Back On The Road: Grand Canyon National Park

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After taking a long winter off, I am back on the road, and my first stop was a return to Grand Canyon. When I was there last year with friends, I was still making up my mind about hiking, but this year I returned with big ambitions.

Every road trip begins the same way: I wake up feeling tired and not ready for an adventure. My only hesitation is ever right at the beginning. I got on the road and arrived at Grand Canyon before sunset. This time I knew where I was going and didn’t have to ask a stranger to point me in the right direction. I always wonder about people first coming across Grand Canyon, because the wilderness that surrounds it is non-descript, and you can stand fifty feet from the canyon and not know it’s there. After an elk sighting in the parking lot, I walked to Mather Point.

I hope that no matter how many times I see Grand Canyon, it always shocks me. I had the same “Oh my God” moment as the first time I saw it. The sun was getting low and the color was beautiful. I stood and stared, took fifty pictures that all looked the same, and watched as other people took in the sight. The most common thing I heard people say was, “It looks like a painting.”

The next morning I set out on my first big hike: a return to Bright Angel Trail. Last year the girls and I hiked to 3-Mile Resthouse and back. I knew I wanted to go further than that, but left my turnaround point undecided. The top of the trail was crowded with people, but I moved through them quickly. As many signs warn, going down is the easy part. I passed the 3-Mile Resthouse and kept going. When I reached Indian Garden, where I thought I might turn around, I was already on flat ground inside the canyon, so I decided to hike all the way to Plateau Point.

I had been feeling really good up until that point, and couldn’t imagine a flat hike to a plateau would be a challenge, but it is much hotter inside the canyon and there was no longer any shade. When I arrived at Plateau Point, there was no one around. There was only flat rocks and a small section of railing. I walked up to the railing and got my first peek at the Colorado River. It felt really special to be there alone, so I sat at the edge with my legs hanging over, and watched the rafters down below.

Almost immediately after beginning my way back, I started to feel the heat. I’d hiked six miles by that point and had six much harder miles ahead of me. The small throat problem I’d been dealing with suddenly felt like strep in the dry air, and I was worried about running out of water. The short hike back to Indian Garden, where my only view was the huge canyon walls I had yet to hike, was dark in my mind, but as soon as I croaked a hello to the backpackers there and kept hiking, I started feeling much better.

I stopped to rest dozens of times on my out of the canyon. My throat was so sore that I had a hard time getting food and water down. My feet were in pain and I felt like someone who had been out in the sun all day. But despite all that, I remained in good spirits until the last mile when things started looking grim again, and it seemed like only a miracle would get me to the top. When I finally made it, I felt like I no longer had anything in common with the people standing at the rim admiring the view. They didn’t know what I had just been through!

The only casualty of that first day was my voice. Once I was out of the air and drinking hot water, my throat started feeling better, but my voice was barely there. It was a weird thing to be traveling alone and not have a voice; there was no one I had to speak to, but there was also no one to speak for me. My legs were sore and my feet were blistered, but they recovered quickly.

I got a slow start the next morning, and that made me rethink my plans for another long hike. This time I wanted to take on South Kaibab Trail, which is a steeper trail into the canyon. I had secret ambitions of hiking the whole 14.5 mile trail, but the 12 miles I’d hiked the previous day had been hard enough and that was on an easier trail. I decided to hike slowly and see how far I got. Instead of hiking down into the canyon as quickly as possible, as I had on Bright Angel Trail, I took my time.

South Kaibab Trail is beautiful. If you only have time for one hike in Grand Canyon, I’d recommend it over Bright Angel Trail. The first section is switchbacks down the canyon wall, but then the trail takes you out into the canyon. The first stop is Ooh Aah Point, but it was crowded, so I continued on down to Cedar Ridge, a large open area with beautiful views and many tired hikers hiding under every small tree. I debated turning around there, but decided to continue on to Skeleton Point. Much like Plateau Point, there was a view of the Colorado River and I had the place to myself.

The hike back out was even more beautiful. There is so much of the canyon you cannot see without hiking. I was amazed that it looked like a different place from every angle. Though it had been crowded earlier, the trail was quiet on my way back up, and I stopped to take in Ooh Aah Point.

The next morning, I returned to say goodbye to Grand Canyon, wondering when I might see it again (next time I hope to do some backpacking). Then I drove home to California for a few days of real life before hitting the road again.

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