In my lifetime, I must have seen hundreds of pictures of the Grand Canyon, each different from the last, each quintessential. If a picture does indeed speak a thousand words, I’ve read volumes on this place. And yet I knew nothing of it. The more pictures I saw, the more mysterious this place became. It was as though with each picture, the canyon dimensions grew, so that after all these years, the Grand Canyon in my mind had grown to inestimable size. Just when I thought it couldn’t grow any bigger, there would be another batch of someone’s Grand Canyon vacation pictures to look at – all of them different from anything I’d seen before, and the canyon would bulge out some more. So, yes, I wanted to see the grandeur, but more important, I wanted to stop its incessant growth. I needed to get a handle on it.
We spent two days exploring the south rim (we’d also hoped to do the north rim on this trip, but it doesn’t open until mid-May). Because we stayed way offsite in Flagstaff – about an hour and a half drive from the south canyon entrance – there was no hope of being there for sunrise, but we had two glorious sunsets to end both days. We split the rim in half, taking the Desert View Drive along the eastern side the first day, ending up at Navajo Point for sunset. Our intention on Day 2 was to explore the western side exclusively and get in a bit of hiking down into the canyon. However, when we stopped in at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center to begin our second day and get some suggestions as to best hikes down, the ranger there strongly encouraged us to head back to the east side and do the South Kaibab trail. And so we did.
To do the eastern side adequately, you need a car … drive a ways, park, get out and explore, get in car, go a ways, get out and explore, repeat to the end. There are a couple of places – South Kaibab and Yaki Point – that can only be accessed by shuttle bus, so we did that too. And without further ado, and in keeping with pictures being worth a thousand words, here are some photos I took of the eastern side. It was a beautiful day, not too hot but certainly dry enough to require many trips to the water spigots for bottle refills; and the scattered clouds made for a spectacular sunset at the end of the day.
Our second day began with our hike down into the canyon on the South Kaibab trail. Although it is advised not to go down to the bottom, especially at this time of year when it goes below freezing at night, at best (which we are not), it’s a 12-hour return trip. We did the 45-minute version. Going down is fine; it’s the coming back up that’s the killer.
From the South Kaibab Trailhead we took the bus back to the Visitor Center and hopped on another bus that took us through Grand Canyon Village with stops at various hubs of activity, including the lodge and campground and the market plaza, and on to the village’s western edge, where we debarked for a third bus that travels the western rim. The free shuttle bus service is the only way to get to the west side – no private cars allowed. A great way to travel, and its hop-on, hop-off stops along the route gives way for a day of walking the rim trails from one point to another, ultimately ending up at Hopi Point to watch the sunset. No clouds in the sky today, so the effects of the setting sun were a little less spectacular, but no less satisfying.
It was a glorious couple of days – everywhere we turned there was something new and magnificent to look at. As one person who had spent the last four days hiking around the canyon said to me, “You could spend weeks here and never see the same thing twice.” He’s right. With every new vista, it meant another photo op, and it was hard to cull it down here to just a couple of dozen.