Grand Canyon Overlook, Version 2.0
by Debbie Miller-Marschke
Steve and I decided to celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary by giving ourselves an adventure. We decided to venture into the Northern Arizona backcountry.
First on the list- the north rim of the Grand Canyon overook “Tuweep” aka Toroweep. I had been there more than 20 years ago and Steve needed to see it. One of the things I discovered while planning the trip is that you now are required to obtain a backcountry permit to be in this area. This was done easily on line, which was also an opportunity to reserve one of the 10 campsites at Tuweep. We scoffed at the printed materials distributed to us by the National Park warning that the 70 mile dirt road was a tire muncher. It indicated that 25% of the vehicles that visited experienced a flat tire. It read, “Bring tire plugs and a portable air compressor to repair flat tires. Ensure you have enough fuel, full size spare tire, jack/lift, and owner’s manual. Tow service costs $1,000–2,000 and assistance is not guaranteed. “ We ended up patching one of our Jeep CJ rear tire once on this road (by the third time patching the same tire a few days later, we just put on the spare). Ok, ok, the warning was pretty accurate! We reached the amazing overview of the Grand Canyon at dusk.
You may remember that we visited the Grand Canyon Skywalk in January. We were certain that this was not the purported “best view” and as Desert Explorers, we had the motivation to find it. Tuweep is located within the Arizona Strip, south of Colorado City / Fredonia. The Grand Canyon is narrower here, and you literally sit on the edge of the cliff and look 3000 feet straight down in a sheer vertical dropoff. I am not joking. Both of us were excited but also feeling jittery and unnerved by standing here. To get the best view, we got down on our belly and crawled to the edge. There are no handrails or barriers, just a sudden dropoff into oblivion. It made me think of what Edward Abbey said in Desert Solitaire – if you want to see something, you must get out of your confounded car and walk…better yet, crawl. We did. First thing in the morning, we took in the view again. Shades of light do change what can be seen, so it is a good idea to see Tuweep in the morning as well. We observed a group of kayakers in the Colorado River, attempting to conquer Lava Falls rapids. That was hair raising to watch even from our distance.
There are 10 campsites at Tuweep nestled up into the sandstone. We were interested in finding two “composting” toilets there, which looked rather new and the signage indicated that they were built by volunteers. This will do nicely to prevent the area from being littered by the toilet paper “white lilies.” The campground was half full and we were not impacted by the other campers.
Compared to the SkyWalk (see DE newsletter February 2016), you will get a jaw dropping view without any other people crowding or frustrating you. You will get that woozy feeling standing on the edge, a thrill of a lifetime. You won’t have any disappointments. You won’t have to endure any cheesy souvenir peddlers. You will be able to take as many photos and selfies as you want. You can camp there and enjoy solitude. You can hear and feel the wind. You can spend the night and watch the moon rise over the Grand Canyon. Access is significantly cheaper, the backcountry/camping permit was $18.00 versus the Skywalk’s $65 per person price. Unless you factor in the price of the tire, which Steve and I chalk up to the “cost of doing business” when you own a 4 x 4.
I am not sure when the name of the overlook formally changed to Tuweep, because it was called Toroweep when I first visited. I assume it had something to do with the National Park becoming involved, but the two names are interchangeable when referring to the overlook location. According to Wikipedia,” The term Tuweep, a Paiute word for “the earth”, was used for an early Mormon settlement in the valley, and is now used by the National Park Service to refer to the area. Toroweap, a Paiute term meaning “dry or barren valley”, strictly refers to the valley and the overlook.” John Wesley Powell was the first non-Native American to visit the location while he searched in vain for his lost members of the 1869 expedition. One of the interesting points is a view of Lava Falls, where the sides of the canyon clearly are made of hardened lava. Incredibly, the geologic history stated that this section of the grand canyon was once blocked by a lava flow that came from an extinct volcano on the North Rim, now called “Vulcan’s Throne.” It’s difficult to fathom, but then again, so is the actual carving of the Grand Canyon itself!
We were teased by all the side trips we could have taken as part of the trip to Tuweep. However, we had our sights set upon an area in Vermillion Cliffs so those ideas will be in the hopper for the next time we venture out into the Arizona Strip. The trailhead for the Tuckup trail began in the campground, and that boasts of some amazing pictographs called “Shaman’s Gallery” (It was much too hot when we visited in September to attempt such a hike, 7.7 miles roundtrip). Not far away is the trail head that leads down to the river at Lava Falls, which drops more than 2500 feet in 2 miles to the river and some trail guides say the path is precarious (again, too hot in September). Lastly, we noted that one could continue deeper into the Arizona Strip hinterlands from this point and we must come back, preferably with more time and more spare gas cans. We drove to Tuweep from our house in Torrance, California in about 8 hours; the last 70 miles are graded unimproved dirt so factor in extra time because you really should not be driving more than 35 mph, so it takes about 2 hours from the pavement. There are several other approaches to Tuweep, but we chose the most reliable and direct. I think the reason why travelers get so many flat tires going to Tuweep is due to driving too fast, we were guilty of that and paid the price. After about an hour of the boring approach road through flat terrain, one tends to push the envelope.
We had a wonderful experience. Rating – 5 stars! ~ Deb