After 13 1/2 months, I finally made a road trip that was more than a couple of hours from home. My second COVID vaccination was on March 30, and by the 3rd week of April I figured it was about time to hit the road. The original plan was to go camping at Capitol Reef National Park, only about 150 miles from our home. It appeared that most of the people in Utah had the same idea – no camp spots available anywhere around until mid July!
I checked the Moab area thinking that Canyonlands would be a great second option — same thing, nothing available until Mid-July. I finally found a place not far from Kanab, UT; it was a Paiute tribal owned campground about 20 miles southwest of Kanab across the Arizona border. Fortunately, I managed to snag a spot there.
Ever since COVID really took off here in the US, camping has been in a huge boom. It’s easy to get away, and it’s easy to social distance.
Much of the time I have spent around Kanab has been visiting Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Kanab is a small town on US Highway 89 about 6 miles north of the Utah/Arizona border. Besides being the home to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary – the largest no kill animal sanctuary and rehabilitation center in the United States, it has become a popular stopping point for folks heading the Grand Canyon National Park, Zions National Park, or Bryce Canyon National Park. Kanab is also fairly close to parts of the Grand Staircase National Monument and the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. Now you know why I had trouble finding a camping spot.
While the campground was really nice, very clean and quiet, it was a bit out of the way. The Grand Canyon was 80 miles away. Vermillion Cliffs was about the same. What to do and where to go?
The Kaibab Paiute Campground is located just outside of Pipe Springs National Monument – an old Mormon Pioneer settlement and fort. The campground is on the Paiute Tribe’s reservation land. There is some great scenery and hiking right there, but everything was shutdown due to the COVID pandemic. Native Americans have been hit exceptionally hard by this virus.
While speaking to the ranger at the Pipe Springs Visitor Center, he asked me if I had a high clearance vehicle. I asked him why, and he said that while the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is closed for the winter near Jacob’s Lake, the lookout area at Toroweap is open and accessible. It is at a much lower elevation.
The route to Toroweap is a 124 plus mile (200 kilometers) round trip from Pipe Springs on an unimproved road. (I use the term “road” loosely here.) He said the views were amazing and unspoiled. This is an undeveloped, wild part of the Grand Canyon National Park, visited by only those with vehicles and temperaments suitable for that long, rough journey.
This definitely sounded like the thing to do! So after filling up my fuel tank and grabbing proper supplies for the trip, I was on my way. The entrance to this primitive road was about 5 miles east of my campground off of AZ 389. Besides passing an old farm truck a few miles after I got on the route, I didn’t see another human for well over 3 hours.
This “road” had some pretty decent sections, but most of it was extremely washboarded, making travel quite interesting and rough. To traverse badly washboarded roads, one must either drive extremely slowly, just above a crawl, or travel much faster that it would seem prudent, so the tires kind of skip over the washboard ruts. Slowing and stopping become tricky and extremely rough. You just hope that you keep moving in the intended direction. There were cattle guards across the road every few miles necessitating frequent slowing, so I had plenty of stimulation. Then there were several steep dry creek crossings, making 4 wheel drive a good idea at times. This was the “good” part of the road. Somewhere around 10 miles from Toroweap, I came upon a ranger station building, bathrooms, and a couple of other buildings. I gather this was the “town” of Tuweep, Arizona.
A few more miles down the road there was a sign saying to park here and walk the remaining 2.7 miles as the rest of the “road” was extremely rough and required a true high clearance vehicle. I stopped here and noticed two Subaru’s parked. At this point the road wasn’t much worse than the other 60 plus miles, so I figured what the heck.
About 1/3 of a mile further I came upon a very steep ascent where the road twisted up between two semi-truck sized boulders. This was serious business with no place to turn around besides backing down the road. I tucked in my large towing mirrors on my truck, put it in 4 wheel low, and proceeded to crawl up this twisty ascent. I had about 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 centimeters) on either side of the truck as I cleared the boulders and crested the hill. The downhill side was even steeper with large steps and big holes. I now took their sign seriously. 😂
Whew! I had made it down just as a Jeep was approaching from the other direction, and found a place to pull aside. The “road” had become a one lane path through the rocks. I asked the folks in the Jeep if my large Ram truck would make it the rest of the way. They said it would, but to be careful and take it slowly in 4 wheel low. I had contemplated just parking where I was pulled off, but honestly I didn’t think that I had enough room to negotiate a turn around.
The next mile and half took about 45 minutes, literally crawling along with constant maneuvering around and over rocks, steps and huge holes. I finally found a suitable pull off and parking spot, and hiked the last mile to the Toroweap lookout point. It was so much easier and faster! I am sure that the 2.7 mile walk (5.4 miles round trip) would have been much easier than the 45 minutes of technical 4 wheeling.
Finally, after many hours of beating myself up in the truck on those roads, here was my first glimpse of the Grand Canyon. This is a very primitive and wild area — no fences, no guard rails, no warning signs. You make a wrong step too close to the edge, and well it’s a long way to “splat!”
I wish I would have planned my visit here more thoroughly prior to the trip. The road south from the Tuweep ranger station is closed at sunset, so if you are in here, you are stuck here until morning. There are steep fines for camping in here without a permit, so I needed to make sure I was passed that gate before it closed. As a result while I was at the canyon in the later afternoon, I’m sure the light would’ve been better if I could’ve waited another two hours or so. Next time, I will get a camping permit and just bring my tent and overnight gear as there were plenty of spots to pull over and make camp not far from the canyon rim.
After getting a little braver having spent more time checking out the views around the area, I was able to take some nicer shots. (I have to admit I have a pretty serious fear of heights, especially when I haven’t been around them for awhile. I guess it’s like getting conditioned.)
While I was somewhat disappointed that I didn’t get to spend the last part of the day at the canyon, I have to look at this as a learning experience. And of course, it was just wonderful to be able to get out and get away from the usual day-to-day grind.
If you decide to make this trip, please remember these points. First, there is no cell service from just a couple miles off of AZ 389. In fact I only had one tiny bar some of the time at the campground with either 3G or 4G service. I suggest bringing a detailed map, and/or a true GPS unit. Your phone won’t work as it won’t get a signal. I use a Garmin Montana that I have loaded with detailed USGS maps of most of the western US. You are pretty much on your own out here. So, if you do make this journey bring plenty of water – enough to last a few days, plenty of food and make sure you have some shelter. High desert is hot in the daytime and cold at night. It was in the mid 30s (Fahrenheit) both nights I camped.
Second, while most of the road to Toroweap does not require four-wheel-drive, it is an extremely rough and long drive. I definitely would not recommend anyone taking a regular car on this journey. Make sure your vehicle is designed to take that prolonged beating. And don’t be afraid to ditch the ride and hike a few miles. It really was easier.
Third, because of the roughness of the long drive-in, be prepared to spend the entire day on this trip. 124 miles (200 kilometers) takes a lot longer on a dirt road than on a paved highway. And if you do decide to camp in the area, please remember to get a permit first as I understand that the fines are very pricey for unauthorized camping.
I hope that you enjoyed my photo tour of the first trip away from home in more than a year. Being vaccinated is such a wonderful feeling as it just gives me freedom to begin to live somewhat of a normal life.
Have fun out there; be safe and thanks for visiting my blog.