Toroweap!

“I drove it just last week–it’s very rough. There are some rocks sticking out of the ground that are big enough to tear up the bottom of your truck” the Park Ranger said. “And if it’s raining like this when you get to the turn-off, don’t even try driving down that road. It’ll be impassable for at least a day.”

It was the first day of my Fall vacation and I was in Jacob Lake, AZ, a small outpost located at the turnoff for the road to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. I had stopped for a snack and noticed that there was a National Park Service information center right next door to the diner. My destination was a place called Toroweap—one of the most remote locations on the north rim and only accessible via sixty miles of dirt road through some of the most remote and desolate land in the lower forty eight. Even though I’d read up on the route very thoroughly prior to my departure, it never hurts to get current info and road conditions from a Park Ranger. I listened carefully to his description of the road as the rain and hail poured down outside. His words were not exactly confidence inspiring.

I’d done my research and felt confident that I was prepared to make the trip. Most accounts recommended carrying a minimum of one good spare tire (two was probably better) because the road was described as being littered with so many sharp edged rocks that at least one flat was inevitable. Some even suggested having an air compressor and tire repair kit. And all said that the road was impassible after a rain. A tow was said to cost at least $1000.

I had one spare tire, a good map, lots of water, food and beer. I should be just fine.

An hour or so west of Jacob Lake, I reached the turnoff for Toroweap. I was relieved to find that the heavy rains I’d driven through earlier had not passed through this part of the state. The beginning of the sixty miles of dirt road was fairly smooth and perfectly dry. I gradually brought the Nissan Pathfinder up to around 50 mph, sailing down the road and through the desert leaving a huge plume of dust in my wake. I occasionally had to slow for a rough stretch or a cattle grate, but for the most part, I thought I was making great time.

Then I reached the Grand Canyon National Park boundary.  Once I passed through the fence posts, the dirt road quickly deteriorated and I began to understand the Park Rangers concerns. Of course, this Ranger knew not who he was speaking to.  My extensive off-road vehicle experience was put to use as I navigated the Pathfinder through the virtual minefield of boulders. When at last I reached the end of the road and the area where I would make camp, I was relieved and my vehicle was unscathed.

It was now late afternoon. Leaving home at 4:00AM had paid off as I still had time to get camp set up and hike to the edge of the canyon to shoot sunset. But as I set up camp, it began to rain. Then, lightning began to flash on the other side of the canyon. This was not looking good. I began hiking down the trail that led to the canyon’s edge anyway. I’d been wanting to visit Toroweap for the last few years and I was going to look over the edge even if it was pouring rain!

Then, just as I reached the edge of the canyon, the sun broke through the clouds and created a rainbow above the canyon. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. My first visit to this incredible place—this place where many of the great photographers that I admire most have created such inspiring images—and I’m blessed with the incredibly good luck to witness a rainbow over the canyon!

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