Thursday, July 21, 2011

Somewhere Over The Rainbow Rim

The Grand Canyon is arguably the world's most well known natural wonder, a place where the landscape exists on such a massive scale that it is nearly impossible to appreciate just how big the place is. People from all over the planet make pilgrimage to this showcase of geology and erosion, standing in awestruck wonder at the majesty and beauty before them.

The vast majority of visitors travel to the well developed South Rim, with a much smaller percentage making their way to the seasonally open and more remote North Rim. These are the easy access points to the Canyon, and as such in summer they are swarmed with tourists armed with point-and-shoot cameras elbowing each other for space at the viewpoints. In these necessarily concentrated locations it's possible with some effort to escape to a more serene setting, but there's still parking congestion and the feeling of being confined to "designated and approved" areas of the Park to deal with.... not my cup of tea, as they say.

Fortunately because of the size there are other Grand Canyons, places where it's not only possible but likely you'll find the solitude and quiet necessary to really absorb the essence of the place. In this post I'll introduce one of those spots, as long as you agree not to tell anyone else.

The Rainbow Rim

The Rainbow Rim could be more properly referred to as the West Rim of the North Kaibab Plateau, although that name is not as lyrical. I'm not going to detail specific instructions on how to get there, but if you have a good map and a willingness to drive on reasonably well maintained Forest Service Roads, you should have no problem finding it.

The Rainbow Rim is located in the Kaibab National Forest, west of Highway 67 which leads to the North Rim of Grand Canyon. Find F.S. road 22, head west until F.S. 206, then south (left). Follow the signs to the viewpoints. There are 5 separate overlooks to choose from. North to south they are Parissawampits, Fence, Locust, North Timp, and Timp Point. I won't reveal which are my personal favorites, so anyone planning to visit should take the time to check them all out as each one offers a slightly different view and setting.

What makes the Rainbow Rim so appealing to me is this section of the rim is part of the Kaibab National Forest, which offers many dispersed camping opportunities. The regulations are much less stringent here, although respect for the land is still paramount. Basically you can camp within a few hundred feet of the rim, meaning more time can actually be spent viewing the Canyon, without a lot of other folks around to disturb the natural quiet.

Another attraction is the Rainbow Rim Trail, which links all of the viewpoints in an 18 mile point-to-point path contouring around the bays and promontories along the canyon edge. The walking is moderately easy, with only a few minor dips and hills to negotiate along the way.

The environments along the trail vary from the drier, more desert adapted pinyon-juniper woodland at the rim to the more heavily vegetated pine-aspen forest where the path retreats from the canyon.

The trail offers the perfect opportunity to experience the environment that exists above the interior of the Canyon. Meandering through the trees on the edge of the greatest gorge on earth is a great way to spend the day.

In summer there is a multitude of wildflowers blanketing the hillsides, as well as dappling the understory of the forest with vibrant colors and heavenly scents designed to attract the necessary pollinators.

Between viewpoints, the mostly shady path undulates gently in and out of minor drainages, and the air is redolent with the warm buttery smell of sun warmed pines. At each of the five fingers which protrude into the canyon, breathtaking views encompass the western horizon.

No matter which vantage point you choose to view the awe inspiring scenery, the Canyon is a place of many moods.

My favorite aspect of the Rainbow Rim is the western facing perspective. This allows for some of the most magnificent sunsets I have ever witnessed.

Everyone should visit the Grand Canyon at some point in their life, even if all you can manage is a trip to the more popular and crowded South Rim. But if you possess an adventurous spirit and the desire to see this incredible place without having to put up with teeming hordes, you should consider an off-road excursion to the Rainbow Rim. It's the Grand Canyon few will ever see.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the blog, been to GC several times but never heard of this. Need a better guide book.