5/20/2012 10:26:00 AM Remote by design North Rim of Grand Canyon offers rustic experience and a glimpse into the park's past
Cape Royal on the North Rim provides a panorama up, down and across the Canyon. With seemingly unlimited vistas to the east and west, it is popular for both sunrise and sunset. The sweeping turn of the Colorado River at Unkar Delta is framed through the natural arch of Angelís Window. Look for the Desert View Watchtower across the canyon on the South Rim. This popular viewpoint is accessible via a paved, level trail.
NPS photo by Michael Quinn.
Though a mere 10 to 15 miles separate the South Rim from the North, in terms of atmosphere and lifestyle, the distance is more like 50 years.
"The North Rim is what national parks were when our parents were kids," said Ranger Jennie Albrinck, who now works on the South Rim but spent many years on the other side.
North Rim District Ranger Mark McCutcheon agrees.
"This is a traditional setting," he said. "It's like walking into a national park of the 1940s."
Some of the park's rustic nature can be attributed to its remoteness. Residents and visitors must still travel some distance for more than basic services.
To the north, the park is bordered by the 656,000-acre North Kaibab Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest and is more than 40 miles from the nearest population center, the tiny Jacob Lake at the junction of 89A and 67. For the nearest full grocery store or medical care, the next stop is Fredonia, about 70 miles away, or 10 miles further to the larger Kanab, Utah. Services on the order of those available in Flagstaff can be found in St. George, Utah, about 150 miles away. Flagstaff itself is a little over 200 miles away, about the same distance as the drive to the South Rim via the sparsely populated Arizona Strip.
Within the park, services are fewer than those on the South Rim as well. There is no clinic; medical services are provided by ranger-EMTs. There are no televisions in the guest rooms and cell phone service is nearly non-existent, with a signal available only at the very edge of the Canyon, the closest point toward more bustling civilization.
Still, North Rim visitors stay longer, on average, than those who visit the South Rim. Albrinck said that while the South Rim average is six hours, on the North Rim, it is three days and two nights.
Services are available on the Park's North Rim during the summer season, which runs from mid-May to mid-October. Hotel rooms are actually cabins. There is also a dining room at Grand Canyon Lodge as well as a deli, saloon and coffee shop, gas station and general store. Grand Canyon Trail Rides offers mule trips into the Canyon and on the rim. The Grand Canyon Association also operates a bookstore in the park, within a building that doubles as the visitor center.
The only other services closer than Jacob Lake are seven miles north of the park entrance. These are the Kaibab Lodge, a small general store and the Forest Service's DeMotte Campground.
Activities include nightly ranger programs and some 50 to 60 miles of trail, much of it into the National Forest. Wildlife and landscape provide different scenery. At 8,000-plus feet elevation, the forest is a mixture of ponderosa pine, and pinion pine, juniper, Douglas fir and aspen, interspersed with large meadows. Elk are in short supply due to limited water, but deer abound along with wild turkey and the Kaibab squirrel, which only exists on the plateau.
The Canyon's North Rim is also part of Grand Canyon National Park. Though anyone standing on one rim can see the lights on the other across an expanse of 10 miles, to get there requires a drive of about five hours.
While location does play a role in how the North Rim has evolved differently from the
South, it's not the only reason. Starting early in the century, the North Rim, like the South, was accessible by train and concessioners have been operating there since 1917. The North Rim's first visitor services - a tent camp - were in Harvey's Meadow, located at what is now the Widforss Trailhead. The Union Pacific Railroad built Grand Canyon Lodge in the 1928. The Lodge burned down in 1932 and was rebuilt in 1937.
An ongoing philosophy to maintain a simpler experience can be found in the North Rim
Development Plan. One of its stated objectives is to preserve the Rim's existing character.
"It's always been remote here, by design," McCutcheon said. "We don't plan on growing any more. We don't plan on adding any more employees. We don't plan on getting any bigger."