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ADV NewsOn The Edge: Journey To The Remote North Rim Of The Grand Canyon

On The Edge: Journey To The Remote North Rim Of The Grand Canyon

Far from the crowds, on the other side of the chasm, lies an ADV Rider’s playground.

Published on 01.05.2022

It’s already getting dark, we’ve got at least 30 miles to get under our belts before camp, and I’ve lost my keys. Why good journeys so often begin with troublesome events I’ll never know, but I am learning to just roll with it. It’s cold, but I’m testing out some new Mosko Moto cold-weather gear. Fuel is a huge concern on the planned loop, but I’m on a KTM 390 Adventure, which would turn out to be far more fuel efficient than previously thought. In the end, the lesson learned, I suppose, is “don’t stress.” That makes for boring reading, however, so I’ll write about the stressors.

I’d ridden past the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada many times, but never through it. This area had been incorporated into the plan to conclude a previous ride, but time didn’t allow for it to be explored. In the end, that was perhaps fortuitous, as we now had more time to launch a different trip from this point, and extend things much further.

Adventure Ride on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

We reached the first campsite at Whitney Pocket just as darkness began to envelop the desert. Almost like he was pre-running for Christmas, Santa’s Reindeer Sleigh passed overhead (in the form of one of Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite trains) as we were setting up camp. Morning revealed some uniquely sculpted rock formations surrounding our campsite. Water shaping rock would become a main theme of this trip.


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Water shaping the earth is seen in obvious ways as canyons and other formations slowly form. However, unseen forces can be at work, until they’re seen — suddenly, and in grand fashion. In the early 1900’s, roughly six miles south of Whitney Pocket, a cowboy and some miners saw a large dust cloud spontaneously rise from the desert floor when the “Devil’s Throat” opened up. This massive sinkhole is the largest in the Gold Butte National Monument, and continues to widen as the perimeter erodes and further collapses.

Adventure Ride on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
Devil’s Throat | BLM Nevada

Before we could get to where the Colorado River is slowly sawing a portion of the United States in half, we would have to pass through several smaller crevasses. While less famous, some of the canyons between Gold Butte and the Grand Canyon might as well be minor trail celebrities themselves. Steep and rocky sections were more than sufficient to provide nearly any adrenaline-seeking adventure rider their fix for the afternoon.

Adventure Ride on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Most of this three-day loop would be on higher speed dirt roads. Some sandy washes are found near the Nevada/Arizona border, and some extremely rocky and eroded sections of road are encountered several miles beyond, cresting Elbow Canyon Pass. Riding up one of the first technical sections, the little KTM 390 Adventure felt surprisingly adept in spite of being so diminutive compared to the 1090R I’m more accustomed to. A later even more technical section, really put both bike and tires to the test. 

Adventure Ride on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
Adventure Ride on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Getting stuck on a ledge near the top meant a little clutch work and body English would be required to heft the machine all the way up the hill. Fortunately, just prior to the trip I installed a couple KTM PowerParts I recommend for anyone planning adventure touring on one of these machines: the rear luggage rack, and bar risers

The short chassis on the 390 results in a cramped cockpit when luggage is strapped to the back of the bike, without a rear rack to position it back further, but this add-on has both positive and negative aspects to it. Positioning luggage, in this case a set of Mosko Moto Reckless 40 panniers and Stinger 22 top bag, to the rear of the bike really opens the cockpit up, and you can get your body back over the seat when necessary. However, having that weight over the rear provides additional leverage behind the rear tire, so if the bike starts to swap, it really starts to swap! That said, it’s a necessary and very welcome compromise, one which made the riding experience much better. 

Adventure Ride on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Bar risers would be the second addition, depending on one’s height and build. At 5’ 11”, the extra one inch (30mm) of bar height and repositioned luggage made the 390 feel to me like a much bigger bike than it is (in a good way). KTM’s PowerParts skid plate is also a great option for anyone planning significant off road use. While not the most robust option out there, it offers optimal clearance and an acceptable level of protection for the typical sort of riding a 390 Adventure would see.

KTM 390 adventure ride the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Almost as quickly as we found ourselves in the most technical portion of the trip, the trail emptied out onto what would be the fastest and smoothest road of the trip. County Road Five is a broad dirt strip slicing through Mojave County, Arizona. The route keeps you on your toes with several 90-degree bends and the occasional sandy corner. Aside from endless huge vistas, not much is out here until one reaches the town of Mount Trumbull. Even then, there’s still not much out here.

Along the straight stretch of road leading to Mt. Trumbull, from a distance a schoolhouse can be seen. Completed in 1922, this school still remains oddly planted by itself in the middle of an otherwise empty field. Not just a school, this one-room structure also served as the town hall, church, and dance hall. As population in the area dwindled over time, use of the building waned, until finally ceasing in the late 1960s. The last full-time resident of Mt. Trumbull left in 1984, but the schoolhouse remained. Visitors today are greeted by a pristine structure, thanks to a reconstruction that was completed in October of 2001.

Adventure Ride on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
Adventure Ride on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

The western U.S. features a massive scar in its soil known as the Grand Canyon. It’s a very common destination. The stuff of rental RVs pulled over and spilling out road-weary travelers sucking on Big Gulps, sometimes more concerned with the next destination versus the present moment. Adventure motorcycling provides a very different avenue for experiencing otherwise “typical” destinations. Intentionally making arguably poor decisions to press on in spite of questionable fuel range numbers is sometimes a necessary part of this, but we’ll come back to that.

Investigating a campsite on the rim of the Grand Canyon around the Kanab Point area was the goal. There is nothing in the way of infrastructure between our starting point of Mesquite, Nevada to that spot, and distance to fuel would be just over 230 miles. We carried extra fuel, but unknown terrain meant fuel mileage was also unknown. Short shift and ride mellow whenever possible. Sure, right. These trails were fun. Once fuel warning lights started glowing, and we were still nearly 50 miles from camp, and at least another 30 miles from there to fuel, then we tried riding mellow.

KTM 390 adventure ride the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Our campsite right on the rim of the Grand Canyon was amazing, without a soul around (other than the cows) for miles. But I’ll jump ahead to the following day and finish the fuel saga portion first. At 150 miles into the day, the KTM 390’s fuel light came on, and stayed on for the remaining 50 miles into camp. From camp to the nearest (hopeful) gas station was estimated to be over 30 miles. We had extra fuel, but a thirsty Yamaha T7 and even more thirsty KTM 1190 Adventure R were along for the ride. How and where this extra fuel would be needed, and how long it would last, was a complete unknown. Don’t stress… we have three motorcycles. Worst case scenario, scavenge fuel from the other bikes and put into the most efficient one to send off and fetch fuel. Another nice aspect of adventure motorcycle camping — most anywhere you are is “home” if you decide it is.

KTM 390 Adventure North Rim of the Grand Canyon

For all the planning, none of it ended up being necessary for the 390. As the miles ticked off and the little bike kept thumping along, I kept waiting for a sputter and deceleration as the tank ran dry. The fuel light kept flashing as the tripometer kept climbing. 160 miles… 180 miles… 200 miles!? Somewhere past the double century mark the bike’s range read zero, and maintained that reading for many more miles. 232 miles. That’s what the tripometer indicated as the 390 pulled up for fuel, sipping on the last 1/10th of a gallon remaining from the original 3.8 gallons purchased two days prior.

Back to camp. I want to say the staggering view was the most impressive thing, and it might be, but in close competition for the spot of most memorable thing, was the cold. I don’t know how cold it got, nor did it matter because it would be even colder the following day. Fortunately, part of my duties on this trip was testing a bunch of Mosko Moto base layers, and a heated puffer jacket. Use of all the things allowed one’s mind to get back to taking in the view.

KTM 390 Adventure North Rim of the Grand Canyon

I’ve camped on the rim of the Grand Canyon before, but no place this massive. The views looking towards the South Rim are absolutely not what Robbie Knievel had in mind. Massive chunks of cliff wall tumbling into the canyon give the appearance of instability. A USGS survey marker from 1934 placed inches from the edge indicates this stability is more in geologic time than what we relate to in our lifetimes.

KTM 390 Adventure North Rim of the Grand Canyon
You’ll need a permit to camp within the Grand Canyon National Park boundaries.

Given the breathtaking experience at Kanab Point, the following day we opt to continue heading east along the North Rim. The Kaibab National Forest offers equally stunning canyon views and is higher up in elevation than where we traveled the previous few days, which gives it more of a woodland appearance rather than high desert.

KTM 390 Adventure North Rim of the Grand Canyon
KTM 390 Adventure North Rim of the Grand Canyon

While the view down into the canyon is the star here, we happened to look up and spot a celebrity, of sorts. Floating on updrafts and thermals, a massive pair of wings belonging to California Condor #23, known as “The Hero” of the California Condor Restoration Project, drew circles over our heads for several minutes, just as we arrived.

KTM 390 Adventure North Rim of the Grand Canyon
Number 23, known as “The Hero,” and his mate were the first condors released from captivity to successfully raise a chick on their own.

As good of a campsite as our present location was, we opted to use the remaining daylight to explore more of the area. Rapidly falling temperatures were contrasted by a large section of smoldering forest, apparently from a controlled burn. This blocked our path to Crazy Jug Point where we planned to camp that evening but luckily there were no shortage of camp spots and we had them all to ourselves with the area completely devoid of people during the off season.

KTM 390 Adventure North Rim of the Grand Canyon
KTM 390 Adventure North Rim of the Grand Canyon

After a few steep and rocky sections, the road eventually flattened out and led to Indian Hollow. The semi-improved campground was a welcome sight, as the fire rings are a reminder that campfires are permitted here. A short hike along a narrow trail up the depression ends at the Thunder River Trailhead. As comfy as my Alpinestar Toucan boots are, I decided to not do the 30 mile round trip hike down to the river. Fortunately, the trailhead is a destination unto itself. Cresting the rise, the mirror image of the grand view we had yesterday is revealed. Kanab Point can be seen looking across the huge gap of the Colorado River’s Kanab Creek Tributary.

KTM 390 Adventure North Rim of the Grand Canyon
KTM 390 Adventure North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Our ride was perfectly timed, so we hung out at the trailhead and watched the sunset paint and repaint the landscape. Almost the exact moment the horizon obscured the sun, the temperatures could be felt dropping. We headed back to camp, to get set up, and start collecting firewood. That evening, I lit up a tent candle before sleeping. What the actual heat output is I’m not sure, but at the very least there’s likely some psychological benefit to having a small flame glowing in a frigid environment. Whatever the case, between the little candle, my sleeping bag, and insert, the cold wasn’t an issue at all.

Others in our group opted for a much older method of dealing with the cold. Long before Jetboil stoves were a thing, many native American tribes would heat up rocks in a campfire until they’re red-hot, use a pair of green-wood sticks (tongs) to remove the rocks from the fire, and place them in water — nature’s Jetboil. The rocks will stay hot for quite a while, so allowing them to cool to sub-tent-melting temperatures, and placing them inside one’s tent can provide a heat source for several hours. The key part of this process is the use of “cooking stones” and not just any rocks. Rounded basalt stones are ideal, in that they can withstand the heating and rapid cooling process involved in going from a fire to cold water, or in our case, sub-freezing outside temperatures. This sudden change from a fire to cold air can cause some types of rock to explode, sending hot shards in all directions in your tent. Ask us how we know…

KTM 390 Adventure North Rim of the Grand Canyon
KTM 390 Adventure North Rim of the Grand Canyon

The following morning, the cold was an issue. Manipulating fasteners and straps with hands that felt like they ended at one’s wrists is difficult. When you pour some water for coffee, and can watch it freeze in real-time, you know it’s cold. Any hydration packs left outside were frozen solid. Those left inside and still liquid were difficult to use as the hoses would quickly freeze as soon as they were brought out of the tent. Firing up the bike, plugging in the Ectotherm jacket and setting it to broil, then doing a few photo passes was a welcome activity to get moving and warm up. 

KTM 390 Adventure North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Permanence is an illusion. One of those odd facts we all know, but often seem hesitant to accept. Witnessing massive examples of geologic time, and realizing they tell of beginnings and endings offers a visceral impression of time’s passing. A fleeting blip of a life is everything to the person living it, but the earth has been spinning for a long while, and witnessed a lot of folk traipsing over her surface. Roughly four score years versus 4.5 billion. If you could question an ancient blue orb spinning through darkness, what would you ask? Travel around a bit, and those questions sometimes reveal themselves. Just watch where you step. Big holes sometimes open up in the ground.

Photography by Ely Woody

Author: Jon Beck

Jon Beck is fulfilling a dream of never figuring out what to be when he grows up. Racing mountain bikes, competitive surfing, and touring as a musician are somehow part of what led Jon to travel through over 40 countries so far as an adventure motorcycle photographer, journalist, and guide. From precision riding for cameras in Hollywood, to refilling a fountain pen for travel stories, Jon brings a rare blend of experience to the table. While he seems happiest when lost in a desert someplace, deadlines are met most of the time.

Author: Jon Beck
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11 thoughts on “On The Edge: Journey To The Remote North Rim Of The Grand Canyon

    • Thanks for the feedback Scott. We are planning to put together a ride guide story of the area that will include a detailed map and GPX tracks.

  1. My father drove all over those trails and dirt roads in the early 1960s in a 1957 Chevy Nomad station wagon. Cars were very rugged back then.

  2. A fascinating recounting of your Northern Rim Grand Canyon adventure, when you had the vast expanse almost to yourselves! The Condor photo taken by Ely Woody is spectacular, and Jon Beck’s writing is always a treat!

  3. Would like to hear Jon Beck discuss his riding impressions(off-road, highway travel, etc) of the 390 in a future article. As always, enjoy every article on Adv Pulse! Thank you!

  4. I was camping at whitney pockets last week and rode trail loops as I was alone. The whole area is amazing. You guys did what I’ve wanted to since first “finding” gold butte and the Arizona Strip. Fabulous photos and great writing! A map course would be neat as I have not yet been able to get the route totally figured out. Thanks

  5. One noted modification to the 390 that wasn’t mentioned was the spoked wheel set. The stock alloy wheels would not be recommended for such an adventure ride as that. Unless this bike happens to be one of the new more off-road 390 (R?) model that come spoked wheels?

    • Another modification we did to my son’s 390 was to drop a tooth on the counter sprocket for the more technical rides.

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