Amazing how the cosmos cosmoscizes. I need to let someone know I’ll be out of phone contact for a few more days, but my cell has no service. Hadn’t seen a two-legger in even more days. Four mountain bikers show up, one of whom has a perfectly splendid and working cell phone. I wonder to the wind and sky where I should end up today, after my few days at Parrisawampitts. When I get back to camp, two hunters drive up.
“I’ve been thinking about heading to Indian Hollow,” I say.
“Oh, Indian Hollow is nothing. It’s not even on the rim,” he say. “Where you really oughtta go is Saddle Mountain,” and he goes on to describe the views I’ll see from there. He gives me directions and I set off, buoyed with the excitement that accompanies the beginning of a journey.
After resupply at the store near LaMotte Campground and some mix up as to where Forest Service Road 610 actually begins, my truck slices through spruce and aspen and other mountain forms, ending up suddenly at a clearing, at the top of a mountain. The world opens up 12.1 miles from Highway 67 along FS Road 610.
A sole campsite edges a cliff top. I pull in, garnering views that sweep east and south into Marble Canyon as it winds its way north of Lees Ferry at the junction of the Vermillion and Echo Cliffs; of majestic Navajo Mountain which seems to rest atop the sun-dazzled Echo escarpment; of the felt green plain of the Marble Platform before it pours the Navajo world down into the Little Colorado River Gorge. Mark one
A few yards from my windswept campsite, draped in soggy broadleafs, a sign says POINT IMPERIAL – 2.2 MILES, and beyond the signpost, a wide swing gate welcomes me into Grand Canyon National Park itself. Even Grand Canyon, the front door of front doors, has a backdoor.
I stride out onto a vast headland closed in with aspen and thorny locusts, capped out by high spruce and ponderosa. Wet and wild and rainy and gray, a perfect atmosphere for me to swim within. I have to swing back the branches like turnstiles, the vegetation is so thick. It reminds me of the North Woods of Wisconsin. Drizzled in with the oak and mahogany are taller aspen trunks blacked by fire.
The forest trends down to lower, newer growing aspen, which often colonize a region after a fire. The howls of a coyote end up being the sweet sound of a quaky rubbing like a violin bow against a downed trunk. More saplings lean golden in the fall, all low against the granite sky.
The aspen give gave way to the cindered graveyard of a dead forest. Charred stalks of dead ponderosa stand like matchsticks against the limestone sky. The ground coaly everywhere, here and there striped with white ash. I could still smell the smoke.
The vast peninsular form out to Point Imperial lay denuded, granting me freedom to see the North Rim in all its vastness as the headland’s eastern slope plunged off into a spinning side canyon. The fire a merciless hunter. Even the root dens of the ponderosa had been plundered by the flames, leaving giant claw marks, as if from some voracious tyrannosaur. The ceaseless wind brought a stand of quakies to a shriek.
Here and there, groves of ponderosa, their pink, vanilla bark whitened by the ash of fire, had survived the holocaust. As the plateau turned east, even the Grand Staircase cliffs became visible as the forest thinned to boles, charred and crisp. What looked like the Aquarius Plateau far into Utah stood like a mountain chain. I reached Point Imperial, still crowned with live ponderosa that tossed and moaned in the gales.
Northeast, the Vermillion Cliffs wandered between shade and sunlight like the hem of a ruby dress. The Echo Cliffs seemed to form a pedestal for the monolithic cobalt hump of Navajo Mountain. Through the wide and vast House Rock Valley at the foot of the Echo Escarpment, the orange fracture of Marble Canyon snaked its way across the broad, green platform that bore its name. On the plain’s back, rosettes formed from cloud shadows.
Southeast, I made out the mouth of the Little Colorado joining the Colorado, and the distant streaks and dashes of the Painted Desert. The cathedric spire of Mount Hayden, the Coconino Rim darkened by storm, and the San Francisco Peaks finished outthe panorama.
At Point Imperial, I picked up Ken Patrick Trail. I wanted to take this two mile trunk as far as Cape Royale Road, but took a wrong turn on a spur which wandered out onto a narrow hogback. Glad I did as I might have lost light had I taken KPT the whole two miles.
I meandered back past Point Imperial. Ebony storm clouds moved me on, and in that fire-made plain of dead forest on my way back to camp, I contemplated the austere beauty of a stormy defile in a hard, gray sunset over a low stand of aspen. Drilled by hail, a hostage to wind as it trilled through a dead aspen trunk with a missing cat’s eye hole that made it a giant flute, I thought about what had brought me to this place.
Synchronicity. Serendipity. Used to be they call it Providence. When I began this trip to North Rim, I made a decision to accept all of what happened, without exception or expectation. Right after I’d done that, something inside told me to remember that moment. I surrendered all my claims that I’d made on others and upon myself and upon the sweet and bitter storm, in favor of Whatever.
The closer I draw to this Nonrandom Event Generator (‘chance’ for short), the richer and more elegant the wood shapes and harmonies of wind, the hues of sky and the trail’s wanderings. Finding the Ken Patrick Trail by accident after gleaning its name from a guidebook I just happened to browse in a Kanab coffee house I also stumbled on. Meeting a hunter who told me about Saddle Mountain, right after I wondered where to go next. Finding the single campsite adjacent to the kitchen entrance to Grand Canyon National Park.
The less I plan, the more I live.