USA 2018 Part 3 – The Grand Canyon

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The Grand Canyon. Maybe it should be called the F-ing Massive Canyon. Because that’s what it was. After crossing the state border and another long drive through the Kaibab National Forest, steadily climbing altitude to around 7000 feet, I was giddy with excitement to be camping on the South Rim for two nights. We were finally at one of my all-time bucket list destinations.

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Kaibab National Forest – Courtesy of the Armchair Explorer

Our first evening at the canyon was spent driving along the various viewpoints along Desert View drive. Stopping at Navajo and Lipan points on the way to our campsite, we were immediately awestruck at the sheer scale of the canyon – a rugged scar etched across the landscape as far as the eye could see in every direction, with the Colorado River coursing through miles below. The whole time birds of prey coursed the sky looking for food. Nature at its finest.

What a view, featuring Emily

We set up at Mather campsite and shopped for supplies (aka stuff to make s’mores and beer) before heading back out to Grandview point to catch our first canyon sunset – soaking it in as the canyon went from orange to red, to purple and finally into black. Crowds were with us as the sun dipped out of view, but quickly dispersed before dusk settled into night. I would recommend staying a bit after sunset to really soak in one of nature’s most dramatic spectacles alone (or even better – in private with that special someone).

The canyon goes through a total transformation of colour at night

After a night spent grilling brats and toasting s’mores around the campfire, shared with ravens and giant elk, we woke up early (who doesn’t after camping?), had breakfast in the woods and got ready for our day hike into the canyon.  We took the South Kaibab Trail, before the sun was too high in the sky. Our early views were spectacular, and we quickly reached Ooh Ahh Point, before powering on down to Cedar Ridge.

Just one of the many elk that we shared our campsite with

The plateau is incredible and whetted our appetite to see more of the amazing landscape, so feeling fresh we hiked out to Skeleton Point to see the river coursing through the canyon. The hike down remained easy enough, even with the sky climbing higher in the sky. Finally reaching Skeleton Point (some three miles down and into the canyon) we took a well-deserved rest, ate some trail mix and sat in silence. True silence. Not another sound could be heard that deep into the canyon. The river snaked in the distance. As far as the eye could see in every direction – up, down, left, right – red rock jutted out, baking in the sun. It was otherworldly.

The inner canyon – sunbaked rock desert. Possibly martian?

Hiking back up was another story. Once we were finished at Skeleton Point we headed back to Cedar Ridge to have a picnic. The trip down probably totalled around an hour and a half. Going back up took the rest of the morning, going into the afternoon. About a mile from the rim and trailhead we even ran out of water, still with around 700 feet to climb. Parched we eventually reached the rim and trailhead, refilled our water and headed back to camp. The Park Rangers warn against hiking to the river and back in a day – I can see why!

Such a view – hiking back up the canyon

As beautiful as the viewpoints around the rim were, our appreciation of the Grand Canyon on this trip stems from this hike. Hiking at times is a cathartic experience. There is something about pushing your body that extra mile to achieve something different, something special, that really appeals to me. No pain, no gain. Sharing that with Emily is so important to me. As far as couple goals go, it’s pretty gnarly.

There is nothing we couldn’t take on as a team

We spent the last of the afternoon enjoying some beers in the sun, before catching the sunset bus to Hopi Point along the Hermits Rest Route. We had been informed that Hopi Point was the best place along the South Rim to see the sunset – of course around 400 other people had been told that too. Managing to find a spot we dangled our feet over the edge and watched the majesty of nature play out in front of us. That sunset was a moment I will never forget. From Hopi point you can see the sun disappear behind the North Rim and the eastward stretch of the South Rim gradually change colour to black, like a sliding scale, as far as the eye can see. A memorable final night in the canyon.

Hopi Point, as the sun began to set

Waking up early again we had a brief trip to the Desert View Watchtower to see some Hopi art – well worth a visit if you are lucky enough to visit the South Rim. Unfortunately, maintenance work meant we couldn’t climb all the way up the tower, but I have enough photos and memories of the Grand Canyon to last a lifetime. So, climbing back into the car we left the park and began the next leg of our journey. The long drive to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Watch this space!

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Hopi art at the Desert View Watchtower