The Grand Canyon never gets old…

Last week we talked about visiting the beginning of the Grand Canyon, kayaking the Colorado River below the Glen Canyon Dam. From there, we made our way to one of our favorite places, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. 

California Condors at the North Rim

As we were driving into the park, we happened upon one of the largest groups of California Condors we have ever encountered in the park. There were at least a dozen sitting up in a dead tree by the side of the road. At first we thought they were just vultures, but then we realized they were all tagged. Very cool – you can actually look up the tag number and find out all about each bird. For example, we saw registration “VF” and when we looked it her up, we found it was a female born May 25, 2017 and released into the wild in October 2018. 

There are only about 200 California Condors remaining in the wild, so seeing them was a real treat! In all of our visits to the Grand Canyon this was our first time seeing these giant birds.

New Things

It turned out that this visit was full of new experiences. Do you ever go to places and get in the same rut and do the same things? Well, this visit we made a commitment to ourselves to do it different. Not to only do our favorite hikes, but sample some new ones. 

Of course, we walked the Transept Trail from the campground to the lodge, and we couldn’t visit the north rim without taking a walk on the Widforss Trail. The views from both of these are so amazing.

But this trip we did a couple of new hikes:

Uncle Jim Trail 

This one begins at the North Kaibab Trail parking lot. You start out on the Ken Patrick Trail and then branch off to the Uncle Jim Trail. It’s a 5 mile round trip, circle – recommended to go clockwise. This one is not on the rim. Instead it winds through the forest and about half way, comes out to a point with an amazing view. You can clearly see the people hiking up the switchbacks on the North Kaibab Trail and be thankful that it isn’t you struggling up that steep grade!

North Kaibab Trail

If you don’t want to hike this trail, they do offer mule rides, but there aren’t so many that the trail isn’t nice for walking. It’s in pretty good shape and not too smelly!

By the way, you may ask “who is Uncle Jim”? He was the first game warden hired by President Theodore Roosevelt when they first established the Grand Canyon game preserve.

Arizona Trail Segment #39 

This trail goes from the North Kaibab Trail parking lot to the park entrance station; a 10 mile one way walk. One of our neighbors in the campground offered to drop us off at the park entrance when they were leaving, so we were able to walk one way back to the trailhead and the campground 2 miles beyond.

It was a really well maintained segment of the Arizona Trail. We didn’t see any other hikers – mid-May is a bit too late for any through hikers – but there were a ton of flowers, butterflies and horny toads! The trail followed the forest up and down on the east side of the road into the park (#67) but far enough away you didn’t hear the traffic. 

A few miles in, it crossed over to the west side of the road, offering some amazing views  out over the northern Arizona wilderness. Spectacular!

Cliff Spring & Walhalla 

A visit to the north rim would not be complete without a drive out to Cape Royal and Angels Window. We had done this several times, but we had never stopped at the Cliff Spring Trail. It’s short – just 1 mile round trip – and goes down to a hanging garden where water seeps from the wall under a huge overhang, and there is a small spring. A reliable water source for the Walhalla tribe who once inhabited the area over 900 years ago. 

Cliff Spring Trail

On the way down to the spring, you will pass by the remains of a granary where they stored their food safely away from rodents.

900 year old Granery

Just up the road is Walhalla Glades Pueblo where you can see the remains of several buildings used for storage and as dwellings during the summer, when the snow melted and they could farm. During the winter, the Walhalla migrated to live at the bottom of the canyon.

Walk across the street to the Walhalla Overlook. You can see the Unkar Delta along the Colorado River where they spent winters, but try as much as we could there was no way we could figure out how they got down there. 

Point Imperial

Our last “new” experience was to hike from Point Imperial – the highest point in the park at 8,803 feet. We took the Point Imperial Trail to the north park boundary. It isn’t as scenic as other hikes at the north rim because it passes through burned out areas from the Outlet Fire in 2000 but it was interesting to see how nature recovers fro a fire. Definitely you need to wear long pants because some of the most aggressive plant life to return to this area is covered in thorns! The ranger called them “Locusts”. 

It is worth the hike. When you get to the forrest road, turn right and follow it to Saddle Mountain. It is an entirely different view of the canyon from there. You see the Painted Desert, Marble Canyon and vistas from the Vermillion Cliffs to the start of the Grand Canyon; back where we were just a few days before at Lee’s Ferry.

Saddle Mountain View

Right along the road, looking out over this incredible view, there were several pullouts for campers. The road is a bit rough but if you can do it with your vehicle, this is probably one of the best dispersed campsites in Kaibab National Forest.

View out to the Vermillion Cliffs

Gopher Snakes

Our last “new” experience was seeing gopher snakes. We saw two huge ones – almost 5 feet long. They aren’t poisonous and aren’t dangerous at all. In fact, the lady at the north rim general store said that they trap them and put them in the basement to eat mice. It was actually pretty cool to see them and they didn’t move away all that quickly giving us time to capture a fun video!

Gopher Snake

This really was a trip of new experiences. We are so fortunate to live in Arizona and have this as our playground. 

Are you trying to visit all the National Parks?

If your goal is to visit them, one or all, we’d love to help you strategize. Give us a call at (480) 609-3978 or drop us a note here. We always enjoy talking with people who share our passion for visiting National Parks, and National Park Units.

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