Words fail to describe the experience of the Grand Canyon North Rim. As do pictures. There is no way to capture the views or feelings you will enjoy when you stand at Bright Angel Point, or the lodge, surrounded by the deep gorges and steep cliffs of the mother of all canyons. You may look at pictures, one more gorgeous than the other, marvel at the beauty of the place, but to fully understand this, you have to be there, at least once in your life.
Yes, this is a definitive on my personal Must-See-List. Although „See“ is the wrong expression. If I am ever to put up a list of 1000 Places to see before you die (or even a hundred), this is on it.
We drove up from Vegas and through the Virgin River Gorge, through the wide expanse of Kaibab National Forest.
Usually, a stop at Zion would have been the first choice, it was literally just around the corner, but since we were travelling off-season, and the possibility of snow was already on the horizon, we made sure we covered the North Rim first. Most publications will tell you the North Rim will be closed around October 15, and the nearby accommodation does the same, simply because the almost 40 mile long road down to the National Park will be closed when the snow has arrived. And quite understandably so.
The visitor center is at 2576 meters altitude, a good 300 meters higher than the South Rim. We enjoyed the drive, but when entering the park, the elderly and very friendly ranger advised us to drive carefully, a bad accident had happened. Somewhere along the road we could see he was right – a white sedan was wrapped around two trees, and it didn’t look good for the passengers. They must have been speeding down the narrow road… what a terrible way to end a vacation.
We took our time, enjoying the many varying faces of the area, from burnt forests to wide clearings, gold-glittering aspen leaves, cattle and deer, and arrived at the national park around 2 pm. It was a good time, the fresh air was warmed by the October sun, and after having filled our water bottles at the refill station, we walked down to the Bright Angel viewpoint.
The trail is wheelchair-accessible, but still very steep, and the air is thin – be prepared to be exhausted. The short hike offers a few breathtaking views of the Grand Canyon. The parking area around the lodge was maybe half full, so the paths around the lodge and Bright Angel Point were not crowded. Still you had to take turns taking pics at some of the more prominent viewpoints – but as stated before, taking pictures felt somewhat futile. Instead, we watched a condor circling in the upwinds across the canyon, and tried to bathe in the sensation of just being here.
At the lodge, Rangers were giving lectures – every 90 minutes or so, on various topics, from geology to the reintroduction of the condor; these are for free and really interesting. The lodge itself is located in a prime spot where you can pick a reclining chair and enjoy the gorgeous view without as much as scrambling over a stony trail – but to be honest, that’s part of the experience, of really being there, not just enjoying the view.
There are a few short trails right at the visitor center, perfect for the day trip; and some very tough ones down the canyon, which may well take several days. The national park rules apply – for longer trips you need a permit, to make sure someone is aware where you are – and to conserve the nature by keeping out too many people.
In the late afternoon, after having enjoyed several of the view points, and a picnic with carrots and hummus we had brought from Vegas, we made our way back to our choice of lodging – the Jacob Lake Inn, at the intersection of US 89A and AZ 67, 44 miles up the road from the North Rim, a pretty convenient spot with a few log cabins and a campground. We didn’t bother taking a shower at our log cabin though – the shower was freezingly cold – but slipped under the blankets for a very, ahem, refreshing night.