It’s been a few days since we’ve returned from our trip to the Grand Canyon, and I still don’t really know how to write about it. I had been there before on a family trip when I was in elementary school, but I don’t remember much of the canyon itself (though I do remember waking up in what felt like the middle of the night in the freezing cold to drive on to our next destination!) Walking up to the canyon edge with Charlie, our eyes carefully trained on the ground so one of us wouldn’t see it before the other, was something I’ll never forget.
We left early on Saturday for the five hour drive. Everything we’ve seen of Arizona so far has been all desert, and we were really surprised when we started driving through pine forests with a few inches of snow on the ground. We learned that once you cross over the rim of the Colorado Plateau, the landscape changes dramatically. It was really nice to see something other than dirt and rock!
After Flagstaff, we drove through two national forests before we arrived at Grand Canyon National Park. We pulled up to Mather Point, the first accessible viewpoint. And what do you know? Some family was there too!
We refrained from yelling a big “War Eagle!” to see who would turn around and headed out to the rim. Like I mentioned, we held hands and both kept our eyes on our feet before counting to three and looking up together. Then we just started laughing. It was an incredible sight and we couldn’t believe we were actually here!
(Charlie’s first picture with the canyon – he was a lot more excited than he lets on here!)
We took a ton of pictures at this viewpoint, then headed to the visitor’s center to watch a film about how the canyon was formed and learn more about how tourism at the canyon developed. It was a good way to orient ourselves to the rest of the trip. We checked into Maswick Lodge (about 1/4 mile from the rim) and then got back in the car to drive along Desert View Road which features various lookout areas.
We spent the rest of the afternoon driving the 25 miles of Desert View, pulling over every few minutes to see how the view had changed. It was amazing how many new things you could see in the canyon just by moving down the road a mile or so. In some places we could see the Colorado River, while in others it was completely hidden. Some featured wide, sweeping views of the inner canyon while other views were narrowed by gorgeous views of the canyon walls. I kind of lost track of which pictures were taken at which view point (as well as what particular plateaus, buttes, etc. we were looking at). It was a little overwhelming to try to keep up with the details, so we just focused on soaking it in. (Sorry overly-detailed guide book writers!)
When we reached the end of Desert View, it was nearing sunset. There’s a stone tower at the end of the road that offers really great views, as well as a little gift shop, and we hung around there waiting for the light to change a little. On our way back to our lodge for dinner, we pulled over and experienced our first canyon sunset.
Watching the light play on the colors of the canyon walls was breathtaking. There are so many reds and golds in the rock layers, and they really come alive in the various light throughout the day. The lower light also made it easier to perceive the depth of the canyon as the shadows helped outline various things that had looked so flat in the mid-day sun. It was gorgeous!
We had a great dinner at another lodge called Bright Angel and got to bed early since we’d be getting up to see the sun rise. Now it was cold our entire trip, with the high each day hovering around 40 degrees. But it was cold in the pre-dawn hour when we headed out to a spot on Desert View to watch the sun come up. However, if we were feeling less than happy, coming across a herd of elk on the roadside remedied the situation quickly! Charlie had been hoping to see elk at some point on our trip, and I kept saying, “stop the car so I can take a picture for you!” while he yelled out, “No! You want to see the sunrise and we’re almost going to miss it!” He won since he was driving, which means no pictures of our first elk sighting.
This made up for it though:
Snow was forecasted for the next day, and the incoming front’s clouds made for a beautiful sunrise. It was really interesting to watch the sun come up at the same spot where we’d watched it set the night before and see how the shadows changed.
We headed back to Bright Angel lodge for a quick hot chocolate and cinnamon roll, then spent the morning driving to the viewpoints on Hermit Road. The park’s lodges where we stayed are on a middle point along the rim, with Desert View road heading out in one direction and Hermit Road going in another. Hermit Road is only six miles, but it offered some of the best sweeping views of the inner canyon. We were also among only a handful of people out that morning and it felt special to be able to take in the views on our own in the quiet.
We had planned on hiking down the South Kaibab trail that afternoon, which would have taken us about three miles into the canyon and back. But it became really clear that we just didn’t have the right gear and we’d be foolish to try it. A park ranger told us that all the trails were still iced over, and he looked at us like we were idiots for asking if he thought we could do it in our regular shoes. So, with no crampons or hiking poles, we had to give up the hike. We will be back though! Hiking below the rim is definitely a dream of ours, and we will do it while we’re out west!
We spent our now free afternoon touring some of the lodges and learning a little about the community that’s within the canyon. Several of the buildings were designed by architect Mary Coulter, who worked to make them seem as if they were coming up from out of the canyon itself. We enjoyed our lazy afternoon of wandering from the rim to the fireplaces and back again.
As the sun was getting lower, we headed over to Hopi Point. Hopi is considered one of the best viewpoints for the sun set and we were lucky to beat the crowd. Although it was cold, there was nowhere else we’d rather be. As our hands and toes nearly froze off, we were giggling like little kids thinking, “Ya know…just the Duffields…watching the sun set over the Grand Canyon!”
We saw more elk on the way back to the lodge, and this time we were able to stop and watch them for a minute. They were huge and definitely the icing on the cake of a great day. The next morning we set off again for another gorgeous sunrise before moving on to our next adventure, the Hopi reservation to the east. I’ll post more about that, as well as details on the incredible hotel we stayed at and our visit to the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, tomorrow.
In the meantime, here’s our last picture with the canyon – though we will be back! You hear me South Kaibab trail??