Getting There and Waiting
We followed the state road from Zion back to US-89, where we turned south and drove back through Kanab, then across the state line through Fredonia, AZ, and finally across a flat plain until the road climbed onto the edge of the Kaibab Plateau. Looking back from a viewpoint, we could see the red cliffs on the other side of Kanab as a faint rose-colored band in the distance, and above them the beige band of the “white cliffs” that lay beyond. The high plateau where we stood (part of the Kaibab National Forest) was mostly covered with Ponderosa pines and junipers, but as we neared the park we ran through a long stretch of broad green meadows. Signs warned us to beware of cattle, but we didn’t see any — it must have been too early to bring them there to graze. At one point, though, we did see a sizeable herd of Kaibab deer taking advantage of the fresh meadow grass some distance from the road.
It was only 12:30 when we arrived at the Grand Canyon Lodge, which perches right on the edge of the North Rim, at the tip of a narrow point between two side canyons, Roaring Creek and Transept. Though our cabin wasn’t ready yet, some were, so we kept returning to the desk (a window, really) to inquire. Check-in time was officially four o’clock, but because the park had opened the previous week and was still short-staffed, some cabins (one of which was ours) weren’t ready until 4:45. We used the time to look at the incredible view from various points in the immediate vicinity.
On one of our fruitless visits to the check-in window we heard a couple fuming and fussing because their room wasn’t ready at three, while some of their friends’ rooms were. The woman was telling the people behind us (who seemed to be part of a large party organized by someone else) that this was just about the last straw and she was ready to go home. What else had gone wrong? they asked. It turned out that whoever organized the trip made a mistake and supplied directions to Zion National Park instead of the North Rim. The people behind us had checked a map and avoided problems, but the irate woman and her husband dutifully followed the directions all the way into Zion, where, finding that they were not at the Grand Canyon, they had to turn around, forfeit the $20 entrance fee they’d just paid, and go out again. Of course they arrived at the North Rim later than all their friends and were last in line for a cabin. Up at the window, I overheard her husband informing the desk clerk that the staff's failure to hop to it and get his cabin ready immediately was a perfect example of why the government should not be involved in the hotel business. (Xanterra is, of course, a private corporation, although they do contract with the government to operate lodges in the national parks.) I suspected that some of his bad temper might have been related to embarrassment over blindly following those bad directions. Later, when I saw them watching the sunset with their friends, they seemed to be in a better mood.
My brother Steve and his wife Brenda arrived from their home in Mesa a couple of hours before the cabin was ready, and we all took the short trail down to Bright Angel Point, very near the lodge. There was lots of wind, and the sky was mostly overcast.
At around five we were able to move into the cabin, assisted by a porter who hauled our luggage from the parking lot to the cabin in a small trailer towed by a little electric runabout something like a golf cart. Like our cabin at Zion, it was double; we had one end and Steve and Brenda had the other — but in this case both sides shared the same tiny bathroom. This was the smallest room we had on the entire trip, but its log-cabin quaintness made up for the lack of space, and Steve and Brenda, who had brought only one suitcase from Mesa, let us stow a few of our bags in their room.
After moving in, we went back to the canyon rim, where we found the sun peeping through and illuminating some of the canyon. This was more interesting to see and take pictures of, so we took another walk down to Bright Angel Point, where we prevailed on an obliging stranger to take a picture of the four of us.
We ate dinner in the Lodge dining room, which (like the rest of the lodge) is impressive, still looking much as it did when the Union Pacific Railroad built it in the 1920s. We didn't take any pictures of our own there, but this one I found on the Web will give you an idea. Of course, it can't show the spectacular views from the big windows.
We had made late reservations, at 8:30, well after sunset. It occurred an hour earlier than in Utah, just a few miles north, because Arizona is the only state in the Mountain Time Zone that doesn’t observe Daylight Savings in the summer. Steve explained that Arizona needs nothing, at any time of year, less than it needs extra sunshine. It was nearly 9:30 when we finished dinner, and we all passed on dessert.
Seeing the Canyon (From One Side)
The next day dawned bright and sunny, and after breakfast in the dining room the four of us got into Steve and Brenda’s mini-SUV, a Saturn Vue, and set out to see some of the more distant viewpoints on the North Rim. This map shows the roads we took; at one point or another, we took all of them, both red and black. To give some idea of the scale, Cape Royal Point, our first destination, is about 22 miles from the lodge.
We stopped at several viewpoints along the way to Cape Royal, including Roosevelt Vista, the Walhalla Plateau, the Temple of Vishnu, and Wotan’s Throne. Other formations in the vicinity are dedicated to Rama, Shiva, Zoroaster, Freya, Siegfried, and Thor — it’s obvious that tourism began here during the 19th-century heyday of “Aryan mythology.” (The vista named after Teddy Roosevelt is an afterthought, inspired by his sponsorship of the National Park system, although from some quotations I’ve seen I’m not sure he would have minded being considered an Aryan divinity.) But not all the divinities honored were Indo-European; as you can see on the map, the Department of Egyptology begins just a few miles to the west.
We decided to save Point Imperial for sunset. (This was not a brilliant idea, since the overlook faces east, but we couldn't think of everything.) In the meantime we drove back to the North Rim Village (where the lodge and cabins are), bought some sandwiches, chips, and soda at the campground general store, and ate them on the porch there. Afterwards Steve, Brenda, and I hung around the cabin for a while. I was coming down with a cold and found that I needed to rest. Dorothea set out on her own for a walk on the Transept Canyon Trail. She sat for a while at the top of a stone outcropping and enjoyed the experience of having the canyon “all to herself.” On the way back, she snapped a few grazing mule deer.
As sunset approached, the four of us drove back to Point Imperial, but the sky had clouded up and we found the place dark, windy, and cold. Although it more than doubled the length of the trip, we decided to try Cape Royal again. Here we found a little low sun punching through, and by poking around we found some vistas we’d missed in the morning. These were near a picnic ground and a designated “wedding site.” The wind was still blowing fiercely — we joked about members of bridal parties being warned against wearing full skirts, lest they find themselves unwillingly transported to the South Rim.
Returning to the Lodge, we ate dinner at 8:30 again. We didn’t finish until ten — the service was very slow, though the waiter was nice and seemed competent. We suspected problems in the kitchen, but maybe the government was to blame.
The Long Way Around
We began the following day with the hot breakfast buffet (cheaper for me than for Dorothea, who didn’t yet qualify for the senior citizen’s discount); then we said goodbye to Steve and Brenda. They had only one bag to pack and a longer journey ahead, since they were going home to Mesa and we were bound only as far as Flagstaff. It didn’t take us much longer to pack, but when we were finished we had to wait for the porter and his wee trailer to get everything back to the car.
Once on the way, we made good time on good roads in good weather, stopping only to take a few pictures at Marble Canyon, AZ, where the Navajo Bridge crosses the Colorado River. This is a long way northwest of the Grand Canyon, but it’s the closest place where the gorge could be bridged. That’s the main reason why you have to drive more than 200 miles to get from one rim of the canyon to the other. The first bridge, built in the late 1920s, was considered an engineering marvel in its time, and the new one has been made as much like it as possible. Both bridges still stand, side by side, and with the highway now running over the new bridge you can walk out on the old one to look down into the deep gorge. We saw a few rafts passing far below.
Marble Canyon is the stretch of Colorado River canyon that runs north from the end of the Grand Canyon to the dam at Page, AZ, on the Utah line. It would be about 50 miles long if it were straight as a string, but of course it isn’t. It’s called a “slit canyon” because it’s so narrow and steep. Of course, it’s narrow only relative to its depth; otherwise it would be easier to bridge. As the road descends toward the town of Marble Canyon, the canyon’s winding path in the distance looks like a knife cut squiggling across a table top.
The dam at Page creates Lake Powell, which fills Glen Canyon with water. In 1957, Dorothea drove through that canyon with her parents — the dam wasn’t completed until 1963. She thought it was the most spectacular sight she saw on that long-ago cross-country trip. In the bookstore at the Navajo Bridge visitor center she found several books of photographs that recorded Glen Canyon as it had looked before being flooded. It was stunningly beautiful.
This section last updated 12-13-2004