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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Arizona Strip: Toroweap and Nampaweap Rock Art Site

A thunderstorm brewing over the Grand Canyon, as viewed from the Toroweap Campground.














It's apparently my destiny to learn the same lessons over and over and over...
  1. The act of packing sunscreen, even SPF 50, does not keep me from getting sunburned unless I actually apply it.
  2. Drinking an iced espresso at 4:00pm will result in lying awake until 4:00am.
  3. The Grand Canyon, no matter the viewpoint or time of day, is always spectacular.
I would prefer not to repeat lessons 1 and 2 ever again (hey, it's possible), but I wouldn't mind rediscovering the last one every year for the rest of my life.

The intimate camping accommodations at Overland Expo West, 2017
We spent a long weekend enjoying Overland Expo West in Flagstaff Arizona, camping alongside about 7,000 other outdoor enthusiasts at the new venue site. Fort Tuthill County Park was the perfect place to hold this type of event: close enough to town to run in if you forgot something, camping under trees (instead of the dust bowl/mud pit at Mormon Lake), and a large area for vendors to show off the latest equipment you didn't know you needed. Mark took classes during the day while I sat in on presentations, drank espresso drinks and basked in the sun (see lessons 1 & 2 above).

Mark and Ryan toasting to another Overland together.
Mark, in his natural habitat.

It was fun, but I was more than ready to hit the road on Monday morning. I'm not much for crowds, and after camping four nights in a row packed in with so many people, I had hit my limit. We had made arrangements to meet up with our buddies later that day, so we took off early with our friend Mel and had our traditional breakfast at Macys Coffeehouse in Flagstaff. Breakfast burritos, waffles and a giant sticky bun were exactly what we wanted, blissfully enjoyed in the relative quiet of this sorta new-age/kinda hippy place. Unfortunately, Mel couldn't join us this year on our post-Expo trip, so we had to say goodbye as he headed back to California and we took off for the nearest grocery store for supplies.
It's highly recommended to air down before you take on these roads. On our last trip, two of the four vehicles ended up with flat tires from the sharp rocks. The long distance also tempts one to go a wee bit faster than 35mph.

We were headed back to Toroweap Overlook and campground on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Our friend had scored a reservation at the group site that night and we were thrilled to go back, it being one of the most beautiful campgrounds we've ever visited. Wrangling four vehicles of various sizes and speeds had proven too difficult to coordinate a convoy, so we had all agreed to keep in touch and meet wherever we could along the way. It was a great plan, taking pressure off those of us who are early birds and those that need a bit more time to gather themselves in the morning. Mark and I were able to stop and take some photos, and visit the Navajo bridge near Lee's Ferry without feeling like we were holding anyone up.

To get an idea of how big the Arizona Strip is, and just how few developed places there are inside it, here's a map. What you can't see is the extensive system of dirt roads that wind around the place, running out to the edge of the Grand Canyon and up into the mountains to the north. We could have spent two months out there and not seen everything. If only we had brought a fuel tanker truck along with us.

Our plan for the week was to explore the Arizona Strip, which encompasses the northwestern corner of the state and includes the Grand Canyon/Parashant National Monument, and Grand Canyon National Park's North Rim, along with various national monuments and BLM wilderness areas.  It's a huge area, and our planned route would take us over almost 300 miles of dirt roads with no access to services. Since our truck's range is 230 miles with it's stock tank, we would be relying on our three 5 gallon jerry cans to get us out. We stopped in Fredonia, the last town before heading off-road, and filled those suckers to the tippy top.

Didn't look too inclement...
oh, wait...
The long road to Toroweap was particularly beautiful this year, after a winter of heavy rains made the desert bloom.

The Toroweap Overlook is sixty miles down a dirt road; the first fifty or so you could make in the family car (providing you brought a spare or two in case of blow outs) but the last ten miles would be almost impossible without high clearance and four wheel drive. It's a spectacular view though, and worth the trip. Things had changed since our last visit to this spot. The Tuweep campground is now available by reservation only, having been first come, first served previously. It kind of makes sense, I can only imagine the disappointment of driving all the way out there to find the campground full. A ranger is stationed there at the Monument and Grand Canyon National Park boundary. It must get lonely, because he was quite talkative when we checked in with him. He didn't seem too concerned about reservations, more so about the news and weather. I guess not that many people are committed enough to travel so far when there's a perfectly nice paved road to an overlook at the North and South Rims of the park (not to mention the lodge and gift shop there). This campground is pretty bare bones: you have to haul in your own water and haul out your own trash. There are some pretty nifty composting toilets though, so no worries in that department.

This sign should be posted on every public restroom in the country.
Not that it would help.

We cruised into the campground and found our friend Ron's car waiting for us. We assumed Ron would turn up eventually, so we busied ourselves with the campground dance, slowly driving back and forth trying to find the flattest spot we could on the pock-marked sandstone surface. Soon enough, all four vehicles were there, and eventually Ron walked in from a hike to the Toroweap Overlook.

Toroweap Group Camp, after a passing shower.
The rain and hail made an interesting pattern on the (formerly) blue paint on the truck.

This was the first time we had seen Ron since last year's White Rim experience. It was a melancholy trip for him; his VW Touareg was slated for the crusher soon, it being one of the German diesel-cheating-debacle vehicles. It would be the last big trip for his beloved car before turning it in for the rebate, and his sorrow showed every time it came up in conversation. A lot of our campfire discussions revolved around what vehicle he would be getting to replace it. (Note to self: never (even accidentally) call his car a Passat. I believe I lost any respect he may have had for me with that slip up.)

The Toroweap Plateau was green and lush this year.
Cactus were in full bloom.

Cactus garden on the plateau.

The passing rain clouds broke for some dramatic sunset shots.

The sheer 3000' drop off at Toroweap is a little unnerving. If you look closely, you can see Mark standing on the edge.


A rare photo of Mark and I, together in one shot. Thanks Ron!
Two boats approaching the Lava Falls area (around the corner)

A view toward Lava Falls and the same two boats. Apparently it's a pretty hairy rapids section for rafters.
Ron contemplates an agave flower stalk on our walk back to the Toroweap campground.

We had a great time posing on the edge of the 3000' drop at the overlook, taking photos at sunset after a passing shower/hail storm went through. The next morning we took some more pictures before heading off toward Twin Point. We took off a bit early with Ron so we could stop in at the Nampaweap Rock Art site.



Nampaweap is located about three miles from the turnoff on Mt. Trumbull Road, about seven miles back up the road from Toroweap Overlook. A short ride down a side road leads to a small dirt parking lot surrounded by a barbed wire fence. This area is still used for cattle grazing, and the fence keeps the cows from destroying the site. A half mile trail leads to a jumbled pile of volcanic basalt, blackened with desert varnish and decorated with hundreds of petroglyphs formed by the Southern Paiute tribe.
An informative sign about the area. It was nice to see the park put so much effort into this remote area.
At first it just looks like a jumble of rocks.

Closer examination reveals petroglyphs.
and more...
and more.
Mark and I have been known to hike many miles to find petroglyphs and have come close to dehydration a few times trying to find the more elusive ones. These were conveniently located on a well worn path, with signs pointing the way. It's a miracle they were as intact as they were; we've seen some sites that have been destroyed by people trying to steal them, touching them (skin oils destroy them), making rubbings (which slowly wear them off), and even spray painting over them with their own "witty" sayings. I think perhaps the miles of rough road and the hike itself keep most people from going out there.

If you find yourself in the area, it's definitely worth the side trip. A nice place to get out, stretch your legs and wear off the "bumpy road butt" that builds after a few hours of off-road travel. It was especially nice, considering what lay ahead; we were about thirty miles of rough road away from our next destination: Twin Point.

A rainbow forms after a thunderstorm, on Grand Canyon National Park's Toroweap Plateau.


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