May 14, 2017

Almost Spring in the Grand Canyon

Steve wanted to ride along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon before the summer heat.  Our trip on May 4-6 may have jumped the gun a little.  Since the road from Jacob Lake to the North Rim is closed until May 15, we had to enter by back roads, which still had both snow and some fallen timber blocking the way. 
Steve was prepared with his chain saw, so that took care of clearing the roads of trees, but we did have to stop earlier than planned due to snow. We camped about 3 miles from the Grand Canyon border.  From there, we rode along a dirt roadway through the forested Kaibab Plateau. 
The park entrance, above, was blocked by a gate to prevent cars from entering.  Horses are allowed in at any time of year, and going around the gate was no problem. 
We encountered a lot of snow and more fallen logs, but most obstacles were easy to go over or bypass. 
The horses were able to walk on top of the compacted snow in the morning.  By the afternoon, they often sunk into the snowbanks up to their knees. 
We saw several Kaibab squirrels scampering in the trees beside the road.  The silhouette of one is shown in the photo above.  They have an all-white tail, cute little ear tufts, and live only on the Kaibab Plateau on the North Rim, in an area of about 20 by 40 square miles.  They are a sub-species of the Abert squirrels found on the South Rim, which are similar but do not have the distinctive tail.  The Kaibab squirrels became isolated on the Plateau after the last Ice Age.  This squirrel is uniquely adapted to living in the Ponderosa pine forest, since its most significant food source is the seeds within the Ponderosa pine cones. 
The Ponderosas are huge trees, as you can see in comparison to Steve and Sugar standing beneath one (I inadvertently cut off the top!)  The tallest one recorded is 235 feet in height.
We passed by this little waterfall below Kanabownits Spring,
then stopped to give the horses a grass and water break at a pool downstream.  The aspen trees in the background have not leafed out yet, but much of the grass is already green.  This is at about 7400 feet.
The above viewpoint looks into Crystal Amphitheatre. 
Nearby, a big yucca plant grows amongst the sage and pinon pine.
We rode to Point Sublime, 18 miles from our campsite, a 36 mile ride round trip.  The view was well worth the travel. This is one of two places Wesley Powell, early canyon explorer, took landscape artist Thomas Moran to paint the canyon.  He presented a composite of the views in his famous painting, "Grand Canyon of the Colorado".
Right on the rim, this claret cup cactus displayed its beauty.
5000 feet below and 5 miles distant, one can see Crystal Creek Rapids, one of the most challenging rapids for summertime Colorado River rafters.
On the horizon, well past the canyon, we spotted the San Francisco Mountains located north of Flagstaff, AZ and 70 miles from this viewpoint.  Seeing them is the hallmark of an exceptionally clear day. 
On the way back to camp, we trotted up on a small bison herd.  All but one ran away.  One young one was lying in the road.  We thought he must be sick or injured.  We tried to tippy-hoof past him, since steep banks and forest made a circuitous route impossible.  To our surprise, causing the horses to nearly jump out of their hides, the lone bison leaped to his feet and ran away as soon as we had cleared him by a few feet.  Fortunately, he had no interest in charging us.  The bison in the Kaibab are really beefalo, heavily interbred with cattle, so they are neither as large nor as wild as the bison in Yellowstone. Still, that was a bit closer encounter than was comfortable. 
On the way home the next day, we stopped to let the horses stretch their legs on a byway marked as the Old Spanish Trail.  The spot was so lovely, it deserved a photo. The horses enjoyed a few extra minutes snacking on rich grass and dandelions.


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