After enduring 50 days of 110 degree plus temperatures, it seemed like a good idea to head to higher ground. The elevation at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is 8,000 feet, and that makes for a whole different world. Ponderosa pines infuse the cool air and aspens rattle shimmering leaves in occasional breezes. During winter storms the North Rim catches enough snow to bury a house. Over millennia, the resulting melt and erosion has crafted a fantasy land of bridges, fingers and islands of towering layers of rock. Across all of this, and beyond the river threading so far below, sits the implacable edge of the South Rim, and above that only the sky, arching pale blue above.
Hiking paths meander through forests lush with undergrowth. Breaks in the trees open to landscapes that drop away vertically, sometimes dotted with trees, mostly showing sheer faces of rock, with airy canyons beyond. Wilderness and solitude press in, pushing away that pervasive separation we have from nature. The trails are ours alone, a world of leaves and stark white trunks, fanlike clusters of long Ponderosa needles top glowing cinnamon trunks.
Descending off the Kaibab Plateau we reach Marble Canyon. This tiny community, sleepy from the highway, is near the historic river crossing Lee’s Ferry. Now outfitters and motels offer visitors access to the Colorado’s waters. Below Glen Canyon Dam, we paddled kayaks, joining the river’s drowsy journey through sinuous walls of sandstone. The slow pulse of the river nudged us along at a leisurely pace, giving us time to contemplate groups of fish nibbling at the surface, to notice water birds dabbling at the green edge. The icy cold water was transparent, revealing pockets of fish swimming in the shallows.
Ravens patrolled the campground where we stayed and frolicked in canyon updrafts at the rim. Uinta chipmunks foraged busily for ponderosa and juniper seeds. Red-backed juncos were everywhere, flitting in trees and scavenging on the ground for seeds. A Swainson’s hawk stared us down from a mountain meadow. The Desert Spiny lizard was a resident at the Marble Canyon Motel, as was a fox who peered in our window.