Greetings from Grand Canyon National Park

TOROWEEP ADVENTURE (picture is of Toroweep campground)

In May of 2012 my friend Ed and I spent several days camping near the north rim of the Grand Canyon in a beautiful place at 3’000 feet elevation called Toroweep, one of the few spots along the rim where you can look almost straight down and see the Colorado River. Toroweep is a Paiute word meaning “dry and barren valley,” and was used by the Mormons for farming long ago. You won’t see many tourists in this part of Grand Canyon National Park for several reasons, the main one being its remoteness. It is 55 miles west of the North Rim Headquarters as the crow flies—actually 148 miles of unpaved road. The shortest way is called the “Main Street Route,” just 90 miles southeast of St. George, Utah, also an unpaved washboard road. This part of Arizona is a thin strip that is bordered on two sides by Utah on the north, with the Colorado River on the south. There is no lodging, food or gas in the area, but a primitive campground is located one mile from the overlook. Primitive means no water, a pit toilet, and usually a picnic table. Ed and I are seasoned campers with all the necessary equipment: four wheel drive SUV, butane stove, ice chest, a roll-up table, lightweight chairs, sleeping bags, air mattresses and of course plenty of food and wine. We spent Friday and Saturday here enjoying the beautiful rock formations and gazing down into the bottom of the canyon where you could see where Lava Falls meets the Colorado.

On Sunday around ten we packed up and headed west to go back to Las Vegas where Ed lives. About six miles from the overlook I noticed a tiny ranger station; I pitied the ranger who had to live in this isolated area. I noticed we passed no other sign of habitation, nor any animals, only sagebrush and creosote bush. About twenty miles southeast of St. George we came to a stop sign at an intersection called Wolf Hole. The only evidence of civilization remaining was an old decaying ranch house and a broken down corral fence. Here Ed had an idea. “Would you like to see the campsite where I used to take my children when they were little? If we turn left here we will be on a road that eventually ends in Mesquite, Nevada. The camp is located high up on a place called Black Rock Mountain.”

“Oh, I’d love to,” I replied, always open to exploring.

We turned left and headed south towards Las Vegas by way of Black Rock Mountain. As we drove over another washboard road I noticed we were climbing in altitude and soon began seeing patches of snow and mud from melting snow. Around 6,500 feet we found ourselves on top of a hill facing a long accumulation of snow on the down side. Ed stopped the vehicle to look over the situation.

“I don’t think we should go any further. Look at all that snow!”

“Oh, but look ahead of the snow patch. All we have to do is go downhill and then we’ll be on dirt again.”

Ed frowned. He looked at me. “I’m not so sure it’s a good idea.”

“Where’s your adventurous spirit? It looks clear after the snow.”

“Well, O.K.”

And off we went. The snow seemed to be much deeper near the bottom. As we skidded and swerved in the soft mud and snow for at least another mile we soon came to a place with more snow and the road ahead was no longer drivable.

“We’ll have to turn around. I wish I hadn’t listened to you.”

“But you have to admit it didn’t look so bad.”

Ed just shook his head. He was well aware of my idiosyncrasies; we’d been traveling together since 2002. He turned the car around in the slippery mud and headed back towards the snow hill. Several yards up the wheels started spinning. Snow was accumulating under the body of the car. After several tries he realized it was impossible to get back up the hill we had come down an hour ago. By this time it was around 2:30 P.M.

“I noticed a nice flat area we passed. Maybe we should spend the night and the snow might freeze and it will be easier to get up tomorrow,” I ventured.

“There’s no way we can get back up that hill. And it’s not going to freeze tonight, only in the forties. Let’s stop at the flat spot and decide what to do next.”

Turning around seemed to take forever in the deep snow. We drove to a nice flat spot where there were several pine trees and no snow. “Have you got a cell phone?” Ed asked. “I’ll try mine first. We’re probably going to have to get towed up that hill.” Ed took out his cell phone but couldn’t get any service in the area.

Oh no! A cell phone was something I rarely paid any attention to at that time. My daughter handed me one and had put me on her plan. She said I needed it. I scrounged around in my purse and located mine—the most basic type. Of course I hadn’t looked at it or charged it lately. “Who should we call? There’s not much juice left in this thing.”

We had a discussion about whether to cal 911, but finally decided on a friend of Ed’s—Don, who lived in St. George just 50 or 60 miles away, also as the crow flies. He would be able to call a tow truck. Ed dialed Don’s number on my cell phone and proceeded to tell him we were stuck in snow around 7,000 feet in the Black Rock Mountain area. Don had never heard of Black Rock Mountain although he lived quite near, but he did manage to write down our location before the phone went dead. It was 3:30 P.M. We began to think of various scenarios apropos to our situation. With my arthritis I couldn’t walk very far, and especially up that snow hill. If Ed walked out for help he would have to take more than two days. We were about thirty miles from the intersection and then it was twenty more miles to St. George. The likelihood of a car appearing somewhere on a Monday was near zero. I could stay with the car and survive on whatever canned goods that were left, and melt snow if I ran out of water.

Around five o’clock I warmed up some canned chili and poured two glasses of wine, but Ed had absolutely no appetite. Instead of eating he trounced off down the road in the forward direction to see if it could possibly work out, but within an hour he returned, crestfallen. “It’s impossible up there—just more snow, mud and ponds of water everywhere. We’ll just have to wait and see if anyone shows up.”

Around nine o’clock we decided to put our Coleman lantern on top of the car in case someone came looking for us. We took our gear out of the back end and put it in the front seat. Ed spread out the air mattresses, we crawled into our sleeping bags and tried to get some sleep. We slept fitfully, if at all, for we kept imagining we saw lights or heard engines approaching. Around 3:30 A.M. we woke with a start. Someone was pounding on our front window. “Are you Ed?” a voice yelled while a flashlight shone in the window.

We both sat up, rolled down the window. “Yes, I’m Ed,” Ed replied with a great deal of gratitude in his voice.

“Get your stuff together. I’m from Arizona Search And Rescue. I have to change a flat tire first—shine your headlamps over here, but then I’ll tow you up the hill. There are two trucks here. My buddy is in the other truck trying to smooth out that hill a little so we can get up it.”

While our savior was changing his tire we piled our stuff haphazardly into Ed’s car and asked a few questions. “We called twelve hours ago. Why did it take so long for you to arrive here?”

“Well, lady, we got the call at 3:30 this afternoon. We started up the dirt road at the south end in Mesquite, but after about twenty miles we ran into snow and had to turn around and go out to I-15 to St. George, and come in from the north. Our headquarters is in Kingman, 225 miles away.”

“We are so glad to see you. I thought we’d be stuck in here forever.”

After the tire was changed the rescue worker told us to line up behind him while he attached some tow chains. “And please don’t run over my tow line!” he cautioned.

Ed piped back, “I used to be a glider pilot, so I know something about tow lines!” 
 The driver told us he would tow us up the hill and then we were to go on our own power with him ahead and his buddy behind us. All the way to St. George!

Before our rescuers said goodbye I asked if we could pay them for this wonderful service. They told us it was free, but we could send a donation to the headquarters if we chose.

We found out from Ed’s friend Don that he had tried to get Utah Search and Rescue first because it was closest, but they refused because we were in Arizona. Then he tried Nevada but got the same excuse. They also wanted to know our ages, and when informed that we were in our eighties, they asked if he thought we were suicidal.

From this experience I learned to keep my cell phone charged on these excursions. As for judgment, I’m afraid I’ll always be overly adventurous!


Grand Canyon National Park

America’s Southwest is full of breathtaking canyons, but none as famous or as widely visited as the Grand Canyon. This world-famous landmark offers wondrous views, spectacular hiking, exhilarating whitewater rafting and countless adventures. One look across the enormous chasm confirms just why this inspirational place is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a must-see destination for so many travelers. The park also protects a wealth of biological diversity, including numerous endemic and threatened species and several rare ecosystems.

State(s): Arizona

Established: 1919

“I love camping in natural environments”

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