Las Vegas to Grand Canyon, North Rim, in the Dark

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The plan was pretty simple in the beginning: fly into Las Vegas, grab a room, and get a few hours of rest, before heading out to see the wonders of southern Utah.  It was a good plan, but it didn’t happen, and it’s all because I’m kinda cheap.

For several days, I desperately searched for a decent hotel room that wouldn’t be terribly expensive.  When I booked my ticket, I didn’t think about my arrival being on a Friday night, one of the most expensive nights of the week to stay in Vegas.  Everything was more than $100, a lot of money for just a little sleep.  When I finally gave up on the bargain hunt, I looked at the map, and came up with another plan.

 “Why not,” I thought, “drive to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for sunrise?”

I had been to the south rim a couple of times, but never visited the north side.  Now, I had the chance to use those wasted nighttime hours to cover hundreds of miles, and start the first day of my trip in a place I had never seen before.  It was a great plan.

So, I grabbed a burger at In-N-Out (one of two places I always try to eat when in Vegas–Garduno’s at the Palms is the other) …

… and headed out.  Okay, I didn’t really drive by the famous Las Vegas sign.  It’s on the south end of the strip, and I was headed north up I-15.  I just thought I’d throw it in here.  At any rate, within minutes, I was on my way into the southern Nevada desert, and the lights of the big city disappeared behind me.

Vegas to North Rim: Take I-15 north, into southern Utah.  Exit onto Utah Rte. 9, then turn onto Utah Rte. 59 at Hurricane.  UT 59 turns into Az. Rte. 389 as you cross back into the Grand Canyon State.  At Fredonia, you find US Hwy. Alt-89.  Follow it south until you reach the North Rim entrance.  From there, it’s still another hour’s drive to Cape Royal.

The next few hours are kinda a blur.  I know I stopped for gas in St. George (the tank was still 3/4 full, but I knew there wouldn’t be many other stations out there).  As I bought a few snacks for the drive, I told the clerk I was headed for the North Rim.  To my amazement, she askedme, “How far is it from here?”  I wanted to respond, “You mean the greatest natural wonder in America is nearby, and you don’t even know how far away it is?”  Instead, I just said, “I think about 3 more hours.”

For the next 160 miles, there was a lot of darkness, and not many cars.  Beyond Hurricane, there were only a couple of towns, including the somewhat creepy Colorado City, Arizona, home to a breakaway sect of the Mormon church (which still believes, quite strongly, in polygamy, and recently provided a home to one of the FBI’s ten most wanted, Warren Jeffs).  I kept a close eye on the speedometer, and didn’t dare stop for a picture.  I’ve heard they don’t like outsiders, and I had no desire to get to know them, either.

At Fredonia, I turned onto US Alt-89, and not far afterwards, I saw the last car of the night.  Once I turned onto the park entrance road, I was really all alone.  No one was manning the park entrance gate at 4 a.m.  I drove on through.  The park speed limit, 45 mph, seemed a bit slow, until I started seeing tiny dots of light, reflecting off the eyes of deer, at the side of the road.  I took it slow.

I rolled into the Cape Royal parking lot around 5 a.m., still all alone.  I had hoped for a brief nap before the sun came up, but there was already a glow on the horizon.  Sunrise wouldn’t wait for me.  I unpacked some warm clothes, and headed down a nearly-dark trail.

And that’s where Day 1 begins…

Note: This trip was first published in 2007.

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