Arizona Strip Exploration

June 1995

Toroweap Trail and Lava Falls


Way out west in a rarely visited part of Grand Canyon National Park is Toroweap Point (4563') and the Toroweap Trail which descends 2560' to the Colorado River right at Lava Rapids. Due to its remoteness, there is no fee required to enter the Park at this point nor is there a camping fee at Toroweap Campground. Toroweap is on the Esplanade sandstone which here in the western canyon is the inner bench.

Getting out here is pretty straightforward, and doable in the family car. The best way is to drive about 9 miles west on Arizona SR 389 from Fredonia, Az, and turn south onto the Mount Trumbull Loop Road. The road is good graded dirt, and it's about 60 miles to the Toroweap Ranger Station and another 5 or so miles to the Toroweap campground. There's no water, pit toilets, and often pretty much total isolation.

Trip Diary

This trip segment begins on Day 3 of my vacation and starts Monday morning June 26th from my campsite on the Colorado River at the foot of Bighorn Cove, about 15 miles south of Hoover Dam. I left there in the 90°+ heat of early morning, crossed back over Hoover Dam, and then drove up through Lake Mead National Recreational Area to Overton, Nevada, then to Interstate 15. It was late afternoon when I left I-15 at Mesquite, Nevada, and proceeeded to make the climb up extremely rugged Elbow Canyon in the Virgin Mountains. With nasty stairsteps and bouldery streambed driving, high-clearance, 4-WD and torque are required to go up this narrow, precipitous canyon that bifurcates the Virgin Mountains. With the Suburban, I had to seesaw my way around some corners due to the long wheelbase and the poor turning radius. However, I didn't lose any tires or bang any rims. Stuff like bumpers and trailer hitch did bottom out a time or two.

That evening I camped just beyond the top of Elbow in a valley about two miles south of Mt. Bangs (8012'). Tuesday morning (June 27th) I worked my way southwest along Route 1041 and the Tom and Cull Wash down through the cuesta-lined Buggy Draw and into the Hachet Valley, to Red Pockets Mountain. From here I followed Route 101 through Cow Canyon,then joined Rt 1027 and following the general contour of Cottonwood Ridge. Up atop the ride, I turned right on Rt 1003 and headed south from there. At Allan Well, the road joins Rt 111 which drops down off the mesa into the Cottonwood Wash, then I picked up Rt 113 for the final drive down sandy, rocky and finally tamarisk-infested Grand Wash to the head of Grand Wash Bay and Lake Mead.

After a fine bath in the lake with an awesome view of Wheeler Ridge on the south side of the lake (imagine Ayres Rock in Australia except really BIG!), I decided to head back northeast to climb up on the Shivwits Plateau. The easiest way to do this is via the Grand Gulch (Rt 113) / Pakoon Spring (Rt 111) / Nutter Twists (Rt 1003) Rds which get you up over the Grand Wash Cliffs via Hidden Canyon (a little difficult for the family car, but not for any reasonable high-clearance machine).

Once in Hidden Canyon and after winding in among the Hidden Cliffs, I seemed to have gotten lost, and probably ended up going up Last Chance or Rattlesnake Canyon, got into some very-overgrown old paths and scratched up the paint a bit. Eventually, I found a way out of the wilderness and stumbled on the Mount Dellenbaugh Rd (Rt 103) but at the intersection of Rt 1054 instead of where I should have hit it at the intersection of Rt 1003 and Rt 103, about six miles northeast. (After this, I made sure to never go into Strip country without the BLM map, which is by far the most accurate map of the area. Oh, and always bring a GPS receiver. That helped me this time especially without the map.

At least now I was on the Shivwits Plateau and back on the Southern California Automobile Club's Indian Country map. From here I went south on the Dellenbaugh road eventually to Oak Grove and the Twin Point Road (Rt 1019). I went only as far as the Parashant Ranch BLM Workshop just south of Oak Grove. No one was there, so I turned around and headed back to Oak Grove, then east on Rt 103 again which then leads over to the NPS Shivwits Ranger Station (pretty deluxe place! Like a little resort, all out by its lonesome). Again, no one was there, and I couldn't figure out the route to Mount Dellenbaugh itself, so I turned around and drove back to the Dellenbaugh Rd and headed north to above the Wildcat Ranch.

At the cattle grate and vehicle gate here at the Wildcat Ranch, there is a memorial to the three who left Major John Wesley Powell's Colorado River Expedition of 1869. William Dunn, O.G. Howland and his brother Seneca Howland were killed by Shivwits Indians near this spot after they left the Powell party at Separation Rapids deep in the Grand Canyon just 30 miles due south. Powell writes of the separation:

"The last thing before leaving, I write a letter to my wife, and give it to Howland. Sumner gives him his watch, directing that it be sent to his sister should he not be heard from again. The records of the expedition have been kept in duplicate. One set of these is given to Howland; and now we are ready. For the last time they entreat us not to go on, and tell us that it is madness to set out in this place; that we can never get safely through it; and, further, that the river turns again to the south into the granite, and a few miles of such rapids and falls will exhaust our entire stock of rations, and then it will be too late to climb out. Some tears are shed; it is rather a solemn parting; each party thinks the other is taking the dangerous course."

The Automobile Club's Indian Country map shows a marginal road that leads east from the Dellenbaugh Rd over to Mt Trumbull. Well, I couldn't find it at the time. So I ended up having to head up the Dellenbaugh road all the way to Main Street Valley, then down Main Street Valley on the Mount Trumbull Loop Road to Bundyville (aka Mt. Trumbull townsite). There's nothing there now but an old abandoned schoolhouse.

Now headed east on the Mt Trumbull Loop road, I climbed the escarpment of the Hurricane Cliffs up onto the Uinkaret Plateau, went around the south side of Mt Trumbull itself (8028'), then descended Nixon Canyon into the broad, awesome Tuweep Valley.

Tuweep Valley is more or less linear, running north-south, more or less level, and framed by the Uinkaret Mountains and Mt Trumbull on the west and the Tuckup Point arm of the Kanab Plateau on the east. The valley's cross-section is U-shaped, with the floor about 2 to 3 miles wide, and 1500' to 2500' walls on each side.

At the south end of the Tuweep Valley lie Grand Canyon National Park and Toroweap Point, Trail and Campground.

Atop Toroweap Point (4563') looking downstream at Lava Falls (1645', whitewater at mouth of Prospect Canyon, entering river at left foreground).

Standing next to the upstream pool caused by Lava Rapids in the middle distance. The Toroweap Trail leads down to here in a 1.2 mile long, 2500' drop down a rockslide. This is not a trail for the faint of heart. Going down it was much scarier than going up. Every foothold was in scree, and the wrong foothold could knock loose hundreds or thousands of pounds of loose rock and rock flour. And of course, that could cause the hiker to go a'tumbling down the hill, and that could cause a big rock to come loose, and then you could die. At least going up, you didn't have to fight momentum with every step. But then I had to stare at huge boulders above me all interlocked and wonder if the wrong step would cause their interlockedness to decay rapidly.

Another shot of me this time immediately above Lava Rapids (background). The Colorado here does a 13-20' drop in a few hundred feet, and supposedly these are some major rapids. I've never run them, so I don't know.

Some boats queuing up on the beach at the south side of the pool above Lava Rapids at the mouth of Prospect Canyon. River runners stop there, get out and reconnoiter the rapids before running them. They usually say that they're stopping for lunch...

From the north bank, here's a shot of Prospect Canyon over on the south side of the river. Prospect is in the Hualapai Indian Reservation lands. The guy in the foreground is Stan and I met up with him at the top of the trail. He came down hill much faster than I did (lower fear quotient?).

Another view of Prospect Canyon from about halfway up the Toroweap Trail.

Another view of Prospect Valley from atop the Toroweap Trail.

A shot of my truck in its campsite in the Toroweap campground. The massive formation is the Esplanade sandstone, which erodes to form giant shelves, boulders and pavements. The campground is completely on the Esplanade, and driving on the hummocked, potholed surface is very slow.

Another shot of my campsite, with a nice big Esplanade boulder in the background.

A self-portrait.

Another shot of the campsite, this time looking northeast with Big Point in the background.

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Thunder River

Bill Hall Trail, elev. 7500': Atop the North Rim looking SW out over the Tonto Platform and the western Grand Canyon. The Bill Hall is the shorter of the two routes from the North Rim down to Thunder River. The Thunder River Trail begins a few miles west and will join the Bill Hall down on the Tonto Platform.

Thunder River Trail, elevation 5200': From atop the Tonto Platform looking SE into Surprise Valley and across to the south rim (right) and the Powell Plateau (north rim, left distance); the highlighted area indicates the location of the Deubendorff rapids on the Colorado, visible in the original photo. The river flows SW (to the right) along the foot of the south rim .

Thunder River Trail, elevation 4200': On the ridge that separates Surprise Valley from Thunder Canyon, looking ENE into Thunder Canyon and Tapeats Canyon (distance), the visible rim is the Tonto Platform (5200'). Thunder Spring can be seen as the little white spot emanating from the foot of the cliff.

Thunder River Trail, elev 3800': Looking NE at Thunder Spring, about 1/2 mile distant. The wall is Redwall limestone.

Thunder River Trail, elev. 3600': Me treading gently on the slippery rocks with the base of Thunder Spring in the background and a portion of the Thunder River flowing all around me.

Bill Hall Trail, elev. 6000': Nearing the end of a fairly difficult hike, late afternoon, looking southwest into the western Grand Canyon; the south rim is the high rim (left); the north rim is the high rim (right); the Tonto Platform is the "valley" at about 5000'. The Colorado River canyon is in the approximate middle of the photo and lies about 1/2 vertical mile below the Tonto.

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Grand Canyon NP North Rim

Standing on the path leading between Bright Angel Point and the Grand Canyon Lodge, this is a shot of the south rim looking across the Transcept and generally along Bright Angel Canyon. If the resolution of the photo were high enough, the South Rim village would be just visible under the overarching branch on the tree in the middle right.

The weary feet of a mighty traveler. At the end of a long, destructive and expensive day, I checked into the Grand Canyon Lodge to enjoy a shower, a little relaxation, and because they actually had a cancellation that came through at the last moment. Here I'm sitting in one of the adirondacks on the patio enjoying the sunset over the Grandest Canyon of them all.

Standing at Point Imperial (8872') looking like a hiker.

Another shot of Point Imperial (8872') from a point about 1000 yards north.

The ridge is Cape Royal (7865'), the most southerly point accessible on the North Rim. The gaping hole through the Cape is the Angels Window, about 50' wide and 150' high. The little dots on the top of the Cape are people. In the original photo, you can actually see the Colorado River through the Window. The nearest point on the South Rim, Zuni Point, is about 7.2 miles distant.

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Vermilion Cliffs - Lee's Ferry Area

Standing on the west (north) side of the Colorado at Navajo Bridge, looking east across Marble Canyon now spanned by two bridges, the old Navajo Bridge (left, upstream) and the new Navajo Bridge (right, downstream). The old bridge was built in the twenties and the new bridge was completed in 1995.

Standing at the middle of the old Navajo Bridge looking north (upstream) into Marble Canyon and the brown-green Colorado River. In the background are the Vermilion Cliffs on the left of the river and the Echo Cliffs on the right. Here at Navajo Bridge the canyon is only about 600 feet deep.

Badger Canyon Rapids from the rim on the north (west) side of the river. You can easily get to this point by driving a dirt road off US89A near Vermilion Cliffs Lodge then walking the final few hundred yards out to the rim. Climbing down Badger Canyon looks to be pretty technical with some serious dryfalls.

This here is a mystery. While driving along US89A between Marble Canyon and Vermilion Cliffs Lodge, I spotted this coyote statue perched on a 7' boulder about 200' north of the highway at about milepost 540. I stopped in at Vermilion Cliffs Lodge later that evening and inquired about it, but no one claimed to know anything about it. The next morning, it was gone.

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