Monday, 26-May – Demotte Campground (Kaibab Forest) to/from Grand Canyon (North Rim) Cape Royal
Trip miles: 82 miles
Route taken: SR-67 S and North Rim park road.
Average Gas mileage: 26.7mpg
Weather: cool in the morning (40F), warm by 10:00 in the canyon (80F)
Elevation: varied between 8800 ft and 8500 ft
- hiking the 5.2 miles on the North Kaibab Trail to the Redrock Bridge and back
- views to the west and of the South Rim from the 1 mile Bright Angel Point Trail
- views of Vermillion and Echo Cliffs, the Angels Window and the canyon east of the Glen Canyon Dam, from Cape Royal and Point Imperial
- seeing condors, Stellar's Jays, a Harris Hawk and bison
There was frost on the tent and water jug this morning. Getting out of the tent the temperature felt colder than the 40F or so degrees on the thermometer, but it warmed up quickly. By the time we drove the 18 miles through the North Rim Entrance Gate, headed for the North Kaibab Trail, it was 55F. In a meadow along the park road a herd of bison grazed with their calves, seemingly unaware of us.
History: Bison are not native to the Grand Canyon area. They were brought here to try to breed with cows to produce an animal that could withstand the harsh winters but be more domesticated. The experiment was a failure.
The 14.2-mile North Kaibab Trail descends 5850 ft. from the North Rim down the Bright Angel Fault along Roaring Springs Canyon to the Colorado River. Hikers can cross the river at the bridge near Bright Angel Campground and hike up to the south rim on either the Bright Angel or the South Kaibab trail, completing a Rim-to-Rim hike.
For a day hike on this hot, sunny day we decided to only hike the 2.6 miles to Redwall Bridge and we are very glad we did. The extra 1000 ft of elevation on the North Rim made a significant difference to how easy it was for us to hike back up the 2150 ft from the bridge. While the upper portion of the North Kaibab trail does not offer sweeping vistas of the Colorado Canyon it passes through various micro-climates, starting at the 8250ft rim in a northern mountain forest and descending through smaller riparian zones to a hotter, drier canyon climate. Our first stop was at the Coconino Overlook, 7450ft of elevation, for a look at the geological layers we would be passing through. This lookout marks the beginning of the Coconino Sandstone formed 275 million years ago. 1.5 miles further down the trail, at the Supai Tunnel, the trail was cut through and into the cliff. At 6800ft the Supai Tunnel marks the start of the Supai Layer formed 285 million years ago. There is potable water a short distance from the tunnel. A group of young volunteers, part of the American Conservation Experience out of Flagstaff, AZ were making trail improvements one switchback above the Redwall Bridge. After working all day in the hot sun they would have to hike back up to the rim – an effort all by itself for us. The beginning of the Redwall Limestone layer was formed about 340 million years ago.
By hiking another 2 miles and down 900ft we would have reached the famous Roaring Springs, from which the water is pumped to the South Rim. There would have been potable water there but it would have added 4 miles, ensuring we would be ascending back up to the rim during the hottest part of the day. Instead, we found a shady spot near the bridge to eat a quick lunch then headed back up past 65 million years of rocks. We were very hot by the time we returned to the rim and it was only noon. Even so, the worst part of the hike was the terrible, acrid smells of the mule urine and manure, especially on the hike back up when we were sucking air.
A shout out to Kevin's group from the Bay area (you know who you are): kudos to you for hiking the Rim-to-Rim the hard way from South to North. Ascending the last 3 miles of the North Kaibab Trail to 8250 ft. at the end of 25 miles must have been a challenge.
After refilling our water bottles at the trailhead we drove the 3 miles to the North Rim Visitor Center and took advantage of the nearby ice machine to treat ourselves to ice water before walking the paved trail to Bright Angel Point. Here the views of the Colorado Canyon are spectacular. The various rock features we saw from the South Rim were closer now but below us here. Four condors were finding some thermals in the canyon and were soon high overhead.
Before leaving the area around the Visitor Center we popped into the historic sun room of the Grand Canyon Lodge to look at the view through its large picture windows. This would be a cozy room from which to watch the canyon in the colder months. In fact, we liked the less touristy feel of the North Rim better than the South Rim. Although we didn't experience a night in the campground it also seemed to be a quieter place, with cheaper showers only a short walk away. If we returned to this park again we would definitely spend more time here. There was no one using the showers at 13:30 in the heat of the day. We treated ourselves and washed away the dust and sweat from this morning's hike. The rest of the day we would be driving in air-conditioned comfort along the park roads to stop at the various viewpoints – no dust or sweat involved.
The road across the Walhalla Plateau to Cape Royal is quite winding with a few hairpin curves, which is the reason why vehicles over 30 ft. are not permitted. We were not sure we wanted to make the slow 20 mile drive but were happy we did. The views from this road are so different than from either the North or South Rim Trails. The drive up to Point Imperial took us to 8800 ft., the highest viewpoint in this park. (The North Entrance gate is also at 8800 ft but there are no canyon views from there.) From Point Imperial we could see Vermillion Cliffs and Echo Cliffs on the other side of Marble Platform, which was 2700ft lower than our viewpoint. Dinosaur bones have been found in those cliffs, whose rocks are younger than those exposed by erosion in the Grand Canyon. Yes, the Grand Canyon rocks we were looking at pre-date the Jurassic Age when dinosaurs roamed this area.
By 17:00 the temperature was already dropping to 68F. It was time to drive the 40 miles back to Demotte Campground and cook dinner.