Growing up I was one of those kids who thought “vacation” was just another word for a family reunion.
Specifically, family reunions in South Dakota. Beyond that I knew of Disney World and I knew of the Grand Canyon. As children, I think our travel goals are centered around big well known places or anywhere our parents are brave enough to take us. So boo-ya, I’m finally one down and still waiting for my parents to take me to Disney World.
For our visit to the Grand Canyon we decided to take on the two faces of the North and South Rims. Given the expanse of the canyon (277 miles long by up to 18 miles wide) we decided we needed several days and a break in between rims which would land us in Page, Arizona.
We began our trip on the South Rim, which based on sheer statistical data is the most popular side to visit. With around two dozen overlooks to choose from and plenty of visitor services it’s an easy and efficient way to see the Grand Canyon.
We parked our trailer in the Ten X campground just outside the Grand Canyon National Park limits. This meant we would be without internet, electricity and showers. So far, though we were “roughing” it in our trailer, we have had hookups (electric and water). This sacrifice meant we would be rewarded with a truer “camping” experience.
The South Rim turned out to be slightly convenient given the nearby town of Tusayan, but still we had the woods, campers far out of sight and during the night we could see the Milky Way. For the first time on our trip took I out my guitar, which says something since I normally play daily.
On our first evening we headed out to the popular Mather Point for sunset, which is walking distance from the visitor center. That initial glimpse was something straight out of my childhood fantasy, which I likely conjured from a hard back version of Wikipedia, aka the encyclopedia. Walking out onto the rim, peering into the craggy abyss and down to the canyon floor which is an actual mile below your feet, one feels truly small. The distance is daunting and you expect that when you lean over to get a better view someone more adultier than you would tell you to be careful and step back.
This feeling was ours, it felt singular, yet it was likely amplified by the fact that dozens of others within arm’s reach where having their own euphoric experience. I believe it’s called collective emotion and it is nearly inescapable along the South Rim. Over the next few days, the once pin prickling thought in our minds became a loud cry. Our national parks may have a crowd problem.
The next day we decided to venture below the rim, taking on the South Kaibab Trail down to the Cedar Ridge. This is a 3-mile round trip hike with 1,140 ft descent into the canyon. We departed the trailhead at 7 am with some light traffic, feeling pressure from the antsy hikers who were either going rim to rim, doing one of the longer day hikes or overnight hikes. This short hike option though is popular and can be completed with the aid of mules if you’d rather some help. We did not encounter this type of mammal traffic but saw several steaming signs.
The crowd seemed to spread out as we traveled down, which was a relief. This reminded me of race day, when the starting line carries an anxious buzz that eventually thins out after the first mile or so.
The weather was magnificent. It seemed like the perfect time of year to hike. We still had the gift of a full blue sky when the sun was high and the crisp air of the season kept us in our fleeces through our descent.
Once we made it to Cedar Ridge we had the lookout point to ourselves and spent nearly an hour scoping out the canyon and pointing out intricacies to each other. The canyon is known for its distinctive display of geological layers that tell the story of the how the earth was formed in this area. This was part of the gift left over from the carving of the canyon. Indeed, the earthly layers are distinct with rich shades of red and green. The color transformation under the movement of the sun makes the view truly a unique experience. I am guessing the canyon looks different with each season and constantly changes appearance throughout the day. The Grand Canyon may very well be the biggest diva in all the National Parks, she’s got so many outfits and they all look good.
The way back was like every piece of advice we received, it was 3 times harder than the way down. As Colorado kids we are used to getting the hard part over with first. In the Grand Canyon it is obviously in reverse. Just when you reach the goal you turn around and then the work begins. Nerd alert: mathematically speaking with a 1.5-mile hike (which is the hypotenuse) and a descent of 1,140 ft, the average slope is 14.5 percent. It’s a weird way to talk about hiking, given that it is never a constant slope, but none the less it indicates that it was a decent hike. When the hike was complete we knew what we were capable of. This meant that for the North Rim we wanted more; we wanted to go further.
For the rest of the day we grabbed our park maps and headed out to the Bright Angel overlook and a few other highlighted areas. This was a good chance for us to see the expanse of the visitor services including hotels, restaurants, gift shops, including Native American shops and ice cream parlors. Many of these services are provided with the aid of the Grand Canyon Association which is a nonprofit partner of the National Park Service that receives private funds to operate within the park. A side note but an important one I think.
Another feature of the park was the wildlife, mainly the elk. The most striking aspect was not that the elk or even that the big bulls were roaming consistently and openly in rather congested areas of the park, but that many of the humans that noticed where somehow enticed to creep up on them on foot. This would not be a situation that you want to learn the hard way and Matt was grateful for his zoom lens.
The next day we headed out of the canyon, garnering our final look from the South Rim in the morning light before heading to Page, Arizona. There was something for everyone I suppose and no wonder it was a childhood dream. I could have eaten ice cream while looking out onto one of the greatest natural wonders of the world.
A glimpse from the next piece: The North Rim
Nature nailed it. The Grand Canyon is not just a beautiful view; the canyon entices and tempts. In the Grand Canyon our limits of human sight are tested; look deeper and further. This may lead you to want to feel each layer below your feet; to get down to the roots…to the river; to walk the entire length; to see what lies in the shadows; to know what you are capable of. The rim of the Grand Canyon is euphoric and you may end up with a terrifying desire to learn everything you can.