POINT SUBLIME

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Midway along the North Rim, at the end of a rough and lonely 18-mile road, a peninsula known as Point Sublime juts out into the Grand Canyon, offering the few visitors willing and able to make the trek there a magnificent panorama of the great gorge. Though the majesty of the Canyon at this vantage point invites visitors to explore below the rim, and though Boucher Rapids are visible below, there are no trails into the Canyon or leading to the river here. Point Sublime is a destination unto itself.

Clarence Dutton set the climax to his 1882 Tertiary History at Point Sublime, using it as the place from which he summarized the geologic evolution of the Canyon and described the passage of a scenic day. The choice of this spot was not coincidental, for as Stephen Pyne claims, other points may have special features, “But Sublime has everything, and it has it all the time. It is the universal Canyon overlook…At Sublime the Kaibab becomes vanishingly small. The Rim is reduced to an infinitesimal presence, like a mathematical point. You see the Canyon as though suspended over the brink. The sweep of the Canyon matches the sweep of the sky….At Point Sublime, there is only the Canyon, and a Beyond—an enormous tableland that stretches to mountains that appear blue and purple along empty horizons beneath an endless sky” (Pyne 1989: 248).

Highslide JSThis panoramic image of Point Sublime by William Henry Holmes was one of several included in Clarence E. Dutton’s 1882 publication Tertiary History of the Grand Canon District.

Credit: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

When the NPS first took over the Grand Canyon in 1919, administrators believed that it was imperative to construct a road to Point Sublime as part of a North Rim scenic drive. Thanks to Dutton, the point was long known as one of the most scenic spots of this side of the Canyon. At the turn of the 20th Century, Thomas McKee led tours from his wife’s Wylie Way Camp to Point Sublime as one of the highlights of his guided trip. However, for many years the only way to reach it was by a wagon path worn down by cowboys and these early tourists as NPS funds and attention were focused elsewhere.

In 1924, the NPS build the first road to Point Sublime to help fight forest fires, but it was not much of an improvement. However, the amazing views offered at the point continued to attract so many tourists that the NPS made an agreement with the Forest Service that its entire 18 mile length would be included in the park’s boundaries in 1927. Two years later, Superintendent Miner Tillotson realized that the popularity of the path meant that he had to add it to his road crew’s regular maintenance schedule. The road was narrow, bumpy, and had no proper drainage, so in 1930-31 day laborers worked to reduce grades, straighten curves, install culverts, and clear ditches. Park administrators also made plans to add primitive campgrounds, completed in 1931, at the point to accommodate the growing number of visitors to the park. Although crews continued to conduct minor maintenance on the road to Point Sublime throughout the decade, it was never formally upgraded to automotive standards. It was not until the Mission 66 years that plans were made for a paved and graded gravel road to Point Sublime. This road was built atop the original to help avoid causing more environmental damage.

Today the road leading from the developed area of Bright Angel Point to Point Sublime is still unpaved, and the NPS recommends that visitors trying to reach it should use high-clearance, four wheel drive vehicles. Point Sublime is the westernmost of the North Rim viewpoints accessible by vehicle. In recent years many wildfires have burned through this area, sometimes temporarily closing down the access road. Camping is possible but requires backcountry permits. Although it takes two hours by vehicle to reach this remote point, those who have visited it before would likely tell you: the view is well worth it.


point sublime

Arizona State University Art Professor Mark Klett talks about his work piecing together historic and contemporary paintings and photographs into a composite view from Point Sublime, Grand Canyon.  Klett worked on this composite with his photography colleague Byron Wolfe.  Interviewed by Paul Hirt, ASU.

 


written by sarah bohl gerke


Suggested reading:

  • Anderson, Michael F. Living at the Edge: Explorers, Exploiters and Settlers of the Grand Canyon Region. Grand Canyon Association, 1998.
  • Krutch, Joseph Wood. Grand Canyon: Today and All Its Yesterdays. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.