The Grand Canyon is one of the most visited National Parks in the United States. It has approximately 6 million annual visitors, most of which only see the South Rim. Just because most visitors are located on the other side of the canyon doesn't make the North Rim any less awe-inspiring and beautiful! Spanning 277 miles long and 18 miles at its widest point, the Grand Canyon is like nothing else on the planet. It is adequately listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The Journey to the Grand Canyon
This past Labor Day, we made our first trip to The North Rim of the Grand Canyon! We packed up our Airstream and left Friday after work aiming to make it to our campground and then to Bright Angel Point Trail before sundown. My goal was to get a lay of the land and photograph the sunset on night one. Of course, adventures don't always go as planned. Boy, were we in for a surprise on this one!
Due to construction lane closures, the drive to our initial destination took a little longer than planned (about two hours). After much anticipation, we finally made it! We unhitched at a quiet little campground called Kaibab Camper Village. This campground is 31 miles south of Fredonia, Arizona, off route 89A. Everyone there was polite, the campground was clean and exactly as described on their website, which is what I call 5 stars! We knew that trying to make the sunset at the North Rim would be cutting it close. Especially after the extended drive time, but we decided to try anyway. We unhitched, fed the dogs, microwaved our leftovers, rushed everyone into the truck, and were off. Just after 5 pm, only 44 more miles to go!
Making good time, I thought we'd arrive at the North Rim to see at least a little bit of light in the canyon. However, not far after the entrance to the Grand Canyon, we saw something completely unexpected that stopped us dead in our tracks. Something that tossed any interest in a sunset right out the window.
Yep, that's right... a herd of buffalo! Now, when I decided it was a good idea to take a trip to the Grand Canyon, I thought I would be looking at cliffs and rock formations in the desert. I did very little research on the area aside from which trails allow dogs. So, this encounter was wholly unexpected and very exciting. The last time I saw a Buffalo was in Yellowstone National Park when I was 10. Needless to say... what sunset? We stayed and hung out with these guys for about 45 minutes until it was too dark for my camera to focus.
It is important to note that most of these photos were taken with a zoom lens ranging from 200-500mm. Some of the buffalo got pretty close to our vehicle, so we always stayed safely inside the car. At no time did we attempt to nudge the animals out of the road with the truck or try to pass them when they were on the road. We waited until the road was completely clear to pass.
The North Rim at Night
Just because the wonderful and fantastic buffalo stole the sunset doesn't mean we didn't finish making our way to the North Rim that evening. Although it was now pitch black darkness, we eventually found our way to the Bright Angel Point Trailhead. Being natives of the desert, we are aware of the dangers at night and opted to wait to fully explore the trail until daylight. These were the views of the night sky over the canyon. The pleasant surprise of buffalo ended up working in our favor. Even though we missed the sunset, the galactic core of the Milky Way rose above the horizon at 8:42 pm, which resulted in magnificent photos of the night sky. Just out of view on the right side of the picture, the moon shined bright. You can see the lights of the South Rim shining on the horizon.
Exploring the North Rim
The next day we returned to explore Bright Angel Point and the North Rim in daylight. Despite being relatively late in the year and the high elevation, the temperature was approaching 90 degrees Fareinheight by noon. This trail is short in length at only 0.9-miles round trip, but with a taxing 144-foot elevation gain on the way back up. If you try this one, bring a whole bottle of water, and don't be afraid to take frequent breaks on the steep hill walking back and take in the scenery.
Although the North Rim is visited far less than the South Rim, Bright Angel Point Trail was still very busy. We didn't spend much additional time here. We instead went looking for less populated spots to explore.
The views at Point Imperial are much closer to the parking lot and even more beautiful.
Cape Royal Point & Angels Window
Angel's Window and Cape Royal Point had to be the most beautiful areas we visited. The distance from the parking area to Cape Royal Point is an approximately 1-mile round trip with only a 65-foot elevation gain. Although the trail map claims an elevation gain, it was hardly noticeable. About halfway to the point, a lefthand turn takes you to view the beautiful natural arch on the side of the cliff. There are multiple different areas from this lookout point where you can get a great view. Slightly further down the trail is turnout to walk on top of the point above the arch. There were multiple steps down to get out to the point, which is guarded by waist-high rails and chain link fence. Its views are even more breathtaking than the last two stops!
Buffalo again... what?
This morning when re-entering the park, the Buffalo herd was not in the spot we saw them the night before. Hoping they would return to the same place during the early evening, we timed the light, hoping to see them again before our final departure from the park. I held my breath and crossed my fingers! Guess what?
This time, the buffalo were relaxing a fair distance from the road, and any chance for close-ups was non-existent. That didn't stop me from trying! In the photo above, notice the area's dense forest. Were the buffalo hiding from the summer heat within the trees this morning when they were nowhere to be found?
Would I visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon again?
How would I change my next visit to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon?
Which photography gear should I bring to the North Rim?
Definitely bring your wide-angle lens. It might also be beneficial to bring a zoom lens if the weather isn't cooperative. I often enjoy using my super-zoom capability to look hone in on the fine detail of the cliff faces or create abstract shots of smaller objects around me.
If you enjoy night landscapes, a wide aperture wide angle lens would be great for capturing the stars with your nightscape (see photo above).
Also, don't forget to bring extra camera batteries, snacks (because stores are few and far between in this area), and lots of drinking water!
Subscribe to be notified of Part 2 of this post and find out how we spent the rest of the weekend in Northern Arizona. Also, stay tuned for Grand Canyon pictures for sale as Fine Art Photographs from this adventure to be available in the Gallery Store!