Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Visiting Arizona: The South Rim of the Grand Canyon

There's nothing like a hike on Bright Angel Train to remind you how out of shape you've gotten. We started early in the morning on Tuesday, June 2, at about 7:30. We took the shuttle bus from Yavapai Lodge right to the trailhead. The shuttle at the canyon is really awesome. There are three lines that take you clear from one end of the south rim to the other which makes it so easy to explore without worrying about parking.

There were some mules at the trailhead prepping to carry people down to Phantom Ranch, an excursion that is definitely on my list for next time!

Bright Angel Trail was pretty steep going down with a mixture of packed dirt, loose gravel, boulders, and logs (set into the trail as stairs in some parts). The view was ok but not necessarily anything to write home about. I was much more impressed by the views along the Rim Trail.  On Bright Angel we were situated in a sort of corner of the canyon with cliffs surrounding us on three sides.

We made it about 1.5 miles down the trail before I decided I was ready to turn back. I knew the climb up would be much more difficult than going down and I didn't want to go any further into the canyon especially if we would just be looking at the same rocks the whole time.


We made it back up to the rim shortly before 1100, so it took us about 3 hours to go 3 miles.  Once we were back up at the rim, we grabbed a quick breakfast at one of the hotels. Dad got a giant burrito and I enjoyed some fruit and cheese grits.

After that, we explored the Rim Trail for the rest of the afternoon. My FitBit said I walked 30,000 steps, 13.62 miles. We stopped at several view points and I must have taken a billion pictures. The view from the rim was great and we had perfect weather. The sky was bright blue and the light on the cliff faces was awesome. It was like nothing I've ever seen before. Dad and I climbed around several outcroppings off the path to get the better views. The wind was howling, which helped cool us off in the 100 degree heat, and if I got too close to the edge it really felt like I might blow away.  I also had a run in with an adorable new friend - one of the canyon squirrels. Cute as he may be, he also is apparently a carrier of the PLAGUE, and they had multiple signs posted warning tourists not to pet or feed the squirrels. This is something I don't have a problem with as it always saddens me when animals in popular areas become accustomed to human food and attention. We have to keep the wildlife wild!



Our second day at the canyon we took a helicopter tour over the north rim - something I definitely recommend. It was a 45 minute flight but it felt like 15 minutes. I'd never been in a helicopter before and it was the coolest sensation. I also got to sit front and center which worked out because they assign seats based on weight distribution of the passengers. It was me and Dad, plus five other riders.

You really get an entirely different perspective of the canyon from up above. The layers of rock are so pronounced and the colors are so vibrant. I could have flown around up there for hours.


Once we landed, we took a shuttle to the west end of the south rim to explore a different part of the rim trail and to scout out a good location to take sunset pictures.

Getting to the canyon feels like driving through an alien planet. You go from high flat desert to an almost alpine setting, and then the south rim is like a combination of the two. We saw several elk (including babies!) hanging out near our hotel. We also saw a jogger get chased by a mama elk after he accidentally started them on his morning run. The trees were mostly Juniper, but there was another type of tree that looked really dramatic in photos. I don't know if it was just really old Juniper or another species, but they were all over the rim, these bare and mangled trunks with twisted branches that look almost like deer antlers.

We ended up watching the sunset from Powell's Point on the rim trail. We got there more than 90 minutes before official sunset time to try to stake out a good spot. We'd found a rock ledge earlier in the day and it turned out to be the perfect place. Dad and I were pretty much alone except for a German couple who also came to watch the sunset. The man was a photographer with a tripod so we sort of had an unspoken agreement to share the handful of good view points and we rotated back and forth as the sky dimmed into twilight. One of my favorite pictures from the evening is actually of that couple silhouetted against the setting sun.



We stayed until about 8:00 watching the colors change from red to purple as the shadows grew and the haze turned blue. The 100 degree day quickly faded to a 50 degree evening and I was glad I'd changed into jeans. The varying temperature was really unusual for me - I'm used to like a five degree variant over the course of the day, but at the canyon it goes from Summer to Fall in a matter of hours, so I advise you pack a light sweater, even if you go in the middle of August.

Northern Arizona was really spectacular.


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