Gary Ladd knows Northern Arizona as well as anyone. For more than half a century, he’s been photographing that part of the state — including Marble Canyon, the gorgeous gorge through which the Colorado River runs before it reaches the Grand Canyon. That made Gary the person to ask about a dirt road leading to what looked like a remote Marble Canyon overlook. “I’d call that Buck Farm Viewpoint,” he replied. “Good view!”
As it turns out, the U.S. Forest Service calls it Buck Farm Viewpoint, too. And while the route to this overlook is rough in places, the view is among the best you’ll find in Northern Arizona — or anywhere else.
This drive begins in the shadow of the Vermilion Cliffs on U.S. Route 89A. Following the signs for House Rock Wildlife Area, head south on Buffalo Ranch Road — so named because it once was the home of a herd of American bison. In the early 1900s, frontiersman Charles Jesse “Buffalo” Jones introduced bison in this area, intending to crossbreed them with cattle. That attempt failed, but the bison have survived for more than a century. These days, however, they stay farther up on the Kaibab Plateau, near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
While you won’t see any bison on this drive, keep an eye out for pronghorns and black-tailed jackrabbits as the road cuts southeast, then southwest across broad, flat House Rock Valley. If you’re lucky, you might spot a California condor — about 100 of them now inhabit this area. To the southeast is Shinumo Altar, a wide, lopsided mesa that tops out at 6,519 feet on the other side of Marble Canyon.
The road curves around a ranch at Mile 10.5 and heads south as it enters the Kaibab National Forest, and a few miles later, you’ll see signs noting that this is now Forest Road 8910. You’ll also enter an area that’s more forested than what you just passed through. Junipers are the dominant vegetation here, but you’ll also notice an occasional piñon pine as you curve through a series of washes. Around Mile 18, you’ll get an excellent view of the Saddle Mountain Wilderness, which rises west of the road; its namesake indentation, which looks just like a saddle with a horn, will be visible later on.
At Mile 23, you’ll come to a fork in FR 8910 and head left. Two miles later, at another fork, go left again, onto Forest Road 445H. At this point, you’ll be glad you’re in a high-clearance vehicle, because this side road is rocky and rutted. You’ll soon notice views of Marble Canyon on the right, but they’re only appetizers. What you came for is at the end of FR 445H, on a peninsula that juts into the gorge.
From here, the pink and orange rocks of Marble Canyon, outlined by the blue of the Colorado a half-mile below, sprawl in all directions. South of the overlook is Buck Farm Canyon, a short side canyon that’s a popular stop on rafting trips. Shinumo Altar, which you saw earlier, rises to the east. And every side of Buck Farm Viewpoint offers a different perspective, so plan to spend some time and take it all in. You’ll probably agree that “Good view!” is a bit of an understatement. But that’s just how Gary Ladd is.
Note: Mileages are approximate.
Length: 28 miles one way (from U.S. Route 89A)
Directions: From Navajo Bridge, go west on U.S. Route 89A for 21.8 miles to Buffalo Ranch Road, just before Mile Marker 560 (look for the signs for House Rock Wildlife Area). Turn left (south) onto Buffalo Ranch Road, which later becomes Forest Road 8910, and continue 23 miles to a fork. Bear left, staying on FR 8910, and continue 2 miles to another fork. Bear left, onto Forest Road 445H, and continue 3 miles to Buck Farm Viewpoint.
Vehicle requirements: A high-clearance vehicle, such as an SUV or truck, is required, but four-wheel-drive is not necessary in good weather. The route crosses several washes, so do not attempt the drive after recent rain or if rain is in the forecast.
Warning: Back-road travel can be hazardous, so be aware of weather and road conditions. Carry plenty of water. Don’t travel alone, and let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
Information: North Kaibab Ranger District, 928-643-7395 or fs.usda.gov/kaibab