Friday, September 10, 2010

Labor Day trip to north rim of GCNP- Part II: the Canyon

The north rim of the Grand Canyon differs from the south rim in several ways.  For one thing, only about 10% of the visitors to GCNP go to the north rim,  making it much less congested.  The elevation is also about 1000' higher than the south rim, resulting in views that allow one to almost look down upon the distal horizon.  The reason for this is the series of faults and the east Kaibab monocline that produced the Canyon:  the earth rose and the water cut a channel through the sedimentary layers along the fault line.  Side canyons formed as water found its way to lower points, causing more rapid erosion.  There probably remains some debate amongst geologists, but I believe it is generally accepted that the Canyon itself is about 5-6 million years in age.   It averages 10 miles across,  a mile deep, and is 277 miles in length.  The rocks that form it span in age from 245-1700 million years [1.7 billion].    Simply put, the magnitude and scope make it hard not to be impressed.

We arrived at Timp Pt. around 5:30, AZ time, on Friday afternoon.  Monsoon season was either over or was on a brief hiatus, so there were no concerns about rain.  In fact, it was a cloudless day for most of the drive, which is always less than optimal when hoping to get some great photos.   However, clouds had appeared to the west as we drove, and some lingered over the canyon itself that evening.

We secured a campsite, but after taking a walk down the road, discovered that the next site over actually had a better view (a plus for me, as I had planned to paint, and wasn't keen on hauling my pastels and easel out 1/2 mile to the other vista we found).  So, we relocated our gear, just as the sun was setting.

Sunset at Timp Pt.

This was the view about 20' from our campsite.   The view is to the south and slightly west.  Not a high-drama sunset that can often be seen at the south rim due to the direction of the light, but this instills a sense of calm, I think.  There was a lot of haze in the Canyon, either from Las Vegas or dust particulates from the dry air and wind.

Mid-morning light
Because of the haze and lack of clouds, I didn't end up taking that many photos, or at least with the intent that they turn out "photo-worthy".    But,  you can't come to the Grand Canyon and not take at least some photos to remember the stay, so here is one.

The western edge of Powell Plateau is seen to the left, connected by a saddle to Steamboat Mtn.  The Colorado river is on the distal side, running between the sets of reddish cliff sets.  The Havasupi reservation is on the south rim.

Saturday was "do your own thing" day; Wayne went on a hike along the Rainbow Rim trail, Dave and Eva took their mountain bikes along the same trail, and I attempted to paint.  I had earlier cased out the prime location for setting up an easel, and thought I'd be able to do at least a few paintings.  But, it ended up being quite hot, and instead of setting up the easel in the sun, I pulled a chair over and painted in the shade.  Because it was so difficult for me to narrow down a composition sitting there, I ended up using a photo and sketching the basic shapes in from the thumbnail view, and then working from the view.

The painting isn't posted because it got pretty significantly smeared when it was taken out of the car after we got back.  I may try to fix it, but haven't had the desire to thus far.  It suffered from the limitations of my pastel palette, although as with the previous plein air paintings, it was a valuable process nonetheless.

On Sunday, our group decided to go hike along a different portion of the Rainbow Rim trail.  This trail, which starts at Timp Pt. and ends at Parissawampitts Pt., is 18 miles in length, one way.  It's a multi-use single track trail open to any non-motorized form of transportation.  It follows the contour of the rim, much of which requires long cut-backs through the forest in order to cross the drainages to the side canyons before they become impassable cliffs...

We drove out to North Timp Pt., and before we knew it, we'd decided to go all the way to Locust Pt., 6.5 miles away.  None of us were planning such an ambitious hike, but given that the trail was essentially level with minor changes in elevation, and in shade much of the way, it didn't take on Death March proportions.

View approaching Locust Pt.

We had to hike 6 miles through the forest before the rim came into view again.  N. Timp Pt. is immediately to the left.  Steamboat Mtn. is above it to the left.
The gray-white cliff formation is Coconino sandstone, which overlays the dark red Hermit formation.  In this part of the canyon, the Hermit is frequently covered with vegetation.

Eva, Dave and Wayne at Locust Pt.
Everyone is happy that we made it and can now turn around and hike the 6.5 miles back to the car.  North Timp Pt, and the location of our car, is right above Eva's right shoulder.

It's easy to underestimate distances and scale in the Canyon; it is probably less than a mile as the crow flies, but impossible to get to without a hike of several miles.

The hike back:  Ponderosas and a view
I opted to take photos of the trail on the way back.  Better lighting and a more leisurely pace.

This is looking back towards Locust Pt., showing the hint of the rim ahead, and the beautiful ponderosa pines.

Through the aspens...

This is heading back to N. Timp.  We are still on the north side of the drainage heading east, well before cutting back across the draw.  The trail heads through this lovely stand of aspen before dropping down on its approach towards the cutback part of the trail.

...and a grassy meadow
After the trail drops down from the N. Timp Pt. ridge, it enters the draw - a beautiful grassy meadow with aspen, fir and pine.

After another ~3 1/2 miles or so, we are back at N. Timp Pt.  Dave and Eva had powered through the hike without stopping, having been a bit low on water.  It was after 4 p.m., and the light was turning the Canyon into a series of silhouetted shapes, ever fading as they disappeared into the western horizon.

N. Timp Pt. pano

What is car camping with friends all about?  Hikes like these, sitting around a campfire each night after a hot meal, and of course, drinking beer.  No one came unprepared, and especially after a 13 mile hike, cold beer sounded like an excellent idea.    Here is the informal "beer tree" or "beer shrine" that was going at the campsite.  It looks rather white trash until you realize there is no Coors,  Old Milwaukee, or Budweiser, or cans - just Ska microbrews and some Sam Adams and Full Sail Pale Ale:  the Good Stuff.  The spontaneous placement of the bottles in this common location appealed to our artistic aesthetics (and sense of humor), so it had to be captured on digital film before the bottles were collected prior to our departure.  

Sunrise at Timp Pt.

Due in part to both early morning insomnia and my motivation to actually get up and out of the tent for the 1/2 mile walk down a spur trail off of the Rainbow Rim trail to the actual Timp Pt, I did manage some sunrise photos.

There is something special about sitting on the rim of the Canyon before sunrise and watching as those first rays hit the far edges of the rim and then sweep across the depths, casting shadows here and there on the buttes and canyons.  It was quiet, save for some small birds that were diving and cavorting through the otherwise still air.   As much as I'd like to be, I'm not much of a morning person.  So, being able to actually get up and watch the sunrise (around 5:45 a.m.) was a treat.  Dave, an accomplished photographer, had gotten up the morning before to shoot sunrise photos, so that also helped motivate me to get up.

Light across points and plateaus
In this telephoto view to the southeast, Stina Pt. remains in shadow, while the upper sandstone cliffs of Powell Plateau receive early morning light.  A small, distal triangle of the south rim falls between. The elevation drop between north rim (of which Powell Plateau is part of) and the south rim is evident in this photo.

So, after a wonderful weekend enjoying the tranquil beauty of the north rim with friends, we packed up and headed home on Monday morning.

Hmm...just realized it is Friday already!  Sky Friday posts to resume next week.


  1. Hi Sonya,
    thanks for the virtual trip in photos without dealing with blisters, mosquitoes, or sunburn. :)
    When I see these photos now, I think how much you must miss your dear friend and hiking companion Tony.

  2. wow, I just looked in my sketchbook where I did some sketches of the very plain and flat and grey looking coast of Germany. Stunning place where you did go and I'm a bit jealus....

  3. Hi Jala - I'm glad you enjoyed the trip! Amazingly, there aren't really any mosquitos there, or at least they weren't bothering me. I think it was the bats that came out at night that took care of the small bug problem :)

    Hi Astrid - thank you for stopping by and commenting :). I hope you are able to make it to the Grand Canyon one day; it certainly deserves its reputation as the #1 tourist destination in the world. Definitely bring your sketchbook and camera along for that trip!

  4. Jala, you're right: I can't go to the Grand Canyon and not think about Tony; he and I discovered and explored it together. And, we even did two other Labor Day north rim trips with groups of friends like this in the past.


Your thoughtful comments add value to this blog - thank you so much for taking the time to leave them!

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