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Wednesday, September 9, 2015 : Grand Canyon North Rim


Marie had a hard time, last night. Too small bed, too hard mattress, too cold room ... I got up a little earlier and took time to walk to the lobby and enquire about mule rides.


Two conditions are required :


  • Not to be subject to height scare : the ride follows part of North Kaibab Trail, on the side of Bright Angel Canyon,
  • Be proficient enough in English to execute the guide's instructions. This is a matter of security.


Let us say that for Marie, both counts are far from granted. So she gives up very soon.


Not a problem, we still have hiking. And, considering the number of trails at North Rim, we have such a wide choice that we can more than keep ourselves busy for the whole day.


We have breakfast at the same table as last night, with an unobstructed view of Grand Canyon. It is a set of buffets, both hot and cold, not cheap but with a wide choice and really good, just what we need to keep us full for the whole day.


After a quick walk to the room or, should I say, to the cabin, we go to the visitor center, pretty close to the lodge. It is not the first time we favor a set of shorter hikes over one long trek. It is the choice of diversity.


Cape Royal, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

Cape Royal, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park


We drive to Cape Royal, an overlook on the edge of the canyon, about 20 miles from the lodge, at the end of the road. Our plan is, from this point, to walk a number of trails of various lengths and, when we feel tired, to simply drive back to the lodge.


The first trail, Cape Royal Trail, is short, about 1/4 mi., and very easy. The path is even paved and accessible to wheelchairs. It is the only one of its kind, today.


Cape Royal is located at the tip of a mesa, with a dramatic viewpoint on Grand Canyon. It is hard to see on the picture, but we are roughly facing South Rim and Grand Canyon Village, still about 10 mi. away as the crow flies.


Bright Angel Canyon seen from Cape Royal, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

Bright Angel Canyon seen from Cape Royal


The mesa on which Cape Royal is located is very narrow, to the point that, at some places along the path, we are able to see on both sides.


On the west side, the sight goes deep inside Bright Angel Canyon, which we have seen from its other side last night at Bright Angel Point. The cliff is pretty steep. Somewhere at the bottom of the canyon, we should see North Kaibab Trail, which links North Rim to the Colorado.


Typical Cape Royal shrub, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

Typical Cape Royal shrub


Cape Royal Trail is lined with interpretive signs about local vegetation. We lost some elevation, we are now only 7,685 ft high, and the relatively thick forests have given way to shrub more typical of Mediterranean ecosystems. By the way, Cape Royal, the least elevated place in North Rim, is the only one where you can find such vegetation.


An elevation difference of less than 600 ft, with more sunshine (Cape Royal faces due south) is therefore enough to radically alter ecosystems.


The shrub on the picture is a Purshia, a plant that belongs to the family of rosaceae.


Angels Window, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

Angels Window


On our way back from Cape Royal, we spend a moment at Angels Window, a massive arch on the side of the canyon, with yet another very dramatic point of view.


First, we take pictures of the arch itself. As we can see, it is largely thick enough for people to walk on its top, to the viewpoint, which has an indicator.


Grand Canyon seen from Angels Window, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon seen from Angels Window


At the tip of Angels Window, the sight of Grand Canyon is, with no surprise, highly dramatic. The weather is gorgeous, and the few high-altitude clouds above us do not prevent sunlight from reflecting on limestone rocks, giving them those extremely diverse colors.


Part of the otherwordly beauty of Grand Canyon is precisely owed to those sunlight effects which, as they change in angle and intensity during the day, adorn the canyon with various pastel shades : light brown, orange, red, green, grey.


Grand Canyon seen from Cliff Spring trailhead, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon seen from Cliff Spring trailhead


We leave Cape Royal, but we make an almost immediate stop on a small parking lot on the side of the road. Cliff Spring Trail, our next hike, starts from here.


But before the hike, we walk to the rim of Grand Canyon to take a few pictures.


The spring at Cliff Spring, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

The spring at Cliff Spring


Cliff Spring is one of many springs inside Grand Canyon. In some seasons, water is in no shortage. It seeps into the rock and trickles out thru a multitude of small cracks in the rock.


Cliff Spring Trail is not very long, about 1/2 mi., but begins with a steep descent into a small valley with, as a consequence, some loss of elevation, which is strenuous for our knees. The next part, on the edge of the cliff and in the midst of shrub, is easier.


We are at the end of the season, and the spring is barely a trickle. However, the idea of a spring in the middle of a cliff was unexpected enough to appeal to us.


Cliff Spring valley, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

Cliff Spring valley


Cliff Spring is sheltered under a natural alcove in the rock. On the picture, facing us, we can see the small valley where we came from.


We also can pretty well see the two different plant ecosystems. In the lower half of the picture, light green shrub are more typical of mediterranean scrubland, as at Cape Royal. However, with no surprise, the trees on the higher part of the valley are mountain pines. The limit between both systems is very clear. It is due to sunlight (Cliff Spring valley faces south) as much as to elevation.


Quite logically, we now have to climb back up the valley we hiked down to come to Cliff Spring. We are close to 8,000 ft high, and we end up short on breath.


Soon after Cliff Spring, we make another stop at Walhalla Overlook, another viewpoint on Grand Canyon. There is no hike here, the parking lot is close to the edge of the cliff.


On Cape Final trail, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

On Cape Final trail


We drive a few more miles to Cape Final Trailhead. We chose this 4-mi. roundtrip trail not only because it is very easy, but also because it leads to a viewpoint that overlooks both parts of Grand Canyon.


Indeed, if we look at a map, Grand Canyon is divided into two unequal sections :



The end of Cape Final Trail overlooks the large bend of the Colorado. It faces Desert View, on the opposite rim, where we stopped for a while 5 years ago.


Cape Final, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

Cape Final


After a few stops on our way, we reach the end of Cape Final Trail, as easy as promised, without much elevation difference. The viewpoint on the wide right bend of the Colorado is as dramatic as expected.


We can very well see the nature of the exposed limestone layers that make up Colorado Plateau, all horizontal. This pretty much confirms that the plateau was heaved in one part, with no fault. There are no breaks in the sedimentary layers, and Grand Canyon itself, as well as the extreme diversity of the rock formations inside it, are the sole work of erosion.


No need either to look for glacial erosion marks, like the rounded hills of Acadia or the U-shaped valley of Yosemite. Grand Canyon has never been covered with ice.


Always thinking ahead, Marie has put the binoculars in my bag. After some  effort, I can see, on the opposite rim, slightly on our right, Desert View Watchtower.


Grand Canyon seen from Roosevelt Point, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon seen from Roosevelt Point


Viewpoint after viewpoint, we patiently drive our way back up Cape Royal Road.


A few miles after Cape Final, we make a stop at Roosevelt Point, named in memory of the 26th President. We remember that Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican Vice-President, became the youngest President ever after William McKinley was assassinated on September 14, 1901, JFK being the youngest elected President. For the record, we also remember he saved the life of a defenseless bear cub during a hunting trip, and that toy manufacturers, immediately sensing a business opportunity, quicly nicknamed "Teddy Bears" all their stuffed toys, although the President always hated being called Teddy !


However, it seems that his role, though paramount, in preserving the environment in the United States has been kind of forgotten. Theodore Roosevelt has been instrumental in designating 5 National Parks, 18 National Monuments, and countless other protected areas. It can very legitimately be asserted that he was the first environmentally-conscious President.


This picture shows the first part of Grand Canyon, flowing north to south. Look at it closely. Don't you notice anything ? Everywhere else, water erosion carved into limestone layers down to metamorphic rock layers underneath Colorado Plateau and, on the pictures taken, for instance, last night at Bight Angel Point or 5 years ago at South Rim, we can very well see those much darker, much harder layers, where the base of the canyon is merely a thin, narrow groove. Grand Canyon may well be only 6 million years young, it exposes rock layers almost 2 billion years old.


No such thing at Roosevelt Point. At the deepest part of its course, Grand Canyon only exposes limestone layers of various shades. There again, there is no fault or monocline that would have shifted tectonic plates, since the picture shows absolutely horizontal sedimentary layers. It is just that erosion has not completed its job.


Grand Canyon is so young that it is actually still a work in progress.


Roosevelt Point Trail is short, about 1,000 ft, and very easy. It makes a loop that passes by the viewpoint where Marie took the pictures from.


Roosevelt Point, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

Roosevelt Point


At Roosevelt Point, a plaque honors the 26th President and reminds the words he pronounced during his first visit to Grand Canyon. It says that, since there is nothing man can do to improve the canyon, he's better leave it as it is, untouched, so that all future generations of Americans can enjoy it.


On this latter point, I am not entirely in agreement with the President. After all, I am not American.


A wildlife protection area, Grand Canyon Game Preserve, was designated on November 28, 1906. Forest areas were added and, after a rather liberal interpretation of the 1906 Antiquities Act, the place became Grand Canyon National Monument on January 11, 1908. And finally, on February 26, 1919, during Woodrow Wilson's Administration, it became Grand Canyon National Park, the 15th National Park of the United States.


During its first year of existence, the Park saw 44,000 visitors. In 2014, they were 4.7 million.


Vista Encantada, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

Vista Encantada


Shortly after Roosevelt Point, we make a short stop at Vista Encantada, a picnic area close to the rim of the canyon.


From there, there is no way we can see the Colorado. We are separated by about 6 miles and the secondary canyons that we can see at our feet.


Beyond Grand Canyon, we can clearly see Colorado Plateau, absolutely horizontal, with no other accident than the canyon itself. In the background,  the cliff we see is the one that lines US Route 89 between Bitter Springs and Tuba City, AZ, more than 30 miles away from us.


In this place, there is no longer any sort of Mediterranean vegetation like at Cape Royal. First, we are again at more than 8,000 ft high, and second, all secondary canyons open eastward. Forest cover is made mostly of pines that can withstand cold, typical of alpine ecosystems.


Point Imperial, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

Point Imperial


Our last stop of the day is at Point Imperial, at the end of a 3-mi. road that branches off Cape Royal Road. At 8,803 ft, Point Imperial overlooks the whole canyon.


Like a moment ago at Vista Encantada, from Point Imperial we have a great view of the secondary canyons, but not of the Colorado itself.


Two trails start from here. One goes down to the rim of the canyon, and then to the lodge, as Ken Patrick Trail. The other one leaves the park thru its northern limit, then meets Nankoweap Trail, a very strenuous trek even for highly experimented hikers, down to the bank of the river.


We choose neither. We gaze at the scenery, while Marie pauses for breath and takes a few pictures.


Point Imperial, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

Point Imperial


The overlooking position of Point Imperial, on top of a hill, allows a particulary far-reaching view. On this picture, beyond the indented cliff in front of us, we can see the Colorado at a point where it is not really Grand Canyon yet, then the first Vermilion Cliffs group, the ones of the National Monument, along US Route 89A, which we will drive by tomorrow, and last, in the background, the second line of Vermilion Cliffs, which we have already seen yesterday.


The second line of Vermilion Cliffs is more than 60 miles away from us. No need to emphasize the clarity of the air and the brightness of the sky.


After a few minutes' rest, we take the Camaro again and drive straight back to the lodge, slowly, like we want to enjoy those beautiful landscapes as long as we can.


Sunset near Bright Angel Point, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

Sunset near Bright Angel Point


Back at the lodge, we visit the shop where we buy a few postcards. I try to make a reservation for dinner, but I am also offered a table at 8:45 pm, which is too late for Marie. Indeed, after 7 miles of walking during the day, she is longing for some rest and would like to go to bed a little earlier.


We walk back to the rim of Grand Canyon to enjoy the beautiful sunset one more time. Declining sunlight gives the rock facing Bright Angel Point nice reddish and brown shades. Slightly turned off by the long hiking of the day, we just walk around the lodge.


GSM mobile networks are still as non-existent. No point in insisting.


Sunset at Grand Canyon, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

Sunset at Grand Canyon


We walk back to the same place as last night so that Marie can take sunset pictures. The light is about the same, the only difference being a few thin clouds passing in front of the sun. Nothing to worry about, the evening is about as gorgeous as the day was. Marie tries herself at seeking light effects while the sun is disappearing behind the trees.


I had a hard time selecting one picture among the 15-odd Marie took. I love them all !


Best things always come to an end. At some point, it is pitch black, and we have to get back inside.


Grand Canyon Lodge entrance at night, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon Lodge entrance at night


We choose to have dinner at the deli next to the lodge, of course much more basic than the restaurant, but fast and affordable. After dinner, we walk by the lodge. Although it is now absolutely dark, Marie takes a picture of the front entrance.


We write a few postcards and read. This slow night is a welcome rest, after the physical activities of the day. Oh, well, it was a really beautiful day !

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