Tuesday, October 11, 2011

To the Rim and Beyond!

Last month we equipped the Jeep with a roof rack and a locking trunk in preparation for our recent trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We made checklists and checked them a dozen times to make sure we had all the comforts to get us through a week of tent camping. Robert packed and organized and organized again. On paper our camping trip seemed flawless and it was logistically speaking, but I guess we should have paid more attention to the weather forecast…(sigh).

Day 1
October 3, 2011

An early wakeup and by 5:40am, Operation Grand Canyon was in full effect! Travel was swift and uneventful. A quick dash east bound on the I-8 into Yuma to refuel, then on to Gila Bend and then northward through Phoenix (95-degrees!) Some billowing white clouds on the horizon made for some great pictures, but alas, those clouds didn’t stay fluffy and puffy for long. The first drops of rain came about 1pm as we drove north on I-17 through the Prescott National Forest. As we pulled into Flagstaff, the rain stopped just long enough for us to pitch our tent at the KOA Campground. And then it came with a vengeance. Thunder, lightening, rain, and hail….

After dinner at Pizza Hut and a warm shower at the campground, we tucked in for the night. Time check: 6pm. The rain was relaxing, tap tap tap on our tent and then BOOM! I am not a fan of thunder and lightening and I questioned (several times) whether we were safe in our tent, which by the way, was the only tent pitched in the campground. There were quite of few campers, but they were all snuggled (and safe) in RVs. I began to wonder if we should have gotten a motel room instead….

I woke up sometime during the night to a bout of uncontrollable shivering. Regardless of how many layers I put on, I couldn’t get warm and as I lay freezing to death in my sleeping bag, I heard my father-in-law say, “You can throw a blanket on a rock, but that won’t make it warm.”

Day 2
October 4, 2011

As morning turned a lighter gray, I reluctantly crawled out of Robert’s warm sleeping bag and we began breaking camp. The campground was incredibly quiet, as most were still in their RVs. The only sound was the low hum of traffic on the nearby highway. The rain had stopped, but it was wet and cold (51-degrees). By 7:30am we were northbound on the 89 with the heater blasting.

As we cruised through the Navajo Nation, we were listening to Native American Public Radio. The DJ was saying the weather forecast for Flagstaff was a high of 63-degrees with rain and wind, a “nice day” he says. Ha Ha. I suppose we are spoiled by beautiful San Diego weather, as “rain” sounded like a dreadful day to us.

At about 10am we stopped at the Navajo Bridge. The first bridge was built in 1928, but as it was too narrow and couldn’t handle the heavier cars of today, a second bridge was built in 1994 utilizing the same construction techniques as the original. As we stood on the bridge gazing out over the Colorado River, a large bird flying overhead caught our attention. It can’t be…a California Condor! And not just one, but three!

Before our trip we had watched a special about the Grand Canyon and it included a piece on the reintroduction of California Condors to the area. I secretly hoped we would see one, but I never expected to. I had my camera, but unfortunately I had on my wide-angle lens and not my zoom. I didn’t get any close-ups, but just to see a condor was so amazing I cried. Robert tried hard not to laugh as I can get pretty emotional when it comes to nature and wildlife. It wasn't the first time I cried when I saw an animal.

Soon, we were back on the highway, turning south on the 67 and heading towards our destination: North Rim Campground. Arrival time: 12:25pm. Temperature: 55-degrees. Elevation: 8800’. We set up camp amidst a sprinkling of rain that soon turned to hail, but that didn’t dampen our adventurous spirits. We headed out for a bit of exploring and then to the Grand Canyon Lodge for some dinner. However, we couldn't get reservations so we opted for chili at the deli next door.

It was another cold night.


“Yes, you can get in my sleeping bag again.”

Day 3
October 5, 2011

By 8:45am (40-degrees) we had the Jeep packed and I was miserable, as I couldn’t get warm. Our plan from the very beginning was to camp at Toroweap (or Tuweep), a primitive campsite at the end of a very long dirt road on the edge of the North Rim.

During the planning stages, we had read that the dirt road definitely requires 4x4 drive and can become impassable during wet weather. As it had been raining for the last several days and since we were by ourselves, we didn’t want to risk getting stuck in the middle of nowhere. Besides, I was still freezing and the weather was only getting colder.

After discussing our options, we decided to skip Toroweap (but vowed to return during nicer weather) and head towards a warmer climate. At 9:52am we exited the Grand Canyon and headed west on Alt 89. I was glad we decided not to camp again, as it was only 38-degrees and raining. At Fredonia, we headed north on 89 towards Zion National Park. At 12:40pm, we were flashing our National Parks Pass at the gate and entering yet another National Park. It was a bit warmer, 52-degrees, but still raining.

“STOP!” I screamed. Robert slammed on the brakes as hard as he dared on a wet and slippery road and veered towards the turnout, trying not to hit the car already parked there. If I hadn’t seen the photographer with his zoom lens pointed upwards, I would have missed them. Perched high on the red rocks along the road were three Bighorn Sheep!

We watched for a while (me through my zoom lens and Robert through his binoculars) as the Bighorn Sheep jostled and huddled against one another in the pouring rain. Eventually they tired of watching the crowd gathering below and moved off into the trees to graze.

We exited the park and headed south on I-15. The rain kept pace with us all the way to Las Vegas. Just after 4pm we stopped in Moapa, which is just north of Vegas. There really isn’t anything in Moapa, except a Chevron, a fleabag motel, and a restaurant. We last stayed in the motel in 2004 when we went to a NASCAR race in Las Vegas. However, in 2008, the gas station and restaurant burned down. Now it’s just the motel and a trailer used as the motel office/general store. The motel had been renovated and much to our dismay, the shag carpet and wood paneled walls were gone.

For lack of any other place to eat, we pulled out our stash of camping food and dined on bagels, cream cheese, and smoked salmon. It was actually a good decision not to find a motel in Las Vegas, because there was a major traffic jam due to road construction. We would have been stuck in traffic for hours.

Day 4
October 6, 2011

Rise and shine! At 6:30am (52-degrees) we were hitting the road again. The surrounding desert is such a beautiful and calming place and then there is this ghastly city rising from the cigarette ashes of millions of gamblers…I hate Las Vegas, but whenever we travel it always seems to be the point where we stop and refuel. This trip was no different.

As in typical Rae and Robert traveling fashion, we veered from I-15 and headed south on the less traveled 95 through Searchlight and Cal Nev Ari. We turned towards Goffs (establ. 1883/pop. 23) on Route 66 or the Old National Trail Hwy as it’s called, got a few pictures of some abandoned buildings and of “Route 66” painted in the road, and watched a freight train rumble past. At Amboy, we turned left and landed in Twentynine Palms.

Lunch at Denny’s and then once again we were flashing our National Parks Pass and cruising into Joshua Tree National Park. Time check: 1:10pm. Temperature: 66-degrees. We were told the south entrance was closed due to road damage and to exit the park, we would have had to turn around and leave the way we came.

After a consultation with the map, we decided to take the Geology Tour Road and from there branch off on Berdoo Canyon Road, another dirt trail that would eventually dump us just west of the south entrance. From there we would be able to connect with the freeway and head home, but we didn’t know if the dirt road had a locked gate at the end of it or if it was even passable. If we couldn’t get through, we would have to turn around and that would have added several long and dusty hours to our travels. Something neither of us wanted, but this was an adventure after all, so off we went!

After about 2-hours, we reached the end of Berdoo Canyon Road and as luck would have it, there was no locked gate! We drove through Indio along the 74 and 371, finally connecting to Hwy 79 and I-15.

At 7:35pm after driving 1,346 miles and visiting three National Parks, we were finally home.

I glanced at the temperature. 60-degrees. Brrrr.


"Yes, you can share my blanket."