I woke up late to a cloudy morning. It didn't look like a good day to ride to the north rim of the Grand Canyon, but it was the day I had to do it. I expected a somewhat boring ride though a forest and, given the weather, no great views at the Grand Canyon. I was right about the views, but completely wrong about the ride. Although I did get rained on and a good part of the ride was done in threatening weather, this was one of the most enjoyable day rides I have ever done!
The signs just south of Jacobs Lake
The steep hill just south of those signs
Riding south from Jacobs Lake meant climbing a "big hill" almost immediately. Although the hill is steep (I hit 45 mph coming down it) , it only climbs a few hundred feet. Then the road settles down to rolling hills with a distinct upward trend for the next 11 miles. Jacobs Lake is at about 7800 feet and the marked high point on the road is at 8860 feet 12 miles south of Jacobs Hill.
What made this ride so enjoyable was the excellent road, which is simply fun to ride. and the beautiful Kaibab Forest. When I entered the forest yesterday I thought "A bunch of stunted pine trees?" What a difference a few thousand feet of altitude can make! This forest is the "best forest in Arizona" according to a couple who live in Tempe and were camping for a week in a meadow off the main road. It "stuns people who have never been in a real forest before" according to the Park Service man at the entrance to Grand Canyon. It certainly stunned me, and I basically live in a forest, the Pisgah National Forest.
This forest was, before they started controlling fires up here, dominated by aspen. It still contains some of the most beautiful aspen trees I've ever seen, but now it is mostly douglas fir and white fir with aspen mixed in, especially along the road where it can get the sun it needs. There are a lot of lightning caused fires up here, but now the forest service fire crews do a good job of limiting their spread.
After climbing to 8860 feet, the the road settles down to rolling hills through beautiful meadows at around 9000 feet. The temperature was about 60 F and there was a head wind that I associated with the stormy weather I could see ahead, so I was wearing a long sleeved jersey, a wind vest, my usual knee warmers, and liner gloves under my riding gloves.
In the first big meadow, I rode past a pickup truck with a man and a woman looking at wildlife. We said hello as I rode by. Later, in a meadow a mile or so on, they were stopped again. I don't remember them passing me, but the shoulder was pretty good and traffic, although bursty, was light enough that I didn't have to pay much attention to it.
As I approached them, the man moved out an waited for me to stop. He is a bicyclist and probably a meteorologist, based on what he told me about the storm system. He knew the road and told me what to expect. The road stays pretty flat till the last ten miles, then it goes steeply - relatively, 30- 35 mph coasting - down hill for a while, then flat, then uphill to the rim. The park entrance is about 11 miles from the rim.
After a very nice visit, I rode on into the darkening sky, hoping that that storm would move on before I got there. It did. By the time I reached the only services between Jacobs Lake and the Grand Canyon, a service station 25 miles from Jacobs Lake, the sun was shining and the sky ahead was blue.
I stopped to get coffee and a pastry at that service station twice, and those where my only snack/rest stops. When I stopped on the way back, a fire crew (three vehicles, and about ten people) stopped while I was there. They were talking about the 42 fires they had dealt with in the last week! That was a lot of fires and they looked pretty haggard. None of the fires burned beyond a few acres. I noticed a tall fire tower at the top of the first hill south of Jacob Lake. I also saw a first reponse fire crew, flashing lights and siren on, heading south when I was about five miles south of Jacob Lake heading north. They must have spotted yet another fire...
Entering the park - $10 fee for bicyclist
The road in the park isn't as nice as the Kaibab Parkway
but it is still good riding, if you like hills <grin>
It was exciting to be nearing North Rim - and lunch! - but I really hated to leave that forest. When I got to the Grand Canyon Lodge, I found a place to lock my bike and went in to have lunch. The Lodge is fairly pretentious, reminding me of the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, but the services aren't up to the image. I did have a good lunch - a fancy salad and a fancy hamburger - and the service was good. The view was awesome, but limited by haze and rain. Here are some images taken from near the Lodge over to Bright Angel Point:
I stayed at or around the lodge for about two hours, and it rained lightly for most of that time. When I left, the rain was steady but gentle, so I did not put on my rain gear. It was a bit chilly descending for the first few miles, but then there was the relatively long climb and the light rain and cool temperature made that climb very comfortable. By the time I reached the entrance to the park, the rain had stopped and the sun would occasionally come out. The road was wet pretty much all of the way back to Jacobs Lake, but I only rode through a few sprinkles. There was little or no wind, and, although the temperature was cool, it was a very enjoyable ride back to Jacobs Lake. The riding took me six and a half hours and covered about 90 miles. As with Bryce Canyon, it would have been much less fun on a loaded bike. Moreover, there was no place to camp in the Park, so I would have had to ride out of the park and wild camp in that lovely forest if I hadn't stayed at Jacobs Lake. In adition to the Inn, there are two campgrounds at Jacobs Lake. If you pass this way, I strongly recommend staying here and riding, unloaded, down to the North Rim.