Into the Desert and to Marble Canyon
May 27, 2011
Leaving Desert View on our east rim drive, we are on Hwy 64 heading into the desert for the long loop around to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The guidebooks are fond of saying that the average width of the Grand Canyon is 10 miles, but that the drive from the South Rim to the North Rim is 215 miles.
We left Desert View in green forest and with a view of the distant San Francisco Peaks.
With wide open roads the forest grew drier and more sparse, and then we were suddenly into full desert.
A short time later we got views of this strange-looking canyon to our left in the desert. There was a two-track dirt road and a couple of trailers of Indians selling jewelry, so we pulled off to investigate. The canyon was within walking distance at this point.
At the time we had no idea about the nature of this canyon, and it was only after we came home and pieced things together that this picture emerged. A key part of the information came when we visited the Yavapai Geology Museum on the South Rim and found and outstanding satellite image of the Grand Canyon complex. Then when I pieced together the road map scaled to that satellite image, it became apparent that Hwy 64 runs very close to a strange side canyon that runs off the main canyon to the east and then southward.
At the time we pulled off Hwy 64 to this side road, we had none of this information, but it was still an intriguing enough canyon to stop and have a look at.
So this intrepid group of explorers set off in the Arizona desert to explore an unknown canyon. To me, the desert is surprisingly beautiful. And the wide open blue sky is exhilirating.
This is what we saw as we approached the canyon. Just a crack in the earth where it dropped away several hundred feet to the bottom.
When we (carefully) approached the edge of this canyon, what we found was not particularly beautiful, but it certainly was impressively deep! A sizable sandy riverbed looks tiny in the distance.
I did find the desert quite beautiful though, and that surprised me. There were actually several types of flowering plants, but just the sagebrush and other vegetation were quite attractive.
Before we left the mysterious canyon in the desert, Elyse wanted to stage a picture of her bear with a desert backdrop, so Mom and Dad were obliging her. We then traveled to the end of Hwy 64 and started north on Hwy 89 on long stretches of open road through the desert. I was amazed to again find a point where we could see the San Francisco Peaks of the Flagstaff area, at least 50 miles away.
We proceeded north on Hwy 89 through some real desert regions. There were a few horses behind barbed-wire fences, but it didn't look like they had much to eat. For a short stretch there were Painted Desert type formations.
The really dry desert gave way to sagebrush and scrub, and the red cliffs began to rise beside us as we drove northward.
We turned off to Hwy 89A at Bitter Springs and headed toward the Vermillion Cliffs ahead of us.
This long sweeping bend carried us around to a westward heading toward Marble Canyon. These big red cliffs are called the Echo Cliffs.
Marble Canyon and Navajo Bridge
We reached the Marble Canyon and the historic Navajo Bridge across the canyon. The Navajo Bridge is the one on the left, constructed in 1927 as the only road crossing of the Colorado River canyon within 600 miles. When we reached Glen Canyon Dam later, we were told that in 1957 when the dam project was started, the only connection between the two sides of the canyon was a 200 mile dirt road. That road had to cross the Navajo Bridge. That Glen Canyon Dam is only about 15 miles up the Marble Canyon.
The Navajo Bridge had been placed on the National Historic Register in 1981, a year before our last visit here in 1982. The new bridge on the right was constructed in 1995, since our last visit. The old bridge is personally historic for me since I crossed it in 1960 with Sam, Jerry and John on our westward trip.
This is Jeff and Mark on the edge of Marble Canyon in 1982. They are just about at the location where the new bridge was built in 1995.
We have just come across about 30 miles of desert that you can see in the background. In the distance, 30 to 50 miles away are the Vermillion Cliffs. We could look down on the desert road that we had just crossed and see vehicles that looked like ants crawling across the desert. This is one of our most memorable long vistas.