There is a risk that this post might get a little buttery. Maybe even a little emotional. This post is not only a travelogue about the Grand Canyon, but also a small life story about how a national park in Arizona could have such a big place in my life.
It's been 16 years since I was in Arizona for the first time. We had rented the cheapest car we could find in Los Angeles. A big, impractical, boring and fuel-guzzling car. The car suited our small travel budget and had free miles. We had no greater demands than that. With this car we went on a road trip in California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah without really having a plan. We collected hotel coupons in paper brochures at the gas stations and called the hotels around on payphones hunting for available rooms. Sometimes we would grab our $25 vouchers and live for a living. Sometimes it got expensive. Over $50 a night we had to pay some nights. A disaster for our travel budget at the time.
One of the few stops we had planned on this unplanned trip, was the Grand Canyon. We had a plan. Although we thought that this visit would be a memory of a lifetime, we probably didn't really understand what the Grand Canyon would give us. "The big canyon" wouldn't be that big and grandiose, would it? It was probably just a tourist trap. Think how wrong we were.
The Grand Canyon is a destination that many Americans have as a "once in a lifetime" place to visit. People go here to experience the magnificence of their homeland, in a place far from the noise of the city and the rolling waves of the coast. Although close to 6 million tourists visit the Grand Canyon each year, it's easy to find your own little peaceful spot at the rim of the canyon. You only need to walk a short distance from the national park headquarters to escape all the noise.
We were actually a bit taken aback to encounter the Grand Canyon. This wrinkled landscape, with its steep edges and dramatic cracks. So barren, so beautiful and so intense. A little superhuman. A little alien. That first time we were at the Grand Canyon, we almost forgot the purpose of the visit itself. You know the feeling when you take a deep breath to try to inhale the whole experience in all its little molecules. I remember closing my eyelids as if to "photograph" the whole experience in my memory. Like an analog camera.
Somewhere there and then in this magical moment, the clocks and time stopped and everything around us fell silent. Like in a movie, we exchanged rings and promised each other to be the two of us. Somewhere on the rim of the Grand Canyon, it became us for real. We against the world. In the most beautiful place in the world.
We didn't stay very long at the Grand Canyon this time. The closest available accommodation we found was in Las Vegas. 45 miles away. So we left this magical moment behind and stomped on the carpet to Vegas, determined to return one day. To our own little place on earth – our Grand Canyon.
Time passed and the two of us became three. The Grand Canyon was always in the back of our minds when we talked about driving in the US. Maybe it was time for our daughter to visit "our" place? This time, however, we had a slightly different travel budget and this time we knew we needed to plan more time in the national park. This time we would hike a bit and also stop to watch the sunset.
The July heat was merciless when we got to "our" place this time. The car thermometer showed 35 degrees. Walking down the even hotter ravine with your daughter on a day like this would not qualify for the top of the list for responsible parenting. It had to be a walk along the edge of the canyon instead - along the Rim Trail.
We started hiking the 2 mile trail along the edge of the canyon at the South Rim. Would we find "our" place again? The place I had tried to photograph in memory years before?
During the summer months, torrential downpours and thunderstorms are not uncommon at the Grand Canyon, but we were still a little surprised when dark clouds suddenly rolled in from the north. We could see the lightning strike at the North Rim and the deafening rumble echoed between the edges of the cliff. Neither of us gave much thought to the fact that we were actually standing on the highest edge of the canyon in a treeless area, but rather we stood still and contemplated the spectacle. The storm was so far away. Or was it really? The lightning came closer. A raindrop hit the hand. In just a few seconds the storm blew in with full force. Sometimes a hike turns into an unexpected leap.
A small squirrel was sitting on a wall at the edge of the ravine, nibbling on a leftover treat. She darted to the ledge below us and sat down on the edge, surveying the landscape. Can a little squirrel enjoy its surroundings just like us humans? At least it looked like this little squirrel was enjoying himself.
We hiked past Mather Point, the viewpoint with the angular boulders. We saw several people defying fences and common sense to get that perfect shot. Think how much has happened with the development of technology since we were last here. When we were here in 2003, smart phones and social media and Instagram did not exist. Then we photographed with an analog system camera and a small digital camera with a maximum resolution of 1024×768. Few people risked life and limb for an analog image like perhaps would be developed sometime next year, when the roll was finally finished snapping. Now the situation was different. It is said that most deaths in the national park occur due to dehydration and heat stroke and that the second most common cause of death is caused by falls. I wonder what would happen if we got engaged in the Grand Canyon in the present day. Had we then stood on the edge of the canyon just to capture the moment in an unforgettable selfie? Probably not.
We walk on. Every ridge offers new wrinkled ravines, red cliffs and river furrows in the distance. I am beginning to realize that the probability of finding back to "our" place is basically zero. We find a place that at least one of us thinks resembles the memory image and stop and remember how we stood here more than ten years ago. Think how good life has become and what a fantastic little daughter we got! And it all started more or less here, in the Grand Canyon.
We settle down on a safe rock ledge, far from the park's headquarters, and wait for sunset. The haze from polluted air from the cities to the west lies over the gorge. The sunsets are certainly at their most beautiful when the pollution is at its greatest. Tragic if true.
Just a few minutes before the sun begins to set in earnest, two Chinese tourists come and sit right in front of us. They have miles upon miles of ravine edge to sit on, but they chose to sit right in front of us, in the way of our sunset. It's not often I reprimand people to the point, but this time they got a word or two. Some tourists think they own the world when they are on vacation and have no regard for the country's customs or other people. But the Grand Canyon is our place. Here we are the ones who own the world. Surprised, the tourists moved a few meters to a place where they did not disturb anyone.
The sunset was worth the wait. The sun set in a golden display of rose gold and purple among layers of misty rocks. So grand, that I almost wondered if the Grand Canyon had saved the very best just for us. The only thing missing to fulfill the perfection of the moment was a symphony orchestra. But it might have become a bit cheesy.
The three of us walk hand in hand towards the car and on to the next adventure. Thank you for another unforgettable experience Grand Canyon. Our place on earth was even more beautiful this time.
Do you want to read more?
You can find my posts about Arizona here.
Official information about the national park's weather, roads and hiking trails can be found at National Park Service.
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Have you been here? What did you think of the destination?
Travel blogger, gastronaut, photographer and family adventurer with over 55 countries in his luggage. Eva loves trips that include beautiful nature, hiking boots and well-cooked food. On the travel blog Rucksack she takes you to all corners of the world with the help of her inspiring pictures and texts.