It's a long drive when I go to Consimworld Expo, a week-long wargame convention in Tempe, Arizona. The shortest way through Nevada is fourteen and a half hours according to Google. That's the route that I took there and back last year. Each way I did a straight shot through in one day. This year I took the route through Utah and Arizona both ways. It's an hour longer but it lets me add side visits to canyon country. I love the canyon country and it is hard to pass up an opportunity to stop there when I have a chance.
On day one I drove through Zion National Park. I didn't stop to do any hiking but it was a beautiful day and just car touring through was fun. Zion is one of my favorite national parks and I never get tired of seeing it. That night I stopped in Kanab, Utah. I got a surprise - it was more expensive to stay there than I expected. I probably should have expected it though. Since CSWE was a month earlier than usual I was there on Memorial Day weekend.
At one place I asked the guy at the desk how much for a room. He told me $99. The place looked reasonable and that was about the best rate I had got checking other places, so I gave him my credit card. "It's $99, plus $12 tax."
"Ok" I said.
He hesitated for a for a long time before finally saying "Or $100 cash, no receipt." Done. There went some of the cash that I had brought with me to buy wargames at the flea market tables at CSWE. But hey, I got a good deal on my hotel. Just don't tell the governor of Utah.
The next day I only had a six hour drive from Kanab to Tempe so I decided to make a side trip to the Grand Canyon. I have been to the South Rim several times. It's spectacular but it's a mob scene. Almost six million people visited Grand Canyon National Park in 2016 and most of them went to the South Rim. It's easily accessible from cities like Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Flagstaff. There are so many cars that they are banned from most areas in the park. The roads can't handle them. As in Yosemite and Zion, you have to ride the (jam packed) park shuttle bus system. Viewpoints and rim trails are crowded with people.
But the North Rim is very different. It's higher than the South Rim, cooler with more snow in the winter. It's only open from mid-May through mid-October. It's quite remote, not easy to reach from any major city. In fact, the nearest significant town is Kanab. Since I had never been to the North Rim and was in perfect position, I decided it would be a good chance for me to check it out.
I got an early start the next morning so that I would have plenty of time to explore. It took me about two hours to drive to the North Rim. There wasn't much traffic. Even at the entrance station, there were only a few cars and in a couple of minutes I was through. When I reached the end of the road near Grand Canyon Lodge, it was easy to find a parking spot. There were only about fifty cars, and that was for the Lodge, the Visitor Center, and the nearby trails. Quite a difference from the South Rim.
First I checked out the Grand Canyon Lodge, a historic stone building set right on the edge of the rim. Inside there was a large lounge area with high glass windows that looked out over the Grand Canyon. It would be a fun place to stay sometime. Outside was a large patio with the same view. Good weather or bad. Hot or cold. It would be a great place to stay and admire the canyon.
The North Rim is over eight thousand feet, a thousand feet higher than the South Rim. It's cooler than the South Rim, and the Lodge is surrounded by pine forest. The day before I had been sweating in high nineties temperatures in Kanab. Today it was in the sixties at the North Rim, pleasantly cool and shady under the trees around the Lodge.
The Lodge is built near the end of a narrow finger of land that seperates two side canyons of the main Grand Canyon. Just behind and below the Lodge a short walkway goes out to a point of rock at the very edge of a cliff. At the end was a spectacular viewpoint. There was a guy there taking a picture but then he left. I had the spot all to myself. Definitely not the crowd scene from the South Rim.
Next I walked the short trail to Bright Angel Point. Here one of the side canyons, the Transept, ran into Bright Angel Canyon, which continued several miles to where it joined the main Grand Canyon. Just the side canyons were amazing. Smaller than the main canyon, they were closer so it was easier to grasp their size. But that made the main section of the Grand Canyon, visible several miles away at the end of Bright Angel Canyon, seem even bigger. It was a different perspective than the standard view from the South Rim.
The South Rim was visible, ten miles away. I was looking right at Grand Canyon Village, but at that distance I couldn't see any trace of the buildings and cars and people that I knew were there. They were totally insignificant compared to the scale of the canyon.
In the far distance, seventy miles away, I could see the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff. One of them, 12,633 foot Mt. Humphreys, is the highest mountain in Arizona. I had thought about trying to climb it on this trip but I could see that there was still way too much snow on it this early in the season. Maybe I can do it next year since CSWE will be at its usual time in the last week of June.
There was a rock formation at the very end of the trail at Bright Angel Point, about twenty feet high, that overlooked the canyon. It was an easy scramble to the top but looked spectacular at the very edge of the huge abyss. People were climbing to the top to have their picture taken. After waiting a while for a turn I gave up. There wasn't anyone to take my picture anyway. So one thing at the North Rim was crowded. But overall it seemed like there was hardly anyone there. It was a pleasant contrast after having fought huge crowds two weeks before in Yosemite National Park.
Of course no hiker can visit the Grand Canyon without thinking about hiking into it. It's a mountain climbing challenge in reverse, starting with the downhill and ending with the long climb out of the canyon. Many years ago I did it, backpacking down to the river from the South Rim and hiking back up the next day. Now as I stood there looking at the canyon, the idea of hiking the canyon from rim to river to rim was irresistable. I resolved to do it again, this time in a single day.
I would have to wait though. In summer the inner canyon is unbearably hot. It wouldn't be wise to attempt the hike now. So although I thought about it briefly, there was no question of trying it on my way back after Consimworld. But I do want to give it a shot in the fall, when the temperature is reasonable. Besides, it gives me the summer hiking season to get in better shape.
Before leaving the park I stopped at the Visitor Center and bought some detailed trail guides. I got ones for the South Kaibab Trail and the Bright Angel Trail, the two main trails that go down to the river from the South Rim. Typically people go down the Kaibab and come back up the Bright Angel, which is what I did the first time I hiked it.
I also picked up a guide for the North Kaibab Trail, which descends from the North Rim to the Colorado River. Since the North Rim is a thousand feet higher and the trail is several miles longer, hiking from the North Rim to the river and back to the North Rim is really a physical challenge. Because it's easier, some people hike down from the North Rim and then up to the South Rim. The Rim-to-Rim hike would be awesome to do but requires a shuttle from one rim to the other. That's quite a challenge in itself as it is two hundred and ten road miles from one rim to the other.
I finally left around noon. Just outside the park I made a quick stop at the store at Jacob Lake Resort. I had to get a couple of tshirts to commemorate my visit to the North Rim. Then to get back to my normal route to Tempe, I drove some highways that I had never taken before. Near the small town of Marble Canyon I passed the huge southern escarpment of Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. I had seen it from far away before but it was really impressive close up. Hidden behind the cliffs somewhere was The Wave, another famous hike that I hope to do someday.
Clearly my list of Hikes To Do is long.
Then I was back on familiar ground. The rest of the drive to Tempe was routine and I got there early in the evening. After transferring all my gaming stuff to my hotel room I had a good dinner at Gus's New York Pizza. Their small pizza was fourteen inches in diameter so I had plenty to eat. Good thing it was thin crust. A large pizza is thirty two inches!
The trip down had been a lot of fun. Now I was looking forward to a whole week of nothing but wargaming.