Grand Canyon North Rim: Hangin’ With the Neighbors

Our second long trip is underway! Last year, we did 7 weeks mostly in Wisconsin. Check out those posts here.

This year, our 5 ½ week trip will keep us a little closer to home but in an area we haven’t visited much – The Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

First stop, though, a week at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon spent with Jen and Kurt, our neighbors from home!

Jeff’s been to the Grand Canyon a total of 3 times before this and I’ve been 4 times. That’s actually a lot for Arizona residents. But, like most visitors to the Grand Canyon, neither of us has ever been to the North Rim.

The NR of the Canyon gets only about 10% of the annual visitors that the South Rim gets. It’s very appealing if you want to avoid the crowds.

Since we’d been to the Canyon a few times already, we decided to do something different and opted to take a mule ride down into the canyon. For us horse lovers, this sounded like a real treat!

Note to others who may be considering this tour, the morning tour is NOT cooler than the afternoon tour. Due to the shade created by the canyon walls, they say afternoon is much cooler. However, we didn’t know this and booked the 7:30 AM ride to avoid the afternoon heat. Fortunately, the weather was pretty nice and never got above warm.

We stayed at Kaibab Camper Village, about an hour from the North Rim Grand Canyon Lodge. The long drive would not have been a problem but a herd of bison decided it was a good time to hang out on the road! We were quite surprised since we didn’t even know there were bison here.

It turns out, this herd is descended from a herd that Charles “Buffalo” Jones brought from Kansas in 1906 in an attempt to save bison from extinction.

Once at the mule corral, I was assigned Tennessee and Jeff had Teddy to ride, two sure footed and very reliable beasts that could safely take us 2000 feet down into the canyon.

While even the most novice of riders can enjoy this activity, it definitely helped having some riding experience.  The ride down was bumpy and the mules tend to walk on the very edge of the trail. While there weren’t any super sheer cliffs, it could be pretty scary for those with a fear of heights. But then, we’ve jumped out of a perfectly good plane so this was no problem.

We rode down to the Supai Tunnel, a man made tunnel that allows hikers to pass through the high canyon walls along the Kaibab Trail.

The Kaibab Trail is famous for being the trail used when hikers want to go from one rim to the other. The impressive record is a Rim to Rim to Rim (South Rim to North Rim back to South Rim), a 42 mile course with considerable elevation changes of 4000+ feet. In 2016 the previous record was beat by 26 minutes with a total time of 5 hours and 55 min! That would be an incredible pace at sea level with no elevation gain, let alone the 2x ascent up the canyon walls!

We’ll stick to riding the mules and maybe a bit of hiking. No rim to rim or running for us!

I mentioned our campground which was partially selected based on it’s proximity to Jacob Lake. We were very much looking forward to some kayaking and possibly fishing. Jacob Lake has it’s own Inn, two different camp grounds and a gas station. The joke was on us! The (in)famous Jacob Lake is nothing more than a (VERY DRY) containment pond for rain and snow run off.

Alas, we did manage to find water in a nearby “lagoon”… Maybe we’ll skip the water activities at this stop.

When at the North Rim, be sure to splurge for dinner at the Grand Canyon Lodge. The venison meatloaf and bison spare ribs were AMAZING! And we even indulged in the fudge brownie and crème brule. Can you say, “WELL WORTH THE CALORIES!”? That is, even though they served the fancy food on paper plates with real silver plasticware due to the water shortage and not wanting to waste water washing dishes.

The drive back was quite exciting. We saw no less than 30 deer on the sides of the road. It was a good thing our neighbor, Kurt, is an excellent driver since there were a few quick stops here and there.

After a short bike ride the next day, we had to splurge on some delicious fry bread. Jeff’s vote though, funnel cake is better.

What’s the difference? While both fry bread and funnel cake are often found at festivals and fairs in the Southwest, fry bread tends to be more puffy and chewy. Funnel cake is more stringy and crunchy and just a bit sweeter even without all the powdered sugar and honey!

Rizzo’s favorite, and not so favorite, part of the trip so far was the LARGE population of chipmunks in the area. Fortunately, she wasn’t outside for this one or we’d have one less chipmunk…

Our evening adventures took us to the Visitor Center to pick up a copy of the National Parks Passport and to get my first stamp, complete with mule of course!

While there, I picked up the first book on our trip that I’ll send to our Granddaughter Mila. I love getting her books from the places we visit. So much better than cheesy toys.

After the shopping, we opted for a drive along the Cape Royal road to one of the best sunset points in the Grand Canyon and the views did NOT disappoint.

I’ll leave these with you as we say good bye to our dear friends and head out to our next adventure in Durango, CO.