No summer reruns today. We finally did something worth sharing! After being home for a month and half and completing lots of house chores, yard chores, Blue chores and a round of medical appointments, we were chomping at the bit to be on the road again. We walk around the golf course every morning, but we were looking forward to getting away for a good hike or two.
Luckily, we’re only a 4-hour drive from Grand Canyon’s North Rim. The 90F Vegas temps began falling as soon as we headed north and gained some altitude. By the time we reached Grand Canyon Road (AZ-67), the temp was a cool 67F and the night’s low was forecast to plummet to 30F-40F. We found a fine campsite at the DeMotte campground in the Kaibab National Forest about 5 miles from the park entrance.
It was too windy for a campfire and too cold to cook or sit outside without one. Blue had retained some of the day’s warmth and we sat inside, munching on crackers and hummus for dinner. A glass of wine made everything just fine.
The wind howled for most of the night, but unlike Nine of Cups, we didn’t need to stand anchor watch in Blue and by morning, he hadn’t budged an inch. Things had calmed down a bit when we awakened. It was a pleasure sleeping in beyond our usual 0445 wake-up, insuring we’d finish our morning golf course walk before the golfers hit the tees. We languished over coffee in bed, unhurried and feeling relaxed and lazy.
The trailhead to the Arizona Trail (AZT) was located off a gravel forest access road. The AZT is on our list of possible upcoming hikes. It runs ~800 miles from the Utah border to Mexico and requires overnight trail camping and caching of food and water. We wanted to get a feel for the trail and the terrain in this area. We noted a cache safe at the trailhead. Trail hikers had left food and water and ‘trail angels’ had also left a supply of fresh water for those who needed to replenish.
The undulating path was well-marked and well-maintained. The last vestiges of summer’s wildflowers... purple lupine, red Indian paintbrush, pink thistle... lingered, providing color to the dull tans and brown grasses of early autumn. Aspen quivered in the stiff breeze, their leaves already turning gold as the nights get colder and colder.
Deer peeked out at us through the trees. Hawks watched us from their high perches. Ground squirrels scampered up and down the trees, busily collecting winter stores. Butterflies and bees celebrated their last hurrahs. In another month or so, this area would succumb to winter and snow and cold. At 8800’, winter comes early and fast.
We walked about 7 miles roundtrip enjoying the warmth of a sunny autumn day. Much of the area through which we traveled had been scorched by a wildfire back in 2006. Aspen was staking its claim to the area, but the remains of tall, fire-blackened pine accentuated the landscape.
We drove to the park visitor center stopping to view a herd of bison along the way. As expected, the visitor center was crowded. We’d walked most of the shorter paths here previously, so were content to grab a park map and get some recommendations for a longer hike tomorrow from the friendly ranger. We returned to the campsite in late afternoon. David had cut some firewood as allowed on the national forest lands and started a roaring fire in the fire ring. White chili on our Coleman gas stove was a welcome dinner. As soon as the sun dipped beyond the horizon however, the cold descended and we headed for Blue.
It was cold, cold, cold during the night. We’d left water jugs out on the picnic table and an inch of ice had formed in them. The inside temperature in Blue was 32F. Our blanket and comforter had not been quite adequate and we were chilled for much of the night. We darted out of bed long enough to use the toilet, brew coffee and fill our coffee cups, then snuggled back under the covers. Tonight we would use our sleeping bags.
We warmed up quickly enough, eating hot oatmeal and sitting in the morning sun. It was the perfect day for a hike and we chose the Widforss Trail. Named after Gunnar Widforss, an early 20th century artist who painted Grand Canyon watercolor scenes, the trail follows the canyon rim for about 2-1/2 miles then heads into the forest, emerging for spectacular views at Widforss Point. An interpretive guide provides some history and points out geologic features along the trail. Views of the San Francisco mountains some 70 miles in the distance were hazy, but scenic. The nature-sculpted rocks of the canyon below us provided a unique landscape.
The trail left the rim and headed into the forest. Scrub oak and maple covered the forest floor, but seemed diminutive compared to the tall ponderosa pine which were dominant. The path alternated between shade and sun, keeping the walk quite comfortable in only our t-shirts. We met several hikers along the path, but it was not crowded and we mostly had the path to ourselves. Endemic white-tailed Kaibab squirrels and Arizona gray squirrels scurried up trees. A short horned lizard posed for a quick photo.
We were ready for a snack by the time we arrived at Widforss Point. We sat on a rock appreciating the breathtaking view while we munched our granola bars. What a wonderful place this is. No matter how many times we see this canyon from so many different viewpoints, it is always awesome and amazingly beautiful. What a day to be alive and hiking.
We retraced our steps to the trailhead providing a totally different perspective of the forest path, the rugged landscape and the canyon walls. The 10-mile hike took about 4 hours and we headed back to the campground for some relaxation while the sun was still warm. David had the fire started by 1630. BBQ chicken grilled on the campfire along with salad was perfect for dinner. We ate and sipped wine in the warm remains of the day. By 1900, the sun had set and the cold had set in. We cleaned up, doused the fire and retired to Blue and the warmth of our sleeping bags.
It was even colder this night. The morning temp in Blue was 29F. Our sleeping bags had kept us cozy and warm during the night, but scuttling out of them in the morning was a dreaded necessity. Nature calls and hot coffee were definitely must-haves. By 0800, it was warming up again. As I made pancakes on the camp stove, the camp host stopped by for a chat and announced that his thermometer had read 24F at 0700. No wonder we were feeling the cold.
The weekend flew by, as they always tend to do and we headed back to a different segment of the AZT for a short hike before starting our return trip to Las Vegas. This trailhead was about 4 miles from the campground on a well-maintained gravel road. The day was glorious... warm with a cloudless, cornflower blue sky overhead. We walked through meadows, aspen groves and pine forests with only birds and squirrels to keep us company. A stop at Dog Pond for a water break and a sit-down was pleasant. Red-shafted flickers seemed to enjoy the area, too.
We finally headed for home round 1300, but didn’t make it very far when a sign for Pipe Springs National Monument caught our eye. It wasn’t far off the route and we’d never heard of it before, so of course, a detour was in order. Located on Paiute-Kaibab land, this national monument is operated as a cooperative effort in conjunction with the National Park Service and was named for the natural year-round spring that runs here and provided a constant water source for native Americans and settlers.
The park is a testament to early western pioneer life, the Paiute-Kaibab native people and the clash of cultures between the two. Mormons settled the land after purchasing it from the US government, but of course, the Paiutes had occupied the land for centuries. We toured the grounds and the ‘fort’ known as Winsor Castle. Our last stop was the Paiute cultural museum. The concept of ‘owning’ land was incomprehensible to the Paiutes. Men were stewards of the land, meant to use it wisely, protect and preserve it for future generation, but men do not ‘own’ it; they borrow it. What a novel concept! Food for thought and conversation on the ride home.