. Colors here right now are almost peak, and I wish I could have taken more photos but there weren’t any pullouts. More on that in a future update when I get home and have video editing capabilities.
Once in the park, I started at the visitor center and began with the closest hike called Bright Angel. It’s less than one mile but had surprisingly moderate elevation changes on the paved trail. Saw a few elderly folks in over their heads since it was rated “easy” on the guide. At the lookout there was an 180 degree view looking down across all creation as far as you can see before fading into a haze of atmosphere. I expected a giant hole in the ground would be a spectacle for sure, but this is truly nothing you can prepare for. Amazing.
After the quick walk and many photos later, I took the scenic drive first to Point Imperial (3 miles) then to Cape Royal (15 miles). Both drives averaged 25mph with crazy switchbacks through forest terrains – some burned from wildfires, some lush with hues from green to yellowish red. Again no pullouts for forest photos, but I would drive this again just for the exciting G-forces in the corner turns (and the trees).
Once at both endpoints, short trails connected to overlooks at different points of the canyon. Each had very distinct features and with the sun shifting, rocks changed from tan to vibrant red. It’s hard to imagine this exists on Earth.
Wind today was gusting up around 40mph which gave an accidental adrenaline rush whenever stepping close to the edge or guard rails. One false step or big gust, and it’s easy to imagine what happens next. Hard to hold my phone without it flying away!
I spent way more time here than expected but not even sad about it. Drove out of the park at sunset, and made a (bad?) decision to drive to Flagstaff, AZ for the night. Word to the wise – don’t make this “scenic” drive in the dark without extra clean underwear – 6% grades with sharp switchbacks and no shoulder on unevenly paved roads, and no people or gas stations for at least 30 miles in any direction.
Planning to see the South Rim tomorrow unless I change my mind again. After that, likely either back to Flagstaff or possibly Vegas. Clock is running out, and I am getting excited to sleep in my own bed again! Desert still too damn cold for renting with overnight lows down in the 20’s and 30’s.
EDIT 2017-12-21: Added a new page for tracking visits to all National Monuments – see the list here!