Road Trip – Parks, Indian Ruins, Maintenance Men

We had a great time in Flagstaff sipping local beers, listening to live music, stopping by Louie L'Amour hangouts and sharing breakfast with fellow hostelers from around the world but there's more to do and see in this area and we're running out of time and easy weather. Lodging and food services are already closed on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and evening lows are below freezing.

Phase two of our adventure will be a road trip through southern Utah and northern Arizona. We're trading in our cycling cleats for hiking shoes, our bike bags for backpacks and our bicycles for an iridescent green Mazda 2 rental car that Sue has named, “Harvey the RV”. We will visit Sunset Crater National Monument and the adjacent Indian ruins, the North and South rims of the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion National parks, volunteer at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab Utah … and if history repeats itself the best part of the whole trip will be the interesting people we meet along the way.

Here we go.

…Just north of Flagstaff lies the remains of a volcano 12,637 feet tall, Humphreys Peak, the highest peak in Arizona and an impressive back drop for downtown Flagstaff. If you look east from Humphreys Peak you'll see Sunset Crater National Monument with its distinctive red ash ring and black ash and lava rock base. Hiking over the sandy red and black cinders was fun as was taking pictures of the ash cones and nearby Indian ruins.

The San Francisco Peaks with Humphreys Peak second from the right.


Sunset Creater with its black and red cinders.
Indian ruins, 800 to 1,000 years old
We stopped at Cameron Trading Post for an Indian Taco then headed west across the Colorado River toward the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The North Rim is at 8,200 feet, 1,200 feet higher than the South Rim and only about 10 miles away as the hawk flies. But it's a rugged hike down and across the canyon floor and up the other side. Then repeat to return to your starting point. That's why for most people the route to the North Rim is a 212 mile car ride through beautiful but desolate country. As a result the North Rim is the less visited side of the Grand Canyon.
Colorado River south of Lee's Ferry

The North Rim Lodge
Looking south from the North Rim
The North Rim lodge and cabins are shuttered in late October when the night temperatures fall below freezing and the snow starts dusting the high peaks. But not everyone leaves. A small group of maintenance men spend the entire winter on the North Rim – the Bear Grylls of the maintenance world. As the temperatures fall and the snow swirls they repair the damage tourists have caused and keep the structures safe and sound for future visitors.

In the dead of winter it's a cold and windy 44 mile snowmobile ride from the North Rim to the nearest plowed road and another 40 miles to the nearest small town. For safety reasons they have one snowmobile for daily use and another is kept gassed up and ready to go for emergencies. I've always admired maintenance men for the variety of skills they possess but the North Rim group elevate their skill set to near total self-sufficiency.


Buffalo in meadow north of the lodge.


If you're lucky enough to visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon don't hesitate to ask a ranger about the trees, trails and buffalo but you may also want to say thanks to the maintenance man for the cozy shelters, running water and electricity.

The back of the North Rim Lodge
Note: I want to thank Jan and Jeff Adams for insight on the life of the North Rim maintenance men.


Categories: Biking, Travel

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