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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

The Grand Canyon’s North Rim

June 8th, 2013 · 9 Comments

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Everybody seems to visit the Grand Canyon. In fact, close to 5 million people visit Grand Canyon National Park each year. But almost all of them go to the South Rim.

Since I had visited the South Rim several times, on this trip through the American Southwest I took the road less traveled; I went to the North Rim for the first time. The road is 260 miles from where I had been staying near Sedona, Arizona, and that is about 150 miles farther than the distance between Sedona and the South Rim.

In fact, the road between the South Rim and North Rim takes 215 miles, even though only 10 miles of canyon separate the two rims. If you were in a hurry, you might consider hiking the 21-mile trail between the two rims. But that would mean taking at least two days and nights and hiking down a mile and then back up another mile before you would get to the other side. I would chose to drive.

Because the North Rim is so isolated, it has only a few of the visitors who make the pilgrimage to the Grand Canyon. I chose the word “pilgrimage” because many people consider it to be one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The North Rim seems to me to be much more natural than the South Rim because it’s not wall-to-wall tourists. In addition, the North Rim at almost 9,000 feet is about 1,000 feet higher and 10 degrees cooler than the South Rim.

The North Rim is also more dramatic, at least for first time visitors to the Grand Canyon. The road to the North Rim takes you directly to Grand Canyon Lodge, where I stayed, rather than to one of the many overlooks at the South Rim. You don’t even see the canyon until you enter the lodge, which sits right at the rim at the edge of canyon.

Gilbert Stanley Underwood, the architect of the original lodge, designed it to surprise visitors. While the original lodge burned down in 1932, the lodge built to replace it preserves Underwood’s surprise view.

“The current Grand Canyon Lodge, constructed in 1936 on the footprint of the original building, is a stunning structure,” writes Christine Barnes in her book, Great Lodges of the National Parks. “Its grand spaces open onto a panorama you can almost touch. Perched on the North Rim, it is as remarkable as it is inviting.”

When You Visit the North Rim, You See Grand Canyon Lodge Before You See the Canyon

When You Visit the North Rim, You See Grand Canyon Lodge Before You See the Canyon

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As soon as I checked in to the lodge, I hiked a half mile out to the tip of Bright Angel Point, where this framed view was waiting for me.

The North Rim from Bright Angel Point on an Afternoon in May

The North Rim from Bright Angel Point on an Afternoon in May

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Besides the road to the lodge near Bright Angel Point, the North Rim has only one road. It runs from the lodge along the plateau for 23 miles and ends at Cape Royal. After visiting Bright Angel Point, I headed off to Cape Royal. But my low-fuel light came on and I knew I couldn’t get there and back. Instead, I stopped at Point Imperial, which is about one-third of the distance and happens also to be the highest point on the North Rim.

The View from Point Imperial Late on a Windy and Clear May Afternoon

The View from Point Imperial Late on a Windy and Clear May Afternoon

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The next morning after fueling my SUV, I got to Cape Royal on a scouting trip. Because of the lay of the land, I thought that it would be an afternoon photo shoot, but wanted to check it out. I especially wanted to get to Cape Royal, because I had read that it was the only place on the North Rim where you could see the Colorado River, that mighty force that had carved the Grand Canyon.

A Small Section of the Colorado River Is Visible from Cape Royal in the Morning

A Small Section of the Colorado River Is Visible from Cape Royal in the Morning

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That afternoon I returned to Cape Royal, fully expecting a large crowd of photographers. But only a handful had made the 23 mile drive and the half mile hike to see the sublime beauty there. Even before I reached the cape itself, I could see the river through a frame. The frame is a natural bridge called Angel’s Window. Only angels deserve such beauty, so I consider myself especially lucky.

The Colorado River in the Distance Beyond Angel's Window

The Colorado River in the Distance Beyond Angel's Window

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The Grand Canyon Just Before Sunset from Cape Royal

The Grand Canyon Just Before Sunset from Cape Royal

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When the sun rose at 5:21 the next morning, I was on the trail to Bright Angel Point. The Grand Canyon then presented itself to me in all its glory. Here is the total Grand Canyon scene: a place to stand among the pale rocks, redder rocks in the intermediate distance, and the classic view of the canyon itself in the background, surrounded by the trees and vegetation that grow there in spite of the harsh environment, with the party cloudy sky above, all in the mellow first light of day.

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon

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Posted in: Arizona

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Bob Fenton // Jun 9, 2013 at 1:58 am

    Good, you did go to the North (I always call it the West Rim) Rim because I came in from Monterrey, CA and loved it. Made the trip twice on 3-day weekends.

  • 2 David Mendosa // Jun 9, 2013 at 6:37 am

    Dear Bob,

    I didn’t know that you came from Monterey! I came from nearby Santa Cruz. I lived there between 1995 and 2004.

    Namaste,

    David

  • 3 Bob Fenton // Jun 9, 2013 at 11:35 am

    The trips were while stations at Monterey

  • 4 Ted Strollo // Jul 1, 2013 at 10:21 am

    I really love your photography – what are you using for a camera these days?

    Thanks, Ted

  • 5 Auri Ruela // Jul 3, 2013 at 7:10 am

    Brought back wonderful memories of my trip to the Canyon. I hiked the North and South Rim (down to the river and back out the next day). On the way up, I asked that if God would pick up my feet I would put them down. I then spent 9 days rafting on the Colorado. Lava Falls was the best rapid ever. The Grand Canyon is truly God’s Cathedral.

  • 6 David Mendosa // Jul 3, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    That sounds like a wonderful experience. Obviously it was challenging, but you made it!

    Namaste,

    David

  • 7 David Mendosa // Jul 3, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Dear Ted,

    I am mostly using a Canon 7D. But I also use my backup camera, my Canon 50D. I have started carrying both of those camera bodies so I won’t have to change lenses in the field.

    Namaste,

    David

  • 8 Marcia // Jul 5, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    Your pictures are wonderful, so clear and vivid but I know from experience the Grand Canyon has to be experienced first hand to truly see and appreciate God’s handiwork. It should be on everybody’s bucket list. You just have to see it to believe it. It is so magnificent it is unimaginable!

  • 9 David Mendosa // Jul 6, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    Dear Marcia,

    You are right that no photos can do justice to the Grand Canyon. Not even those of the most talented professionals, much less mine. I just make a humble effort to start to show some of its magnificance.

    Namaste,

    David

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