The Grand Adventure: Part 2

Before we get into the meat and potatoes of this post (or, um, spinach and potatoes), we want to apologize for the long gap since our last post. Our schedule has been crazy lately as we prepare for our next adventure, but that’s a post for another time. Right now, we’re telling the story of our Grand Adventure, which is what we’ve decided to call this trip after Grand Canyon knocked our socks off. We promise we’ll keep the story going steadily from here on out!

Two days is not *quite* enough time here.

Day 11 found us waking up in Kaibab National Forest, which is where we highly recommend camping if you’re looking for free, dispersed sites. We specifically wanted to be close to the South Rim Visitors Center, but didn’t want to bother with the developed camping areas, which were almost certainly all booked in advance anyway. We were able to find several open sites along fire roads, many of which were suitable even for large RVs (there are no hookups here, of course). Kaibab National Forest actually contains land on both sides of Grand Canyon, but we never made it to the North Rim as it takes about 3 hours to get there from the South Rim.

By this time, breaking down camp for us was beginning to go a little smoother. Camping in the woods versus a parking lot provided us with the opportunity to set up our camp chairs and propane stove and make some instant coffee. We had shakes for breakfast, and I kept munching on handfuls of peanuts, since we knew we would be doing some hiking.

This Utah Agave blooms only once in its lifetime, and we were lucky to see it. Soon it will die, but this remarkable flower stalk may remain for some time.

We knew before we left Maine that bringing a dog along to a National or State Park can limit your activities there. Often, this wasn’t a problem for us, but at Grand Canyon we knew we wanted to hike down below the rim, where dogs are not allowed. Luckily, there is a boarding facility in Grand Canyon Village and they had an opening for Zorro. After we broke down camp, we brought Zorro there and toured the facility. It is pretty basic but clean, and provides indoor/outdoor access and shade. It was surprisingly hard to say goodbye even for the day, since he’s been with us non-stop since we started this adventure, but we knew he would be fine sleeping the day away.

Once our party was down to two, we stopped by the South Rim Visitors Center to watch a short orientation film about the Canyon, narrated by Peter Coyote. There’s something about Peter Coyote’s voice over beautiful drone footage of National Parks that brings a tear to my eye every time. There’s a sequence in the film about the South Kaibab Trail, where we planned to hike, and it was both awe-inspiring and imposing, given the steep switchbacks the hikers were descending.

It may not look like it, but that’s the trail.

We took a shuttle to the South Kaibab Trailhead and found dozens of other hikers either preparing for or recovering from the trail. This is a very popular hike, so don’t expect much quiet and solitude here; but there’s a good reason it’s so popular, as we would soon find out. There’s almost no shade to be found on the trail, but we had hats, sunscreen and protective clothing to keep us safe. Side note: the Tilley Airflo hat I bought in Colorado has proved absolutely essential in this environment. It provides excellent cover and is never in danger of flying off with the strap worn properly. Later, we would see many lost hats below a windy overlook – I can only imagine how disappointing it would be to lose your hat in the unforgiving Arizona sun.

That hat’s not going anywhere!

Once we had topped off our water bottles, we hiked down into the canyon. It’s definitely steep going, especially at first, as the trail rapidly drops down a very vertical face of the rim. We were glad to have our trekking poles, although we forgot to bring both pairs so we only had one pole each. This still helped a lot, and I made a mental note to always bring both pairs along on steep hikes.

It is a much-cited Grand Canyon adage that what goes down must come back up. We kept this in mind as we hiked ever further down the trail toward Ooh Aah Point. The views at Grand Canyon aren’t just found at designated lookout points, of course, but confront you endlessly in nearly all directions all the time. It’s recommended to rest frequently on the trail, not only because it’s strenuous and sun-drenched, but because there’s so much to see. We learned that the “big picture” at Grand Canyon – that super wide angle, zoomed out aerial perspective – doesn’t do justice to the details of the Park. As we climbed lower, the Canyon took on a more personal perspective that made it somehow seem both smaller and more expansive at the same time.

Feeling good on the way down while saving energy for the return hike.

 

When you’re hiking to someplace called Ooh Aah Point, you have certain expectations. Those expectations had been met long before we reached the famous lookout point, but there was indeed a spectacular view waiting for us there. Seeing Grand Canyon from within is no less amazing than seeing it from above. It could have been the effort it took to get there, but we were gob smacked by the beauty and took our time mustering up the resolve to turn back around.

I have a feeling I’m not the first to do this.

What can we say about the hike back up? Quad burning, huffing and puffing, sweat dripping and water guzzling times were those. We were very much in need of air conditioning as well as some answers about what was going with all that geology we just saw, so we rode the shuttle back to the geology museum at Yavapai Point. Here the ancient story of the canyon’s walls finally started to make sense. This is an essential visit for anyone interested in the geologic history that’s exposed at Grand Canyon like nowhere else on earth. Through interactive exhibits and specimens from every part of the canyon, the colorful bands of rock outside start to reveal a history of alternating oceans and sand dunes, as well as tremendous heat and pressure deep within the earth. I’m not a geologist, but I was fascinated by this look inside the earth. Looking into Grand Canyon is like traveling through time to our planet’s ancient past.

At Grand Canyon, you can gaze right into the ancient past.

That evening, after reuniting with Zorro, we set up camp in another dispersed site, this time in a more remote area of Kaibab NF. Here the forest was much more desert-like, sparser and sandier. We cooked dinner and read by the light of our headlamps until it was time to go to bed. In the middle of the night, as I stepped out of the car to answer nature’s call, I looked up and saw what the bright headlamp had prevented me from noticing earlier: the milky way galaxy and the most spectacular sky of stars I’ve ever seen, including a perfectly-timed shooting star. This is what we miss when we’re sitting comfortably on our couches watching Netflix. This gorgeous sight is always up there, hiding behind the light pollution and smog. It was a perfect coda to the day’s breathtaking beauty and reminded me how lucky we were to be on this adventure together.

 

Grand Canyon has always been on our bucket lists, and I don’t intend to cross it off just yet. There’s much more to do there than can be done in two days, so we plan to return and spend more time there in the near future. I recommend at least three days if you want to do any hiking at all, since it’s not recommended to hike all the way down and back up again in one day unless you’re an expert. That place works on your soul, slowly opening you up to appreciate its staggering beauty over time. We absolutely loved it, and considered spending another day there, but we knew we had far too much ahead of us to linger on. The next day, we packed up camp and drove out via Desert View Rd, stopping again at many of the lookout points along the way. We knew we would return someday, but it was still hard to leave the Park knowing we had barely scratched the surface of its treasures.

Luckily, our next major destination was no geologic slouch itself, Zion National Park in Utah. The adventure continues in our next post!

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