An RV Adventure To the North Rim and Lake Mead
This story was written by Karin. Besides contributing some great photos, Franz shot the video and poured some great beer!
The final chapter of our RV adventure
The landscape changes dramatically as we head up towards the North Rim, both in elevation and vegetation. As we leave the open desert behind us, the red rocks give way to pines and boulders, and as we gain elevation it is finally cooling off.
The evergreens are packed so tightly up here is it a surprise to burst out into these large open meadows that are sprinkled along the main road. If they get wildflowers these fields must be stunning in the spring!
We were told about some sweet places to camp before you get into the park along the East Rim. You could see the ridge with the campsites from where we parked the RV in Vermilion Cliffs — it seemed like a nice balance to see where we might camp, and then later look back down here to where we were.
The forest roads are well kept up here and it is easy to get to the camp sites. We choose a spot pretty close to the end of the road where there are plenty of empty sites to choose from.
How could there be chores on an RV adventure?
The first day near the North Rim we decided to just relax and enjoy being in the woods. We did a little camper cleanup, some laundry, took a short walk near the RV to enjoy the view, and finally we just hung out and enjoyed the view!
Where the buffalo roam
The second day we head out to explore the park itself. We find a herd of buffalo tending to the meadow along the main road. These are huge animals and it looks like everyone is giving them a good amount of space.
Like other locations on this trip, the visitor center is closed, but there is much to see and explore on the rim (as if we needed a reason to return, seeing the visitor center is a good excuse to come back)!
While the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is harder to get to than the South Rim, it has more trails along the rim. This offers more opportunity to hike without having to drop into the canyon.
We even stop at the camp store for some hot dogs to grill for dinner. Earlier we had thought about going partway down into the canyon, but we are at 8000 elevation and I’m finding every uphill trail section challenging (going down is easy, getting back out is harder— and a good RV adventure shouldn’t include getting stranded on the trail).
Point Imperial viewpoint
We took a drive to Point Imperial viewpoint. The surrounding area, and all along the road leading up to it, had been burned in a massive forest fire in 2006. While there was lots of new plant life and groves of young birch trees, evidence of the fire was visible in the miles of standing burned husks of trees left behind.
As we return to our campsite we see the buffalo still hard at work tending the meadow. They are such an unusual sight for us that we stop again to watch them. We soon are surrounded by other drivers that are equally curious to see these huge beasts up close. Again, I’m impressed that everyone gives the buffalo some space.
Everywhere we go the visitor centers are closed, but I’m impressed by the great informative signage that is available at various stopping points. At LeFevre Overlook they have a cross section illustration that shows the various rock formations. And even better, from the overlook you can actually see these formations in the land in front of you! There are some great signs to explain exactly where to look and what you are seeing.
We are wrapping up our RV adventure now and heading to Lake Mead. We briefly cross over the border into Utah as we head west and south. Along the way we are starting to see more cars and trucks as the traffic gets heavier closer to Las Vegas. It’s fascinating to see what gets hauled on America’s highways. This helicopter without its propellers looked so out of place on the back of this truck.
Lake Mead is breathtaking, but it was not the oasis we envisioned
We had originally planned on touring Hoover Dam on this trip, but like every other visitor center it was closed because of Covid. Despite that, this area is still a good stopping point to break up the trip home.
Lake Mead’s claim to fame is that they are America’s first and largest national recreation area. Located east of Las Vegas, it is in both Arizona and Nevada, and it is hot. Just breathing is uncomfortable, there is no shade, and hiking is off the table.
We are flexible and make the mental shift from some hiking to a car tour. This time of year can still have hot days and we hope that tomorrow morning will be cool enough to get in one last hike before we go home. The lake is large enough it takes a while to get from one end to the middle (we didn’t go down to the lower lake).
There is a lot of empty, hot sand dunes around the lake. We stopped to dip our toes into the lukewarm lake and see where we could camp. While there is dispersed camping all around the lake, it is inaccessible to us. We don’t have 4-wheel drive and our camper is way too heavy for the sandy roads (and we were lucky once in the sand — no need to test that out again!).
It is hot in the desert
It is still quite hot, although it is late afternoon, when we start to look for camping options. Even though it doesn’t seem very picturesque there is an RV slot in Callville Bay, within a mobile home park. And while there is a more traditional campsite down the road with trees, they don’t have electric hookups (remember the heat?). The mobile park is looking pretty desirable — we can run the air conditioner until it cools off, or 10 pm, whichever comes first, because really, who enjoys the noise of the generator?
Last hike on our RV Adventure
When we knew that we couldn’t tour Hoover Dam I looked for other options on the map and saw Petroglyph Canyon. It has 1,700 individual petroglyphs (ancient rock art carvings) and looks like a fairly easy to moderate hike.
The drive from Lake Mead to the trail head made me think I’ve made a mistake — this does not feel like an RV adventure any more. Las Vegas suburban sprawl has filled the route between the 15 and the trail head. While the GPS says 2 minutes to our destination, we are in the middle of a very dense neighborhood. It’s been a long time since any of this was wilderness!
But sure enough, we pop out onto a four lane road that parallels the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area, complete with hills and desert landscape in front of us, urban sprawl behind us. The gates are closed but it is okay to park on the road and hike in, as it’s only .25 miles to the trail head from the road.
While we left the mobile park early, we had a 1-1/2 hour drive here and even with some cloud cover, it was still warm. We had plenty of water and agreed to turn back if it got too hot. The minute we hit the trail the sun came out blazing, but we were lucky it was accompanied by a breeze.
This is a totally worthwhile hike — easy to moderate with some scrabbling and climbing the rock falls. The heat could make it difficult, as there is no shade, so be aware of the weather. If you go, use common sense and bring lots of water.
The petroglyphs were amazing! There are drawings out there from the Archaic to historic era. The design styles are very varied from recognizable animals to abstract shapes. These images are chipped out of the stone surface and have a surprising amount of detail in the shapes and designs. It must have taken some time and patience to create each image.
The rolling hills soon make you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. As we come back over the last hill on the trail you can see the urban sprawl and Las Vegas in the distance. It is amazing to be so close to civilization physically, and feel like a world away on this trail in the desert.
Bonus observation — Ivanpah Solar Power Facility
We head south on the 15 towards home and we spot this glowing beam way up ahead in the middle of the Mojave Desert. It took a while to finally get close enough to see what it was (we actually identified it when we got home). It is so bright, like a laser beam coming out of the earth. There are heliostat mirrors in a huge circle around the center tower and focus sunlight into receivers on the top of the tower. Turns out it is the world’s largest solar thermal plant and it is here in the California desert. We could see three towers as we drove by, each with it’s own field of circling mirrors. This really was a fascinating sight!
This was an awesome trip and we went to look at campers as soon as we got home. We will rent a few times to be see what we like. I’ll be sure and keep you posted on what we decide to do!
If you missed the first two installments of this adventure you can read about the Flagstaff area here, and the Vermilion Cliffs area here.
Make your own footprints…
Is there a solar power facility in your neighborhood you didn’t know about?
You don’t need to go far to make discoveries. We were surprised how many local trails there are that connect the neighborhoods here in Encinitas. To keep things safe and fun, remember to bring along some maps, snacks and your sense of adventure.
Enjoy the journey!
Karin H Wilson
Artist | Designer | Photographer | Traveler | Storyteller
I'm Karin and I just love to share a good story — preferably with snacks! I’m particularly interested in capturing the world’s beauty and wonder in photographs.
Besides my blog, Footprints & Stories, you can also find my images on Zazzle products. I have two stores — one with Gifts for Travelers and Nature Lovers, the other with Gifts for Gardeners and Lovers of Flowers. Items include wedding invitations, tote bags, mugs, journals and more. Every product is backed by the Zazzle guarantee.
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