Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Original Grand Canyon Airport

Sunrise at the Red Butte Airfield
Last June I turned back from a trek to the Moqui Stage Station in the Kaibab National Forest south of the Grand Canyon.  It seemed the better part of valor to come back another time when the axle-sucking mud had dried up.  Instead, I hiked to the fire lookout tower on Red Butte that day and enjoyed long views of passing storms.  

I was curious about a large clearing and buildings to the northwest.  My friend, helicopter pilot Maria Langer, blogged about this spot, and when I learned it was a 1920s hangar from the first Grand Canyon Scenic Airport, I needed to go back.  

I made that trip last week.  Like Maria, I made a wrong turn and endured a really bad road until I got smart enough to turn around and try again.

Hangar Interior
I let out an involuntary gasp as I rounded the last corner and saw the Hangar, ca 1927.  Grand Canyon scenic flights originated here beginning in 1928 and intermittently until the 1960s. Images of Charles Lindbergh here in 1928 are posted on the web and Amelia Earhart and Will Rogers are said to have visited as well.

Exterior Detail
The old hangar is in rough shape, and it appears that anything not nailed down has been removed.  Still, the dirt floor (if you can ignore the signs of use by cattle) and vintage fittings and signage are evocative of another time.  You’ll also see a few other buildings and a corral.

Notes on access;

This is one of those places that wouldn’t benefit from increased traffic; it’s been beaten up enough already.  I’m sure you, like I, wouldn’t dream of touching anything (let alone vandalizing or souvenir-hunting), but others are not so careful given the shotgun shells and trash scattered around.  Location information is available elsewhere on the web but I won’t post it here.

There seems to be some confusion about the permissibility of visiting the site at all.  Some private parties claim that the entire area is leased and that entering it constitutes trespassing.  Others say the land is public and the buildings are privately owned.  The Kaibab National Forest Motor Vehicle Use Map (Tusayan District) shows the road to the old airport as open to all vehicles and, despite looking diligently, I saw no “No Trespassing” signs on site.  I spoke to a Kaibab ranger in the Tusayan District Office by phone who knew of no restrictions.  She referred me to the current Grand Canyon Airport, where I was told that the lease had expired and there were no restrictions.

San Francisco Peaks and Red Butte through the windows.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Fall on the Kaibab Plateau

Partially eclipsed moon, rising.  From Point Imperial

 I thought awhile about how to make this post educational or philosophical without success.  This is a straightforward trip report, shared because it was such fun I just have to.

Whenever I can, I head up to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and the surrounding wilderness at peak fall color time, which was last week.  

This year, I arrived on the day of the supermoon-eclipse.  I’d carefully planned a location there and had high hopes.  Unfortunately, there were clouds and haze, so I have no images that will stop you in your tracks.  It was a remarkable experience, though, despite the frustration, and I forgot all about that while sharing a bottle of wine and a lovely home-cooked meal with a friend afterward.

Sunrise & Moonset at Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge
Typically I expect clear skies at this time of year, but for whatever reason (perhaps the “Bruce Lee” El Nino) there were clouds. Bad for the eclipse, but great for most everything else.  After sleeping off the wine in the camper (in my friend’s yard), I made for the Lodge on the rim without much hope, but had a delightful sunrise and a good time chatting with a number of first-time Grand Canyon visitors.  I know many people only make it there once in their lives, which reminds me of my great fortune being able to return so frequently.

North Timp Point Sunset
By then I was ready for the aspens in the forest and joyfully hit my favorite aspen groves, ending up camped alone on the rainbow rim enjoying an incredible sunset and sunrise.

Kanab Point View
Marco and Luna (the dog) met me the next day, and we drove together to Kanab Point, 49 miles on dirt along a route with essentially no signs.  We were very happy to have a GPS track to follow.  This may be my favorite remote viewpoint on the canyon, with its staggering bird’s-eye view up the narrow slot which is Kanab Creek, more incredible views, and solitude.

Aspen Grove on the Kaibab Plateau
The three of us spent the next night at another Rainbow Rim Point and I went back to the forest roads when they headed home, shooting yellow groves through the afternoon.  The wind was wicked that night (loudly raining pinecones on the camper roof), and in the morning the trees were largely stripped.  Grateful for my inadvertent good timing, I thought that was my signal to head home.

Thanks for coming along.  More images from this trip are in the Grand Canyon Gallery on the website.