Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail: North Kaibab Trail, Roaring Springs to Ribbon Falls (Day 8 – Passage 38, Grand Canyon Inner Canyon)

In the land of Arizona
Through desert heat or snow
Winds a trail for folks to follow
From Utah to Old Mexico

It’s the Arizona Trail
A pathway through the great Southwest
A diverse track through wood and stone
Your spirit it will test

Oh, sure you’ll sweat and blister
You’ll feel the miles every day
You’ll shiver at the loneliness
Your feet and seat will pay

But you’ll see moonlight on the borderlands
You’ll see stars on the Mogollon
You’ll feel the warmth of winter sun
And be thrilled straight through to bone

The aches and pains will fade away
You’ll feel renewed and whole
You’ll never be the same again
With Arizona in your soul

Along the Arizona Trail
A reverence and peace you’ll know
Through deserts, canyons, and mountains
From Utah to Old Mexico

“The Arizona Trail,” Dale R Shewalter

Continuing to hike down the North Kaibab Trail at Grand Canyon National Park from Roaring Springs, one descends through Bright Angel Canyon, passing the Manzanita Resthouse and Cottonwood Campground while crossing and recrossing Bright Angel Creek. The trail flattens out around Cottonwood, halfway from the North Rim to the Colorado River and Bright Angel Campground. The bridge to Ribbon Falls is out, but I’m able to ford the creek – something that was not possible the last time that I hiked this trail, during the spring runoff. I’m able to identify a trail that leads to the falls and make it over to see them briefly before making it back to the main trail and continuing toward the River.

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Bright Angel Creek, viewed hiking the North Kaibab Trail in upper Bright Angel Canyon
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Junction of Bright Angel Canyon (center) and Roaring Springs Canyon (left). Komo Point to right; Uncle Jim Point on upper left. Viewed backpacking the North Kaibab Trail.
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
View down Bright Angel Canyon, backpacking the North Kaibab Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park

About the area: Grand Canyon National Park is a geologist’s dream. The rock exposed in Grand Canyon stretches back 1.8 billion years and includes primarily alternating periods of ocean coverage and desert. From youngest to oldest, the layers are as follows:

Kaibab Limestone – The youngest of the currently existent layers in Grand Canyon; a resistant, cliff-forming layer that is known for its rich marine fossil deposits due to its marine origins when the area lay under the eastern Pacific Ocean
Toroweap Formation – a thin, sloping layer, signifying additionally prone to erosion. Composed of gypsum & shale with additional sandstone. The Toroweap was deposited by a combination of shallow sea environments and coastal dunes.
Coconino Sandstone – thick cliffs formed by the largest desert represented in any Canyon layer. The Coconino is one of the most difficult layers to hike through due to the grade of the trails required to traverse its steep, thick cliffs. Evidence of wind-blown sand can be seen and felt in the layer today.
Hermit Shale – a sloping formation that frequently has poorly preserved plant fossils. Dark red due to the iron present in the rock.
Supai Group – a distinctive red layer rich in iron, as is the Hermit Shale. The Supai Group contains a mixture of slopes and cliffs. It’s perhaps most famous for its occurrence in Sedona, including Oak Creek Canyon. Formed in an environment similar to the Gulf Coast today.
Redwall Limestone – a thick layer of exceptionally pure, cliff forming limestone. Though it appears red, the natural color is whitish grey. The red color comes from minerals in layers above, carried down by melting snow & rain and staining the surface. As with the Coconino Sandstone, this is one of the most difficult layers to hike through due to its thickness.
Muav Limestone – a whitish layer of cliff-forming limestones beneath the Redwall. Several of the most spectacular Canyon waterfalls, including Roaring Springs and Thunder River, originate in the Muav.
Bright Angel Shale – a greenish-tinted sloping layer beneath the two limestones. The distinctive green color comes from trilobite excrement; so many trilobites were present in the swampy landscape at the time that they managed to stain the entire layer.
Tapeats Sandstone – a thick sandstone layer representing another desert landscape. While archeological sites can be found throughout the Canyon, the Tapeats cliffs can often be a particularly good spot to encounter them.
Vishnu Basement Rocks: Zoroaster Granite – pink granitic igneous intrusions into the Vishnu Schist. An example of the influence of Clarence Dutton on the naming of Grand Canyon sites – he named many features in the canyon after Hindu and Egyptian deities.
Vishnu Basement Rocks: Vishnu Schist – the oldest rock in the central Canyon, though not the oldest in the entire Canyon (that honor goes to the Elves Chasm gneiss). The Schist is an exceptionally erosion-resistant layer that currently represents the bottom of the canyon. Due to a combination of its resistance to erosion, a reduction in flow, and the impacts that Glen Canyon Dam has had on the Colorado River, the Canyon only deepens by about the thickness of a sheet of paper each year today.

The horizontally deposited layers were uplifted unusually regularly to form the Colorado Plateau.

Many people ask how the Canyon subsequently formed. It’s not the deepest Canyon in the world (that would be Tsangpo Canyon in Tibet, China), or even in the US (that’s Hells Canyon on the Oregon/Idaho border). But it is still an incredibly unique landscape. And for many years it’s formation was a mystery, rather like the source of the Nile, another desert river. A major point of confusion was the fact that many side canyons point opposite to the flow of the River today – something that normally shouldn’t happen, since rivers flow downhill. I can go into some of the deeper theories behind this separately, but suffice to say that today this is largely believed to be mostly a product of the changing gradients of the land. Yet, both they and the main river demonstrate the process that formed the canyon – particularly on the side canyons today. Runoff from snowmelt and storms carries debris into streams and the Colorado, which is only added to by the steep and prolonged gradient of the river through the canyon. Rubbing against the waterbeds like sandpaper, the waterborne debris carves the canyon ever deeper. Compare the gradient of the Colorado in the canyon at 7 ft/mi to that of the Mississippi (6 in/mi) and you’ll see why there’s no Grand Canyon on the Mississippi. Areas with faults, such as Bright Angel Canyon, which the North Kaibab & Bright Angel Trails run and the widest point of the canyon, are particularly susceptible to erosion since they are naturally weak points in the rock. Since the North Rim gets about twice as much precipitation as the south, about twice as much erosion takes place there – this is why the North Kaibab Trail is about 2x as long as either of the two main South Rim trails.

Of final particular note – in hiking across the Grand Canyon, one completes an ecological hike that is the equivalent of traveling from Mexico (at the bottom) to Canada.

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Remnant transcanyon telephone line built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, seen backpacking the North Kaibab Trail.
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
North Rim in Bright Angel Canyon from hiking the North Kaibab Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
North Rim in Bright Angel Canyon from backpacking the North Kaibab Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
North Rim in Bright Angel Canyon from hiking the North Kaibab Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Crescent moon above rim of Bright Angel Canyon, backpacking the North Kaibab Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
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Bright Angel Canyon from backpacking the North Kaibab Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Bright Angel Canyon from hiking the North Kaibab Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Bright Angel Canyon from backpacking the North Kaibab Trail
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
Yes, there is still water in the desert.
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park
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Ribbon Falls
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park

Ribbon Falls
Arizona Trail, Passage 38 (Grand Canyon, Inner Canyon)
Grand Canyon National Park

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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Pine Mountain (Passage 21), FR 422 to Pigeon Spring Trailhead

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Saddle Mountain Passage from near Saddle Mountain to Sycamore Creek at the start of the Pine Mountain passage. More magnificent Arizona mountain views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, and a gorgeous Arizona sunset.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 51: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23), Part II

Disruptive event today, an F-16 that flew over while I was packing. It flew extremely low and around a mountain – possibly North Peak – and made me think very seriously about why that would be allowed over a designated wilderness area. Still, I manage to knock out a few miles to Chilson Spring before dark, with spectacular views of Deadman’s Canyon, the Verde Valley, and the western Mazatzal foothills along the way. The mountains are jagged and rugged and the trail traces steep slopes nearly the whole way across precipitous terrain.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50, Part II: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23)

It’s here. The Mazatzal Divide represents the heart of the longest stretch of the Arizona Trail within a designated wilderness area. To that end, a reminder on the meaning of wilderness. Under the Wilderness Act of 1964, wilderness is “an area where man is but a visitor and does not remain.” Consequently, motorized access as … Continue reading Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50, Part II: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50: Red Hills, Part II/II

Second day hiking through the Red Hills toward the Mazatzal Mountains. Earning their name through the red rock colors, the Hills also provide hikers with wildflowers and diverse vegetation, in addition to showing the scars of recent wildfires and spectacular views of the range north toward the Mogollon Rim.

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Passage 38 (Grand Canyon Inner Canyon, North Kaibab Trail & South Kaibab Trail)
Trail SurfaceDirt singletrack
Length (Mi)21.4
SeasonFall-Spring (September-April).

No vehicular access to North Kaibab Trailhead December-April. Feet of snow above Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail in winter.
Potential Water SourcesNorth Kaibab trailhead
Supai Tunnel
Roaring Springs
Manzanita Resthouse
Bright Angel Creek
Cottonwood Campground
Phantom Ranch
Bright Angel Campground
TrailheadsNorth: North Kaibab Trailhead
South: South Kaibab Trailhead (Yaki Point)
Trailhead AccessNorth: Vehicular Access (paved)
South: Foot and shuttle access
WildernessYes
Possible resupply pointsGrand Canyon North Rim
Phantom Ranch
Grand Canyon Village
ATA-Rated DifficultyStrenuous
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Grand Canyon North Rim Campground
Cottonwood Campground
Bright Angel Campground
Indian Garden Campground (slight detour required)
Mather Campground

Note: All camping within Grand Canyon National Park must take place in designated campsites. Walk-in reservations are available for AZT thruhikers.
Ecosystems TraversedGreat Basin Subalpine Conifer Forest
Rocky Mountain Montane Conifer Forest
Great Basin Desert Scrub
Mojave Desert Scrub
Riparian
Passage 38 Logistics. Sources: Personal experience, Guthook Guides, & Arizona Trail Association guide
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Canyon RimNear riverSonoran DesertRiparianEndemic Near-endemic
Common Trees/Shrubs* rabbitbrush
* Stansbury cliffrose
* pinyon pine
* Juniper
* Alkali goldenbush
* Chuckwalla’s delight
* longleaf brickellbush
* Mojave brickellbush
* Spearleaf brickellbush
* Red barberry
* Serviceberry
* Silktassels
* Skunkbush
* sugar sumac
* brittlebush
* odora
* slender janusia


* Redbud* Arizona turpentine bush N/A
Common herbaceous plantsN/A* Apache plume
* Rabbitfoot
* Sacred datura
* Watson’s Dutchman-pipe
* Western bernardia
* desert chicory* maidenhair fern
* Red monkeyflower
* Arizona prickle poppy
* Glow willowweed
* giant hellebore orchid
Common succulents* Banana yucca
* Barrel cactus
* claret cup hedgehog cacti
* Englemann hedgehog cactus
* Pincushion cacti
* Prickly pear cacti
* Soaptree yucca
N/AN/A* Kaibab agave* Barrel cactus
* Grand Canyon beavertail cactus
Passage 23 & 22 Ecology (source: Arizona Trail Association AZT Guide & NatureServe). Only California and Texas are more diverse ecologically than Arizona.
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