Grand Canyon's Roaring Springs, Art in Water

An arduous yet beautiful hike down the North Kaibab Trail, is one of the North Rim's awe-inspiring attractions - the source of drinking water in the canyon
A bridge spans Upper Roaring Springs Canyon on the North Kaibab Trail near the North Rim. Photo by Whit Richardson

A bridge spans Upper Roaring Springs Canyon on the North Kaibab Trail near the North Rim. Photo by Whit Richardson

Roaring Springs, an arduous yet beautiful 4.7 mile hike down the North Kaibab trail, is one of the North Rim's awe-inspiring attractions. It is also a vital source of water, providing drinking water for every visitor and resident within Grand Canyon National Park. The park's new water bottle filling stations provide free, Grand Canyon spring water from Roaring Springs.

The pump house is the vehicle for the precious water that shoots out of the Bright Angel Shale and supplies the canyon with its pristine and pure water source. The water is delivered to the South Rim via a pipeline buried beneath the North Kaibab Trail (installed 1965-1970). You can see this amazing pipeline as it stretches across the Colorado River on the underside of the Bright Angel Trail's Silver Bridge.

Historic photo of the Trans-canyon Pipeline shortly after installation in 1965. Photo by NPS Dan Cockrum

Historic photo of the Trans-canyon Pipeline shortly after installation in 1965. Photo by NPS Dan Cockrum

Artist in Residence at the Pumphouse

Bruce Aiken, the artist in the canyon, used the pumphouse for over 30 years. You cannot talk about the inner canyon, its beauty, Roaring Springs or the pump house with mentioning this legendary canyon-dweller. Although this brief interlude about Aiken is only a slight deviation from the context of my focus here, I feel that it is important to mention his unique lifestyle and profound contribution to the Roaring Springs experience.

Roaring Springs Waterfall along North Kaibab Trail. Photo by Whit Richardson

Roaring Springs Waterfall along North Kaibab Trail. Photo by Whit Richardson

My first adventure into the canyon I had Aiken's stories painted on the back of my mind as I hiked down passed the pump house, wanting to gain first-hand experience about the man who became a new-age legend of the Grand Canyon. He and his wife raised their children at the bottom of the canyon and while he tended to the pump house operations, he utilized his skill as an artist to interpret the canyon through his paintbrush.

Roaring Springs and the Kaibab Plateau

Water seeps, in unremitting effort, into the layers of rock formation starting at the rim of the canyon while forming an alluring attraction and vital water source: Roaring Springs. This effortless beauty is supported by the Kaibab Plateau, which underpins the North Rim as well as the Kaibab Forest while reaching heights of 9,200 feet in elevation.

Roaring Spring in Grand Canyon

Roaring Spring in Grand Canyon

Because of its high elevation, the plateau receives abundant amounts of rain during monsoon season and snowfall during the winter season. As the plateau absorbs the moisture, it seeps deep into the earth, penetrating the multiple layers that are displayed intricately through the walls of the canyon.

Some layers, while beautiful and blissful, cannot be penetrated by the moisture, creating intense pressure on the rock formation. The moisture sinks itself into thousands of feet of rock layers until it reaches the Muav Limestone. It cannot penetrate through the next layer of Bright Angel Shale and the mouth of Roaring Springs becomes the pressure point.

The continuous moisture can no longer defy the force of gravity as the walls of shale and limestone burst. Through the shale, the ponderosa pines and the canyon walls, protrudes Roaring Springs, the canyon's source of water. Of course it took thousands of years for the buildup to creep down into the crevices between the limestone and the shale and it takes thousands of years for that crisp, clear water to spit itself out of the mouth of Roaring like a caged beast (my speculation for the name).

One of my favorite day hikes into the canyon is a brisk excursion down to Roaring Springs. However, once you arrive at the springs, it is always a brutal and challenging hike over the spring-fed creek to the "bath tubs," where endless pools of chilled, crisp water await my tired and debilitated bones.

Being the structured person I am, I have a very strict routine. After teetering on the unsteady shale that overlooks a 30-foot drop into the water and then navigating my way through the fallen trees and finally hop-scotching across riverbed boulders and sliding down mossy slopes, I celebrate my arrival with a quick undress of clothes and a hesitant jump into the frigid waters fed by the mouth of the springs.

Brrrr never felt so refreshing!

For those of us who have the opportunity to hike through the layers and experience the first-hand marvel, we can appreciate the intricate significance of this water source and the beauty it adds to the canyon experience.

As your tired feet make their way across the Redwall Bridge, three miles into the canyon, without the disturbance of voices from down below, if you listen closely, you can hear the ferocity of the springs flowing over the shale and spitting itself into the canyon.

And as your thoughts become lost in the allure of the lush, clear waters that burst through the upper canyon walls, remember, the water that flows at your feet in a clear pool, smoothing itself over the rocks is perfect, pristine, untainted and aged to perfection.


Thunder Spring Falls. Photo by Whit Richardson

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Hikers on South Kaibab Trail. Photo by Whit Richardson

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