"Sunset at Toroweap"
August 2012, Grand Canyon, Arizona
"You're not going alone are you" the agent at the St. George BLM office asked me. I told him that I was. "You realize that there is no cell phone reception, help is 60 miles away, and a tow costs $2000" he followed. I nodded somewhat apprehensively. "Are you aware that this is monsoon season, and the next week calls for non-stop thunderstorms?" I responded that the storms were precisely why I was there.
I was heading to Toroweap, one of those items on my bucket list that I finally had mustered up the courage to go to. The problem is that it can only be reached by 61 miles of rugged dirt road which turns into an impassable quagmire with the slightest rainfall. Big time thunderstorms were predicted all week, and storms meant clouds, and clouds meant color. Color is the elusive prey of any landscape photographer, so the hunt was on.
The BLM fellow told me in no uncertain terms that he "thought I was nuts". Even if I got in, there was no guarantee of getting back out. Never go alone, never do this road in the rainy season, and carry at least two usable spare tires. I was about to violate all three of the cardinal rules for travel to Toroweap, which the National Park Service refers to as "the most remote location in the lower 48 states".
After leaving the BLM office I got into my Xterra and headed south on River Road out of St. George. After about 3 hours of off-road driving I finally ran into another person. It was a guy about my age (young) in a Toyota FJ Cruiser. He was headed OUT, not in. "Are you aware of the weather forecast? " he asked me. It sounded like the BLM guy all over again. He then told me that 8 miles ahead the road became too muddy to traverse while ascending Mt Trumbull on his way to Toroweap. "Do you have 4 wheel drive" I asked him? He said yes, but it was just too dicey. He too had been warned about the $2000 tow, and there were storm clouds all around just waiting to make things worse. So I finally came to my senses and did the smart thing (not) - I kept going. I wasn't worried about needing a tow. After all, I had lost cell phone coverage hours ago. How can you call for a tow? Sometimes you've just gotta live on the edge.
I reached the muddy section about a half hour later and saw the FJ driver's tire tracks. He had obviously been having difficulty. I saw the point where he turned around. After that there were no more tire tracks - none. I put my Xterra in 4 wheel drive low range, locked my rear differential, and went for it. It was hairy but I made it - barely. About an hour later I arrived at Toroweap and I had the entire place to myself. I couldn't believe it.
The scene above was the first night's sunset. Oh my God. And I was all alone.
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