Sierra Club Slummin', a Filthy North Rim Stare-Down to Vegas

A quick stop to view a lovely overlook on the road into Navajo National Monument, Arizona and I was surveying the campgrounds for a suitable tree to sling my hammock. I hadn't stopped by the ranger station since it looked to be already closed, but a neighboring camper next to the site I selected, an Irish fellow, offered me details.

He said there were no fees for camping and that everything was free. He said its the strangest park he'd ever been to in that respect, and told me I could still check out the overlook of the Hopi cliff dwellings down the  trail behind the ranger station. He also informed me that you had to take a Navajo  guided hike if you wanted to get closer.

I answered his questions about Hovenweep and the route I'd taken. He also wanted to check out my hammock setup. All in all, a very nice exchange and he let me know I'd have to sign up for the hike early at the ranger station.

Found an electrical socket behind the ranger station and hung out charging my phone after the cliff dwelling overlook hike. The days riding had finally taken its toll as I fell asleep leaning on a trash can by the electrical socket. By the time I woke up the sky was already full of stars.

The next morning I rushed over to the ranger station to sign up for the hike. A Navajo ranger told me I was too late because they were already full. I thought about having to camp another night when the Navajo man asked if it was just me. I told him yes and he said "OK, you're in. Bring water & meet me in the front in 15 minutes."

The hike was to last 4-5 hours and it was already getting pretty hot. When the group convened, I learned half of them were from the Sierra club. All of them had high-end safari gear, hiking polls and packs full of food & water. Seemed excessive for just a little hike to see some cliff dwellings, but I figured they were just really getting into the "adventure" vibe. Seemed funny to see all that gear considering they were all staying in million dollar RVs with the works, including full satellite dish hookups. I was barely even getting a phone signal & had to camp out by a trash can to charge it up.

Long story short, the hike was 5 hours because the guide stopped about every 10 minutes to let people rest and to tell them a out various plants. The Sierra Club folks took every opportunity to ask questions that were really just statements about some Hopi book they'd read. Every stop they broke out food bars as if we were on some long expedition.

After the decent into the canyon to see the cliff dwellings and listen to a presentation by the guide, we were free to return at our our speed. It only took me 40  minutes to hike up and out of the canyon on the return, while the descent took over 3 hours.

Had a good sweat going, but it looked like I might be able to make the North Rim of the Grand Canyon if I didn't drag too much breaking down my camp. I'd heard there might be roads washed out and roadwork delays, but one of the men on the hike was from the region and he said none of that should effect me on the route I was taking. One if the Sierra Club dudes told me it was going to be horrible waits and that there was no way I'd make it in a days ride. Took my chances that he was wrong and that I'd indeed watch the sunset from the North Rim this very day.

The ride took me along these towering Vermillion cliffs lining a surreal dry desert valley the looked like some exotic Martian backwater. The sun was so intense that my vision started going blurry and head dizzy.

Stopped to rest and walk across the Navajo Bridge. Got a few shots and was distracted by this older Navajo woman who was whispering to draw my attention to a large bald bird under the bridge. She said it was one of the condors they'd released into the wild.

Just as the heat was all I could bare, the highway started to wind up and up with cooler temperatures as I approached the Northern rim of the Grand Canyon.

There were campgrounds with showers at Jacob's Lake about 45 miles before the Grand Canyon, but i was determined to see the sunset on the rim this day and pushed ahead.

As I pulled up to the park guard shack, there was a big sign that read "Sorry, Campground Full". The lady ranger asked how I was doing. Told her I was fine until I read the sign. She said they're booked for the entire season even before the season starts. She saw the color drain from my face and asked how I felt about dispersion camping. I asked what that was and she said it was basically finding a spot in the National forest and just camping for free. I told her I could likely handle that but that I only had a liter of water left. She said that wouldn't do, but if I had something to put it in, I could fill up at a nearby cabin that often has a cooler of water set out for hikers.

Now I had 3 liters of water, a liter of red wine, and enough food for two days. The guard told me I could actually see the rim on the service road in the forest. I asked if it looked any different from the forest than the park. She said, "Nope. Looks the same. The canyon is the canyon. Just drive through the forest and keep going  until you see light. But, be careful not to ride off the cliff." I thought she was joking about riding off the cliff, but after 17 miles of rough dirt and gravel through the forest, I saw daylight and the Grand Canyon before me. Had I not stopped, I indeed could have ridden off the cliff.

For 2 nights I camped on the North rim of the Grand canyon and hiked during the day. The heat was intense in the afternoon, but is got cold just as soon as the sun fell. Watched 2 sunsets and 2 sun rises from my camp on the rim. The majestic power you feel being so close to that grand ditch is indescribable.

Just before my second sunset, there was a large Mormon family who arrived in large trucks. The women had the long dresses and hair conservatively fastened in buns. They all filed out on the stone point with me to watch the sunset.

One of the little Mormon girls paused after taking a photo and stared at me long and hard. She looked me up and down and then focussed on my feet. I looked down at my feet and they were covered in dirt and general filth. I looked at her and noticed how spotlessly clean she was. All of them were. Not a hair out of place. Then I looked down at my feet again and remembered the phrase that cleanliness is next to godliness. 

For a brief moment I felt like a filthy heathen looked down upon by a saintly child of god. Then, I looked at the color of the dirt on my feet and noticed it was the same color as the earth below me and the same hues as the Grand Canyon itself. 

At that moment I'd never felt closer to the great spirit, filth and all.

The next morning I packed up my camp and left it as it had been found. It was brutal riding through the edge of Death Valley with record temps of 127F that day, but once I hit the cool air-conditioning spilling from the Las Vegas casinos, all was good.

I've been recharging, bathing, gambling and getting ready to get back on the road for the second half of the adventure. In the morning I'll pull out of Vegas and point East. Where first camp will be made is anyone's guess. After 4 nights of Vegas make believe, I'm ready to get back in-sync with the road.

Will continue updating my Instagram Feed when possible.

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Ride to Live!

 

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