Monday, June 1, 2009

Over The North Rim and Beyond

Highway 89A took us up onto the Kaibab Plateau to access the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. What now, you ask? Well the good news is that our northern Arizona journey is not yet complete. Let's resume our trek at Jacob Lake, where Highway 67 and 89A meet.

The Arizona Strip

Continuing westward on U.S. 89A, the road continues for the next few miles across the plateau through ponderosa pine forests. It soon begins to descend nearly as quickly as it went up, leading to a valley on the other side. We are now officially on the Arizona Strip. Although territorially part of of Arizona, this region is geographically isolated from the rest of the state by the yawning chasm of the Grand Canyon, and as such is more culturally and economically tied to Utah and Nevada. Filled with an immense amount of open space most which is public land, the area has numerous recreational possibilities.

Some 30 miles west on highway 89A we reach the community of Fredonia, just south of the town of Kanab and the Utah/Arizona border. There's lots more exploring to do north of here, but we'll save that for another time. Meanwhile in Fredonia, we have S.R. 389 heading westward into Strip country. 15 miles west of town is Pipe Spring National Monument, which preserves an early Mormon settlement. The monument is located on the Kaibab-Paiute Indian Reservation, and they along with the Park Service manage the site for visitors.

31 miles west of Fredonia, Highway 389 enters Utah at the joint border communities of Colorado City and Hildale, made infamous in the 1930's and again recently as the home of the FLDS (Fundamental Latter Day Saints). These secretive and isolated communities openly practice polygamy in defiance of law and custom, and don't welcome visitors.

Mt. Trumbull, Tuweep Valley, and Toroweap

To further the explore the area, we have to leave the highway. The most convenienent access is off the Mt. Trumbull Road, located 8.5 miles west of Fredonia. Visitors can access the extreme northwestern sections of Grand Canyon National Park, the newly created Grand Canyon - Parashant National Monument, and over 7800 square miles of open and undeveloped land. This 60 mile long dirt road is usually kept in fairly good condition, although heavy rain can make sections impassable. Additionally, the last few miles into Toroweap are very rough, and require a high clearance vehicle.

Tuweep Valley

The road traverses very scenic open country for most of the way, with a few volcanic features breaking the skyline. The largest of these is Mt. Trumbull, home of Mt. Trumbull Wilderness Area. This pine forested mountain reaches just over 8000 feet in elevation, and is home to deer, elk, and a host of other wildlife. 45 miles into our trip south, we enter Tuweep Valley (Tuweep is a Paiute word meaning "long valley"). The name is accurate as the road follows the length of this very scenic high desert basin for 10 miles. The NPS Ranger Station is here as well as a small airstrip - If you plan on spending the night at Toroweap in the Park stop here and get the necessary permits.


15 miles after entering Tuweep Valley, the road gets quite a bit rougher as it approaches the edge of Grand Canyon. Camping is possible here with a Park Service permit, and there are several challenging hiking trails in the area, including one to the Colorado River 3000 feet below. What makes Toroweap so interesting is that here the canyon is only a mile or so across, and the walls of the gorge are sheer nearly all the way to the River. The scale of the geography here is not as intimidating as the developed part of the Park, but it is no less impressive.

One especially notable feature is Vulcan's Throne, an extinct volcano that poured massive lava flows into the canyon on several occasions, completely damming the river for thousands of years at a time. This remote and spectacular overlook of the western Grand Canyon should be high on the list of any adventurous visitor to the area, but be forewarned: Toroweap is in close proximity to a major air tour corridor from Las Vegas, and during daylight hours the constant drone of aircraft passing to and fro can be somewhat distracting.


  1. Thanks for the intel, heading there tomorrow!

  2. Eric,
    Thanks for sharing!