First Experience in the Extraordinary Grand Canyon National Park

I’ve been to a lot of National Parks since moving out west to Utah, from the desert red rocks in Arches up to turquoise glacial lakes of Banff. Every single National Park is beautiful in its own way, of course, some more stunning than others. Beyond the national parks, there are so many incredible mountains and canyons through the American West that aren’t protected by the National Park System, and that has sort of taken the excitement and “wow-factor” away from visiting new national parks. Well, our stop at the Grand Canyon was happenstance on our way home from 2 weeks in Sedona, and thankfully we made time to stop here, because I’ve never seen anything as beautiful as the vista from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

The drive up from Flagstaff to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is quite unassuming. A vast, arid plane, similar to the rest of the high plateau of norther Arizona, with no signs of the Grand Canyon that we were expecting to see. But as the sun set lower in the sky, we pulled in through the park’s entrance, flashed our National Park Pass, and sped away to the parking lot at the South Rim Visitor Center nearby the Mather Point view area. Our timing couldn’t have been better, starting off with passing by a few cow elk grazing under the trees by the rim. And as we walked down to the pathway that outlines the edge at the top of the canyon, separating the the flat rim to the thousands of feet of air, and expanse below, all the way down to the Colorado River that sits at the bottom. And just as the last bits of daylight ran through the canyon, illuminating all of the canyon canyon walls deep red, with shadows casting for miles, we got to witness the Grand Canyon, together, for the very first time. 

Saying the Grand Canyon is big, is to comically understate the size and immensity of this cavity in the ground. Trying to describe the feeling is quite difficult, but it nearly brought me to tears. You can see so much, all at once, that is it visually overstimulating. Canyons fold within canyons, pinnacles are hidden amoung massive protrusions, and the depth seems to go down into the center of the earth. Because there is no scale, you feel like you could throw a rock to the other side, until you realize the opposite rim is over 10 miles away. And the bottom of the canyon, where the Colorado River passes through from the Rocky Mountains on its way to Mexico, is somehow sitting a staggering 1 mile below. Unlike a mountain, that you can really only see one side at a time, unless you’re on the summit, you can see the entirety of the Grand Canyon all at once. And that was what made this easily the most beautiful vista I’ve ever seen, which is why we stayed out there until the sun set below the rim.

That night, we camped at the Mather Campground, under one of the most starry skies we’d seen all year. Sitting at 7,000 feet in elevation at the South Rim, the night was quite cold sitting around the campfire which was the first we had in 2024 due to fire restrictions in the places we’d been so far. That night, Courtney and I reflected on the trip so far in the van, but we kept coming back to how stunning the Grand Canyon was. And of course, talking about the delicious dinner we picked up from the Yavapai Tavern in the park. But then we planned our following day to go take a ton of pictures before heading below the rim for a trail run, or so we planned. 

After capturing a memory card’s worth of photos and videos from the edges of the rim, trying our best to do this canyon justice in a photo, it was time to go for a run. We had originally planned to drop down via the usual South Rim Trail or the Bright Angel Trailhead, but sadly found out both of those trails were closed. So we had to find a new route to get down below the rim, so we headed East to the Grandview Point Trailhead. And as we dropped down the stair-step trail, the smile on my face couldn’t get any wider. So much anticipation, and joy, of finally going down into the Grand Canyon, albeit, we only planned to go a mile or 2 downhill, was quickly thrown out the window. Only a quarter-mile down the trail, we ran into what would ultimately be our plan’s demise, rock-hard ice. I had completely been oblivious to the fact this was still winter, and despite no snow existing anywhere else in the park, these shaded, north facing slopes were still holding snow and ice into the warm afternoons. And Courtney almost didn’t make it back out after a fall.

We made our way down technical section after technical section, until we reached an open sloped section of trail that was covered in snow and ice. Courtney went first, bent over, slowly siding down the edge where the rocks were most exposed to gain traction. And that’s when she slid down, first her legs, followed by the rest of her body, picking up speed towards the edge of the trail that dropped down 20 feet to the next part of the trail. Fortunately, she caught herself before sliding over the edge, and crawled her way back to where I was standing off the ice. To say I was terrified of what could have happened was an understatement, and I can’t imagine how much adrenaline was pumping through Court’s body after that. Needless to say, after a short debate on continuing or not, we head back up the steep trail, back up to the rim, and continued our run along the main road and into the woods, far away from the icy trails below the rim.

A short weekend in Grand Canyon National Park accomplished it’s goal, to ensure that we would be coming back, without a shed of doubt. Seeing the Grand Canyon from the rim is one thing, but I couldn’t help but feel the pull of the canyon to be down inside of it, reaching the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon. We can’t wait to do that hike, maybe a rim-to-rim, but definitely one day to raft through the Grand Canyon on our own rafting trip. But one thing is for certain, the Grand Canyon’s size is something you will never see anywhere else. It’s like the view of a mountain range from an airplane, but instead, you are standing on the rim of the canyon and your feet are on the dirt, you can feel the energy of this place, smell the desert air, and hear the wind whipping through the features of the canyon. It’s a special place, and one I can’t wait to come back to, sooner than later. 

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