It covers nearly three million acres and includes a huge piece of North America called the Grand Canyon. Parashant National Monument was set aside and designated as a National Monument in 2000 by then President Bill Clinton. The drama and majesty of the landscapes include a collage of pine-covered mountains, mesas, buttes, grasslands, and chiseled canyons that lead to the Grand Canyon itself. As far as the eye can see, there is rangeland where grass-fed cattle intermingle with mule deer and old buildings from an earlier day, when the people who actually called the Arizona Strip home hung tenaciously on, unwilling to let go.
The Arizona Strip remains the most bypassed, unheard-of slice of land in the contiguous United States and is tailormade for those seeking an escape from a fast-paced world. It provides the kinds of primitive roads and trails (more than 2000 miles total) where 4WD trucks, SUVs, and crossovers can be challenged to perform as they were designed to. With the Strip's lack of the human footprint, those who visit leave forever altered by what can only be characterized as a surreal type of experience.
We've made forays into the Strip with a Ram 2500, Jeep Wrangler, and GMC Yukon Hybrid, and what follows is a chronicle of our discoveries as we explored just a few of its nooks and crannies.
BAR 10 RANCH
The Arizona Strip stretches from the Nevada border in the west to Lee's Ferry on the Colorado River in the east, a distance of 200 miles. From the Utah border, it wends south to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River where at its widest point the Strip is 120 miles.
A guest lodging called the Bar 10 Ranch was our base camp. Located 65 miles directly south of St. George, Utah, the Bar 10 is a working ranch that includes a lodge that's open year 'round. It offers hot and cold running water, excellent ranch-style fare, and a warm, hospitable lodge where Ned and his wife Kristin welcome visitors.
Youngsters take charge of caring for their own chosen horse at the Western Pleasure Guest
The primitive road (the Bureau of Land Management, Park Service, and ranchers call it Main Street) that takes you to the Bar 10 is a good warmup for what the more primitive roads and trails offer, but it's only a warmup: Driving these 4WD trails requires due diligence (this place is very hard on equipment). Before leaving St. George, stop at the BLM/National Park office for the latest weather and road conditions and a map that will give you an idea of the millions of acres you're about to enter. Don't set out if it's raining, when the roads turn soupy.
We stopped 50 miles down Main Street at Mt. Trumbull School, where the kids who lived here between 1920 and 1960 learned the three Rs. No one works on-site, but it's open 24 hours a day so visitors can go inside and look around. You will be instantly carried back to a time when one-room schoolhouses like this were the center of the community and the backbone of rural America.
The school serves as a crossroads for off-road adventure. To reach the Bar 10, take the road where the sign points to Whitmore Canyon. For the next 15 miles wind down into the canyonlands below the Bar 10 Lodge. From the ranch, you go another tortuous 14 miles to the Colorado River overlook, which puts you inside the Grand Canyon. This is the only place you can drive down inside the Grand Canyon. From the overlook, it's another 700 feet down and a 45-minute walk (each way) along a trail to the Colorado River where you can soak your feet in the chocolate-color, muddy ribbon of water.
You can take an excellent round trip from Mt. Trumbull School to Mt. Dellenbaugh, about 30 miles due west, but nearly a full day's drive (150 miles). This full day also includes time to climb Mt. Dellenbaugh (just under 7000 feet high). It's the perfect climb, about an hour each way, for those who are in reasonable shape. However, for the last 100 yards you have to scramble over a steep field of volcanic boulders to reach the top. There is a geo-cache at the summit where you can make an entry in the visitor's log and read the notes of those who have preceded you.
Directions in the log tell you how to find the name Dunn, which was etched into the surface of rock when William Dunn and two others hiked out of the Grand Canyon after deserting John Wesley Powell's Colorado River expedition in 1869. The three men elected to leave Powell and climb out through what is known today as Separation Canyon, named for their departure, for they thought Powell and his group of river explorers were doomed to perish in the rapids of the Colorado. However, a week later Powell and his men safely completed the journey, after spending seven months on this historic float trip. Dunn and the other two men were killed by Piute Indians just a few miles from the summit of Mt. Dellenbaugh. From atop Dellenbaugh, the 360-degree view is spectacular, a huge, open landscape where in all directions the canyons, mountains, and grasslands seem to go on forever.
From the Bar 10 Ranch, it's a 3.5-hour drive east over Mt. Logan and Mt. Trumbel to the National Park Ranger Station at Tuweap and ultimately to the precipice known as the Grand Canyon Toroweap Overlook. You really have to want to get here, for the road/trail gets progressively more challenging as you work your way over the last 13 miles to the Canyon's edge. Just to make sure we didn't lose a tire (shards of rock cover the road), we went very slowly. The last few miles took us over two hours, but the reward at the end of the trail is like none other.
From the edge of the rim at Toroweap Overlook you can look straight down (3000 feet) into the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River below. Toroweap has a dozen excellent primitive campsites, and we came prepared to spend the night around a campfire. The only sound out here is that of the wind as it breaks up and over the edge of the rim and bursts above your head.
GRAND GULCH MINE
On one adventure out on the Strip, we linked up with Clay Bundy, a rancher and hunting and tour guide who was raised on the Arizona Strip and actually went to school at Mt. Trumbull School. Meeting him in St. George, we spent a day navigating out to the extreme western end of the Strip to visit the Grand Gulch Mine.
The mine, the old buildings, and huge 1930s vintage trucks that sit abandoned here serve as reminders of the kind of raw engineering might that made America so great. The open-shaft mine is off limits, but the Park Service and BLM encourage visitors to examine the relics that remain just as they were left 60 years ago when this mining camp was shut down. Look to your heart's content, but don't disturb anything and leave only your footprints behind.