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.

This picture is taken at about the same location as the one above, but now the new 1995 bridge is in place.

This is the northward view of Marble Canyon from the Navajo Bridge. The Vermillion Cliffs are on the left and the Echo Cliffs on the right. About 15 miles upstream in this direction is the Glen Canyon Dam.

This is a view toward the Vermillion Cliffs from out on the span of the Navajo Bridge. It is a pedestrian and equestrian bridge now with an interpretive museum on the side opposite the visitor center.

We had lunch at a covered picnic area. There was a very nice and extensive visitor center. Everything here brought back a lot of memories for me. When we crossed this bridge in 1960, there was absolutely nothing here except the bridge. We hadn't seen anyone on the road for an hour, and we spent probably 45 minutes on the bridge and not a single car passed. Now its on the historic register with lots of folks around.
This is the original Plaque on the bridge, stating that its height above the water is 467 feet. From that height in free fall, it would take a dropped rock 5.4 seconds to hit the water. The speed of impact would be 173 ft/s or about 118 miles/hr. And with a sound speed of 1100 ft/s it would take almost half a second for the sound to reach your ears after the impact is seen.

They are taking very seriously the throwing of rocks off the bridge, and so they should since regular rafting trips come down the river now, and probably other boats as well. When we came in 1982, this was the only bridge, and they had high chainlink fences on the sides to discourage rock throwing. Now, as a historical site, they have restored it to its original form.

All this detail is given to retell the story of our original encounter with the Marble Canyon bridge in 1960. We were heading away from the North Rim with a destination of Santa Fe, NM. We roared across this isolated bridge at high speed, having not seen another car for a long time. As we crossed it, someone commented "Hey! There was nothing under that bridge!" We screeched to a halt to return and investigate and were struck by its incredible height. There wasn't as much water as now, and it looked like a small stream. So what would you do in that situation? We dropped a rock off the bridge to see it fall, and the first time we missed the river! We saw a crater appear in the sand beside the stream, silently, and then after a time lag heard a sharp crack, like a high powered rifle. We did successfully hit the river, and would see a silent splash followed by a satisfying loud crack a short time later.

After doing that for a while, one of us wondered "How high is this bridge?" And all being engineering or math students, we decided to try to get an estimate. We timed the interval from the dropping of a rock until we heard the sound, and got about six seconds. From that we could estimate that it might be 500 feet, so when we finally tired of this process and were walking off the bridge, we found the plaque that told us it was 467 feet. Having a precise number was in fact a little deflating, because now we couldn't exaggerate it as we probably otherwise would have.

The further history is that when I started teaching introductory physics and needed to teach Newton's laws and the motion equations, I used this as a standard tale for the application of the motion equations. Giving the 6 seconds between drop and sound requires the use of the linear equation for sound travel and the quadratic equation for the accelerated fall. Both of those are something the students must learn but tend to find deadly boring, and this story was a way to spice them up in a legitimate calculation. And of course I did embellish the tale a bit.

From an isolated and from all appearances forgotten bridge in 1960, this bridge has gotten a lot of recognition. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981, the year before our last visit. And it was commemorated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1998, three years after the new bridge was completed.

So I was pleased for the girls to get to see this historic bridge and this canyon. This is the same river that carved out the Grand Canyon, so it is neat to see it earlier on its course.

This is a westward view of the new bridge from the old bridge. It was built with an almost identical structure, just wider and stronger.

Darla and Ashleigh with a last view of the Navajo Bridge before we head off westward across the desert.

We drove away from Marble Canyon, skirting southward and then west around the wall that is called the Vermillion Cliffs. Because they are backlighted, they do not appear so brilliant here, but in direct sunlight they are dramatically red.

We now make a beeline directly across the desert for about 30 miles.

Always on our right are the dramatic red cliffs.

At this point the road was straight until it faded from our view.

Now catching the afternoon sun, the Vermillion Cliffs almost glowed red across the desert.

Finally, in the distance, we see the road depart from its straight beeline and begin to curve up the tree-dotted hills. We start up the slopes and find an overlook that we remember from 1982 and stop to look back across this expanse of desert.

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.

Look for the barely discernable straight track across the desert - an incredibly straight line across 30 miles. You can see one car toward the left as a black speck on the road, and there is a second near the middle.

We are now climbing rapidly, winding our way up the green slopes. From this higher vantage point we can still see the long straight road across the desert.

This is a view toward the north, as compared to the eastward view before. We can see the flat plane of the desert coming to a point between the rising highlands of the Vermillion Cliffs on one side and the green scrubland of the highlands we are now entering.

We gained a lot of altitude as we approached Jacob Lake and turned south on Hwy 67. We went through an extended burn area - from a fire in 2002 we were told. We came out of that area into pleasant meadows and green forested hillsides. Then the girls spotted some patches of white in the edges of the woods, and we had to stop to investigate.

The presence of small snow patches in the woods led to full scale snowball fights.

Elyse gets right into the action as well.

Jordan launches a big slushy one.

Elyse makes good her escape to our cars that are parked by the road. Then she brings her bear Cally to see the snow.

Elyse may have been running in the battle, but she's hard to beat in the "cute" department.

This photo shoot calmed things down enough that we could head on toward the Kaibab Lodge to check on our housing for the night.

Good timing! Just as we pulled out a police vehicle met us and wheeled around to where we were parked to see what we had been doing I suppose. But he didn't come after us.

We drove beside a large meadow and at the back side it we saw a half dozen deer grazing. Driving to the end of that meadow we found the Kaibab Lodge nestled in the edge of the forest. While Brenda was checking us in at the Lodge, we found an unmelted snowbank on the walkway. They told us it had snowed there last week.

Jeff's group made a run across the meadow to explore the woods behind the lodge. Probably the girls were looking for more snow.

Brenda sits on the front porch of our unit. It is one-fourth of this cabin and consists of a tiny bedroom and bathroom. It had a gas stove, which we needed during the night because it went probably near freezing. That is our big Yukon squeezed in beside the cabin. Jeff and family were in one of the narrow, long cabins which made one bigger unit. It had a tiny room in front with a couch which was the best place we had for Mark to sleep. Darla quipped that this was their brother-in-law suite.

We drove down to the North Rim, which was about 23 miles from Kaibab Lodge.

Our Senior Lifetime passes to the National Parks got us all in to any National Park.

We had parked in the visitor parking lot and walked through the North Rim village and to the North Rim Lodge.

We wanted to get a picture of the girls with the brass donkey, partly because we had taken a picture of Jeff and Mark with it in 1982.

North Rim, Grand Canyon

  Nave Album Go Back