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Big thunder. Fantastic crackling lightning. Great big, cold drops of just-melted ice making loud splats on the soft forest floor. After weeks and weeks of traveling through 100 plus degree heat — Charleston, Savannah, St. Augustine, Key West, Fort Meyers, Pensacola, Ft. Worth, Albuquerque — we couldn’t find a cool spot to save our soul
So when those thunder drops splotched and soaked right through my old T-shirt, it was like stepping into God’s own air-conditioning and a reconnection with something that crowds, traffic, bright lights, noise and heat had pushed far below the surface. And the drops fell — each one a reminder that other places in the universe existed as yet uncontaminated by civilization’s noise. Take a slow, deep breath.
To be back in the cool, high country with green meadows, grazing buffalo, wild flowers run amok and fragrant tall pines truly justified the long uphill grind to the North Rim Campground — perched on a high lip of the Grand Canyon.
And it is a grind — up some pretty steep grades (9% in a couple of places). But once on top, it’s a 40-mile run down and through the Kaibab Plateau and some of the most beautiful high-mountain meadows on the planet. Spring comes late in this country, so flowers bloom alongside the road and out in the meadows. What a contrast with the parched desert we left behind in Albuquerque and the dusty plains of West Texas.
A case of chronic-heat angst pressed us into a search for cool, and as luck would have it, one spot in this high-mountain campground was available for two nights. The camp is generally filled with tent campers, hikers and folks with smaller rigs — folks who appreciate peace, quiet, a day-long hike and star filled nights. We arrived there by guess and by golly, but most of the campers booked their sites months earlier. If you’re interested in visiting, I recommend looking for reservations several months in advance.
While the campground is isolated — and this is what makes it worthwhile in my book — North Rim features a store with groceries, sundries and most of the items folks leave sitting on the garage floor as they drive off in a hurry to be on vacation. A visitor center, cafes, lodges and a saloon are also within easy reach.
For the purist, North Rim Campground is not exactly on the main part of the Grand Canyon through which the Colorado River flows — the part you can see from the traffic jam on the South Rim. North Rim Camp sits on the east lip of The Trancept, a short canyon that — as the name implies — runs roughly perpendicular to the general Grand Canyon direction. A few steps from camp, you can look down nearly to the canyon bottom 3,000 feet below. Across the canyon, Oza Butte, a mighty mesa of hard red and pale yellow rock dotted with green patches of cedar and pine, rises from canyon floor, one worry line at a time. Time for a few more deep breaths.
For the adventuresome — and those who are fairly fit — miles of day-hike trails meander along the rims and through the Kaibab Plateau. The North Rim Trail will take you about 15 miles down the worry lines, to Silver Bridge on the Colorado River. You’ll descend about 5,700 feet in the process. This is not a day hike!
For the adventuresome in spirit, Cape Royal Road follows along the high plateaus for 23 miles, looping first north and then south where it terminates at Cape Royal, elevation 7,865. This will be an excursion for our next trip to the North Rim.
And, we will certainly return. Perhaps in the fall, when summer vacations have ended and tranquility reigns on the North Rim.