May 24, 2017
So many roads I could spend a lifetime exploring Kaibab National Forest ranging from sage brush at 3,000 feet to 9,000 foot spruce and fir forests with meadows and Juniper/Pinyon woodlands in between plus Grand Canyon views too. Of course there’s the convenience of the North Kaibab being adjacent to Grand Canyon’s North Rim where I live, work, and play all summer. Yet even after nine years and many drives into the forest there are still blank places on my map.
During a drive along SR67 through the forest the previous week I’d noticed most of the aspen leafed out except at higher elevation where they barely showed buds. I like the stark white trees against the evergreens and wanted to get some photos of the contrast. Yet I also wanted to explore more of the many gravel roads in the Kaibab National Forest so my next days off I went for a ride.
I intentionally got a late afternoon start so my planned drive east wouldn’t have me staring into the sun. Besides, as most of you know, I’m not an early morning person. First stop, a pull off along SR67 at Crane Lake. It may look like a pond to you but in this arid environment of northern Arizona we call them lakes. At about 325 feet across the lake will shrink over the summer yet provides critical water and food to wildlife and is fenced to keep out cattle and bison-hybrids. I walked carefully across the still damp meadows from snow melt-off sticking to the high tufts of bent over brown grasses with a few scattered Meadow chickweed and saw one duck.
Then I continued my journey about 15 miles from the park boundary and headed east on Forest Road (FR) 241 into the area of the 2006 Warm Fire. May seem strange to explore an old burn but eleven years later there is so much regrowth and recovery. Even though we might not like to see a charred forest, fire plays an important role in forest ecology. The Warm Fire began by a lightning strike and was initially managed for the health of the forest. Then a storm cell moved in and high winds carried the fire across SR67. A back burn was lit and ultimately almost 60,000 acres burned. The North Rim was closed and evacuated for almost a week. Fortunately, Ponderosa pines are fire resistant so patches of survival were evident.
Not far into the drive I saw a lovely camping area under the tall trees and discovered a small body of water I’d call a pond at not more than 50 feet across which provided nice reflections. The North Kaibab Plateau had a decent snow-pack this past winter so most of the “lakes” are full.
FR241 basically follows a ridge-line with a few dips and rises along the way winding through the old burn filled with young aspen, the first tree to pop up after a fire because they clone from root shoots. It will be several of our generations before a dense forest is seen here again.
I could have followed the road a bit further but wanted to get home before dark with a few stops along the way. The drive back to pavement with lowering sun lit the lime-green leafed aspens to an almost blinding glow against the contrast to the stark standing snags.
Flowering Oregon Grape/Mahonia//Barberry
Another stop by a big meadow with a few small rocky areas revealed patches of spreading phlox in colors from white, pastel lavender and almost magenta. The ground was soft with gopher mounds and burrows so I didn’t walk far.
Unfortunately I had the camera focus set wrong and most of these photos are a little fuzzy. But there are plenty of gravel roads on the North Kaibab National Forest and I plan to explore more of them on future days off work.