Off the deck and into the wild–life on the edge of the Grand Canyon

5/16/13 Travel day to North Rim of the Grand Canyon

I’ve become Camping Woman.

Camping Woman with the wind-snarled hair filled with dust, ten broken dirt-encrusted nails and unshaven legs, wearing those awful Velcro-strap sandals no person from Hawaii would be caught dead in. Camping Woman, whose idea of beauty products is a tube of Vaseline in one hand and a tube of sunscreen in the other, who’s forgotten what day of the week it is let alone the date. Mike is the male version—bristly with beard, silver hair tufted in all directions, sunburn down his nose and blue eyes alight with adventure.

We camped in Desert View near the amazing Watchtower building (I loved this pinnacle of art and views, designed by a woman!) I slept like a log on my air mattress and missed the sunrise, but I’d seen the one the day before, and frankly needed the rest. Mike got back from another “epic” sunrise and we broke camp and were on the road by 7:00 a.m. for the North Rim. We took Highway 89A out of the park and I can’t rave enough about that route. Wide open ribbon of road and wild natural features—the rift of the Canyon (or some octopus-like adjunct of it) ravens against the sky, sage and daisies for miles, and the jutting spine of what became the Vermilion Cliffs, a feature we’d never heard of that had us pulling off the road repeatedly, goggling and shooting the multi-layered grandeur.

Navajo Bridge was also awesome—mainly just to have such a contrast between the desert and the translucent magic of the calm river. Right outside we had breakfast at the Marble Canyon Lodge and were the only people in the restaurant for a great meal—even the bread was homemade, and we tried a Navajo version of eggs benedict called Begay and found it delicious. (I wrote a 5 star review for them on TripAdvisor—we’ve found others reviews very helpful)

Onward we went, winding higher and higher into the coolness of pines that mark the ascent into the North Rim, debating whether blues or rock is better road trip music and both concluding Eric Clapton and Santana basically cover both rather well and can’t be beat for consistency.

North Rim Park was way smaller and I fell in love instantly with the combination of funky charm and cool temperatures—but we ran into our first major snag of the trip. The campground (only one) was full with a waiting list, there was nothing at the historic Canyon Lodge. Unlike South Rim, with multiple campgrounds and lodges, there was nothing until outside the park and we knew we wanted to go on the hour-long drive to Cape Royal for the sunset. We settled for lunch at the Lodge and Mike called multiple places until he got a cabin for us at Jacob Lake Inn, an hour outside the park, a situation that precluded any further return once we left.

So we made the most of our afternoon and evening there—Mike threw our sleeping bags out under a tree and we crashed like hoboes next to one of the pullouts. Yes, I am Camping Woman—that woman who will crawl into her sleeping bag and drool into her pillow anywhere when tired enough. After that deerfly-infested spell of unconsciousness, we continued on to the aptly-named Valhalla Overlook. We ended up at the very end of the very end, past the guardrail again off the edge of Cape Royal Point, for our last sunset at the Grand Canyon.

So here we are at the edge of the world, hours and umpteen miles having brought us approximately opposite the exact spot on the Rim where we were yesterday. Mike’s tripod is anchored by a rock and a bush doing a time lapse of the area of the canyon wall overlooked by the Watchtower, a fleck of dust it’s so tiny from this side. It’s chilly, and the wind gusts, and some other intrepid professional photographers including a couple of Japanese dressed like ninjas in full camera/hike gear and even black face masks, have joined us on this point.

I’ve learned what my iPhone can and can’t do, and wait until most of the light has bled from the day, all of us waiting to see if the sunset will “kick” as Mike calls it. We met another photographer, Doug Taylor, who said “waiting for the sunset to go is like hoping my last girlfriend will be in the mood—hints of possibility and a certainty of cold.” He was full of great stories and tips, had done many of the places we were visiting and more besides, and we made a friend.

5/17/13 Friday, Mike’s birthday

We are holed up in a cabin (read: glorified toolshed) in the Jacob Lake Inn and have been unable to locate a lake anywhere nearby, false advertising if I ever heard of it. It’s Mike’s 59th birthday, so here are pictures of him throughout the trip to mortify and honor him.

I made a good call 27 years ago.

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