This year for my best friend’s birthday I wanted to do something BIG! Big, not by consumer standards; however, BIG as in a remote location with a million dollar view. Forget the fancy dinner, expensive gifts, or even the elaborate surprise birthday party. I wanted BIG when it came to Min pitching his birthday hammock.
I wanted BIG, as in walking only a few hundred yards to inhale a sunset.
Big, as in all the reading and researching still could not prepare Min for the mind-blowing views from our base camp.
Big as in, “Good Morning, this is where I slept last night.”
This year for Min’s big birthday my focus was finding a location that offered altitude, proximity, color, and inclusivity.
Altitude – I needed to find some relief from the 100-degree desert temperatures we had been experiencing. Shadow also needed cooler ground temperatures so his paws would not burn while hiking. Slot canyon adventures were out of the question as Min’s birthday was in the middle of monsoon season.
Flash floods are common during monsoon season.
It’s just not wise to risk your safety when there are other hiking options.
Proximity – With only four days of adventure time, the idea of squandering an entire day due to driving did not sound appealing. In my mind, it felt borderline wasteful. Ideally, I wanted to find a location within 90 minutes of Vermilion Cliffs.
Color – It was important to find some green. The past six months had been vermilion, sand, and stone.
It felt like an eternity since we felt soft grass under our feet, and trees, how I missed the sound of the wind blowing through the trees. With that said, I did live by a forest of prehistoric boulders.
Inclusivity – Since becoming a dog owner, my hiking options have become more limited. Dogs are not allowed on hiking trails in national parks; however, they are welcome on BLM and forest service lands. Even though I live within a few hours of Zion National Park, taking Shadow there is not a possibility if I want to hike.
Shadow is used to having this kind of hiking freedom at Paria Canyon.
So in order to enjoy a family friendly hiking birthday experience, I needed to find a location that would welcome Shadow.
Within 90 minutes of my home, I found the winner.
Kaibab National Forest’s “Rainbow Rim Trail” not only fulfilled my listed criteria, it offered more than I could ever imagine. In the middle of flash flood season, we would be spending three days in the trees above 8000ft, with a base camp at Locust Point.
On a late August morning Min, Shadow and I left the red sand in search of trees and cooler temperatures.
Within 45 minutes we had doubled our altitude, and noticed a 25-degree temperature drop. It was wildflowers that inspired our first stop along 89A, a few miles shy of Jacob Lake.
Joy would be the understatement of the year in describing Shadow’s wildflower encounter.
It’s the simple things; like appreciating roadside wildflowers, that makes both Shadow and Min special.
As we drove into Jacob Lake we headed south onto the North Rim Parkway SR 67.
Along this stretch of road lie the trees we had been yearning for. Green, green and more green. I had almost forgotten what trees looked like.
Our next stop was Jacob Lake Fire Tower. The 80-foot tower was completed in 1934.This is one of the few places I would not be comfortable taking Shadow. The stairs were very steep, and the chance of Shadow injuring himself was not worth the risk. So it was decided both Min and I would solo up the tower, while the other person kept an eye on Shadow.
Like a dutiful dog Shadow stood guard ensuring our safety.
After ascending 80 feet worth of stairs, I found myself entering the tower through a trap door in the floor. This view is the reason why you must stop at the Jacob Lake fire tower.
The second reason for visiting the tower is to have a chat with Mark, the tower watchman. Imagine spending several months a year working in an office like this?
Mark is a local Fredonian, not to mention a walking encyclopedia regarding northern Arizona and southern Utah history. Mark admits his job at times can be a very lonely one; however, he feels the views tend to make up for his lack of daily human interaction.
I am not sure who is more exposed, the forest or the fire tower guard. Perhaps such exposure is what makes mother nature so vulnerable to manmade and natural disasters, and for Mark, being confined to a small glass house exposes his humanity.
I never thought I would find myself discussing my love life or lack of for that matter, with a fire tower guard. I am sure Mark never imagined discussing his history with disordered eating. Yet, it seems once again, wide open spaces encourage human connection. I wonder if it’s our willingness to connect that seems to psychologically shrink the vast open miles between communities.
As I descended the fire tower, I reminded Mark the birthday boy was on his way up for a visit.
I knew Min would really appreciate a fire tower visit with Mark. Two hours into the visit I had to remind Min of our time factor. It was now late afternoon, in order to make camp before dark, we needed to move on.
Leaving the fire tower, we continued south on the ever so green, North Rim Parkway.
Shadow had not played on soft grass since his puppy park days in Fresno. His paws had become so accustomed to hiking on abrasive sand and gravel washes. I am sure this felt like heaven to his feet!
I am sure if Shadow had his way we would have been camping here for three days.
As we crossed the road and headed back to the car, I promised Shadow we would return to this patch of green paradise.
Leaving SR 67, we headed west on highway 22, bound for the Locust Point. This stretch of the road was mainly dirt and gravel, yet it was surprisingly smooth. I made a mental note of the meadow on either side of the road. I wanted to stop here on the way home. It was so beautiful!
We arrived at Locust Point just after sunset.
We barely had enough time to set up camp; however, we went to bed knowing we had the point to ourselves.