Biking the Rainbow Rim Trail along the edge of the Grand Canyon

In late June we packed our bikes and camping gear and headed to the Kaibab Plateau so we could mountain bike on the Rainbow Rim Trail. We’ve done this trail before but it’s such a great ride with amazing views that it’s always worth the long drive.

It takes about four hours to get to the trail head from Flagstaff. The last hour of driving is on Forest Service gravel roads through the aspen, pine, spruce, and fir forests of the high plateau of the Kaibab. We went to the south end of the trail at Timp Point and set up camp on the edge of the rim overlooking the Grand Canyon. After a quick lunch we were on the trail heading north.

The Rainbow Rim Trail (RRT) is about 18 miles from end to end with five points along the trail. From south to north they are Timp Point, North Timp Point, Locust Point, Fence Point, and Parissawampitts Point.

Riding along the edge of the Grand Canyon on the Rainbow Rim Trail.
Riding along the edge of the Grand Canyon on the Rainbow Rim Trail.

Each point delivers you a stunning view of the Grand Canyon. Between the points the trail heads in a generally eastward direction as it contours around side canyons. And it is these side canyons that are the most interesting. Because they are oriented east-west there is substantial shade in the canyons resulting in a cooler micro-climate. The south and shady  sides of these canyons are filled with aspen groves as well as spruce and fir trees while the sunnier north sides have ponderosa pine and even juniper and pinyon trees. We even found some wild strawberry plants.

Lush forest found in the side canyons traversed by the Rainbow Rim Trail.
Lush forest found in the side canyons traversed by the Rainbow Rim Trail.

There are no large cities near the Kaibab Plateau hence there are no city lights. The nights are exceptionally dark and the stars are brilliant. Take some time to just lie back and stare up at the sky. It’s good for your soul.

The night sky as seen from the Kaibab Plateau.
The night sky as seen from the Kaibab Plateau.

The Arizona Trail (AZT)  also traverses the Kaibab Plateau. Whereas the RRT is along the west edge of the Plateau the AZT is closer to the east edge but only overlooks the edge of the canyon in one location. In that regard, the RRT trumps the AZT.

The Jacob Lake District of the Kaibab National Forest has an informational page about this trail including access points, maps, and mileage.

Hiking the Grand Canyon: Rim to Rim* to Rim

I have always wanted to hike the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim traverse of the Grand Canyon. That is, start at one Rim, hike down to the Colorado River, hike up to the opposite Rim, then reverse back to the beginning.

From the South Kaibab Trail the North Rim is a long ways away...
From the South Kaibab Trail the North Rim is a long ways away...

I’ve done a single traverse before from the North Rim to the South Rim but never the R2R2R as it’s called. On the other hand, my significant other has done it a couple of times and keeps asking me to join her.¬†So last week we set out to walk (WALK, not RUN!) the R2R2R of the Grand Canyon. We started mid morning on the South Rim and descended the South Kaibab Trail. Being in no hurry, we took a comfortable pace so that we could actually enjoy the hike and scenery. The weather was pleasant: clear skies, breezy, a bit cool at the top and a bit warm at the bottom.

There were many flowers in bloom along the trail. This is "Prince's Plume."
There were many flowers in bloom along the trail. This is "Prince's Plume."

After a refreshing stop at Phantom Ranch where we had lunch and drank plenty of fluids we began the hike up the North Kaibab Trail to the North Rim. The last of the spring snowmelt was rushing down Bright Angel Creek and the roar of the water was loud enough to make conversation difficult. Crossing the stream would have been foolish but there is no need: all crossings have well- built bridges.

Still a long way to go to reach the Colorado River.
Still a long way to go to reach the Colorado River.

By the time we reached Cottonwood campground it was time to eat again and we had dinner as the sun slipped below the high walls of Bright Angel Canyon.¬†The wind, which normally diminishes in the evening, became stronger. First it was annoying, then it became strong enough to blow dirt. Finally, as we were a mile or so above Roaring Springs, the wind nearly blew me off my feet. The sun had already set and it was quite dark as we climbed this part of the trail. It’s narrow with substantial cliffs on the side. The thought of being blown off my feet and… well, you know… was unnerving. So, with only about 3 1/2 miles to go, we decided to err on the side of safety and we turned back.

Rock art in Bright Angel Canyon. Hikers had placed these small stones in the canyon wall.
Rock art in Bright Angel Canyon. Hikers had placed these small stones in the canyon wall.

We walked in the dark until about midnight and then took a nap on a queen-sized flat rock. Never thought I could fall asleep on a rock but it was easy. I awoke to stare at the stars and listen to the thundering of the water in Bright Angel Creek. What a magnificent place to be! Just the two of us — and whatever wild creatures may have been watching us.

We walked back to Phantom Ranch and the Colorado River and then began the difficult climb back up South Kaibab Trail. About halfway up we had a magnificent sunrise. Not too much later we saw some long-distance runners heading downhill towards us. We chatted for a minute and gave them some information on trail conditions. And then they were off.

If we had done this a day earlier, we would have seen two women running R2R2R in an attempt to beat the “Fastest Known Time” for women on this trail. And they succeeded! Here is a link to an account of their run.

And just a few days later the record was broken again! (Photos)

I’m happy to walk the R2R2R. Running not required.

Trail running on the Arizona Trail near Walnut Canyon

The Arizona Trail is a¬†National Scenic Trail from that traverses the state from Mexico to¬†Utah. Currently 96% of the trail is complete. In the Flagstaff area are a couple of extraordinary sections of the trail — including the portion that runs along the rim of Walnut Canyon.

Within a few minutes of leaving the trailhead the trail drops down into a side canyon that provides an expansive view of the main canyon. But if you are running the trail you need to keep your eyes on the trail and not the view. This is a good reason to stop and take a good look — or a photograph — before resuming the run.

Arizona Trail along the edge of Walnut Canyon.
Arizona Trail along the edge of Walnut Canyon.

 

Portions of this trail have been re-routed recently. This includes the sections that drop down into and climb back out of the side canyon. The old sections were becoming eroded and difficult to maintain. The new sections have a more gradual slope and will shed water better so that the trail resists erosion.

One of the best features of this trail run is heading out to one of the many overlooks and peering into the canyon. Because this area was inhabited by the Sinagua there are many artifacts lying around and with sharp eyes pieces of pottery are easily spotted. Enjoy — but please leave them where you found them!

This run is 8-miles out and back and has a lot of climbing — in both directions. The trail is well marked and can be quite busy at times with hikers, runners, mountain bikers, and equestrians. Share the trail and enjoy!

Mountain biking at 38 degrees

Thirty-eight degrees. Temperature — not latitude.

Fall has arrived in northern Arizona and the leave are turning colors and, in some cases, have already fallen. We went on a mountain bike ride on one of our favorite section of the Arizona Trail the other day so that we could view the aspen trees in their autumn glory. A cold front had passed through a day earlier and it was quite cold that morning with temperatures only in the upper 30s. So we bundled up with a few extra layers, caps and gloves, and off we went.

Riding the Arizona Trail at 8000 feet elevation and 38 degrees Fahrenheit. All you have to do is bundle up!
Riding the Arizona Trail at 8000 feet elevation and 38 degrees Fahrenheit. All you have to do is bundle up!
Riding an easy stretch of the Arizona Trail. The aspen leaves have fallen and left a carpet of color on the trail.
Riding an easy stretch of the Arizona Trail. The aspen leaves have fallen and left a carpet of color on the trail.

The only problem was that the rain from a few days earlier had left the trails pretty muddy and with the cool weather they had not dried yet. Suddenly we found our tires and bikes caked with mud. Eventually it became too difficult to ride as the mud accumulated on the tires, in the brakes, derailleurs, and anywhere else mud can collect. And that’s a lot of places!

A grove of aspen trees in full autumn color on the San Francisco Peaks.
A grove of aspen trees in full autumn color on the San Francisco Peaks.

New snow on the higher elevations of the San Francisco Peaks stands in contrast to a grove of aspen in full autumn color.
New snow on the higher elevations of the San Francisco Peaks stands in contrast to a grove of aspen in full autumn color.

So we abandoned the ride to return another day. Still, it was a pleasant enough day with plenty of color to view in the aspen trees in Flagstaff at 8000 feet and 38 degrees —¬†especially with the new snow on the San Francisco Peaks.

Mountain biking in Flagstaff. Part 2: 6500 feet

A previous post talked about mountain biking in Flagstaff along the high elevation sections of the Arizona Trail. Not too far away is another section of the Arizona Trail — this time at an elevation of about 6500 feet. The vegetation is different — and quite green because of all the rain lately — and the trail is more open.

This particular section of the Arizona Trail starts along Old Walnut Canyon Road on the north boundary of Walnut Canyon National Monument. It travels through Ponderosa Pine then moves into Pinyon-Juniper with wide open vistas. There are old homesteads along the trail with collapsed buildings and old toys in what was once someones yard.

View of the San Francisco peaks near Flagstaff from the Arizona Trail.
View of the San Francisco peaks near Flagstaff from the Arizona Trail.
Riding singletrack near Flagstaff on the Arizona Trail.
Riding singletrack near Flagstaff on the Arizona Trail.
The front wheel is all that remains from a young child's tricycle.
The front wheel is all that remains from a young child's tricycle.