“Have you ever been to the Grand Canyon?”
It’s always the first question people ask and it’s always been my personal shame to answer “no.”
To head off the inevitable, “Really? Why not?” response, I made sure to deliver my “no” in a tone of defiance and elitism that conveys I’m too good to visit the people’s park.
For starters, it’s too goddamn crowded. As the second busiest national park in the system, it attracts visitors from around the world. In any other situation, that would be the coolest shit ever! But, as a person who travels to national parks seeking a true nature experience, the prospect of hiking through the backcountry in a conga line is off-putting.
I hate having to clamor with others for a view of the sunset. I hate parking in a crowded lot to hike a trail. Worst of all, I hate the impact some people leave on the land. I am forever the angry trail mom picking up after her ingrate children who refuse to throw their trash in the proper receptacles.
For these reasons and the fact that it’s kind of tough to get to, we did not want to visit the Grand Canyon.
Man, were we a couple of misguided fools.
If you, too, are the type of outdoor elitist who would miss the opportunity to see one of the 7 Wonders of the Natural World for fear of having to deal with strollers – snap out of it! Book a flight to Phoenix or Vegas, rent a car and join the traffic jam in the high desert.
Yes, you will stay in an overpriced motel with paper thin walls. Yes, you will pay too much for an embarrassingly large burrito. And yes, there will be crowds. But here’s the thing – it’s worth it!
Luke and I left Scottsdale at 4am with the goal of getting into the park before 8am so we could hit the trails before the masses arrived. It had snowed the night before and pristine fluff coated every surface, including the barbed wire fences. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen – a lumpy, sparkling mass of pure white stretching to the blue horizon.
And that was just our welcome into the park.
That same snowfall made the roads incredibly icy and slow-going. Fortunately, we had very little traffic to contend with. We parked in a lot next to the visitor’s center and walked a short, paved trail to Mather Point. This is where most people get their first glimpse of the canyon.
The trees parted as I walked toward the railing. The sheer scale and beauty of the canyon caught me off guard and I burst into tears. It was a solid minute before my throat loosened up enough for me to speak.
Saturated layers of red, pink, purple and white wash over wave after wave of stone. You look down and you can’t see the bottom. You look out and you can’t see the end. It’s infinite and stretched out before you in all of its glory.
Best of all: it’s alive. The colors and textures shift as the sun moves across the sky. A fresh blanket of spring green coats the surface. It was too much to hold in my head, so the emotion burst out of my heart.
Simply seeing it wasn’t enough. We had to be a part of it. We saw hikers walking along a ridge jutting out into the canyon and decided to do that hike – whatever it was. We grabbed our daypacks loaded with snacks, filled up our water bladders, emptied our biological bladders and boarded the shuttle for the South Kaibab trailhead.
To be continued….