I knocked out a couple of bucket list items this summer on travel. One of the best was our trip to the Grand Canyon. I got to BlackHat in Las Vegas almost every year but I have never had the sense to stop and see the Grand Canyon. The canyon is only four hours from Vegas so I’ve really had no excuse. Especially, now that I have the photography bug.
I know its been said before but its really hard to describe how big and beautiful it is. When we got to the park the main lots were full so we had to drive a bit off the Rim Trail. My wife and I had to hike about a quarter mile to get our first glimpse. When we got to the edge we both stopped and let out a collective wow. Big, peaceful, stoic pick your adjective, it probably applies.
The added bonus was the wildlife. I spent a lot of time researching where to go to take pictures, what trails to hike and how not to die while hiking (happens a lot). What I didn’t research was wildlife. When we first drove into the park we had to stop near the main parking lots because there was an Elk leisurely crossing the road. Of course nobody was upset because all us tourist are busy snapping pics. I’m used to the duck or the Canadian goose who think they own the road as they cross but an Elk is something different. Arguably, I can honk the horn at the ducks and move them along. I’m not sure I want to get on the Elk’s bad side. So we waited snapped pics and he leisurely strolled by.
Later in the day there were a couple of Elk on the trails near the visitor center. More Elks equal more tourist snapping pics. Yes, I did it too. I did keep a pretty good distance though. I kept having flashbacks of “When Animals Attack” running through my head. Some of the comments I was hearing were making my head hurt. “I want to get close and take a selfie”. “I want to pet it”. I admit, I was thinking it would make a nice pic if the Elk charged them…. Still, it was cool to see them closer, but not too close.
Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it. It was cloudy almost the entire time we were there. I wanted spectacular sunset and sunrise shots. I didn’t get that. What I did get was extremely reasonable 70- 80 temperatures for hiking. After extensive research I had decided to hike the South Kaibab trail down to Cedar Ridge. This is a 3 mile round trip. No big deal right? Yeah, right.
I had read all the warnings about hiking in the canyon. I knew better than to try to reach the river in one day and had plenty of food and water. Still, that was the longest 3-mile hike I have ever been on. On the way down it’s pretty steep but it’s manageable. Plus it’s gorgeous. It’s hard to go down because there’s a photo shot every 20 feet. As you are going down you pass people huffing and puffing back up. Most give you the warning, “Enjoy it while you can. You have to come back up.” You don’t get it until you start back up. To further emphasize this point my wife made it down the trail about a quarter mile, looked up and said, “We have to hike back up right?”. I said yes, she paused again and said; nope you’re on your own. She promptly hiked back out. I’m still wondering who was smarter.
I continued on and stopped at the aptly named Ooh-Aah-Point to have a snack and of course ooooh ahhh at the view. That’s .9 miles. The trail was noticeably less populated after that. I’m thinking, what’s another .6 miles. Ummmm, hmmmmm. That was a long .6 miles. It gets steeper with more switchbacks. I also came past two mule trains that were on the way back up. There is a sign that says let mules pass but that’s not really enough information. The trail is about 4-5 feet wide. That’s enough for two people to pass. Not enough for a mule and a person to pass. Luckily, I saw the mules from pretty far away and decided this was a good time for a water break. I found a cozy alcove and settled down to await the mules passing. This actually worked out great for a cool picture. As the first mule rounded the corner I was about three feet away and snapped a nice shot. I was really glad I was out of the way because I’m not sure if the mules would have stopped to let me get out of their way.
Continuing on down I finally made it to Cedar Ridge. It wasn’t a sudden wow moment like when I first saw the canyon but it just builds into this expansive view you don’t get a the top. You’re about a mile down into the canyon and you realize there is still a loooong way to the bottom. Your closer in and you realize just how big it is. Best of all for me it was so quiet. There were a few other hikers but not many. The funniest part was a family there with a couple of kids. They were sitting eating lunch explaining to their mother how they would survive and escape if a wild animal were to attack. It’s hard to capture a child’s explanation but it basically translated into using their cool Kung-Fu moves to escape. Their mother listened patiently and asked a few annoyingly logical questions.
I sat down and started to eat while listening to their tail. I very cowardly draped my legs over a ledge that had a vicious two feet drop to another ledge below. There was couple not far way that properly draped their legs completely over the edge and took some shots. Still, I felt good where I was. I thought to myself this would be the perfect lunch spot for every day. I heard some thunder and saw a storm not far away and figured I needed to head back up.
So with a full tummy and plenty of water I eagerly started back up. That lasted for about two minutes. Did I mention its really hard hiking back up? I had only worked up a moderate sweat on the way down and hadn’t needed my inhaler. That all went away on the way back up. I made it back to Ooh-Aah point and saw a guide explaining to his charge of teenagers how to properly hike up the trail. Steady, slow pace and take frequent short breaks. The exact opposite of the brisker pace with longer breaks I had been trying. Properly self chastised, I started again slower. That actually helped a lot but I was still dead tired when I got to the top. However, I really felt an intense sense of accomplishment having done the hike.
Yeah, I know it’s not as cool as hiking down to the river. That requires a two-day trip, lots of supplies and good planning. Maybe next time I’ll try that. The rest of the trip was spent snapping photos going to some of the more standard views. I caught two sunsets in the park as well. On of my main goals on the trip had been to see the Milky Way over the canyon. Didn’t happen. It was just too cloudy. I still hope to go back try it again and get that photo. All in all though I can’t say enough good things about the trip. If you haven’t seen it you need to rectify that.