(This is the approach in the last mile or two to Toroweap Campground. The road goes for another half mile to the viewpoint and is one that contorts a vehicle from side to side, front to side, back to side, and every which way, including loose).

Over the past week, I've had some white knuckle, nerve wracking, treacherous, bone jarring, brain rattling drives through some of this country's most superb scenery. Some parts of the drives were definitely challenging, but my hikes were challenging as well. And I'm here to tell the tales.


After spending 2 nights in Kanab, UT, I departed on Thursday morning, 8/16 for the long drive to Toroweap. From Kanab it is only 7 miles to Fredonia, AZ, just south of the UT/AZ border. Then, out 7 miles on AZ 389 is the turn-off to Toroweap, an unpaved, 61 mile adventurous drive to one of the most fantastic viewpoints into the Grand Canyon. 


Part of the road, most of it actually, are in decent shape for a gravel, hard pack, unpaved road. But the bad stretches are not for the faint of heart. Some bad stretches were just plain rough, either washboard, corduroy road type or rocky, and loose rock inclines/declines. Then there is the last 3 miles into the Toroweap overlook area at the end of the line. Having been to this place, I think now 5 or 6 times, I knew it was slow going and very uneven, as vehicles are riding above the smooth slick rock formation tops. But this trip seemed to reveal an even more rough road.

Some of the best places on the road allowed me to drive upwards of 45 mph.


                                  That is Mt. Trumbull in the background. A forest fire smoke is visible to the left of the white cloud.

There was one spot, near the end, that got my blood really pumping, and my palms sweaty. There was an incline that had partially washed away and in the gaps were some larger various sized rocks, not quite boulder size. Yikes! I'd driven all this way and it reminded me of the spot I clawed up and though the week before on the North Rim forest road. I dropped into low drive and with just a minimum of slippage, once again my Santa Fe, grabbed ahold and threw out her paws scratching for that fingernail hold to pull us up and over that nasty patch. 


                Nearly to the campground, typical "road" surface. The mountain in the background is on the south side of the canyon.

This vehicle is not really a high clearance vehicle, but in cases like this I'm always concerned that I'm going to hit the undercarriage and rip the guts out from underneath. I've become pretty adept at quickly sizing up the situations and aiming to avoid the center belly from being exposed too closely to anything that would tear the car apart from beneath. That goes for rutted roads too, which, I've been fortunate to skirt around or ride on the ridges, if the soil is not still wet. 

There is a ranger station 5 miles north of the overlook, but no one was there when I arrived the first day. I averaged 5 MPH from the ranger station to the campground. That's how rough the road is. I do know some drive on it faster, but I'm not about to rattle every single bolt and nut loose from MY car. Not to mention the grey matter under my skull.

OK, so there is the campground. a bit rough and uneven entering it, and one of the upper area campsites already taken. I like the lower part too, but that was NOT going to happen. A part of the drive had washed out and a bunch of very large rocks and boulders had been thrown in to fill the over 2 foot drop. Now this situation was totally hopeless unless a person had a 4 wheel drive AND high clearance vehicle. The rocks were not all stable either, so one that slipped could leave my car teetering with no tires on the ground. That spot would most certainly have destroyed my car and caught the undercarriage. I opted to take one of the other upper spots, which was nice too. Since the surface is mostly rocky, and having tried this before, I opted to not set up my tent. Only rocks on the corners or tying off to the sparse vegetation would keep a tent stable. Instead, for the first time I slept in the back and rigged up a tarp to cover the open back hatch which gave me some overhang and privacy at night. With the hatch open, I was able to comfortably stretch out and sleep soundly. 

I did a quick walk to the overlook and chatted with an Italian couple who I had stopped and chatted with on the road in. They had just come in for a day visit and, after going to the edge, taking photos, they left. They were driving a larger 4 wheel drive SUV so had no problems along the drive.

For the rest of the afternoon I read and relaxed, then after supper, read by lantern light until after 9 p.m. It was a mostly clear night, though I wished I could be looking up at the stars from my tent, instead of having no view above from inside the car. 

Friday morning I awoke with dawn's early light, fixed a cup of coffee and trekked to the canyon edge to catch the sunrise and take photos along the rim. Toroweap, by the way, has no barriers to help prevent people from falling over. People are on their own here and hopefully the fear of heights is enough to keep them at a safe distance from a 3000 foot drop off.

After 9 a.m. I started on one of the hikes at Toroweap, the Esplanade Trail. It follows an old jeep trail that is closed, but open to hiking. Looking at the photo to the left, the Esplanade is the level at which I was located. Looking at the background, the level at the base of the  "mountain" is the Esplanade and it wanders in and out all around the base of those formations. It is mostly flat, but still a workout.

I soon diverged off the path and tried hiking to other of the "points" above the river but still on the same level. There is nothing flat about this land. It is made up of a multitude of little valleys and drainages that feed into the Colorado, etching deeper and deeper with hundreds of feet drops as it descends. I had to cross may such gullies, drainages, valleys to go out to the furtherest outcroppings in my attempts to be "on the edge". In a few instances, I lay on my belly to take a photo over the edge (standing that close made me weak in the knees and in the pit of my stomach).

It was great exploring into some the those side canyons to the depths that were possible for me. As I mentioned, they do get deeper and have precipitous falls before reaching the river. I never put myself in danger that would have me falling into some inaccessible gorge (at least from my point of view).

I can not tell you how many little nooks and grannies there are all along the way. From above and looking across the Esplanade, there are waterfalls (when it rains) that must be amazing. The erosions of millions of years have left formations that just amaze me. One rock along the trail looked like the head of a dinosaur, other places left rock that looked lacey and fragile, and areas where a series of falls stair stepped downward with little pools of standing water on the levels below. Then were the cliffs, the split off boulders as big as buses, narrow gaps between. A person could search in all those levels in a small part of the canyon and never see every inch. It is so enormous, with new discoveries around every corner.


This overhang and ledge was a bit nerve wracking to get to from the level above, and was easier to negotiate without the pack. I scooted along duck walking to an opening area that got me much closer to an over the rim view below.


The head of a Dinosaur? No, a rock that eons of time and the elements have carved in such a shape.

Dropping from one level to another this waterfall must be spectacular when water is flowing. Little pools of water are seen below.


Another of the gullies and valleys. This one with formations looking like fish heads.

This waterfall has etched out interesting formations, and such delicate scalloped edges, alcoves and spindly columns.


A toadstool?


Pancake layers like this abound within the Canyon.


One of the multitude of little valleys that feed into the Canyon.


And, a view standing out on a point, nothing but air and a sheer drop beneath me. 

So, I had a great afternoon on that hike, poking around over the landscape, seeing what I could discover and being in total wonderment of all that my eyes could see. 

I think I probably covered a good 6 miles, or more and the march back was tedious, weaving in and out, along the inner edges of the Esplanade, following the contours of the  mountains all the way.

While out on the edge, at one point, a condor or two swooped and glided overhead. Sorry, no bones to pick here. © Donald E. Kline 2012                                         Disqus Comments