Category Archives: Arizona

Cape Final

May 17-18, 2022.

4.2 mi | 400′ ele. gain | overnight

cape final

In looking for a quiet and unique experience at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, I stumbled across a blog describing an overnight trip to Cape Final. It described an easy 2 mile walk out to a single backpacking site along the rim of the canyon. Sounded perfect! So, what was the catch? You had to secure a permit ahead of time to reserve the site. I dug around the NPS website to learn about reserving permits, and I learned that I missed the first possible date to send an application in by a few weeks. Undeterred, I faxed (yes, faxed) my application in and just a few days later learned that we got the site!

Fast forward to the afternoon of May 17. We had just finished the scenic drive and accumulated a few miles of hiking already. The sun was blazing hot, but this hike promised shade trees. We loaded up our overnight packs with every possibly luxury (since the pack in was so short!) and slowly began plodding up the trail.

We passed a few groups hiking out, all of whom were shocked that you could camp up there. Yes! I thought, my planning had really paid off. Cheery purple larkspur dotted the trail through the airy Ponderosa pine forest. In fact, I couldn’t even tell we were at the Grand Canyon; it was forest in every direction. After nearly 2 miles of walking, we finally got some peek-a-boo views of the canyon at the edge of the trees. The trail took a sharp right turn and soon deposited us at a little campsite marker just before the sign for Cape Final.

We quickly dropped our backpacks at the flat spot behind the sign. But Aaron noticed another flat spot tucked just behind some trees, and there it was: the ultimate campsite. We hoisted our heavy packs up once more and claimed this more private site as ours for the night.

After setting up camp, we gathered up food, beer and layers and walked out to the viewpoint. It was even more spectacular than I’d expected. We’d already seen so many incredible vistas, so I didn’t think this one would be any different. But this provided a panoramic view over deep, dramatic gorges; we could hardly figure out which one held the Colorado River just by looking out at the landscape.

I happily drank my Grand Canyon Prickly Pear Wheat Ale, accompanied by prickly pear cactus on the edge of the Grand Canyon, and we watched the setting sun paint ephemeral pictures of the cliff edges all around us. Vultures played in the thermals rising up from the warm canyon bottom as we reclined on the rocks. It was so quiet and peaceful.

And then we went into the tent to sleep. *Snort*. Those lovely thermals turned into ripping gale force winds that rattled the tent, the trees, my brain and everything else all night long. The nearly full moon blasted through the thin nylon walls like a bright headlight. And the remarkably hot air made this cold sleeper crawl out of the bag, sweating, for the duration of the night. I barely got an hour of sleep over the course of the evening. I could not wait for my alarm to go off.

I set an alarm for 50 minutes before sunrise, but it was already light by the time the alarm rang. We sprang out of bed and rushed to the viewpoint to catch the sunrise. I fumbled back to the food bag I hung last night to grab our coffee making supplies, because when else in my life would I be able to sip coffee with the sunrise at the edge of the Grand Canyon?!

Admittedly, the sunrise was not that exciting. But I couldn’t sleep anyways and the coffee tasted good. We returned to our camp where I made breakfast: dehydrated eggs, kale, turkey sausage and onions, topped with hash browns. Better than any lodge breakfast you could have asked for! We slowly packed up and then I scouted a morning watercolor spot while Aaron poked around and took more photos.

We stumbled across several other overlooks, arguably better than the official Cape Final, until I settled on my favorite one. For the next couple hours, it was just me and the birds and the ever changing light on the canyon.

cape final watercolor

To say this was a highlight of the trip is an understatement. Despite all the advance planning and anticipation (which can sometimes make a place feel *less* exciting once you finally get there), finding so much solitude and peace at Cape Final was worth the effort. I’ll catch up on sleep some other time.

See all our photos from the North Rim here.

Cape Royal Scenic Drive

May 17, 2022.

The Cape Royal Scenic Drive is an excellent way to spend the day getting acquainted with the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. We began our drive around 9 am and made a point to stop at every pullout and scenic viewpoint, 11 stops in all.

The first few stops only had an interpretive signboard to read. Several made note of the role wildfire plays in the ecosystem. Others talked about the creation of the park and other historical facts. The best stops were, of course, the ones that involved at least a little walking.

Point Imperial, the highest and most northern of the North Rim viewpoints, has a large parking area and developed viewpoint. We got out there, walked past several old Rolls Royce cars that were touring the park, and meandered over to the official overlook. The views were breathtaking. It was still early, so we were among a small handful of people who were out and about. I enjoyed having some time to soak in the views without feeling rushed to get out of anyone’s way.

Next, we stopped at Greenland Lake. More a puddle than a lake, we followed a decent trail counterclockwise until we reached an old salt shed. From there, the trail disappeared. But, determined to circumnavigate the soggy depression, we pressed on through thorny thickets made of New Mexican Locust until we returned to the main trail.

We took another short walk at Roosevelt Point, where a short scramble off the official trail led to a rock outcropping with a tremendous view. The gnarled old trees and wildflowers added some drama to what was already a pretty dramatic vista.

The next interpretive stop was Walhalla Pueblo. I downloaded the guide from the NPS app and read aloud the description of each room of the pueblo as we walked by it. Without the guide, it would be a bunch of boring lines of stone on the ground, so I was grateful to have the information on my phone to provide context to what we were looking at.

After lunch, we headed down the Cliff Spring Trail. I had low expectations for this hike, but it was just the thing to get out of the heat! A short, steep walk down through open forest led us past an old granary and then to a shady pathway leading under an overhanging rock. The walls of the rock were wet; moss and plants grew there. As we neared the spring, water began to pool at our feet. It was obvious why Native Americans used this area to escape the intense heat just a quarter mile away! I was ready to move in for good after just a short time in the sun.

We continued past the spring and the end of the official trail. The user path was nearly as good as the actual one. Anyway, the vegetation got more diverse and interesting as we walked. I recognized several plants from previous trips to the southwest: Mormon tea, buffaloberry, agave…but as the path began to deteriorate, we decided we had to call it somewhere.

Cape Royal marked the end of the road. Suddenly, it felt like we were back in a National Park. Most of the other stops, even the ones with trails, were very quiet. But here, the large parking area was bustling with people. Hikers walking right past the “No dogs” sign with their dogs. People taking Instagram selfies right on the edge of the cliffs. Large groups of people oblivious to anyone else trying to walk around them. All what you’d expect at a National Park. I grumbled to myself that the whole day had been really lovely and I could tolerate this nonsense for a half an hour.

We read all the signs along the paved paths, learning about the unique ecosystem at this very point. Apparently, warm winds blowing up from the canyon below create a microclimate in which lower elevation cactus and shrubs can thrive. I was delighted to try and spot as many cacti as I could while we tried to avoid the worst of the crowds.

I was surprised at how few guard rails there were at major viewpoints, and also at how close people walked to the edges of dizzyingly high cliffs. I’ll never forget the rule I learned in rock climbing: never get closer than a body-length away from an edge unless you’re anchored in. Clearly, this is not a universal rule. Even where guard rails existed, they were barely waist high and didn’t really make me feel much safer. I have a great respect for heights and kept my distance from the edges. Watching people’s super casual behavior here is what inspired us to buy the book about deaths in Grand Canyon.

In a single day of exploring with several easy walks to punctuate the car time, the Cape Royal Scenic Drive was an excellent way to gain an appreciation for the natural and human history of the North Rim.

Widforss Point

May 16, 2022.

9.7 mi | 1000′-ish ele. gain | 7:45 hr including watercolor time

After a chill morning getting acquainted with Grand Canyon National Park’s North Rim, we set off on our first real hike. Widforss Point is located at the end of a nearly 5 mile trail, with who knows how much elevation gain. My newly updated app decided to stop tracking accurately, and online sources range from 300-1200 feet of elevation gain overall. This seemingly simple fact is hard to track down. But, after having hiked it, I can report that there is a small chunk of elevation gain but in the grand scheme of things it’s not that much.

Regardless of the stats, we loaded up with plenty of water and snacks. Aaron packed his hammock and I packed my watercolor kit for trail’s end activities. We hit the trail after 10 am, and the temperatures were already pretty hot. We walked slowly, enjoying the lovely Ponderosa pine-aspen forest as we ascended the trail. Early-spring wildflowers dotted the trail. Now, out of my home range, I had a lot of researching to do in the Arizona wildflower app (yes, this exists, it’s free and it’s an incredible resource!).

Although the trail roughly follows the edge of the canyon, there are only occasional peek-a-boo views into its depths. The Grand Canyon is indescribably BIG. So big that, from nearly every viewpoint on this trip, we could not see it’s creator: the Colorado River. It was tucked so deeply into the labyrinthine canyon walls that standing only at just the right angle and elevation would offer up a small glimpse of the water.

As a result, every time we got a peek at the canyon we were overjoyed. And, it gave us good reason to stop and catch our breath. We proceeded from one view to the next until the trail entered into the woods for the last couple miles. On our trek, we passed five groups heading in the opposite direction. The last group assured us we’d have the end point to ourselves, a wonderful side effect of starting a hike later in the day.

After one extended food and shade break, we finally walked the last stretch into the yawning panoramic view at Widforss Point. This was worth the hike in. To our left, a small grove of trees offered Aaron a spectacularly scenic hammocking spot. Straight ahead, a goat path down a few rock terraces led me to a windy point at which I could take out my paints. We went our separate ways for a couple of hours.

I found a broad, flat rock upon which I could set up a small watercoloring station. As I attempted to brush off some of the pebbles atop the rock, I discovered that they were attached. And they were marine fossils. What a wild thought, that this 8000′ cliff’s edge was one submerged in the sea.

In my kit, I found everything I needed except a pencil. Oh well, I thought, I guess I’m going straight to paint on this one! As a novice watercolor artist, it is terrifying to begin a new painting with no graphite guide rails. But, I had the time, the view and the motivation to do it so I gave it my best shot.

The wind was pretty consistently strong, with occasional big gusts. I used an elastic band and a binder clip to keep the pages from blowing around while painting. My paints picked up a lot of grit from the air. So, I guess an actual part of the Grand Canyon lies within the painting itself.

Widforss Point watercolor

After what felt like ages, I wrapped up and hustled back to Aaron. He was happily lounging in the hammock without a care in the world. I could have painted well into the evening with no complaints!

widforss point

Just as we packed up, a few people meandered out of the forest and over to the viewpoint. We said hello, then a quick goodbye, and returned down the trail. It was much cooler now. Well rested, we made good time all the way back to the car. Hungry for dinner but needing a few supplies, we busted back to the Grand Canyon store to pick up a few things before they closed.

The previous day, we’d found a secluded, dispersed campsite in the Kaibab National Forest just outside the park. We returned to our sweet little site where I made a nice chili and we ate heartily. The full moon rose through the silhouettes of trees and we clambered into the tent for an early bedtime.