Kaibab Plateau, Kaibab National Forest
By Robert Stieve
If you’re wondering where Mother Nature spends her summers, this is it. The Grand Canyon, the vast meadows, the evergreens and aspens, the cool breezes, the quiet … there’s nothing quite like the Kaibab Plateau and its 44-mile parkway, which begins at Jacob Lake.
Named for Jacob Hamblin, a Mormon pioneer known as the “Buckskin Apostle,” Jacob Lake is home to the oldest existing ranger station in the United States. It’s also home to the Jacob Lake Inn, a small place that’s big on making cookies. The chocolate-chip and peanut-butter cookies are as good as any cookies anywhere, but if you’re up for something different, try the lemon-zucchini. Cookies are a must, and so is a visit to the Kaibab Plateau Visitor Center. It’s located next door to the inn, and it offers information on the surrounding national forest, Marble Canyon, the Kanab Creek and Saddle Mountain wilderness areas, camping, hiking, pine cones and just about anything else you’ll need to know. It’s also a good place to stock up on maps and Smokey Bear logo wear. Buy a T-shirt. It’ll be a good reminder that only you can prevent forest fires.
Although this drive technically begins at Jacob Lake, the approach to that point is pretty impressive, too. From Flagstaff, the route winds north over the Navajo Nation, crosses the Colorado River south of Page, parallels the spectacular Vermilion Cliffs and eventually climbs into the pines at Jacob Lake.
From there, the road heads south for a few miles through a gorgeous stand of ponderosa pines and quaking aspens. There’s something comforting about a drive in the trees. Whatever it is, you’ll get that feeling along this stretch. The parkway, by the way, follows an old livestock trail that was used by Mormon settlers and early visitors to the Canyon, some of whom carved their initials into the defenseless aspens.
About the time you’ve finished your first lemon-zucchini cookie, you’ll see the remains of the Warm Fire, which was started by a lightning strike on June 8, 2006. In all, it burned nearly 60,000 acres between Jacob Lake and DeMotte Park. Despite the loss of life, a new generation of aspens is quickly taking over. It helps mitigate the damage.
Moving on, the plateau gradually rises to a point where Douglas firs and white firs take over. The dense mixed-conifer forest is an ideal place to spot wildlife. Be on the lookout for mule deer, wild turkeys, chukars, coyotes, Kaibab squirrels and maybe even a California condor. Animals, animals, animals … Teddy Roosevelt was so impressed with the nature of things around here that he officially named it the Grand Canyon Game Preserve in 1906. This might even be where he picked up his big stick.
Heading south, the forest changes once again near Crane Lake. Here, Engelmann spruce and subalpine firs rule the roost. Perhaps even more enjoyable, though, are the large, grassy meadows. If you haven’t made any photos up to this point, get your camera ready. This is where the deer and the antelope play — so to speak. Also, if you have the time, head off on one of the adjacent forest roads. They make spectacular side trips, and some of them will take you all the way to the various rims of the Canyon.
Back on the parkway, near the border of the Kaibab National Forest and Grand Canyon National Park, you’ll come to the remains of another fire. The damage from the Outlet Fire is less evident than what you’ll have seen back at the Warm Fire site, but it’s enough to make you glad you bought that Smokey T-shirt.
From there, you’ll eventually arrive at the North Rim of the national park, which features some great hikes, picnic areas, the Grand Canyon Lodge and, of course, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. No wonder Mother Nature spends her summers here.
Above: A small pond reflects the colors of sunrise at DeMotte Park along the North Rim Parkway. | Jack Dykinga
Note: Mileages are approximate.
Length: 30 miles one way (to the park entrance)
Directions: From Flagstaff, go north on U.S. Route 89 for 110 miles to U.S. Route 89A (25 miles south of Page). Turn left onto U.S. 89A and continue 55 miles to Jacob Lake. The scenic drive starts on State Route 67 at Jacob Lake and continues for 30 miles to the entrance of Grand Canyon National Park. The rim itself is 14 miles farther south.
Vehicle requirements: None
Information: North Kaibab Ranger District, 928-643-7395 or www.fs.usda.gov/kaibab