The North Rim lookout is located near the highest point on the entire Arizona Trail. A historical geographic marker still bearing the Forest Service name (the tower was moved to its current location inside the park in the 1930s) is beside the tower, along with a historic lookout register sign. This particular tower is also notable for a particularly famous lookout – Edward Abbey once staffed it for four years from the late 60s into the 70s. The historic guide to using the “FireFinder” system is still present in the room at the top of the lookout.
Climbing to the top of the lookout, one can see the Ikes Fire actively burning to the west. Through the haze, the shadow of Mt Trumbull and other peaks in Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument can be seen.
To the south lies the San Francisco volcanic field, topped by the majestic San Francisco Peaks rising above. I’ll go into it in more detail as I approach them, but for now I’ll note that were it not for the canyon, the Peaks would be the most famous geological feature in Arizona. Humphreys Peak, the highest point, stands at 12,633 feet. The Arizona Trail will reach and wrap directly around their flank on the journey south. The city of Flagstaff lies immediately beyond, at the foot of the mountain on the south side. Through the trees one can make out the rim of the canyon, but the dominant view in the foreground is the aspen foliage mixed with spruce/fir and ponderosa forest. Grand Canyon National Park fills the foreground with aspen foliage mixed with spruce/fir and ponderosa forest. Heading back down the road, I head west on the AZT to the park entrance.
The trail descends down the old road that led to the fire lookout until it reaches AZ-67 at the North Rim Entrance Station.
I check in with the ranger there, who asks if I need anything, but I’m good for now. After some slight confusion about the route leaving that area, I pick up the trail again (purist that I am, after retracing some steps, admittedly) and follow it south. It almost directly parallels the road, rolling through the hills beside, then crosses it and follows an old utility corridor down the west side past Thompson Canyon to the Widforss Trailhead.
When I reach the trailhead, I notice that the Widforss Trail is blocked off, which is strange since we had been informed that area was still open and accessible despite the Ikes Fire to the west. An LE ranger* approaches me and asks if I’m a thruhiker, and I say yes, that I came from just outside the park. He asks if I saw anything unusual on the trail, and signs of a fire or anything. Apparently someone on the Widforss trail somehow managed to set their tent on fire. How that happened, I can only imagine, but apparently they managed to do it. I mention that I worked on the South Rim and we talk for a while before I press on to the campground, where I encounter Eric and the two thruhikers, Roger and his friend, who I met at the North Rim Country Store yesterday. We talk for a while and then head to the lodge to get something to eat. I’m interested in eating at the restaurant, but it’s going to be a bit of a wait, so I grab some pizza and a beer with them and sit out on the fantastic patio area the lodge has overlooking the canyon.
I should say, the North Rim Lodge (or Grand Canyon Lodge, as it is officially known, is my favorite lodge so far in the park system. It blends seamlessly with the natural beauty around it, having been constructed of native stone. It has some of the best food I’ve had at any lodge – superior to that on the South Rim for sure. And it is perched directly on the rim of the canyon, so you can just sit on the patio, grab a drink and soak in the view – which stretches farther than the South Rim vista due to the higher elevation of the Kaibab and the North Rim.
And sitting out there with a couple other thruhikers, talking about our plans for the next day, how we are going to get across the canyon, permits and logistics, and plans for the days beyond, as the sun set over the canyon, is just incredible.
Ultimately, I do get a spot at the restaurant as well. The hostess recognizes my name. Apparently she has been told about me through a mutual friend on the South Rim. She’s also a seasonal ranger; her season just ended at Glen Canyon. She gives me her boyfriend as my waiter, and we talk about hiking, the Arizona Trail, and other long distance trails (I’m already considering the Long Trail) throughout dinner. Shortly thereafter, I experience my second bit of “trail magic” – he shows up at the end of the meal and tells me not to worry about the bill, “I took care of it.” Guess he appreciated me and the conversation I provided. Back to sleep before trying to get a permit for Bright Angel tomorrow to cross the canyon.