Snowing in late May! Late May? Really? Yes, snow falls in late May in northern Arizona. Two years ago in late May while hiking at the North Rim in long pants and sweatshirts, Hannah and I were under the threat of snow throughout the afternoon. After hiking, we drove at 25 mph north to Kanab, UT in a blinding snowstorm that New Englanders would be proud to call their own. But today 60 degrees welcomes us to the North Rim on this Memorial Day. Before we hike we use our cell phones to call our daughter Robyn (veteran of the War in Afghanistan) and my parents (World War II) to thank them for their service to our country.
The North Rim is out of the way, in a big way. From central Arizona, we drive five hours north on lonely roads on Route 89 through the Navajo Reservation, over the Colorado River south of Page, AZ, and through the Kaibab Plateau.
National Geographic meadows and Smithsonian forests open up as we now drive south to enter the park. Slightly dismayed at the fifteen-minute midday wait at the North Rim gate, we wonder what must the traffic be like in mid-summer? Finally, we proudly flash our Seniors Pass, available to all those 62 and older. For ten greenbacks we now get into all National Parks without paying another dime. It’s the deal of a lifetime.
In the early afternoon at the North Rim, we have left behind the heat of the desert and take to the five-mile roundtrip, clearly marked Uncle Jim Trail on the rim of the Canyon. Through a forest of dappled sunlight the trail meanders gently to a Canyon overlook. Only a few hikers pass by this loop trail that is easy on the feet, and the mild temperatures have us drinking less water than we did in the desert. Passing crews working on the trail, we learn that they have a short season to repair trails as they must wait til the snow melts in May to begin trail maintenance.
Due to heavy winter snows the North Rim, at an elevation of 9000 feet, doesn’t open till mid-May.
Surprisingly, many areas of the forest are burned. The ranger says the use of controlled burns minimizes major forest fires, which maintains the high plateau ecosystem.
With many views of the canyon, the hikes are leisurely, well marked, and satisfying. Which brings us to the Fifth Commandment of the Trail – Ask others to take your picture with your phone or camera. The actual picture is secondary. It’s the entrée to a conversation with another hiker, to find the connection that we yearn to find.
Since we waited till just a week before our trip to make lodging reservations at the North Rim, we have no park accommodations and must head north to find motels. There are few motels 45 miles due north in Jacob’s Lake, AZ or 75 miles away in Fredonia, AZ. Some 80 miles away, Kanab, UT gives us many choices for motels. Opting for the quite inexpensive, we choose The Red Rock Country Inn at $49/night with a queen bed, a refrigerator, and microwave.
Kanab has wide streets and a lazy feel, something out of American Graffiti (A George Lucas coming of age film set in Modesto, CA in 1962 – A couple of high school grads spend one final night cruising the strip with their buddies before they go off to college.) We sit by the pool, toast the evening, and watch the cars roll by as the sun sets. To our right is a patrol car parked by the side of the road to slow down incoming out-of-towners. Once we examine it more closely, we realize there is a dummy in the front seat. We smile in admiration.
As always when hiking the North Rim, know thyself, thy limits, and the conditions. Be prepared.