|Lovely aspen trunks|
I’m just back from my first North Rim trip of the season. Technically, we were not in Grand Canyon National Park (except for about 10 minutes; more on that later), but rather in the North Kaibab National Forest. Typically I make this trip 3-5 times each year, from shortly after opening May 15 to a fall color trip in late September/early October. Lots of things have changed, for me and for the forest. For years I camped primarily at viewpoints, photographing the grand vistas. They’re breathtaking to be sure, but lately I’ve been motivated by a search for solitude and more intimate landscapes. I’ll just note briefly (and skip my usual rant) that as camping has become astronomically more popular, those viewpoints are crowded. More on that later as well.
The Arizona Trail runs through a series of meadows on the “East Side” (of highway 67) which are spectacular and little-used. We found camps near where the trail crosses forest roads, and so had easy access to hike these sections and sort of stitch them one-by-each.
Spring is fully underway in most parts of the forest, but cold air settles into the lower meadows at night, delaying the greening of the aspen trees. One morning it was 30F, compared with 50F up on the roads. There were large swaths of aspens doing a credible impersonation of winter there in the low places. Some trees were just beginning to leaf out. As an illustration of how much I love these beauties, I’ll admit that I find infant aspen leaves cute. Really.
We stay out of the park on “family” trips because national parks are not so dog friendly. There is, however, a trash drop and porta-potty a few miles inside the entrance gate. No, I wouldn’t have paid $35 for this service alone, but it seemed a reasonable use of the annual pass. The lines at the North Rim Entrance are minimal and the drive is gorgeous. That’s the unglamorous story of our 10-minute visit to the park.
My mom’s health has been tenuous, and I wanted to be available to my sister, her primary caregiver. So, we tried to camp where there was a phone signal. Normally connectivity is only available at those crowded rim spots I mentioned earlier. We tried Marble Viewpoint, which has become a worst-kept secret. There were five groups camping at a place which really should only have two. We compromised, moved away from the edge a quarter mile or so, and walked out periodically to catch the signal. Still, I had to don medical gloves and gather up TP (my husband calls them redneck prayer flags) and other trash before we could feel comfortable in that space. Perhaps that’s why we had so much trash to dump.
After that night, we decided we’d just drive or hike to a spot with phone service (and a pit toilet; such luxury) each day and depend on my Garmin InReach (which allows satellite texting; great for the solo traveler) for the in-between times.
That’s when we hatched the plan to do a little exploring in hopes of finding quiet places and hiking the meadows. We didn’t see a soul for 48 hours at least and the dog was in heaven.
Signs of spring were everywhere, and the aspen groves were healthy and pristine.
We’ll be back to the meadows for autumn, and likely before.
More favorite images from this trip are on the website, in the newly minted Summer 2021 Gallery.