North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park
By Robert Stieve
When the payoff on a scenic drive is something called Point Sublime, it’s reasonable to think that the drive itself might fall short. In this case, it doesn’t. Not even close. The old-growth ponderosas are part of that. So are the other evergreens, the wildflowers, the meadows and the extreme solitude that’ll make you wonder: Why aren’t there more cars lined up? Sublime ... that means stupendous, right? Why am I the only one out here? You’ll be intrigued by the isolation, but not for long. You’ll be too busy looking around.
The drive begins a couple miles north of the North Rim’s Grand Canyon Lodge. From the park road, look for a sign on the left that marks the Widforss Trail. Although the focus here is the ride out to Point Sublime, Widforss is worth remembering — it’s one of the best trails in Arizona. Just past the trailhead, the dirt road veers right and slips into the forest. A few hundred yards later, it splits. Veer left and follow the signs. You’ll see a lot of lupines at the outset, and at the1.5-mile mark, an elderly ponderosa surrounded by youthful aspens.
“Your way is lined with heavy growth of the Kaibab Forest,” longtime editor Raymond Carlson wrote in the September 1941 issue of Arizona Highways. “Pine trees cluster about your path, shouldering each other to get a better look at you. You come across small meadows, where a deer will look up, almost annoyed by the intrusion. Flowers carpet the forest, having a high old time in the sunlight.”
The trees still cluster, especially in the early stages, where the road narrows to a single lane. Then, about 4 miles in, the road widens a bit and crests a hill. Up ahead you’ll see the drive’s most impressive meadow. The road slices through the middle of it for a mile and half and then dips back into the woods. Bright-green ferns and deep-orange ponderosas mark the passage. A couple miles later, you’ll go through a small burn area and another meadow, and then reenter the woods, where the first tree is a hulking ponderosa. Although the forest on the Kaibab Plateau is blessed with quaking aspens, Engelmann spruce and Douglas firs, it’s the ponderosas that stand out most.
Just beyond the old yellow belly, the road heads up a steep, rocky hillside. You’ll need a high-clearance vehicle — four-wheel-drive if you have it. The rest of the road is in pretty good shape, weather permitting, as it weaves through the thick, alpine forest. A few miles beyond the rough spot, you’ll come to an intersection. The short detour to the left is the first good opportunity to see the Canyon — in case you forgot, there is a natural wonder over there. To get to Point Sublime, go the other way, and within a few minutes, you’ll come to another intersection. To the right is Fire Point, but you’ll veer left.
Other than those two side roads and a smattering of sawed-off trees, there are no signs of man on the road to Point Sublime. Enjoy the scenic beauty and pay attention to your odometer. At the 12.1-mile mark, you’ll get a glimpse of the Canyon to the left, but it’s just a glimpse. A half-mile later, the views make another appearance before the road winds back into the woods.
Things remain about the same for the next 4 miles. That’s when you’ll start to sense the abyss off to your right. Moments later, bam, there it is. The Grand Canyon. Despite your natural inclination to stare at Mother Nature’s handiwork, keep your eyes on the road. There are sheer drop-offs to your right, and a half-mile later, the drop-offs close in on both sides of the road.
Take a deep breath and make the short but harrowing ride out to the point. “Out there,” Mr. Carlson wrote in 1941, “is a view of the Grand Canyon you’ll see from no other place but Point Sublime.” Sublime is certainly one of the words that’ll come to mind. Stunning, spectacular, sensational ... those will occur to you, too. It’s a payoff that’s worthy of the drive that takes you to it.
PHOTO: The view from the Grand Canyon’s Point Sublime is worthy of the long drive required to reach it. | Jack Dykinga
Note: Mileages are approximate.
Length: 17.7 miles one way
Directions: From Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim, go north on the park road for 2.6 miles to the turnoff for the Widforss Trail. Turn left and continue 17.7 miles to Point Sublime.
Vehicle requirements: A high-clearance vehicle is required; four-wheel-drive is recommended. In good weather, parts of the road are passable in a sedan.
Information: Grand Canyon National Park, 928-638-7888 or www.nps.gov/grca
Travelers in Arizona can visit www.az511.gov or dial 511 to get information on road closures, construction, delays, weather and more.