Visiting Grand Canyon National Park for the first time, I was greeted by several deer. The first several minutes of the drive were unremarkable, just passing many trees. Soon the trees thinned and I saw it: The Grand Canyon in all its colorful glory. It is a sight I will never forget. My first trip to the Grand Canyon was in September of 2007.
I decided to stay at the Best Western in Grand Canyon Village and explore the South Rim, since it seemed to have most of the popular trails and vistas. Visiting the Grand Canyon for the first time, I needed to get a good introduction to the park. I started with the obvious choice: the visitor centers. (The South Rim has several great visitor centers.)
My first day at the Grand Canyon, I rode the shuttle to the various overlooks. I took my time and did not worry about getting on the next shuttle. The overlooks sometimes have short trails to follow and get closer into the canyon for a little adventure and for greater views. Only when I felt I had fully explored each overlook did I get on another shuttle. I took notes of which areas were worth coming back to if I had more time. (The Watch Tower and Desert View made the top of my list.)
I decided to do some serious hiking on my second day at the Grand Canyon. I took the Bright Angel Trail down into the canyon to Indian Garden, a lush oasis 4.5 miles below the South Rim. The hike was just over 9 miles and took almost eight hours. It was a difficult hike due to the heat, elevation, and dry air. Even though I thought the trail’s switchbacks would never end, I enjoyed the challenge, the views, and the overall experience. Seeing a Grand Canyon Pink Rattlesnake was frightening and humbling. It blended in almost perfectly with the rock except that it moved. I sat right there on the trail and waited probably 20 minutes for it to move along.
Tired and sore from the previous day’s hiking, I decided to take it easy on my third day and go to the rest of the visitor centers on the South Rim to see the displays, watch the presentations, talk to the rangers, etc. I learned all about the layers of the rock that form the Grand Canyon, from the Visnu basement rocks to the Kaibab limestone caprock. I also visited the Tusayan ruins and museum. A 0.1 mile trail loops through an 800-year-old site where Pueblo Indians used to live. Highlights include their living area, storage areas, and kiva (ceremonial chamber). A gravel trail diverts from the main trail and leads down to where the Pueblo Indians farmed. I returned to The Watch Tower for a picnic and to just stare at the Grand Canyon. I stayed long enough to witness the most colorful sunset I have ever seen.
I hiked along the South Kaibab Trail almost 2 miles to Ooh Ahh Point on my fourth and final day of my first trip to the Grand Canyon. With a name like that, I just had to see what it was all about, and I was not disappointed. As the ranger told me earlier, it was one of the best views in the park for a short hike.
What would I have done differently when visiting the Grand Canyon for the first time? I would have brought binoculars so that I could see more of the intricacies of the rock formations and the birds and other wildlife in the canyon. I would have gone with someone brave enough to stay overnight in the canyon so I could hike the full Bright Angel Trail.
My first trip to the Grand Canyon was more amazing than I could have ever imagined. The Grand Canyon is much more than “a giant hole in the ground” as some skeptics had described it to me. It is really something you have to see for yourself to truly understand its beauty and importance.