by Rob Samuelsen of

The U.S. Department of the Interior is conducting a review of certain National Monuments designated or expanded since 1996 under the Antiquities Act of 1906 in order to implement Executive Order 13792 of April 26, 2017.  The Secretary of the Interior will use the review to determine whether each designation or expansion conforms to the policy stated in the Executive Order and to formulate recommendations for Presidential actions, legislative proposals, or other appropriate actions to carry out that policy.  Four of these National Monuments are in Arizona.  My intent isn’t to politicize but rather inform readers of my experience with each of these four locations.  This is the second of four articles.

Named after the Paiute Cedar Band “elk in water” family, Parashant National Monument offers a wilderness experience almost unparalleled in the continental United States.  Located in the Arizona Strip in the northwest corner of the state, only about 1.2% of the Grand Canyon’s visitors approach the canyon through Parashant.  Despite its 12,000 year history of documented human occupation, this million acre national monument does not have a visitor center, dining, lodging, or refueling stations.  Nor does it have any paved roads and the website encourages all travelers to carry, not one but two full sized spare tires!

As incredible as it seems, prior to the monument’s designation in January 2000, hundreds of miles of the north rim of the Grand Canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, was unprotected from industrial development.  Nestled between the Kaibab Plateau (aka the “North Rim” of the Grand Canyon National Park) and Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Parashant now protects significant Colorado River watersheds, Archaic, Puebloan, and Paiute ancestral sites, critical habitat, endangered species, and a spectacular geology record.

Long overdue, I found spare time in the middle of the winter on one of the most miserable weather days of the season to explore a small section of this wilderness wonderland.  After asking the BLM ranger in Kanab, Utah about my intentions, he tried to dissuade me citing remoteness, bad roads, and weather concerns.  Unbeknownst to him, his concerns only bolstered my resolve to go.  It sounded just the like the adventures I enjoy the most.  I filled up my gas tank, bought some additional snacks, and headed out past Fredonia to the Toroweap turnoff.

Almost immediately, the road turned into a quagmire of mud and rock.  Even so, it was passable with long sections of washboard rumble interspersed with puddles and washouts.  In some sections, I could travel 45 mph while other sections required careful 4-wheel drive crawling.  Route finding was interesting with its limited and sometimes missing signage but with maps and GPS, I was able to stay on course the entire 122-mile backcountry trek.  For intermittent periods of time, the snow, sleet, and rain cleared enough to see the fantastic panoramic views of the 8,000 foot Mt. Trumbull volcano and distant Shivits plateau.  Tantalizing side roads tempted my wanderlust but I kept to the task and arrived at the Toroweap Overlook about three hours later.  The last five miles requires high clearance 4-wheel drive because of the rocky terrain and slickrock.

The Paiutes call it the “dry and barren valley” but with the precipitation, it was anything but dry!  The Toroweap Overlook marks the narrowest part of the Grand Canyon and the lowest overlook of the National Park.  Nevertheless, it’s still 3,000 feet from the viewpoint to the Colorado River and the north face is a sheer, unnerving, and unfenced wall of rock shaped to torment acrophobics.  I couldn’t help but think about the edge breaking off launching me into a 14-second free fall to the splat zone below!  I’d have 14 seconds to make amends with my Maker!

Looking westward into the canyon is the famed Lava Falls.  The Lava Falls is considered the most dangerous white water in the canyon.  Created by volcanic flows from Vulcan’s Throne, a mile high cinder cone in the Uinkaret Volcanic Field, all that remains from the 600-foot lava dam and the resulting 200 mile long lake is the scariest ten seconds on the river for rafters!  The one-armed Major John Wesley Powell described the molten event that created the falls as “What a conflict of water and fire there must have been here.  Just imagine a river of molten rock running down into a river of melted snow.  What a seething and boiling of the waters; what clouds of steam rolled into the heavens!”  I thought of that as I looked below and further imagined the cataclysmic rupture of that natural dam as water breached its blockade creating a massive deluge below as 20 million acre feet of water eroded its compound.  According to geologists, this dam has reoccurred at least 13 times in geologic history.  Imagine!

On top, because of the rains, ephemeral pools of glistening water were bristling full of fairy shrimp.  These crustaceans survive by laying drought resistant eggs that remain dormant, even drydocked, for months or years until the right conditions reemerge for life.  Although not particularly rare, I watched in awe these hardy critters swim in these shallow pools.

After several hours of exploring the Toroweap north rim, it was time to turn back.  In hindsight, I wished I had camped in the primitive campground on the edge of the canyon.  The sunrise would have been amazing!

Because the sky had cleared slightly, the way out was easier than the way in.  Passing through one of the high prairies during my 61-mile exit, I came across a large herd of pronghorn!  These lithe animals can run at speeds in excess of 55 mph!  They need a large expanse to thrive and their existence was severely threatened because of hunting, disease, and habitat destruction.  Having a protected space in Parashant has helped populations rise from near extinction levels.  To see any wild animal is a pleasure but to see an endangered species in their native habitat is special!

Unfortunately, my time was limited and while I was able to check Parashant National Monument off my bucket list, in reality it fueled my desire to go back.  There is so much more to explore!

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