The Grand Canyon is without a doubt one of the most awe inspiring places on the face of this earth. As some of you may recall from an earlier post, I got skunked on seeing the canyon from both the north and south rims last fall. (Sob story here… With Winter Approaching… And Elissa Too!) The only other time I saw this magnificent place was via puddle-jumper from Vegas with a tour company while I was pregnant with Elissa. In a plane so small, riding thermals so strong, with hormones so high, I was too busy trying not to be sick to enjoy that little excursion. I barely remember seeing the canyon!
Elissa has probably lost track of how many times she’s heard that story over the years! While discussing where she might like to spend her spring break with me we decided we should see the Grand Canyon together… again. I arrived just before sunset a few days before she was due to fly from Dallas to Flagstaff, settled into my campsite in record breaking time, and scurried off to find a vista along the rim where I could catch the sunset. Without a moment to spare I parked my car and literally ran to the rim. Needless to say the view took my breath away. I have seen a tremendous number of spectacular images of this canyon, but nothing… not even Ansel Adams… can replace the experience of seeing it in person.
That night I poured over the map trying to decipher my best vantage points for sunrises and sunsets. Lighting is everything when it comes to images, and with landscapes it varies greatly depending on time of day, time of year and the weather. I’m going to resist my temptation to dive into a lighting lesson here because it gets complicated… lighting ratios, exposures, blah, blah, blah. Let’s just say that a great view and a great image do not go hand in hand, and without more time to get to know the canyon I could pretty much throw a dart at any point on the rim. Instead I picked one of the view points I could get to without taking a shuttle… Yavapai Point.
Although quite cold, it was a delightful way to start the day…
Mid day was spent exploring and working on projects. Like many of the places I venture to, the park is for the most part off-grid. Cell service was hit-and-miss and WiFi almost nonexistent. This is a never ending problem for me since most of what I do requires the internet… from researching, writing, planning my routes and campsites to banking and sadly… much of my communicating. The only WiFi available was at a little deli within the park, so I drank more than my share of coffee and tea while camped there.
By late afternoon I was hiking with the girls on the rim trail between Bright Angel trailhead and Hopi Point. I should point out that in this park dogs are allowed on trails ABOVE the rim, but not below. In most of our national parks there are few trails they are allowed on at all. It’s often a sad reality for me, but usually very understandable. It was nice to have them along for this 4.5 mile hike, and as always they were extraordinarily well behaved and patient while I captured images along the way.
The following morning I chose to start my excursion where we finished the night prior… near Bright Angel trailhead in Grand Canyon Village. My intention was to venture all the way out to Hermits Rest, which would equate to roughly 17 miles on foot. The most efficient way for me to see this part of the canyon at best light was to hike much of it, but utilize the shuttle between some of the vistas. Sadly, although dogs are allowed on this entire trail, they are not allowed on the shuttle busses, so the girls had to wait it out at “home”.
Below is a map of the shuttle system. It includes many of the lookout points and trail heads, but I know it’s too small to read. Here’s a link to a legible map for those interested… map. Most of the vistas I’m mentioning in this post can be found on the map. My morning excursion on this particular day is the entire red route from east to west and back. (80 minutes by shuttle not including stops that would require waiting for another shuttle.)
(FYI… Bright Angel and Grand Canyon Village are at the left of the blue route, Hopi is the northern-most point on the red route and Hermits Rest the western-most. Yavapai Point is at the left of the yellow route, and Yaki Point and South Kaibab Trailhead are at the far right of the yellow route. All points along the black line are accessible by car.)
On the morning Elissa was due to arrive I was once again up and out before dawn. Well before dawn actually because I had no idea how long I would have to wait for a shuttle, nor how long it would take to reach Yaki Point. As I’ve mentioned before, if I’m not set up and ready to shoot BEFORE sunrise, I’m late. The magic light waits for no one! This particular morning I had the pleasure of meeting and sharing some conversation with a young woman from Canada, Ellen Bruce, and she was kind enough to grab a quick shot of me (looking like I’d just rolled out of bed ) with my cell phone so I could share a rare image of me doing what I do.
After capturing sunrise from Yaki Point, rather than climbing right back on the shuttle I hiked along the canyon rim to the Kaibab Trailhead where I hoped to embark on a hike into the canyon with Elissa the following day.
As soon as I got back to my motorhome the girls and I anxiously hopped in the car for the 90 mile drive to Flagstaff to pick up our girl at the airport. That’s what I call her when talking to the dogs… “our girl”, and they know exactly who I’m talking about. Just the mention of her gets them excited, and of course they were gleeful as can be when I opened the back hatch with her standing next to me at the airport.
After a bite to eat and a quick stop at the grocery store we were headed back to the canyon. Rather than drive the more direct route I’d taken to pick her up, we took a longer route up Hwy-89 with a side trip to Wupatki National Monument where we hiked to a few of the ruins… the first ancient Pueblo ruins she had ever seen.
I planned this return route into Grand Canyon National Park from the east entrance knowing there were numerous scenic view points along the rim of the canyon, including Desert View Watchtower. It’s a far more scenic drive than the entrance from the south.
We enjoyed our first Grand Canyon sunset together from Yaki Point. Although a stunning vista regardless, the clouds made it all the more spectacular! It was interesting watching Elissa. She has traveled to many amazing places, and to more countries than I, but I’m now seeing a deeper appreciation for the greatness of nature and the wonders you find immersing yourself there. It’s a spiritual connection that goes far beyond enjoying a pretty vista. (In my opinion it’s vital to humanity. I know it’s vital to my humanity. Deeper thoughts on that in The Fork in The Road.)
Late morning the following day we set out for our six mile (round trip) hike on South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point. The 3-mile 2,040 foot drop into the canyon was quite picturesque and we weren’t surprised to encounter numerous other hikers along the trail. Those hiking down were full of energy and chatter, while most of those hiking up were quietly conserving their breath. Some were clearly suffering.
Despite the climb we were pleased with the pace we kept all the way back to the rim of the canyon. There was a time when I would have listened to a fair bit of whining on this trail, and I was expecting to catch some of it. Instead Elissa tackled it like the trooper she’s become. I couldn’t have been more proud and pleased. I’ve created a hiker!
As a side note… while we were hiking up and still some distance to the rim, we observed a few foreign women who seemed in “moderate condition” hiking down the trail. After a couple of them had passed it occurred to me to ask the next how far they intended to hike. They had hoped to reach Skelton Point, but clearly did not comprehend the length of time it would take them. They set out far too late to reach their destination and get safely back to the rim before dark. I shared with them how long it had taken us to reach their intended destination and get back to where we were standing… with the steepest climb still ahead. This is not a hike that should be attempted in the dark, not even with flashlights. There are far too many sheer, steep drop-offs along the trail.
“How to stay safe” is stressed in every bit of literature handed out in these parks, but some people simply don’t have a healthy respect for the potential dangers in nature. It is so important to plan, educate yourself and go so far as to over-prepare when setting out, even on well traveled trails.
Sharing the Grand Canyon together… a first for both of us even though it was really the second time we shared a few moments together along that rim… was unbelievably special. For me it was a highlight on my journey. It was an honor to observe a new and deeper maturity in my lovely daughter, and seeing that made my heart swell with pride.
The following morning we set out for Zion National Park, a place I fell hopelessly in love with last fall and could not resist the opportunity to share it with Elissa. It was my intention to write about her entire spring break here, but alas… these places are both far too grand to share in one post!
Two more side notes…
1) When it comes to experiencing the Grand Canyon I have only hit the tip of the iceberg. I could easily spend months here and not get the entire experience. It is my desire to come back for some backpacking in the canyon, and hopefully have an opportunity to do a multi-day rafting trip through the canyon on the Colorado River. Both are experiences I would not attempt on my own. Chime in you adventurous souls!
2) After months of technical issues with my blog… putting me further and further behind on my projects and bringing tremendous stress into my life… I have made some changes. I am now affiliated with and hosted by Trail Sherpa. The founder of Trail Sherpa, Tim Miner, obviously knows his stuff and I’m hoping his web design company will eliminate a good many of my technical woes. My site was recently “ported” and a few of the design kinks are yet to be worked out. In addition, I’m in the midst of adding more content to my site. In other words you can expect a few changes in the near future. Hopefully you can also expect to hear from me more regularly.
One of the biggest snafu’s that led to this decision was all email notifications being “shut down” during a recent WordPress update (the most technical way I can state it) and the subsequent loss of my entire list of followers. SO… if you were on that list, or would like to receive a simple notification when I post, please click on the envelope icon at the top right of the page. The list will not be shared, and I average 3-4 post per month at most so you will not be inundated with notices from me. And please… pass the word!
And as always… thank you for being a part of my journey.