As a writer, I pride myself on my ability to describe an experience. However, I don’t think I’ve ever been more at a loss for words than my first time visiting the Grand Canyon in the summer of 2008. Breathtaking may sound cliché, but that’s the truth. I suspect the same holds true for everyone, whether you are a tourist or a local.
Our first view of the canyon was mid-afternoon from what is known as the South Rim. We were still pulling our camper, but none of us could wait to see it. Of course, we had all seen the pictures, but nothing can truly prepare you. Like a painting of the Old West, it was surreal. The colors were a rich mixture of umber and sienna. At sunset or sunrise, the colors are even more vibrant as the sun’s rays glint off the canyon walls.
Adding to the picturesque feel is the fact that everything is so… well, grand! The canyon extends an amazing 277 miles in length and varies in width from 10 to 18 miles. At the South Rim, the drop is 5,000 feet down to the river. At the highest point the canyon is a 6,000 feet vertical drop to the river. That’s over a mile. Standing up on the overlooks, you are so far above everything that details like the wind blowing through the trees are impossible to see.
Then there was the night view. After dark, one of the rangers put on a presentation of stars. As someone who lives in a populated area, I was spell-bound by the millions of stars. I had no idea it could be so dark.
Just as a side note – there are plenty of side rails along the rim, but there are areas that do not have them. These require a little common sense and nerves of steel, if you are a mother with young children. Actually, my heart was in my throat every time my children stepped more than ten feet from the edge.
There is also plenty of wildlife to see. Watching a majestic California Condor in the wild is beyond compare. With a wingspan of up to 9 ½ feet, these rare birds almost seem to float along the expanse of the canyon walls. I couldn’t believe I was actually above this magnificent creature looking down on him. Made me feel somehow other-worldly.
However, the most magical encounter occurred just outside of our camper door. I stepped out and froze. No more than 20 feet from me stood three large mule deer. They were nibbling on the scarce grass and rubbing their antlers on the trees. I couldn’t believe they stayed put long enough for me to grab my camera. After a while, they moseyed on to other parts, completely ignoring the crowd that had gathered. Thankfully everyone remembered that these were wild animals and did not try to approach them.
Hiking in and around the Grand Canyon attracts both locals and tourists on a regular basis. I did not get a chance to hike down into the canyon, but my husband and daughter did a day hike down to the Indian Village and back. It literally took them the entire day. They took plenty of water and healthy snacks to help balance their electrolytes. Exhaustion doesn’t even begin to cover their state when they returned, but they said it was well worth the effort.
For the more serious hikers, a trip to the bottom of the canyon is allowed, but only with a permit. Due to the strenuous nature, it is considered a two day hike. Hikers camp along the bottom the first night before starting back up early the next morning. They must be careful as temperatures in the canyon can be extreme, exceeding 100 degrees during the summer months.
Whether you are a local or a tourist, there are plenty of other options to see the Grand Canyon. Helicopters rides offer an aerial view, while the rugged adventurers can raft the Colorado River. Mule trips can also be a wonderful excursion to see the bottom of the canyon. Though these sure-footed animals are completely safe, do make sure you are not afraid of heights before considering the trip.
Though it’s been three years since my family visited the Grand Canyon, I can still close my eyes and envision the majestic splendor. Someday, I’ll return, and I know it will be just as awe inspiring. There is just no other place like it on Earth.