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Why too late? I wish I had seen them before they were taken over with commercialization, traffic jams, full parking lots, and campsites booked many months in advance. For example, a hundred people a day apply for the 12 daily passes to access The Wave in Northern Arizona. One guy we met remembers a dozen years earlier camping in the Wave all alone. He even had a campfire there. Nobody knew about the place. What is going to be The Next Wave? Last year I learned about an awe-inspiring place that is still relatively undiscovered: Toroweap Overlook.
Later in the year, Bob Devereux (FJ80 Land Cruiser), Kim and Dave Aurzada (Toyota FJ Cruiser), and my old friend Brad Beasley and I (’85 FJ60) were eating breakfast in Kanab, Utah one fine morning, planning our “assault” on Toroweap Overlook. The weather forecast was calling for cold weather, wind, and mixture of rain and snow. We knew from experience that sometimes the weather predictions are wrong. Four years earlier at The White Pockets, I remember setting up my tent with dread in my heart while it was snowing horizontally at 40mph. By the time we set up camp and lit the lanterns, the blizzard stopped, and the stars and moon came out to greet us. So, at the cafe in Kanab, we tipped our waitress, topped off our tanks and headed south. Glad we did. The weather turned out to be great. If anything, the dire weather predictions kept out the less resolute visitors.
Anticipation builds, as we leave downtown Tuweep in our dust. Headed south to Toroweap!
There are three approaches to the Toroweap Overlook. All are approximately 60 miles of washboard roads. We chose the one that was supposed to have fewer ruts and holes. When we turned off the highway to the Toroweap road, the scenery was just okay, but it became more mountainous as we went deeper into the Arizona Strip (a part of Arizona completely cut off from the rest of the state because of the Grand Canyon). Six miles before our destination, we stopped at the ranger station in the tiny former mining town of Tuweep. Not much to it. A barn, and a house. No one was there, except a sign warning visitors that reservations are required to camp, and to arrive before sunset. We had plenty of daylight, so we kept heading south to the Overlook.
About 4 miles from the Overlook, we had to stop and put our trucks in 4-wheel low. Our road had become twisty and rocky, with short climbs and descents. It was good to slow down, roll down the windows, and allow our vehicles to do what they do best.
Our campground is just beyond and below my truck. Almost there!
We pulled in to camp with great anticipation. The campground was beautiful. With awesome views. And it afforded protection from prevailing winds. It only had one camper, who left the next morning. We hurriedly set up camp, as we were anxious to hike 20 minutes to the big payoff: the Overlook at sunset.
I do not have to ask David and Kim Aurzada to smile for me. Nor could I have gotten them to stop!
The Toroweap Overlook on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is the only place on the rim of the Grand Canyon where you can hike to the rim, and look straight down, 3,000 feet down, to the Colorado River. The colors of those sheer canyon walls at sunset are flush with yellows, reds, oranges, and maroons. They contrast nicely with a blue sky and purple horizon. The beauty of the view draws you to the canyon edge like a light draws in a moth, but you don’t want to be like the moth and get “burned” by getting too close. One false step on a 3000-foot ledge would be a horrific way to go.
We were snuggled in next to some rocky cliffs to protect us from the weather. Perfect campsite.
Standing there, on the North Rim, at the Toroweap Overlook, on a pretty, calm day, with your friends, is so peaceful. Few words are spoken. We just stand, breathe, and take it all in. We all savor it together, well aware moments like these are so rare. This is why we come here. THIS is recreation. As in RE-creation. We feel ourselves being recreated not just by the beauty, but the serenity, remoteness, and the journey.
You have to be willing to rough-it to experience Toroweap. And you have to have a four wheel drive high clearance vehicle to get through the very rough and rocky roads. No electricity, no water, no cell service. The only amenities provided are compost toilets. Compared to places we usually visit, that one amenity made it pretty plush. We are used to being totally self-sufficient. We gladly give up all park provided conveniences to experience something so beautiful and so unburdened with the tourist trappings found in Yellowstone or the South Rim.
Bob Devereux has taught me so much about my old Land Cruiser and how to utilize it for overland-style travels.
What is there to do? We stayed four nights and three full days. I spent the first day just relaxing. The second day we all went for a 10-mile hike on the Tuckup Trail, which is a relativity easy hiking trail that winds along the canyon rim and affords many spectacular views. The third day we left camp and drove west over a pine-forested mountain and visited a rock garden full of petroglyphs called Nampaweap. We went down a rocky and winding road to the Whitmore Canyon. At the end of the road is another amazing overlook of the Grand Canyon. We saw a lot of barrel cactus and extinct volcano cones along the way.
Bob camped under what looked like huge chocolate truffles.
I have always felt like obstacles are a good thing. Whether it be distance, remoteness, lack of necessities, challenging trail or road conditions, these challenges keep the casual tourists to a minimum and preserve the serenity for us hardy, more adventurous tourists. One obstacle to consider on this trip is dealing with the reservations system the NPS Grand Canyon Back Country Permit Office has in place for this part of the park system. Until a few years ago, there were no permits needed to camp at Toroweap. But things are changing in the four corners area of our country. More and more people are seeking these places out.
On the 5th day, with a little melancholy in our hearts, we head out.
Points to remember when reserving a campsite at Toroweap
- You must obtain permits in advance. We made ours about three months in advance.
- There are about six individual campsites (1-6 people, 1-2 vehicles each) and one group campsite for 3+ vehicles (7 to 11 people). A group of fewer than seven people cannot reserve the group campsite.
- The park encourages people to carpool when going here. They are trying to “safeguard the highest quality backcountry experience.”
- The Grand Canyon Backcountry Permit Office does not understand why four people would each want to drive their vehicles to go camping and to experience the backcountry. They only understand enthusiasm about the destination, and not about the journey getting there.
- Three or four vehicles, 3-12 people, cannot reserve 2 or more campsites if there is ANY association between them, even if it is just friendship. Thus, no groups, unless you book the one group site.
- You cannot reserve the group campsite for, say, four vehicles if you have less than seven people. Six people at the group site are not enough.
- There are other rules and regulations too numerous to mention, but readily available on the internet
We only saw two other campers the whole time we were there, so we had the place all to ourselves and never saw a park ranger except when we stopped to chat at the Tuweep Ranger Station on our way out.
I highly recommend this destination for those of you who tow off-road campers. The NPS has a rule that says the total length of the towing vehicle and towed vehicle cannot be over 22 feet.
If the photos in this article inspire you to look over the Toroweap Overlook yourself, I suggest you get out there sooner than later. The regulations the NPS currently has in place are there because they are preparing this special place to become much more popular in the near future.
Chris Mann is a professional photographer and avid outdoorsman. photo by Brad Beasley