October 30th & 31st, 2009
Cape Solitude was a noticeable map feature throughout my first summer at the Grand Canyon, but I never thought I’d get to see it.
The hike is an approximate 30-mile round trip with no shade, without a single drop of water to be found along the way. The terrain consists of wide-open, rather featureless desert, so going out there in mid summer was out of the question.
The path is actually an old jeep road that bears east and then north from Desert View, parallel to the rim and its consequent cliffs called the Palisades of the Desert. The route skirts Grand Canyon National Park’s boundary with the Navajo Reservation.
The old road was used and passable until 1996, when the Park expanded its designated Wilderness areas. Some of the old timers resent the fact that you can no longer even ride a bicycle to Cape Solitude. At first I shared in the sentiment by proxy – especially given the relatively bleak terrain – but on ensuing trips I came to appreciate the area’s sense of isolation.
With the cooler temperatures of late October and my willingness to carry a lot of water (two gallons), an overnight trip to Cape Solitude became a reality.
The circumstances could not have been any better. I slept alone at Cape Solitude on the night before Halloween. Boo. Bring on the thunderbirds and mystical desert spooks.
About The Confluence
Cape Solitude is a special, isolated place that looks over the confluence of The Colorado River and The Little Colorado River. Where these two canyons meet, one canyon does not appear any more grand than the other.
By some designations, the confluence marks the official beginning of Grand Canyon. Everything downstream of the “LCR” is “Grand,” and the Colorado River gorge to the north is technically called “Marble Canyon,” all the way upstream to a place called Lees Ferry. Most of us aficionados, however, consider Marble Canyon to be a lesser designation within the broader scope of Grand Canyon, and very much a part of it.
The Confluence is a spiritual place, especially to Native Americans. The Hopi people believe that all of mankind originated in an underworld realm, and emerged to this world at a spring located in the Little Colorado River Gorge, known as the “Sipapu.”
Some say that misfortunes and strange things often happen to modern explorers that visit the area, due to omniscient deities that inhabit the Confluence. Some Navajo and other local cultures observe rituals for approaching the area, too.
Day One – Desert View to Cape Solitude
The trail unceremoniously begins as an old road that continues beyond the developed area of Desert View. Simply turn at the old gas station and follow the main road to the east as it turns to dirt.
I chose to park at a pullout on the side of the road soon after the pavement disappeared. It’s legal to proceed all the way down to the base of Cedar Mountain, where a gate and a “road closed” sign bars the way north, but this requires a robust vehicle.
Soon I saw expansive, open views to the east as the road made its descent in switchbacks toward Cedar Mountain.
A low spot is reached at the head of the east arm of Tanner Canyon. It creates a sort of saddle between Desert View and the Palisades to the north, with unique views of this corner of the Canyon.
From here the path turns away from the rim, and the route is void of greater Canyon views until you’re near its end approaching Cape Solitude. It meanders through an unexciting feature called Straight Canyon, and ascends to the open desert.
This native structure is easily visible to the east of the road.
All the terrain isn’t necessarily as flat as it appears. To leave the route and approach the rim of the Canyon to the west actually involves a significant climb. Gaining the summit of Comanche Point, for example, requires a climb of 600 feet. A fair little valley parallels the rim (seen above) until things level out near Espejo Butte.
The atmosphere of this hike would be much better without the constant noise of helicopters and airplanes overhead. This part of the Canyon is directly underneath a primary flight path for the air tours based in the gateway town of Tusayan. It’s too bad that official Wilderness designations have no consideration for air traffic, but such is the balance of modern recreation. At least there’s no gondolas in the region.
The Park Service built this fence out here in the middle of nowhere, extending for miles to mark the boundary between the National Park and the Reservation.
The trail rejoins the rim a little more than a mile from Cape Solitude. I took advantage of the occasion to set up a self-timed photo. The above perspective looks toward the south, with the South Rim as the distant horizon. Escalante Butte can be discerned on the left, below the rim.
I reached Cape Solitude after a little more than 6 hours of solid hiking, grabbed some initial photos, and set up camp for the evening.
more photos from Day One’s hike:
Sunset at Cape Solitude
After getting all settled in for the evening and having my dinner, I went back to the point to shoot a plethora of photos at sunset.
more sunset photos:
Day 2 – Cape Solitude to Desert View
The night was quiet and still.
I woke at sunrise, and went to the overlook for more photos.
more sunrise photos:
Return to Desert View
So on this Halloween morning I simply retraced my steps to the trailhead.
This last set of images was shot mostly at the north end of the trail, between Cape Solitude and the place where the trail leaves the rim.