A Grand Dam, A Grand Canyon and A Grand Journey

 A waxing moon over the Jacob Lake campground ... yowsa!

A waxing moon over the Jacob Lake campground ... yowsa!

Our days for this road trip are numbered now. We need to be getting back home to Las Vegas … but not quite yet. We left Navajo Monument and passed by the famed Antelope Canyon entrance where hundreds of tourists waited for tour vans and helicopters ... just not our kind of place. With only a day or two left to travel, we made the decision to head to the less-visited North Rim of the Grand Canyon. As we drove over the impressive Glen Canyon Dam which constrains the waters of the Colorado River to form Lake Powell, we decided a rest stop at the dam’s Carl Hayden Visitor’s Center might be interesting … and it was. 

With no hope of snagging a campsite within the national park itself, we opted to stay about 40 miles from the entrance at Jacob Lake Campground in the Kaibab National Forest and head out early in the morning for the North Rim. Here we saw a tassel-eared Kaibab squirrel, most notable by his furry white tail. This particular species lives only in the Kaibab Plateau in an area of 20 x 40 miles, hemmed in by the canyon and surrounding mountain ranges.

 The white bushy tail identifies the endemic Kaibab squirrel.

The white bushy tail identifies the endemic Kaibab squirrel.

The clock was ticking and we knew we had to make the most of the one day we had at the park. The day dawned sunny and spotting a herd of grazing buffalo as we neared the park only added to our anticipation. We stopped at the Visitor’s Center for some professional input on possible trails to tackle and the helpful ranger pointed out several possibilities with the added admonition that weather was expected within a couple of hours with a rainy day forecast. Really? It was sunny out … the weatherman was probably wrong. By the way, the Grand Canyon Lodge and rim-view cabins looked awesome if you wanted to splurge.

grandcanyon_buffalo herd.JPG

We headed to the not-to-be-missed Bright Angel Point Trail … the sky was still clear and sunny. En route, we met a group of Aussies staring into the brush. A snake … a big one … was slowly wriggling its way along the ground in front of them. Knowing Australian snakes, all of which seem to be assigned to the ‘most venomous in the world’ list, the Aussies asked if it was poisonous. Well, it wasn’t a rattler and its head wasn’t particularly triangular, so we guessed it wasn’t a venomous species … but it was certainly big. We estimated 5’ or more. Further research later confirmed it was a harmless gopher snake, the longest snake in Arizona and often mistaken for a rattler.

On to the short, but impressive Bright Angel Point Trail. My, oh, my … what vistas, what splendorous views. We wanted more and more.

 What views! Click on the thumbnails below to enlarge them.

What views! Click on the thumbnails below to enlarge them.

We walked the Transport Trail along the canyon rim and behind the massive Grand Canyon Lodge out onto narrow overlooks that took our breath away … literally … the wind had picked up measurably. Shortly thereafter, the sky began to darken.

 Transport Trail overlook

Transport Trail overlook

We figured we’d outrun the impending weather and hightailed it along the Cape Royal Road, then backtrack to see all the sights. Wrong decision! By the time we arrived at Cape Royal, the rain had started. We had our rain gear and thought we’d give it a try anyway … until the thunder, lightning and hail were added to the crazy weather mix. We waited (im)patiently in Blue hoping for a clearing, but after a half hour with dark, ominous skies above, heavy rain and lightning streaking the sky, we figured the weatherman might just be right.

 Our view of Angels Window en route to Cape Royal

Our view of Angels Window en route to Cape Royal

Reluctantly, we headed back to the campground which was, miraculously, still dry. Rain was forecast in the Canyon for the next couple of days. Bah!!! We decided to pack up our gear, head out and perhaps get a campsite near St. George, Utah.

 The foul weather was catching up to us … black skies, rain, hail and big winds. Did we see a funnel cloud? Not sure, but we kept moving.

The foul weather was catching up to us … black skies, rain, hail and big winds. Did we see a funnel cloud? Not sure, but we kept moving.

The temperature in St. George was 102F when we arrived … not fit for a non-air-conditioned night in Blue. We scoured the map and figured higher altitude, lower temp. Sure enough, about 45 miles away we found a fine, cool campsite in the Pine Valley Recreation Area of the Dixie National Forest. We managed a short walk on the Santa Clara River Trail before nightfall.

 Lots of mule deer were browsing on the Santa Clara River Trail.

Lots of mule deer were browsing on the Santa Clara River Trail.

We were up early after a restless, sleepless night. I had a headache … the migraine variety … to beat all headaches. This is an unusual occurrence for me and we finally determined that dehydration was probably the culprit. David packed up the camping gear and the headache dissipated as I sat in Blue and drank more and more water.

 This didn't look like a river we wanted to ford.

This didn't look like a river we wanted to ford.

Our trip was nearly at an end and we didn’t want it to end quite yet. We’d passed the Virgin River Canyon Recreation Area any number of times on trips north and south along I-15, but never stopped. I was feeling better and we decided to stop, have some breakfast and maybe take a short hike. We did manage a hike but not along the Virgin River Trail. The river was high and roiling when we approached the trail crossing. We could clearly see the trail markers on the opposite side, but crossing it was not prudent on this day.

We made our way back to Las Vegas by mid-afternoon. Paul and Mary were waiting for us. Paul had prepared a welcome home dinner and it was good to be back. We’d only been gone about five weeks, but it seemed like forever. We’d covered a lot of territory … from Golden Spike NHS to the Grand Canyon … actually 11 national park sites, not to mention the visit with the Hedbergs in Grand Rapids, the Hobo Convention and lots of stops in between. In all, we traveled a total of 5,928 miles. Not bad!

So, what’s next? Well, my sister, Lin, and her partner are visiting from Boston over the Labor Day weekend. We leave shortly after their departure for the much-anticipated Thames Path walk. Never a dull moment! Come on ... you won't even need walking shoes.