For weeks leading up to the trip I was giddy with anticipation. Las Vegas was just an afterthought to me. Sure Vegas would be fun, but the Grand Canyon? That’s where my mind had settled and that’s where it was going to stay. We left early, renting a car and driving the 5-plus hours to the South Rim of the Canyon having heard that the Western Rim, the side closest to Vegas, wasn’t all that impressive. In retrospect we should have set aside at least two days for this excursion. 11 hours of driving doesn’t leave a lot of time for exploring.
Still, we were going to make the most of it.
As the miles sped by bringing us closer to our destination my excitement exploded. I was practically vibrating in the seat, peppering Kevin with questions every few minutes.
“Are we there yet? Are we close? Are those rocks part of it? How about now?”
I had spent weeks researching the best hike for us hunting for something that would fit within our limited schedule and something that would work with both of our fitness levels (Kevin is fit, I am not). I settled on the Bright Angel Trail and we had agreed to hike down into the canyon to the second tunnel and then make our way back up. I went over my maps and notes as we drove closer and closer.
Finally after what seemed like (and was) hours we made it to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and it was … well … it was …
Actually it was quite underwhelming.
At first glance the Grand Canyon looks exactly like the posters advertising it. 1980’s photographs washed out from constant exposure to the elements, vast and incredible but still somewhat lacking.
The problem is it is just so large, stretching out impossibly far with thousands of curves and crevices etched out by time and all competing for attention. There is just too much to see and your eyes refuse to focus. To make matters worse the sky stretches over top, blue and cloudless without any of the sun kissed reds and yellows that are so popular in the photos and making the canyon look even more washed out.
We had committed ourselves to an 11 hour day of driving for this? Disappointment settled in my stomach and my smile felt drawn on my face, tight and fake, as we wandered along the rim making our way towards the Bright Angel Trail Head.
Thankfully this impression, this washed out tourism poster of a natural wonder, redeems itself from the right vantage point.
There was snow and ice coating the ground in some corners, contrasting perfectly with the carved out desert rocks.
My excitement rose which each step we took, descending farther down and thrilling me.
This! This is what we had decided to drive 11 hours for.
The hike itself was fantastic, only moderately difficult with the hardest portion being the trek back up to the top, both because it was uphill and because it brought us closer to leaving the canyon.
The switch back trails and the two tunnels were stunning and immensely rewarding. The trail actually goes much further reaching the bottom of the canyon and is apparently even more spectacular the farther down you go, but we sadly didn’t have the time.
We didn’t pass any of the much warned about mules, but we passed many an awe inspired hiker, all sharing the same quiet appreciation of the marvel surrounding us.
When it finally did come time to leave I felt a twinge of sadness. This was a place I had always wanted to visit and we had literally only scratched the surface.
Luckily, aside from an extremely underwhelming first impression, The Grand Canyon also instills in its visitors a deep down desire to return.
After all, the Grandest of Canyons needs a commitment of time worthy of its secrets and a willingness to explore.
Note: For more information on the Bright Angel Trail – http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/upload/brightangeltrail.pdf