Exploring the Back Roads of Grand Canyon’s North Rim

by Hartt Wixom

Kelly Point has no railing, no sidewalk, no gift shops and no crowds – Just spectacular views of the Grand Canyon.
Kelly Point has no railing, no sidewalk, no gift shops and no crowds – Just spectacular views of the Grand Canyon.

Backroad Bliss is Easy to Find Just South of the Utah Border

Like many others, I had visited the Grand Canyon, both rims. But I had never really explored the North Rim’s many side roads leading from U.S. 89A to any of the overlooks. With my son, Wade, Hurricane, who had floated the canyon 97 times as a guide and explored much of the rim, I joined him in finding more about what was there.

The north rim’s Imperial or Royal points get most of the publicity, but this sunny October day Wade and I looked at several little-known views of the 90-mile long gash in the Earth. For example, Crazy Jug Point. And Monument Point. At the latter, a short hike from road’s end, we found a plaque honoring Ward Bill Hall, who “gave his life while saving others.”
Park Ranger Hall was struck by another vehicle when he stopped to help a wrecked motorcyclist.

The monument didn’t say so but Wade could tell from the pinnacles rising from the deep canyon floor that Thunder River and Tapeats Creek lay directly below us. As Wade put it, “This may be the only place in the world where a river turns into a creek.” But that’s the way the maps show it. Across from Tapeats, Wade identified the Havasupai Indian Reservation’s land of four spectacular waterfalls.(I had visited this enchanting spot on earth with Wade a decade before.)

The Kaibab forest map indicates some dozen North Rim viewing points. Which is another reason for taking a four-wheel drive and departing U.S. 67 at some side road such as 270 and heading west on 223. The latter leads to the Point Sublime road but for some reason, we could find no sign marking it. (The National Park Service did not sign its roads as well as did the forest service.) Points Imperial or Royal, of course, can be reached simply by remaining on U.S. 67. Likewise, Bright Angel Point above the creek of that name, given by explorer Maj. John W. Powell in 1869.

One interesting feature of this trip was looking at many silver-tailed Kaibab squirrels found only on the canyon’s north rim. The Abert squirrel with a dark tail is found on the south rim. We looked at dozens of the former bouncing across the road in front of us on USFS road 22. The north side also has Merriam turkeys and many mule deer but we did not see any on this day. The entire Arizona Strip is famous for trophy muley bucks. Big game biologists can tell you about the day in 1924 when there were so many deer starving to death on the north rim that managers got together to decide what to do about it. They decided, humorously in hind sight, to drive deer from that side of the canyon to the south side. That was after eliminating predators: 674 mountain lions, 3,000 coyotes, 11 timber wolves, and more than 100 bobcats, according to a 1983 story in Outdoor Life. The same magazine said that an attempt to drive an estimated 30,000-60,000 mule deer from the north rim across the Colorado River to the south rim failed. Big time. A Hollywood photographer was to be paid one dollar for each deer which crossed before his camera lens. Despite the efforts of some 55 cowboys and 70 Navajo Indians, at the end of the day, not a penny was paid. As mule deer will, they doubled back and refused to leave familiar territory. But to be fair, 1924 was before much was known about mule deer management.

Ah, the intrigue of what was once called “America’s “Tibet.” So little was known about it until recent times. Today, it is a magnet for many like myself in Dixie who live only two hours away.

Strangely, Jacob Lake Lodge at junction of 89A and 67 has no mention of how it got that name—from Jacob Hamblin who crossed there on many visits to the Colorado River and Hopi Indians of central Arizona. There is a small lake north of the lodge but there is no mention even of that in the lodge. A nearby Grand Canyon Visitors Center does display a map of Hamblin’s many travels, a map by the way, which was drawn up by Wade several years ago. The Center also has many exhibits explaining the history and intrigue of this remarkable area.

You don’t want to hurry when driving the Kaibab. So many side roads, so many arroyos and ridges to explore, most eventually leading to the Grand Canyon. Any of the vistas will reward the visitor with stunning views of what nature can accomplish in time with soft stone, seven layers of it as I understand. Maj. Powell himself was banking on the word “soft” when he kept floating despite a public which envisioned high waterfalls. Powell proved correct.

To reach the Kaibab from any point in the Dixie area, drive on SR 9, 59, 389 to Fredonia, Arizona and turn south on U.S. 89A. For further information on north rim travel, contact the Kaibab North Forest Service at PO Box 248, Fredonia, Ariz., 86022, telephone (928) 643-7395. Much of the land south of Jacob Lake will be closed with snow by late autumn.

Note: there are many routes to the North Rim. The most adventurous is to take an ATV to Kelly Point, farthest point south via land along the North Rim.

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