I left the Canyon for a few months in the summer of 2010 to go on a few adventures. I thru-hiked the Colorado Trail in August, and went on some significant road trips before and after the hike.
Prior to the Colorado Trail, I traveled up to Yellowstone to visit friends. We hiked the Teton Crest Trail, and then I went up to see Glacier National Park before traveling back down to Colorado.
And then after the Colorado Trail, I drove across the United States back to Pennsylvania to spend a little time with family, and decide what I wanted to do next. I ultimately ended up going back to the Grand Canyon, but at the time I wasn’t sure.
With that in mind, for all I knew, the month of July 2010 could have been the last time I’d ever live at the Canyon.
So with that in mind, I decided that I’d first like to see a little more of the North Rim.
For my “final” weekend off of work, I chose to travel up there and spend a night at Cape Final. I’d only visited the North Rim once before, and that was on foot, so I was looking forward to the freedom of having a vehicle to check out the viewpoints, like Point Imperial and Cape Royal.
Traveling to the North Rim
It was late in the day by the time I departed the South Rim – especially considering that I’d be making a lot of stops. I’d never done the drive from rim to rim before, and ended up stopping for intermittent photos.
I grabbed an image of the petrified dunes near the turnoff for Tuba City, and then stopped to walk the old Navajo Bridge over the Colorado River near Lees Ferry for the first time.
Monsoon clouds were in the air on this warm, typical summer day in northern Arizona.
The burned forest south of Jacob Lake was striking enough for me to get an image of, too.
I realized I was pressed for time when I reached the Park Entrance. Cape Final faces due east, but I nonetheless very much wanted to get there before sunset, and time was running out. The realization was enhanced by the sudden shaded environment as the highway meanders down the wooded Thompson Canyon.
I took a moment to pause at Vista Encantada and Roosevelt Point, despite my newfound hurry.
From the road it’s just a 2-mile one-way hike through the woods to Cape Final, so I was quick about parking and grabbing my backpacking and hoofing it out there.
Sunset at Cape Final
Despite my efforts, the sun had sank below the western threshold, or had been obscured by clouds. There was still enough light to see the Canyon, though.
Nobody else was around. I set up my tent, cooked dinner, and went to sleep.
I was up for sunrise in the morning. Monsoon clouds still hung low in the east, but the sun first shined through a clear strip of sky along the horizon before lifting behind the curtain.
I hiked the trail back to my vehicle after getting my fill of the early view. I was excited to make my very first visit to the nearby Cape Royal, where I knew a stunning perspective of Wotan’s Throne awaited me.
It was short, uneventful walk back though the forest to the trailhead.
It’s a half-mile walk at Cape Royal from the parking lot to actual overlook at Cape Royal. The distance surprised me, as I assumed the parking area to be closer to the edge of the Canyon (like the overlooks at the South Rim).
To this day, the short paved walk can still catch me off guard and feel relatively long and arduous.
The view at Cape Royal was all I expected it be, and I was struck by the sight of Vishnu Temple as well as the expected, curling ramparts of Wotan’s Throne. But the early light was still drab and muted.
A look west toward the back sides of Zoroaster Temple and Brahma was interesting too, but somewhat blocked by the furthest southern tip of the Walhalla Plateau.
Soon I got back on the road and made a beeline north, to Point Imperial. Paved access at the North Rim essentially just has 3 classic views – the one to be found at the lodge (and Bright Angel Point), Cape Royal, and one I hadn’t visited yet – Point Imperial.
The road makes a hairpin turn immediately below the parking lot at Cape Royal, with a Canyon view all of its own.
Point Imperial boasts the highest elevation in the National Park, at 8,800ft and features a striking look at a Coconino monolith called Mount Hayden.
The view to the north was also interesting, with a good perspective of Saddle Mountain and the Nankoweap Trail below, which I hiked for the first time just a few months prior.
Return to Cape Royal
I knew I’d be making the drive back to the South Rim tonight, but I was otherwise just winging it on my plans for the morning. These overlooks were the main thing I wanted to see, but I was still left with some time and energy after the early summer sunrise.
So I chose to retrace my steps and drive all the way back south to Cape Royal. I imaged that the photo opportunities would be changed with clearer light, and the nearby Cliff Spring Trail piqued my curiosity.
The Cliff Spring Trail
The hike at Cliff Spring has numerous points of interest packed into its short distance. First is an old native granary that sits directly on the trail.
This is followed by an overhanging spring that’s nestled in a deep alcove. The road noise and outside falls away in here, especially if you’re lucky to be here alone.
A raven provided some company, only adding to the effect.
Finally, the wall above the trail is painted with handprints and a spooky humanoid image. My instincts tell me the images were created more recently than others found in the region, but it’s still a special place with obvious prehistoric significance.
The trail begins to work a contour out and around to the south, but tapers to an end as the slope gets steep and treacherous.
The North Rim Lodge
Before departing for the South Rim, I took one last detour to the North Rim Lodge. I’d visited it once before on foot.
This was a similar visit (in the matter of feeling pressed for time now), but I grabbed a few more photos and walked out toward Bright Angel Point.
The Road South
Midsummer’s clouds amplified the desert scene on the drive home.