Walter Powell Route — Page Two

Little Colorado River Gorge and Walter Powell Route

Navajo Roads

We're lost. Bouncing somewhere along a remote dirt road on the Navajo Reservation, my brother and I decide it's time to pull over and check the map—again.

Being interested in obscure canyon hikes best suited for fanatics, we have decided to retrace Walter Powell's not-so-famous route. For now, we're just trying to find the right road to get there.

The eastern edge of the Grand Canyon borders Navajo land. Unlike the developed tourist centers at the North and South Rims, amenities in this part of the canyon are limited.

Navajo Reservation - Dirt Road The Desert High Plains Along the Rim Nearing the Rim

From the trading post of Cameron, Arizona, we have to navigate a good sixty or more miles of dirt roads to reach the Powell Route's so-called trailhead.

For directions, we've got Michael Kelsey's Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau. Kelsey's book is long on warnings and short on details, which is probably for the best.

In addition to being remote, reservation roads are notoriously hard on motor vehicles.

Should you break down, you can expect to walk all the way back to Highway 89 without seeing another soul—so don't skimp on water!

We begin on a nicely-graded road that heads off toward a featureless horizon.

Alongside the road are small washes and ravines that bear close watching.

In the span of a mile, these can grow into bona-fide canyons, making it important to stay on the correct side.

We are making good time when we abruptly notice one such ravine has blossomed into a bottomless gorge to our north.

Unfortunately, we need to be on the other side of that canyon, which leads to an hour of backtracking.

Back on the proper (we hope!) road, we've still got at least thirty miles to go. I eye the sun anxiously. We surely don't want to be driving around out here at night. The roads, of course, grow progressively rougher. We keep a sharp lookout for landmarks such as water tanks, hogans, and abandoned tires, which point the way ahead.

With such an immense landmark as the Grand Canyon just miles off our shoulder, it would seem to be an easy matter to navigate to our destination. Unlike mountains, however, canyons are not necessarily visible from a distance. Incredible as it may seem, we can't see the canyon at all—just a featureless plain leading toward a series of nondescript buttes and rises on the horizon.

This quirky phenomenon enables one of the greatest magic tricks on Earth: we've found the right road, we've battered our truck over mile after mile of rough going, and now, as we drive slowly up a short rise, that featureless plain is about to split open, and the enormity of the Grand Canyon will suddenly appear—presto!—in its entirety, at our feet.

next: My Own Private Canyon

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When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

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