December 2 day trip to Marble Canyon, Arizona
Our next day trip has been rescheduled for December 2 to Marble Canyon, Arizona. If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit Marble Canyon, it is an incredibly beautiful spot at the beginning of the Grand Canyon near Lee’s Ferry. Our plan is to arrive at 9:00am with a very short walk to the Navajo Bridge (which spans the Colorado River). Condors nest in the walls below the bridge and its great fun to watch the river rafters pass below. There is also an Navajo Bridge Interpretive Visitors Center as well as some souvenir shops. The Marble Canyon Lodge includes a restaurant which opens at 11:00am for lunch. We’ll plan to eat at 11:00am and depart afterwards.
- Planned arrival time at Marble Canyon airport (L41) is 9:00am.
- We'll take a short walk down to the Navajo Bridge which spans the Colorado River. Great views of the river and the rafters that are launching from Lee's Ferry.
- There's a Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center and Antelope Canyon Interpretive Market near the bridge for everyone to enjoy.
- The Marble Canyon restaurant opens at 11:00am and we'll have an early lunch and then return to Phoenix.
- Anyone planning to attend should read the airport and airspace information in the October APA newsletter as part of your fight planning. There are interesting and unique airspace requirements.
The APA newsletter in June, 2018 published a very detailed and well written article about Marble Canyon including flight information. Rather than recreate the same information, I’ve included portions of that article (below) for those thinking about making the flight. The airspace around Marble Canyon Airport (L41) is part of the Grand Canyon protected airspace (SFRA) so flying into L41 does require some study and attention by each pilot.
Excerpts from APA’s June, 2018 article about flying into Marble Canyon:
Marble Canyon is an incredibly unique location, smack dab in the Grand Canyon. While the majority of the Grand Canyon is off-limits to lower-level flight without a tour operator permit, approach and departure from the Canyon’s few airports is exempted from the Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA). The airport is strategically located within walking distance of the Navajo Bridge in the Glen Canyon National Monument and just down river from Lees Ferry.
Marble Canyon was placed on the map back in the 1870’s. Settlers from Utah began to cross into Arizona and found the Colorado River nearly impassable. In 1927, construction of what is now known as Navajo Bridge was begun. In 1929, the bridge was opened as the highest steel arch bridge in the world and was a welcomed with a festive celebration.
As vehicles became larger and the bridge aged over the following 60+ years, planning for a larger bridge began. In 1993, construction started on a new and wider bridge only feet away from the existing bridge with nearly the same style. In 1995, the new bridge opened and is now the primary means of crossing the Colorado River on AZ 89a. The original bridge is still open, but only to pedestrian traffic. These bridges offer breathtaking views of the river 500 feet below with sheer cliffs opposing each bank.
While the Navajo Bridge alone is worth the visit, the Marble Canyon Lodge is a great hub for activities and food. It doubles as a resting point on AZ 89a with a gas station, trading post, hotel and restaurant. Though the airstrip records date prior to 1959, the history of the airstrip is not clear.
Navigating to L41 is straightforward, though there are some airspace considerations. It lies approximately 190NM North of Phoenix. The Sunny MOA lies between Flagstaff and Marble Canyon, so it is imperative to remain vigilant for low-level military flights. Additionally, the southeastern boundary of the Grand Canyon SFRA comes within 3 1/2 miles of the Sunny MOA, leaving a relatively narrow corridor to transit North. Again, vigilance for traffic is vital.
Though the SFRA generally prohibits operations within 3000’ AGL, exceptions are made for takeoffs and landings to the Canyon airports. Specifically noted on the Grand Canyon VFR Aeronautical Chart, “Landings/Take-off operations below 3000’ above airport elevation within 3NM of the airport are authorized by the 14 CFR section 93”. L41 is included.
Arriving from the South, the terrain gently slopes upwards to about 6700’ MSL before abruptly dropping near vertically to form the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. L41 sits at 3600’ MSL, and because of its location within the SFRA and the above-stated 3NM rule for altitude, the descent will be brisk. Because of the canyon wall, there may be significant updrafts or downdrafts in the vicinity of the wall. Runway 3/21 is on a 1.3° gradient with the approach end of Runway 21 being the high point. The runway is 3715’ x 35’ and has been recently resurfaced. While the pavement is in good condition, the underlying surface is bumpy. Approaches are typically made on Runway 03 due to the upslope. The terrain before and after the runway is not suitable for over or underruns, so pilots should become proficient in go-around procedures. Also, the elevation of the airport combined with Arizona summers leads to significant density altitude considerations.
Once on the field, taxi to the far end of Runway 3 for tie downs. There is room for several aircraft both on the ramp, or pushed back onto the surrounding dirt. Keep in mind, this area is used as a turnaround for charter and tour aircraft, so push back as far as possible. There is no FBO and no fuel available on the field. Page (PGA) is only 13NM Northeast and has fuel available. A short walk across the street brings you to the Marble Canyon Lodge for food and supplies. There are $5 and $10 landing/tie-down fees for singles and twins, respectively. $5 allows for a helicopter. Some pilots report the fee is waived with a food purchase, but others report having paid the fee.
Aircraft departure is typically down Runway 21. This allows for a downhill departure. Of course, best judgement is needed for prevalent winds and traffic. Keep in mind, the SFRA altitude restrictions on departure. Depending on aircraft performance, a gentle climbing spiral over the airport may be necessary to clear the canyon walls without exceeding the 3NM distance from the airport. Again, use best judgement.