Here is an excursion for the adventurous spirit. A scenic drive unavailable to many because it requires at least a high clearance vehicle (the park service recommends four-wheel drive), the trip offers two outrageous overlooks complete with primitive campsites, that could only have been described as sublime. Backcountry roads all the way, a chance to see a bit of Grand Canyon history, the quiet solitude of beautiful ponderosa pine forests and wildflower meadows, gorgeously scenic vistas, and camping without the crowds; what could be better? Initially, your outing traverses relatively untouched national park land, following the historic Point Sublime Trail (now a four-wheel drive road) west to Point Sublime; then it travels north past Kanabownits Spring, a historic fire tower and work camp on another four-wheel drive road, eventually to link up with the graveled Two Springs Ridge Road (FS Rd 223) on the Kaibab National Forest which takes you west to Fire Point overlooking the fabulous Tapeats Amphitheater. The geology of this tour route is relatively simple, traveling west-by-north-by-west, down the gradually sloping back of the Kaibab Upwarp’s gentler western limb. Amazing canyon views sprinkled here and there allow you to take in the mesas, buttes, spires, and rampart-like walls of multicolored stone that expose the entire Paleozoic sedimentary rock sequence with just hints of dark crystalline basement lurking in the depths of the Inner Gorge and superbly recognizable geologic structures.
The Point Sublime Road traces the footsteps of Clarence Dutton, the first true Colorado Plateau geologist, hired by John Wesley Powell, famous first explorer of the Colorado River and its canyons, and first director of the U.S. Geological Survey. Dutton named Point Sublime, camping here nearly 150 years ago on one of his treks across the region north of the Colorado River which he was to map for the fledgling U.S. Geological Survey. He brought painter William Henry Holmes who immortalized several North Rim locations with his artwork, including Point Sublime (Figure 2C.1). Clarence Dutton went on to write, Tertiary History of the Grand Can͂on District in 1882, the definitive work on Grand Canyon regional geology for many years, a treatise still enjoyed today for its stimulating prose, beautifully rendered drawings, and reproductions of paintings by Holmes and equally famous Thomas Moran. To set foot on Point Sublime is to grace the memory of one of the Grand Canyon’s most famous geologists, a landscape painter extraordinaire, and for a moment, to become part of the region’s history. Leaving Point Sublime, your route passes Kanabownits Lookout Tower located near Kanabownits Spring. Views from the tower are not particularly impressive, but the site is a historic forest-fire watch tower, and the spring a rarity on the Kaibab Plateau despite the relatively cool, moist climate because the limestone cap rock soaks up precipitation and snowmelt like a sponge. An uneventful drive brings you out to Fire Point, perhaps not as historically significant as Sublime, but aptly named for its fiery sunsets over the spectacular Tapeats Amphitheater. Perhaps a bit of a misnomer, the amphitheater would have been better named for the broad sweep of the Esplanade Platform, underlain by extensive exposures of Esplanade Sandstone making up its floor. In any case, here the geology perks up a notch with a superb view of the well-exposed Crazy Jug Fault and Monocline.
Figure 2C.1. William Henry Holmes’ 1882 painting “Panorama from Point Sublime” reproduced in Clarence E. Dutton’s Grand Canyon geological masterwork, Tertiary History of the Grand Can͂on District; the view includes Confucius and Mencius Temples.
Whatever your desire, be it a witness to Grand Canyon history, the blissful quiet of an old growth conifer forest, a “sublime” sunrise or sunset sipping coffee or wine with your sweetheart, or the marvelous geology on display; this challenging but scenic field trip has something to match any need. Incidentally, this is a great wilderness experience for kids or those inexperienced with or uninterested in backpacking. The roads are honestly not very rough, and compared to more typical “four-wheel drive” road conditions, these are quite tame; but that great feeling of solitude is the same that you often get with backpacking. Plan to camp for two nights in the wilderness minimum (one night at each overlook); and don’t forget, you’ll need a Backcountry permit for both locations. Pack plenty of food and water, a spare tire, a good book, and a camp chair, and you’re off!
0.0 (0.0) Refer to Map 2C.1. This road log assumes that you start from the North Rim Campground or Grand Canyon Lodge. Return to mileage marker 42.6 on Field Trip 2A (this is the intersection of AZ Hwy 67 and the Point Sublime Road). Turn left onto the Point Sublime Road for about six-tenths of a mile until you reach the parking area for the Widforss Trail. This is the beginning of Field Trip 2C.
The gravel road backtracks south parallel to the highway, then curves in a 180° sweep as Fuller Canyon makes a sharp jog to the west, where it heads north up a tributary to Fuller Canyon. The sharp bend in the canyon (and road) occurs where the wash crosses the NW-SE oriented trace of the Roaring Springs Fault.
0.3 (0.3) “Y” junction; veer left here following the signage for Sublime Point. The road occupies a small fault-controlled valley (a splay of the Roaring Springs Fault).
2.6 (2.3) Your route makes a sharp right-hand bend and enters the eastern tributary of Outlet Canyon at the southeast edge of The Basin. Drainage is oriented NE-SW parallel to the De Motte Fault; The Basin occupies the downthrown side of the fault. Notice the abrupt change to open, rolling meadowland where erosion has exposed the mudstones and sandstones of the Toroweap Formation and Coconino Sandstone at the surface (Figure 2C.2).
Figure 2C.2. The open, rolling grasslands of the Kaibab Plateau are unusual and mark abrupt changes in bedrock composition of the ground surface; conifer forests seem to prefer the Kaibab Limestone, but large meadows seem to occupy areas underlain by the mudstones and sandstones of the Toroweap Formation (and Coconino Sandstone in places).
3.5 (0.9) Refer to Map 2C.2. The Point Sublime Rd drops into the center of The Basin and crosses the main branch of the Outlet Canyon wash; just to the northeast, the NW-SE oriented Basin Fault has uplifted the center of this semicircular valley and allowed erosion to strip away the Toroweap Formation and expose Coconino Sandstone.
6.5 (3.0) Refer to Map 2C.3. The road passes a nice example of a sinkhole on the right (northeast); several other sinkholes occur in the immediate area. Between this small drainage and Milk Creek to follow, your route parallels the Roaring Springs Fault; the fault scarp on the upthrown side is subtle, but it occurs to the left of the road.
8.2 (0.7) The road crosses Milk Creek wash here and climbs abruptly out of the valley along a small tributary notched into the limestone, only to descend into Crystal Creek in a similar fashion, tracing the rupture of the Roaring Springs Fault.
11.6 (3.4) The Point Sublime Road approaches the canyon rim on a tight, 180° bend. Just before you turn back away from the canyon, a short spur road on the left offers access to the rim at a gorgeous overlook of Crystal Canyon. Park and go have a look!
This impromptu overlook offers a great panoramic view down the axis of Crystal Canyon (Map 2C.4) which has carved its course along the Crystal Fault (Figure 2C.3). Note the linearity of the canyon, a product of fault-controlled stream erosion. The Kaibab Limestone at the head of the canyon where you stand is well jointed, which may be a byproduct of the numerous converging fault splays in the area related to the Crystal and Big Springs Faults that have fractured the layers of rock. In any case, weathering along the joints has formed many blocky pillars in the limestone here called hoodoos (Figure 2C.4).
Figure 2C.3. Crystal Canyon from an impromptu overlook along the Point Sublime Road; the linear nature of the canyon is related to stream erosion along the Crystal Fault.
Figure 2C.4. Hoodoos developed in the Kaibab Limestone at the head of Crystal Canyon are indicative of well-jointed rock; the jointing may have resulted from fault-related fracturing.
12.2 (0.6) “T” road junction at the confluence of two tributaries of Walla Valley’s dry wash; a right-hand turn here leads to Swamp Point, the national park boundary, and Fire Point, the left-hand turn will take you to Point Sublime. Turn left here for now, although you will pass this junction again on your way to Fire Point.
The last six miles to Point Sublime takes you to the tip of an elongated strip of tableland isolated from the Kaibab Plateau on three sides by the Shinumo Amphitheater to the west, Hindu Amphitheater to the east, and the Colorado River gorge to the south. The drive is fantastic in itself, never mind the destination. Under a canopy of mature ponderosa pine Forest, over ridge, and through a narrow valley scratched into the Kaibab Limestone, the winding path is quite breathtaking, and for some, may rival the sublime of Point Sublime (Figure 2C.5). When I visited the site on a crisp fall day, I was fortunate to smell the fresh pine scent on the air, and to see several pheasant, a coyote, and several mule deer, all while being treated to an interplay of light, shadow, trees, and earth to delight the eye. And by trails end, the forest is replaced by pinyon-juniper woodland of a drier climatic regime, on an ever-narrowing peninsula of rock, with the views expanding all around, such that one feels as if they are driving on a bridge suspended in the air.
Figure 2C.5. The Point Sublime Road travels through beautiful, mature, and (sublime?) ponderosa pine forest on its way to Point Sublime.
Is this sublimity? Stupendous, superb, spectacular, sensual, and solitary; all words and mere photographs fail to adequately describe the visual display. I suspect that Clarence Dutton was a man enamored with vast open spaces, with quiet places, with serene solitude, with the beauty of star-filled nights and bare rock against blue sky, and Point Sublime is the natural embodiment of those things. Why come to such a distant, difficult to reach location if these things are not what you seek?
12.7 (0.5) The road climbs rapidly along the southern slope of Walla Valley to a saddle in the rim along a splay of the Crystal Fault. The saddle offers another good overlook of Crystal Canyon with a view aligned more to the southeast wall of the canyon than down its axis.
13.3 (0.6) Refer to Map 2C.4. As the road gradually ascends the ridge southwest of the fault-controlled saddle, a final view of Crystal Canyon is offered where it approaches the rim. This pretty view looks back toward the head of Crystal Canyon and to the forested Kaibab Plateau beyond and is at least worth a quick look (Figure 2C.6). Notice that the normally massive cliff of Coconino Sandstone appears rather crumbly; this suggests shattering by faults, similar to our observations of the Kaibab Limestone earlier.
Figure 2C.6. The head of fault-controlled Crystal Canyon from the last leg of the Point Sublime Road.
14.1 (0.8) Cresting the ridge, the road now begins a long gradual descent toward Point Sublime along a shallow, linear valley cut into the Kaibab Limestone. A look at Map 2C.4 suggests that this valley is controlled by joints in the limestone because it parallels other similarly oriented valleys nearby.
17.6 (3.5) The road dips through a saddle near the end of the narrowing promontory. A road cut here, maybe the first along the entire road, exposes Kaibab Limestone with abundant chert nodules, not atypical of its composition observed elsewhere. If you park your car carefully along the edge of the road, you can clamber over rocks and through a bit of brush to get good views of Crystal Canyon and the North Rim on the left (east) side of the road, and Sagittarius Ridge and the South Rim near Bass Canyon on the right (west).
Looking west (Figure 2C.7 and Map 2C.5), you can see almost to the river; a small section of Granite Gorge is visible above a low point in Sagittarius Ridge. Dark Vishnu Schist with stringers of pinkish Zoroaster Granite occur below a distinctive cliff-band, the Tapeats Sandstone; the contact between these layers is the Great Unconformity. Above the Tapeats, the gray slopes of Bright Angel Shale and Muav Limestone rise to a thick red cliff, the Redwall Limestone. The stair-stepped red slopes above the Redwall are the four rock units of the Supai Group, overlain by the thick reddish slope of the Hermit Formation. Nearer your position, Sagittarius Ridge is capped by red Supai Group rocks, and in the immediate canyon walls, you can see red slope of the Hermit Formation. Resting on the Hermit is the thick buff-colored cliff-band of the Coconino Sandstone. The double-slope, dotted with junipers and pinyon pine above the Coconino is the Toroweap Formation, separated into two mudstone dominated layers by a cliff-band of resistant limestone. And to top it off, the prominent whitish cliffs of the Kaibab Limestone, cap rock of the Kaibab Plateau.
Figure 2C.7. A view to the southwest from the Point Sublime Road near Point Sublime; the view takes in Sagittarius Ridge in the foreground, the Colorado River’s Middle Granite Gorge and South Rim near Bass Canyon in the background.
18.2 (0.6) Refer to Map 2C.4 and Map 2C.5. You have reached Point Sublime. The small parking area is outfitted with a couple of old picnic tables dragged into the limited shade of some scraggly pinyon pine. Perhaps at first glance, not much to write home about; but get out and explore the views anyway. However, if you want to fully experience the sublimity of this aptly named promontory, you’ll have to spend a night.
When you arrive, stake your claim to one of the picnic tables, the shade on the left is the best. After setting up camp, such as it is, take a look around. The views are marvelous because Point
Sublime sits at the end of a long promontory that extends further southward from the main North Rim than any other locale except Cape Royal on the Walhalla Plateau. An overnight stay here is particularly rewarding; the starry nights, punctuated by those sunsets and sunrises that only a desert canyon panorama can produce, are exceptional. Your first destination should be the southern tip of the overlook. Here, the Colorado River sweeps in a broad turn from generally west to north with Tuna Canyon, Middle Granite Gorge and the South Rim between Turquoise Canyon to the west and Boucher Canyon to the east on display (Figure 2C.8). Figure 2C.8a looks as far east as nearby Mencius Temple, while Figure 2C.8b looks as far west as the western arm of Tuna Canyon and the end of Sagittarius and Scorpion Ridges. Tuna Creek and the Colorado River cut deeply enough to expose dark Vishnu basement below the bathtub-ring-like Tapeats Sandstone. Above the Tapeats lies an expansive gray-colored benchland known as the Tonto Platform which is underlain by the Bright Angel Shale and Muav Limestone; the gradually sloping layers here are comprised of soft, easily weathered mudstones grading upward into muddy limestones. On the east side of Tuna Canyon, the ridge crowned by Mencius Temple is buttressed by impressive Redwall Limestone cliffs at its base, with the oxidized mudstones and sandstones of the ledgy Supai Group, and sloped Hermit Formation, stacked above, weathering of these layers, the source of the Redwall’s staining. Capping this ridge are the seemingly sun-bleached battlements of whitish-colored Coconino Sandstone. On the west side of Tuna Canyon, narrow Sagittarius Ridge lacks the Coconino caprock. These same units can be distinguished across Granite Gorge in the walls and ramparts of the South Rim.
Figure 2C.8. Two views of Tuna Canyon, Middle Granite Gorge, and the South Rim as seen from the southern tip of Point Sublime; (A) looks slightly southeast, with Mencius Temple protruding from the end of the ridge coming in from the left, while (B) looks slightly southwest, with the western branch of Tuna Canyon, and the end of Sagittarius and Scorpion Ridges coming in from the right.
Take a closer look at Sagittarius Ridge and the western arm of Tuna Canyon. The canyon follows the trace of the Muav Fault; and although difficult to see, the rock layers exposed in Sagittarius Ridge dip toward you on the east side of the Crazy Jug Monocline. Figure 2C.9 shows two views of Sagittarius Ridge. In Figure 2C.9a, the ridge comes into view on the right. The caprock on the ridgeline is the Esplanade Sandstone, and the Esplanade crops out on the canyon wall in the near ground (both indicated by yellow arrows). Notice that the Esplanade Sandstone dips downward toward your position on Sagittarius Ridge, but it is flat lying in the nearby canyon wall exposure. This occurs because the ridge crest rests directly on the axis of the Crazy Jug Monocline which in turn formed above the Muav Fault when it was reactivated as a reverse fault during Laramide compression 80-40 million years ago. In Figure 2C.9b, the Muav Fault can be seen cutting across Sagittarius Ridge from the east side in Tuna Canyon to the west side; the offset in the Paleozoic rocks is apparently minimal, although movement caused fracturing and slight folding of the Supai layers.
Figure 2C.9. Two views of Sagittarius Ridge looking northwest and west, respectively; (A) shows the tilted layers of Supai Group rocks exposed in the ridge and a nearby canyon wall that reflect evidence of the Crazy Jug Monocline (arrows indicate the Esplanade Sandstone), (B) shows the Muav Fault where it cuts through Sagittarius Ridge from east to west (indicated by the arrows).
As the sun begins to sink lower on the western horizon, it is worth returning to the point for more panoramic views. By this time, the cliffs and slopes above Tuna Canyon’s eastern arm, Crystal Canyon, and the North Rim beyond appear to have caught fire. Figure 2C.10 shows the head of Tuna Canyon, wrapping around the heads of Tuna and Crystal Canyons on the North Rim to Shiva Temple; while Figure 2C.11 shows the ridgeline opposite your position extending southward from Grama Point, capped by Confucius and Mencius Temples. The late-day sunlight reflected from the thick sequence of red, and red-washed rock layers exposed in the canyon walls, the slope-forming Hermit Formation down through the cliff-forming Redwall Limestone, make for quite a fiery display. Is it no wonder Holmes found reason to paint this scene (Figure 2C.1)? As if an artist intended to accentuate this already eye-popping imagery, the South Rim can be seen over the intervening ridgeline separating Tuna and Crystal Canyons (Figure 2C.11), capped by the distinctive cliff-slope-cliff pattern of tan- to-orange-colored Kaibab Limestone stacked on Toroweap Formation, stacked on Coconino Sandstone. Thin fins of Coconino Sandstone are all that remain of these rock units in the nearer intervening ridge, forming the crowns of Confucius and Mencius Temples. The fading sun also highlights the distant mountains of the San Francisco Volcanic Field well south of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim (Figure 2C.11).
Figure 2C.10. With orange-white cap and thick red walls, the upper eastern branch of Tuna Canyon, upper Crystal Canyon, and Shiva Temple form an impressive and fiery North Rim view from Point Sublime in the fading light of day’s end.
Figure 2C.11. The ridgeline separating Tuna and Crystal Canyons, comprised mainly of red-colored and red-washed Hermit Formation, Supai Group, and Redwall Limestone, glows with fire in the fading light of a fall sunset.
After the evening show, you won’t want to miss what the dawn display has in store. This time, your best views are to the west of Point Sublime, where the light of a rising sun reflecting from a distant South Rim, won’t be outcompeted for its serene beauty. Figure 2C.12 offers a gorgeous sunrise vista downcanyon to the northwest. Sagittarius Ridge, capped by the oxidized mudrocks and sandstones of the Supai Group, blocks much of your view of the Colorado River’s northwest-oriented inner gorge; although the South Rim from Turquoise Canyon to Bass Canyon is visible. The upper Paleozoic sedimentary rocks of both rims are visible while the deeper canyon remains in shadow; with the Mount Trumbull Volcanic Field forming the dark peaks on the distant horizon. In Figure 2C.13, the view is to the southwest, directly into the South Rim’s Turquoise Canyon; and because the sun has climbed a little higher, the top of Sagittarius Ridge has been brought into view.
Figure 2C.12. A western, downcanyon sunrise from Point Sublime offers distant views of Mount Trumbull and its associated volcanoes, morning light on the varicolored rocks of upper Paleozoic sequence of both rims, and the interplay of light and shadow, rock and sky.
Figure 2C.13. A southwest sunrise view from Point Sublime focuses your attention on Sagittarius Ridge and the South Rim in the vicinity of Turquoise Canyon.
As a geologist myself, I try to imagine what Clarence Dutton thought when he glazed into the canyon from this place. I think sublimity is in the eye of the beholder; but for me, the wild remoteness of the location, and the idyllic splendor of its vistas, surely earn it the highest praise that I can offer. When you have had your fill of this outstanding place, break camp and move on. Rest assured, there is more to see.
24.2 (6.0) Refer to Map 2C.3. Return to the “T” junction described at mileage marker 11.8; a right-hand turn here would take you back to the developed facilities of the North Rim on the Point Sublime Road, but we’ll continue straight on the Kanabownits Spring Road to make our connection with the Swamp Point Road, the national park/national forest boundary, and eventually on to Fire Point. The road follows the trace of Big Springs Fault for much of its length, generally remaining on the western, downthrown side of this youthful normal fault.
26.3 (2.1) A large sinkhole has developed in the Kaibab Limestone to the right-hand side of the road here. The fault scarp marking the eastern, upthrown block related to the Big Springs Fault lies just east of the road and sinkhole.
26.9 (0.6) Your route drops into the narrow valley of Kanabownits Canyon cut through the Kaibab Limestone, making a sharp 180° left-hand bend here to climb out the other side. A short spur road on the right heads up the floor of the valley to Kanabownits Spring.
Springs such as this one are a rare source of perennial water in this otherwise dry upland forest, in large part due to the porous nature of the underlying limestone (recall the sinkhole you just passed). Figure 2C.14, courtesy of the National Park Service, is a photograph and an illustration depicting the geology of the spring. Pool springs like the Kanabownits often issue from porous rock where an obstruction related to a change in lithology and/or a fault forces the lateral flow of groundwater to return to the surface. Here the Toroweap Formation comprises the canyon floor and a shale layer within it may force a lateral flow of groundwater. However, the spring occurs just to the east of Big Springs Fault which may be responsible for blocking lateral flow and forcing the water to find egress where Kanabownits Canyon has cut deeply enough to intersect both the fault and shale layer.
Figure 2C.14. The photograph shows Kanabownits Spring (A), a small, perennial pool on the floor of Kanabownits Canyon; while the diagram (B) describes the relationships between the formation of a spring at “S”, a groundwater source at “A”, and the obstruction and redirection of its flow in response to an impervious layer of sedimentary rock at “I” and/or faulting (National Park Service photo and figure).
27.2 (0.3) The road ascends to the ridge separating Kanabownits Canyon from Kanab Canyon; a short spur road on the left takes you to historic Kanabownits Cabin, the residence for the crew manning the nearby fire tower. Kanabownits Spring would have provided the water and it is no coincidence that the cabin and fire tower are located here. When I visited the site, both the cabin and adjoining outhouse were not currently in use and they were covered in a flame retardant material. Bare right at the fork here and continue toward Swamp Point and/or Fire Point.
27.3 (0.1) The spur road on the right will take you to the Kanabownits Fire Watchtower. The lookout tower is historically interesting, but views from the top are not exceptional.
Examine Kanab Canyon on Map 2C.3. Note the unusually shaped drainage pattern to this small canyon, it closely parallels the semi-circular rim just to the west at the edge of Mordred Abyss, a large amphitheater carved into the Kaibab Plateau. This odd shape is not fault controlled; instead, it is likely caused by stream erosion along a semicircular fracture pattern indicating that a large section of the rim is slowly peeling away from the plateau in response to gravity. Continued slippage would eventually trigger a massive landslide, although the depth of Kanab Canyon suggests the fractures formed long ago and movement of the unstable block may no longer be active. Destabilization of the cliff face could be a result of undercutting and groundwater lubrication of the huge block where it rests on the Hermit Shale below. In a process known as groundwater sapping, lateral flow of groundwater near the upper contact with the less permeable shale bleeds onto the exposed slope where a concentration of energy causes erosion and undercutting of more resistant rock layers above. It is interesting to note that many tributary canyons in the Grand Canyon, slowly expanding headward away from the Colorado River gorge, exhibit arcuate shapes. Perhaps the failure of such massive rim blocks as the suggestive Crescent Ridge block at the head of Mordred Abyss is a geologically common event? Simply because we humans of European descent have not witnessed such an event in our meager time at the canyon does not mean that they don’t occur with routine “geological” frequency (that is, on a time scale measured in thousands or tens of thousands of years).
28.5 (1.2) The road temporarily swings away from Big Springs Fault, and here it enters the upper Kanab Canyon.
30.9 (1.4) Kanabownits Spring Road reaches the drainage divide between Kanab Canyon and Big Spring Canyon paralleling the Big Spring Fault whose scarp and upthrown block lay just to the east.
31.9 (1.0) The road descends to the floor of Big Springs Canyon, jogs 90° to the left, and then swings right into Tipover Canyon continuing to follow the trace of the Big Springs Fault. Several meadows fringed by Quaking Aspen adorn the floor of this canyon, quite pretty in the fall when the leaves are changing color (Figure 2C.15).
Figure 2C.15. One of several pretty meadows fringed by Quaking Aspen in Tipover Canyon; the fall colors accent the views.
33.5 (1.6) A hairpin turn to the left, and your route abruptly climbs out of Tipover Canyon here and leaves the Big Springs Fault behind.
33.9 (0.4) The Kanabownits Spring Road meets the Swamp Ridge Road which merges from the left at this junction. Continue on the Kanabownits Spring Road.
34.1 (0.2) You pass the boundary for Grand Canyon National Park here and enter Kaibab National Forest; you are now traveling on FS Rd 268B.
35.3 (1.2) FS Rd 268B merges with FS Rd 268 at this junction. Continue straight on FS Rd 268, do not make a left turn to the west here!
35.6 (0.3) Intersection of FS Rd 268 and FS Rd 223. A left turn (westward) onto FS Rd 223 leads to Fire Point. If you don’t intend to include Fire Point on this excursion, turn right (east) instead, and follow FS Rd 223 toward AZ Hwy 67. You will be returning to this intersection after visiting Fire Point.
36.5 (0.9) Refer to Map 2C.6. Your route passes FS Rd 609 on the right, the last side road between you and Fire Point. FS Rd 223 follows Two Springs Ridge between Quaking Aspen Canyon to the north and Grassy Canyon to the south, all the way to the overlook. The streams generally drain westward off the dip slope of the Kaibab Limestone on the west flank of the Kaibab Upwarp. Much of the drive is on a good gravel road through mature ponderosa pine forest and groves of quaking aspen. In the fall, the color contrasts between blue sky, orange and yellow aspen, and green conifers is quite pretty (Figure 2C.16). Enjoy.
Figure 2C.16. A fall color extravaganza on the Two Springs Ridge Road (FS Rd 223) in the Kaibab National Forest.
41.9 (5.4) FS Rd 223 passes the Grand Canyon National Park boundary here. The road returns to a dirt surface with giant potholes, beware! It can be navigated by any vehicle, just take it slowly.
42.1 (0.2) Here, the road approaches as closely to Grassy Canyon as it gets. Find a safe place to pull off the road and take a short walk southward and over to the canyon rim.
Your south-facing view is of Muav Saddle, a low point in the ridge which joins the main rim to Powell Plateau (Figure 2C.17). The saddle is underlain by mudrocks of the Hermit Formation and has formed where the Muav Fault cuts through the ridgeline separating north-flowing Saddle Canyon from south-flowing Muav Canyon. You last saw this fault exposed in Sagittarius Ridge and Tuna Canyon at Point Sublime. Erosion along the fault has produced the opposing drainages of Saddle and Muav Canyons (Map 2C.6) and headward erosion is actively carving a deep notch in the ridge, cutting completely through the Kaibab Limestone, Toroweap Formation, and Coconino Sandstone. Evidence of faulting can be observed directly in the offset of the Coconino Sandstone at Swamp Point on the left (east) side of the saddle vs. its position on the right (west) side; displacement is down-to-the-east.
Figure 2C.17. Muav Saddle has formed by erosion along the Muav Fault which passes through the ridge joining Powell Plateau to the North Rim.
42.9 (0.8) You have reached the end of the road at Fire Point. Find your camping spot, the grassy forest floor beneath a stand of ponderosa pine is quite inviting. Once you have attended to your domestic duties are attended, stroll over to the point on the edge of the rim for fabulous views into Tapeats Amphitheater and the watershed of Tapeats Creek.
Let’s first identify a few points of interest when you first reach the promontory overlook. Tapeats Amphitheater lies to the northwest of your view, Steamboat Mountain is the isolated, conical butte to the west, and the northern tip of Powell Plateau lies to your southwest. Take a close look at your view from Powell Plateau north to Steamboat Mountain (Figure 2C.18). Saddle Canyon lies to the fore, eroded along the trace of the Muav Fault. In the far wall of the canyon, notice that the rock layers bend downward toward you (to the east); especially obvious are the layers of Supai Group rocks exposed at the base of Steamboat Mountain, and the Coconino Sandstone exposed beneath Powell Plateau. This bending is related to the Crazy Jug Monocline which parallels the Muav Fault. Now examine the Tapeats Amphitheater (Figure 2C.19). The floor of the basin is comprised of Esplanade Sandstone and forms the eastern (upcanyon) extension of the Esplanade Platform. Overlying the Esplanade is a westward thicken layer of the Hermit Formation. The unit’s thickness at this end of the Grand Canyon and its natural susceptibility to mass wasting processes is responsible for rapid backwasting of the sedimentary rock layers that overlie it, thus exposing the resistant Esplanade Sandstone and creating the platform. A close look at Tapeats Canyon, where it has cut through the Esplanade, other Supai Group units, and the Redwall Limestone north (to the right) of Steamboat Mountain reveals distinctive, down-to-the-east folding of the layers. This is the Crazy Jug Monocline, the folding of the Paleozoic rocks is a product of compression during the Late Cretaceous to Early Tertiary Laramide Orogeny which reactivated the Muav Fault, long buried in the crystalline basement, as a reverse fault. Let your gaze travel further north along Crazy Jug Canyon to the rim of the Kaibab Plateau on the skyline (Figure 2C.19). Crazy Jug Canyon cuts a furrow through the Esplanade Platform along the trace of the Muav Fault, rock layers to the east side are flat-lying, while those immediately to the west are bent downward against the canyon and fault; this can even be observed in the upper Paleozoic rock units exposed along the cliffs marginal to the Tapeats Amphitheater. The Kaibab Limestone, with its green carpet of conifers can readily be seen to bend down against the notch in the cliff face where the Muav Fault disappears off to the north beyond the rim. The Muav Fault and its accompanying folding expressed by the Crazy Jug Monocline are major northwest-southeast trending geologic structures in the Grand Canyon region, extending from Travertine Canyon on the South Rim, observed on the Boucher Trail (Optional Hiking Trail 1A.1), all the way past the lip of the North Rim, observed here and at Crazy Jug Point (Field Trip 2D).
Figure 2C.18. Saddle Canyon, the northern end of Powell Plateau, and Steamboat Mountain viewed from Fire Point; the canyon follows the trace of the Muav Fault, while its walls expose eastward tilted rock layers related to the Crazy Jug Monocline.
Figure 2C.19. The Tapeats Amphitheater from Fire Point; a broad, shallow basin floored by the Esplanade Sandstone and scooped from the North Rim by stream erosion and mass wasting processes, displays a bounty of geological wonders that include the Muav Fault and Crazy Jug Monocline.
Observing the flamingly obvious geology on display from Fire Point is a definite highlight of this trip, but Fire Point probably earned its name for other reasons. Spending a night camping in this quiet, serene place of gorgeous scenery will make that clear. As the sun sets to the west, the surrounding cliffs of Kaibab Limestone and Coconino Sandstone literally do “light on fire” with an fantastic orangish-pink glow (Figure 2C.20), perhaps this is how the promontory earned its name? However, being a huge fan of the ponderosa pine (couldn’t you tell?), I would like to think that the dying sunlight reflected from the brown, pleated bark of these forest giants might have inspired the name for Fire Point (Figure 2C.21). And lest we forget the dawn, you would be doing yourself an injustice if you did not take in a sunrise from Fire Point (Figure 2C.22); maybe the first rays of sunrise striking Steamboat Mountain, lighting up the top of the butte like a funeral pyre, gave rise to this destination’s name? When you’ve soaked in the geologically enhanced scenery, make your way back to civilization; you can always return.
Figure 2C.20. The orangish-pink glow of a fading sun reflected from the Kaibab Limestone and Coconino Sandstone cliffs surrounding Fire Point, could this view have inspired Fire Point’s name?
Figure 2C.21. The name “Fire Point” may have been inspired by the reflection of an orange sunset from the boles of the Ponderosa Pine found in abundance near the overlook.
Figure 2C.22. Steamboat Mountain at sunrise from Fire Point.
50.2 (7.3) Refer to Map 2C.3. Return to the intersection of FS Rd 223 and FS Rd 268, but this time, continue straight ahead on FS Rd 223 toward AZ Hwy 67. Ignore all side roads for now. This drive is particularly gorgeous in the fall.
56.1 (5.9) Refer to Map 2C.7. “T” junction between FS Rd 223 and FS Rd 270. Turn left onto FS Rd 270 and ignore all side roads for now.
58.3 (2.2) Five forest service roads intersect at this junction. FS Rd 22 crosses from the west to the southeast here. Ignore all other routes and turn to the far right (southeast) onto FS Rd 22.
60.4 (2.1) Intersection of FS Rd 22 and AZ Hwy 67. If you are returning to the North Rim facilities, make a right here, otherwise turn left to head for Jacob Lake and US Hwy 89A. This ends Field Trip 2C.
Road Route Maps
Map 2C.1. Color shaded-relief map of the Bright Angel Point, AZ 7.5-minute quadrangle showing segments of Field Trip 2A and 2C.
Map 2C.2. Color shaded-relief map of the Little Park Lake, AZ 7.5-minute quadrangle showing segments of Field Trip 2A, 2B, and 2C.
Map 2C.3. Color shaded-relief map of the Kanabownits Spring, AZ 7.5-minute quadrangle showing a segment of Field Trip 2C.
Map 2C.4. Color shaded-relief map of the Shiva Temple, AZ 7.5 minute quadrangle showing a segment of Field Trip 2C.
Map 2C.5. Color shaded-relief map of the Havasupai Point, AZ 7.5-minute quadrangle, your western view from Sublime Point.
Map 2C.6. Color shaded-relief map of the King Arthur Castle, AZ 7.5-minute quadrangle showing a segment of Field Trip 2C.
Map 2C.7. Color shaded-relief map of the De Motte Park, AZ 7.5-minute quadrangle showing segments of Field Trip 2A, 2B, 2C, and 2D.