Here are some pictures from a 5 day mountain bike trip to the Kaibab Plateau and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. This was another trip with Magpie Adventures, run by Mike and Maggie. Magpie Adventures is a mountain biking tour company. But they take a slightly different approach from the larger operators out there. Where other companies show up in multiple cargo vans with trailers and whatnot, they have a 4-cylinder Toyota truck and a VW vanagon. They take pride in the fact that they can do a tour with two vehicles and eight cylinders, burning just about a third of the gasoline that the larger outfits do, and serve up organic food to boot. For those that missed it, here is a link to a White Rim trip that I did with them earlier this year:
Heading up to the Kaibab Plateau. The drive up there represents a nice scaffolding up through vegetational zones, out of a sea of sage, into Pinon-Juniper woodlands, and then into the Aspen/Spruce-Fir/Ponderosa forest. Kaibab means “Mountain Lying Down” in Paiute, which is an apt descriptor as the plateau feels like a mountain lying on its side, wherein you travel south to reach the peak, instead of up.
The first map talk of the trip, we started the riding at Crane Lake, which is just south of the burn zone at Telephone Hill. It still smells like smoke up in there, and at the time of our trip the forest service had closed down that section of the trail.
Winding through the aspen groves on the Arizona Trail. This trail was to be our home for the first two days of the trip. Currently there are 720 miles of it, cutting north south across Arizona from Utah to Mexico. The section we did went from Crane Lake to the edge of the Grand Canyon
One of the many ponds along the route. Storm clouds a’ building.
Zoomers and aspen pans. Small things like this make me deeply happy.
Mammatocumulus. Harbinger of all sorts of hell breaking loose.
Dog Lake. Apparently it used to be a cattle waller until yonder rustic and picturesque fence was installed.
First glimpses of the canyon, el Arroyo mas Grande. From near the East Rim Viewpoint looking over House Rock Valley, The Vermillion Cliffs and Marble Canyon. Marble Canyon is the upper portion of the Grand Canyon, a mere 500 foot deep, 60 mile long gorge carved through particularly colorful Redwall limestone. This might be as good of a place as any to talk a bit about the Grand Canyon, as it was to be the dominant feature of the next 4 days. Though the Colorado River is responsible for all of this fuss, we were only to be afforded fleeting glimpses of it on our trip. In these parts, the river has a reputation for being too thin to walk on and too thick to drink due to the mind-boggling amount of sediment being carried downstream. Mind-boggling, I say. If you were to sit down by the river for a day, pondering the wonder and beauty, perhaps taking a nap and eating a sandwich in the afternoon. Maybe starting a campfire at night before spreading out your bedroll and sleeping under the stars. But no matter what you did, while you were at your leisure, the river busily carried a half-ton of sediment past you during that day.
Even looking out at the skinny end of the canyon, it is a landscape that almost defies comprehension. The scale is just too much to process.
We rolled into our first day’s camp and I set up shop for the night.
Mike and Maggie deployed the wonder truck into camp mode, and we had a fantastic meal and a fantastic sunset.
That, however, is the sunrise, and this is what greeted me from my cot on the beginning of the second day.
Ponderosa pine reaching out to the void like Japanese poetry.
After a breakfast of fresh coffee, French toast and fruit, we headed back out onto the AZ trail for the second day of riding. Today’s section would take us from the East Rim viewpoint all the way down to the edge of the Grand Canyon. The section of trail within the national park is one of the few legal singletrack trails in the National Park System, and it hardly ever gets ridden at all.
Ah. There it is. The ditch. Hugeness. Vastness. Just when you think you have your head wrapped around it you notice some little detail, like those tiny green things, which are in fact full-grown trees. Yes friends, this is a big hole. You could lose something in there.
Yours truly out on the edge of things.
We headed back to camp for another fantastic meal and the evening’s entertainment, which consisted of watching a series of storms track across the lanscape.
Day 3, that morning we got up and breakfasted like kings on blueberry pancakes. Then saddled up for an east to west jaunt across the park.
Somewhere right along in this section a wolf crossed over the trail a few hundred feet in front of me. Yes a wolf. I’ve seen enough coyote to know the difference. He was a big tall grey rangy arrangement that moved in a very canid fashion.
And after several hours of pleasant riding, we arrived at Locust point, which was to be our home for the next two nights.
Can we talk about that big hole again? It was just mesmerizing. The light was evanescent, crepuscular, seraphic. Always changing. I couldn’t put down the camera.
The next morning we got up and had another breakfast that couldn’t be beat and then geared up for the day’s ride. The next two day we would concern ourselves with the rainbow Rim trail, which is a lovely, lovely piece of singletrack that winds right along the canyon’s edge. It rolls along through the gentle valleys of the Kaibab plateau right at the edge of the aspen/ponderosa zone and the Pinon/Juniper zone.
Yup, there’s a canyon over here too. See that little white speck at bottom center of that picture? That’s Thunder River, the world’s shortest and steepest river.
Amidst this ride we took a side hike into a canyon that Mike had been wanting to explore. It was a beautiful, intimate, aspen filled canyon. But 50 yards in we found a deer skeleton. All hunched over from the shoulders like a big predator had dragged it to that spot. And 100 yards further there was another. Then a leg. A leg with fur on it still. Then soft rain began to fall. The kinda rain that the Navajo call “female rain” Then Mike found a big ol' fresh mountain lion scat, with bone and fur in it. We skedaddled right out of there.
I named it the Valley of Death.
Back up in the ponders.
And back to camp, and the canyon, and that constantly changing light. Indulge me for a bit here….
And that’s pretty much it, kiddos. End of trip. Change. That’s the leitmotif of the Kaibab Plateau. The light changes. The weather changes. The forest changes. The trick is to notice it all happening. Or maybe not. It’s gonna do it’s thing anyway.
Of course there was the traditional end of trip group shot.
But that’s all she wrote. From here we headed back to the bustling metropolis of Kanab. It was another fantastic trip with Magpie Adventures. Look them up; it is a great way to spend a week.