The North Rim: Many Pros and One Big Shitty Con

First of all, if you're going to visit the Grand Canyon, I would urge you to go to the North Rim-- or look at my wife's lovely pictures-- here are a few reasons why:

1) it's desolate . . . though it's a much farther drive than the South Rim, you travel through the immense wilderness of the Kaibab National Forest to get there, and there's really only two places to stay-- the lodge and campgrounds, which require a reservation up to a year in advance, or the Kaibab Lodge and adjacent campground, which are located five miles from the park entrance . . . we stayed there in a rustic little cabin (which still had electricity and fantastic water pressure in the shower) and the cabins are at the foot of the forest, overlooking enormous meadows . . . the kids had a blast exploring and building structures with fallen logs and you feel like you are really in the middle of nowhere (no wifi, but there is a general store that sells full-strength beer);

2) the North Rim is several thousand feet higher than the South Rim . . . so the temperatures are much cooler-- we went from 105 in Moab to lows in the 40s and highs in the 70s-- the weather is extraordinary for hiking, and-- even better-- when you get to the highest viewpoints on the North Rim-- which are near 9000 feet-- you can see across the Canyon and over the South Rim, for up to a hundred miles, there are vast plains and scrubland, layers of rock, moving cloud shadows, distant mountains . . . it's hard to take it all in . . . the South Rim is a bit of a tourist zoo but the views into the canyon are still profound, so if you've been to the South Rim, imagine that view times three, minus the crowds, and add a cool mountain breeze and the smell of the juniper and pinyon pines;

3) the North Rim lodge has loads of comfy deck chairs at the edge of the precipice, so you can read and look at the view, until your children get kicked out of the gift shop because they were making too much noise playing the expensive hand-made Native American flutes . . . Alex explained that they do have a bucket of plastic disposable mouthpieces so playing the flutes is obviously encouraged; I surmise from this that the boys must have been making a LOT of noise, because the shopkeeper came over and asked them if they had 200 hundred dollars, and told them that if they didn't, then they needed to leave;

4) the lodge also has rows of comfy leather couches inside, these are perfect for collapsing in after a long hike, and they look through a giant window across the canyon . . . the restaurant is also good and offers similar views-- I had the fry bread covered in elk chili and it was delicious-- this must be a National Park thing, because I had a similar meal in the Badlands;

5) the hiking and driving along the rim is fantastic, especially all the little hikes and Native American ruins on the way to Point Royal and Point Imperial;

6) lots of wildlife-- we saw wild turkeys, a coyote, a Kaibab squirrel, and mule deer-- but there are also bobcat and bison and beavers and lots of other creatures whose names do not commence with the letter B;

and here is the con:

7) there is only one trail on the North Rim that heads down into the Canyon, the North Kaibab Trail-- and it is a marvel of engineering and offers beautiful views BUT . . . and I wish we had been warned about this-- they allow mule tours for the first two miles of the trail and so the trail is covered in mule shit and there are puddles of mule urine . . . once you get through the Supai Tunnel, this ends, but at that point you are WAY down in the canyon and you need to think about turning back if you are doing a day hike . . . and EVERYONE we talked to loathes the mule tours, including one candid ranger-- and loads of other rangers were rebuilding the trail because of the mule tours, so I'm sure they hated this private concession as well, which doesn't even give much money to the park-- and if you paid ninety dollars for a mule tour, understand that everyone else on the trail hates and despises you, because on the way down, hikers have to pass the mule trains and on the way up the mule trains pass you, and while the mule-guide assured us we wouldn't get kicked, and told us to just "plow on through," I wasn't very confident about this-- mules have a reputation for kicking and when you're on a precipice trail a mile above the Colorado River, you don't want to be near a mule's ass . . . anyway, if you're one of the folks who took a mule tour down the trail, understand that you are ruining the trail for everyone else-- it absolutely reeks, the dirt is soft and torn up, and this mine-field of poop and urine should not be the final reward for the intrepid hikers that walked the twenty-some miles from the South Rim to the North Rim . . . it's astounding that the National Park Service allows this . . . the only explanation is tradition-- it has been done for a long time and I'm sure for some people it evokes the Wild West, but the thing you don't get in The Searchers is that it reeked to high heaven in the Wild West . . . I could understand if there were mules for those with disabilities because it is tough hiking, especially coming back up, but there's actually no reason to go down into the canyon-- you don't need to do this, on foot or on a mule, as the hikes and views on the rim are wonderful-- and there are enough trails up there, to designate one for mule-riding, but the North Kaibab trail is the only trail that goes into the canyon on the North Rim, so to cover it in a layer of mule defecation and flies seems bizarre . . . and for those of you who were wondering, a mule is a sterile cross between a donkey and a horse, and I hate those fucking things.

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