The North Rim of the Grand Canyon rises 9,000 feet above the level of the sea. Where its multilayered walls of rock meet the sky, it flattens into a broad, tree-covered plateau that is known as the North Kaibab. Long ago the Piutes named this plateau Kaibabits (the Mountain Lying Down). It is a mountain—a 45-mile-long, 40-mile-wide flat-topped mountain—and on it is some of the richest, most productive, most scenic land in the Southwest. On it, too, is some of the finest deer hunting to be found in the U.S.
Each year millions of people travel through the Kaibab National Forest, which stretches 125 miles from north to south, spanning the Grand Canyon itself. They get their kicks on Route 66 or Highways 64 or 89, and some even take the Santa Fe.
They fish at Cataract Stream and Thunder River, pitch tents in the shadow of the Mogollon Rim, and hike to places with way-out names like Point Sublime and Bright Angel. But only a handful of them ever really see the best of the place—the North Kaibab in the glorious, golden, game-filled autumn when the plateau is peopled by deer and the tourists have all gone home.
The plateau is only part of the 1.7-million-acre forest, which is actually three separate forests. One section is north of Grand Canyon National Park and the other two lie south of the park, where winter never fully moves in and the tourists never fully move out. Cactus, yucca, sage, agave and snakeweed, the spiny lizard and desert sparrow are all common here, typical of Arizona and the Southwest. But just across the great canyon, 10 miles away, is the world of the North Kaibab, which belongs to no geographic region so easily pinpointed on a chart.
The North Kaibab is a remarkable conglomerate forest of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir, blue spruce and aspen, brightened in summer by forget-me-nots, whitened in winter by deep drifts of snow.
In late autumn, when the first snows begin to fall on the plateau, the sketchy network of roads that traverses the North Kaibab closes. The game moves down from the high places into warm havens where the woods stay green and fresh. But just before this time, in mid-October, when the plateau is a palette of bronze and yellow, the deer linger on in the high land, as if savoring the last sweet succulence of summer.
The hunters who venture into the North Kaibab in autumn are a hardy lot. They come in jeeps, pickups, trailers and turtlebacks, equipped with chains, shovels and bags of sand, ever mindful of the imminent snow that, without warning, can strand them deep within the forest. They stop first at Jacob Lake, where Routes 89 and 67 meet. This is the last outpost of civilization within the North Kaibab.
At Jacob Lake there is a combination grocery, hardware, gas station, post office, curio shop, drugstore and meeting hall, where everybody pauses to add some forgotten item to the larder or merely to check on who has been through, who is expected through or who is already there. There is even a telephone at this marvelous place—the number is Jacob Lake 1—but the phone doesn't always work. Occasionally, after cranking its rusting handle several dozen times, contact is made with the operator, but she usually cannot hear a word being said. When a message is repeated with increasing volume, the hunters, sitting around the store in their laced boots and plaid lumber jackets, halt their conversations and listen attentively, so the call is not a total loss.
Outside, dozens of notes are stuck to a big wooden board with tacks and nails and pieces of chewing gum. In neatly printed letters and crayoned scrawls they convey such vital though unofficial information as "Joe, Camped at Wildhorse. Follow trail 279"; "Larry S. Bring ice"; "For sale. Winchester Model 70, .308 Cheap"; "Anyone knowing the whereabouts of Prescott party, contact ranger"; "Ed, don't forget whiskey."
It is a good place not to forget anything, because there is only wilderness beyond Jacob Lake and the official check station that is located there. Hunters passing this point must show a special permit to a ranger at the station, where they are then registered, given a detailed map of the region, advice on what areas are currently accessible or inaccessible, a mimeographed set of forest rules containing the usual admonitions about campfires and a bit of dubious poetry about cleanliness.