We noticed the gas prices getting higher as we got closer to the Grand Canyon. We left the interstate and drove straight north for a long time through seemingly unending forests. We’d pass through a town or two with just one stoplight before reaching Tusayan, the tourist town with more hotels and restaurants. Our free campsite was just past all that, right outside the park entrance. Many sites were full but we found a good sized flat spot. The only problem was there was no privacy to go to the bathroom. Travis took initiative to set up a tarp between two trees for me to be able to go in private. As I weaved my way past shrubs, I inhaled deeply. These weren’t just bushes, these were lavender! It was an entire field full of lavender. We are a dinner of tuna Alfredo with Ritz crackers and went to bed, excited to finally see the Grand Canyon in the morning.
We got up not too super early, found a parking spot pretty close to the visitor center/restrooms and marched toward Mather point. I wanted to hike the entire 13 mile south rim trail and didn’t want to see the canyon first from the bus. As we approach Mather point, I experienced a familiar gut-drop feeling I’ve come to know all too well: the excited-I’m-about-to-go-do-see-something-I’ve-never-done-before feeling. A rush of absolute excitement, anticipation, nervousness, and a bit of trepidation, because I would never get to experience this first again. We weaved our way through the swarms of people, a lot of Chinese, some German, even fewer American, toward the edge. I stared at the deep chasms in the earth before me, too awestruck to take pictures yet. I took several pictures in all directions as my eyes got a little moist. This was THE Grand Canyon, classic America. I asked Travis what his first thoughts were, and he said he wasn’t impressed. I wondered at his lack of wonder as we boarded the free shuttle bus to start our trek. In the summer, you weren’t allowed to drive past a certain area and had to take a free shuttle to the vistas. We got to the end of the line, started walking the paved Rim trail and immediately stopped. I need my camera in my hands now! The canyon was different from practically every step we took. A lot of the time, I just stood there taking it all in. Then when Travis would ask was I ready to keep walking, I’d bring my camera up and meekly reply no. By an hour, we hadn’t made much progress along our 13 mile trail. By two hours we realized we’d split this into two days. We were traveling at about 1 mile an hour on this paved flat trail. We took a break on a bench and Travis dropped a few crumbs accidentally. A squirrel immediately showed up to clean up our mess. We were surprised at his friendliness and, not knowing any better, fed it from our hands. We took a few pictures of the squirrel eating out of our hands and all I could think of was my dog, Bailey. She loves to chase squirrels from our yard. The next day we would find out it’s against the law and carries a hefty fine to feed wild animals in the park. I continued taking pictures every 10 steps until we stopped for lunch under some shady trees. Travis cut some sausage and cheese to put on our Ritz crackers. We hiked just a bit more and took the shuttle back to get out of the heat of the day. We filled up our water bottles, washed some dishes and headed back to camp. We’d seen an RV back further than we’d been and they weren’t there today so we parked there. We were happy to have a more private site surrounded by more trees. Travis cooked tuna alfredo for dinner, masking the taste of tuna pretty well (we both don’t care for tuna that much, he more so than I). We tried to go to sleep at dusk but our closest neighbors were having a party.
I woke up with the sun beating down on my tent and fix up our breakfast of protein powder in our breakfast essentials chocolate drink. We still beat the crowds into the park and hopped on the shuttle back to where we left off. We walked past Bright Angel Lodge and several other places deciding to explore those later. Our path passed Kolb Studio and Lookout studio and gift shop so we explored those. The rim Trail was filled with people whose conversations were mostly not English. There was German, Chinese and several others I didn’t recognize. We came upon the free Yavapai Point and geology museum which shared more about the geology of the canyon and how it was formed. After the museum, the trail kind of emptied, save for the occasional biker that would race around the corners, almost colliding with us. We saw a guy taking photos of his friend who was off the trail, out on a shelf above the canyon. Of course we started scrambling town, dropping our packs safely out of sight. I grab my Nikon P510 camera and down we went. Travis clambered down first, showing me where to put my hands and feet. I tried to put my feet where he had but I didn’t even come close. I laughed as I told him he had to think a lot smaller because I’m short. Once we’d bouldered down a bit, it was an easy flat walk to the shelf. It was glorious and felt like we were out in the middle of the canyon. There was no one else in sight and Travis finally felt the awe of this great geological wonder. Now this trail was exciting and I was learning to rock climb/boulder. We eagerly looked for the next shelf island piece. I spotted one and the best way to get down was a tree next to the cliff edge. Aha, I knew how to maneuver this one! Travis hardly had time to set his pack down before I deaftly monkeyed down the tree and around the edge, waiting for him to help me with the next bouldering bit. I still didn’t quite trust my brand-new shoes on the loose rocks and boulders. The people on the trail ogled at us climbing way out there. I really liked the feeling of being able to hoist my body up boulders and maneuver around rocks that were twice as tall as me. I could tell Travis was enamored with this new make-your-own-path with a teensy bit of danger. The end of the rim Trail was anti-climatic, finishing at a viewpoint with a bus stop.
We shuttled back to our car, preparing to go find where the showers and laundry were. Luckily we were able to find parking right by the building and we gathered our electronics to charge while we waited. The women’s restroom was being cleaned so Travis went first. There was an elk grazing by the car as I made sure I had all my cords. I have a Phone, Fitbit, and two cameras, one with four batteries that I go through quickly! Travis has a phone and two battery packs. So we have a lot that needs charging. His phone mostly charges in the car because we use it for maps and research. Travis finished his shower and gave me the shower bag with supplies as we were sharing soap, shampoo, conditioner, separate deodorant and lotion. I went to go take a shower but there was a line after it opened from cleaning. I waited a bit longer for the line to die down but it just got longer. I got in line behind 8 ladies and by the time I got to the front they were at least 14 of us in line. It was 6 quarters for six minutes so Travis gave me 12 quarters. The ceiling was moldy so I hurried, getting done before the second time ran out (I can’t take a shower quite that fast). We put our laundry in and finally one Nikon camera battery finished charging. We drove back to our site, which hadn’t been taken, through some traffic caused by people stopping in the middle of the road to see male elk. We ate dinner of tortilla pizzas, making enough for part of lunch tomorrow, and went to bed early as we were getting up at the crack of dawn to hike partway down into the canyon.
We woke up at five as it was getting light, drank our breakfast essentials and headed all the way into the park, parking at bright angel trail head. We filled up our water bladders and headed down. This was unlike any trail we’ve ever done, where you head up then down. This you did the easy downhill part first then headed back up once it got hotter. It was about 100° at the bottom of the canyon most days and almost full sun. I didn’t want to get any heat related illnesses. We made it down to Indian garden, 3 1/2 miles in 1.5 hours. There were vault toilets, water and a shaded rest area at 1 mile and 3 mile points. The trail was not too steep but was mostly sand with poor rock water run off builds and completely destroyed by the mules. We ate snacks in the shade at Indian Creek then turned around to go up. We stopped at the 3 mile rest area next to a family of five from Winchester, VA that was hiking Rim to Rim. The mom was curious about what I was eating: pizza Travis had made last night. We continued chatting about backpacking and they were all amazed at how light my overnight pack was (~25lbs or less). The mom also questioned how an experienced hiker like me got heat related illness is so easily. I didn’t know the answer to her question and often wonder that myself. I wet the cooling towel and stuck my head under the water spigot before leading the way up the trail. We kept leapfrogging the family and several other hikers as we would all take breaks after hiking for several minutes. I was pretty hot but avoiding getting too hot so far. We’d hike a switchback or two and then rest in the tiny shade at the switchbacks if there was room. Everyone was plodding uphill resting at every shade spot. My rest stops started getting longer than my moving. I couldn’t believe people were still coming down the trail. Didn’t they know it’d be torturous coming back up at high noon? But maybe they were only going down a bit. We finally made it to the 1 mile rest area and sat down with the same family. I dunked my head under the spout again to keep my brain from frying and a lot of hikers around me followed suit. Someone passing by mentioned ice cream and that made all of us excited. I’d seen the ice cream store yesterday and tried to get motivated, telling myself I could have some if we made it up by noon. I sluggishly kept going one foot at a time, taking a break every five steps. I started getting nauseous so Travis made me sit down and get cool for a long time. We would make it up one more switch back up before I had to sit down again. Noon time passed and Travis told me we can still get ice cream but that didn’t help me much going up the mountain now. There were lots of other hikers that looked like me, taking long breaks and only walking for a few minutes at a time. I could see the top of the canyon getting closer and closer and I was getting done with this mountain mentally. I started getting frustrated with my body physically because it wouldn’t go up the mountain any quicker and my skin wouldn’t cool itself, making me scared of heat exhaustion or stroke. Although I thought a helicopter ride through the canyon sounded cool, this is not how I wanted to do it. I found a piece of the canyon that had a part the chat it out just like a seat. God, please help my skin, my body, my brain, my body to work together to get me off this path. I was near tears as Travis kept handing me bites of granola bar to eat and wrapping the cool towels around my back and neck and stomach. Eventually we made it back up, through the two tunnels, to the pavement again at the trailhead sign. As we shuffled over to the sign to take our pictures I glared angrily at the people just now heading down. Don’t they know they’re taking such a high risk? Or is it just me and my body that doesn’t work right in the heat and sun? I was deeply saddened that my body wasn’t working right but Travis had to remind me that we did it! We hiked partway down into the Grand Canyon on the bright angel trail and made it all the way back up! We went straight to the ice cream store and bought ourselves two cones with two scoops each. We weaved our way back through the crowd to sit in the shade of the gift shop to enjoy our cool treat. Several people stopped and asked us wow! Those look amazing where did you get them and we were able to point them in the right direction. We went back and explored several of the gift shops to buy our postcards and collectors patch, passing by the Hopi house where they were having a native American demonstration. We watched for a few minutes as the announcer shared with us some of his peoples styles of dancing and music. Another guy showed up to dance to the rhythm. We continued on into the Hopi house to see all the pottery and jewelry collections of the local native American population. We were pretty tired from our hike and getting up early so we went back to the car and went back to our campsite. Travis set up his hammock and I got on my Thermarest Zrest and we tried to take naps but were both unsuccessful. After the wind picked up and it got a little chilly, we decided to make dinner. I had said earlier if we were up for it, we could go watch the sunset back at the park. So we cooked and headed back into the park. Travis was still eating dinner and we thought about taking the shuttle bus to a further point to watch the sunset but figured out that would be too late and we weren’t sure when the shuttle bus came back. So we just went to Mather point and I squeezed in between the masses of people along the railing. We waited and waited and finally the sun begin to set. Everyone was quieter for a little while and then when the sun dipped below the horizon, hordes of people left. We stayed so I could get pictures of the canyon in the afterglow. There was enough space at the railing that I could freely move about to get all the different angles. It started getting a little colder so we were almost about to leave when someone shouted look! There she is!
They were talking about none other than the moon! A strawberry moon no less. It began peeking up over the forest, steadily glowing more and more. With my camera I could zoom in real close and get amazing shots of the moon. I jumped up and down like a little kid because the moon has always been mine for some reason. My sister Emily and I always split everything between us, she had the sun and I the moon. I was giddy and smiled at Travis and thought, this was just perfect. We’ve hiked a bunch around the Grand Canyon Southrim and now I watched the sunset and the moon rise. We could leave the Grand Canyon now. We got back to camp and went to bed knowing that we would drive out along the desert view Drive the next morning.
We slept in a bit knowing that we did not need to get there early for parking and headed east out of the Grand Canyon. I wasn’t quite sure where all the vistas were but I knew I wanted to stop at at least two of them. We pulled over at a few that weren’t very good and then we finally saw the nice big view. I took lots of pictures and got back in the car to go to the next one. We found another area to go bouldering in. Travis went down first and at first I wasn’t going to follow him. But then he looked like he was having too much fun so he helped me climb down. This was a longer climb but the other ones so we got a little bit sweaty. I enjoyed being able to take pictures without people in them. We made it back to the car and continue to the desert view watchtower. The watchtower was made by a female architect sometime ago and was pretty cool with Native American inspired drawings on the inside. We meandered through the visitor center and bought a cookie. We weren’t going to eat lunch there so we just sat outside and enjoyed ourcookies. Soon after that we exited the park borders and began our long journey east, north, west and back south to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. It was only 10 or so miles away as the crow flies but the roads are long.