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Stephanie Seto | profile | all galleries >> Nikon D80 Gallery >> Southwest Sojourn 2007 >> Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Six years ago, the Grand Canyon was the main reason I travelled to Arizona. And while the Arizona Spectacular Tour did indeed stop at the canyon, that's all it was: a stop. A photo op and an IMAX movie. Instead, we spent more time in some less-well-travelled places, which were equally rewarding. However, this time, I wanted to get to know the grandest of canyons a little better.

It says something about the popularity of the place when you have to make reservations at least six months in advance to get a room in the lodging of your choice. I chose to stay at the Bright Angel Lodge and Cabins, which is a series of rustic buildings built in 1935. Some of the nicer rooms are Rim Cabins with seating areas, fireplaces and views of the canyon; most are more basic, small rooms with no views and some with shared baths. I elected for a basic room with a private bath, which was really all I needed. The price was right, although I was a little worried at what only $70 US a night could get you. I was pleasantly surprised, though. My room was in a building called the Powell Lodge; fairly small, furnished with a double bed, two nightstands, a dresser, and a desk. But it was clean and fresh. All rooms had been redecorated earlier in the year but still retained their rustic "lodge" feel with wainscotting and ceiling lights that looked like old kerosene lamps. Nothing was old about the bathroom; it was sparkling new and modern, with good lighting. Mine was quite large, although I think that it was the exception rather than the rule at Bright Angel.

The Grand Canyon is definitely a huge tourist attraction, and you can see it in the many tour buses that are in and out every day, and how many people frequent the section of the Rim Trail in the main part of the village. But when you look out over that enormous chasm, you are still impressed and stunned by its vast, rugged beauty that seems to go on forever. At least, I was.

My first day there was spent walking part of the Rim Trail, which is flat and easy. Once I left the village there weren't a lot of people to be seen, and very few vehicles on the road since only the park shuttle buses are allowed past a certain point. So there was still some solitude to be had in the park, and lots of secluded areas from which to take pictures aside from the viewpoints serviced by the buses. Unfortunately most of my photos have a hazy quality to them, since there were controlled burns taking place on the North Rim. At night, flames were visible in the distance.

The second day, I decided to hike 3 miles down the South Kaibab Trail into the canyon, to Skeleton Point. Not too long, but an elevation loss of 2,000 feet, which of course meant an elevation GAIN of 2,000 feet for the return trip. There are many warnings posted at trailheads and in the park guide about being prepared when you hike even partway into the canyon (people are discouraged from attempting to hike to the canyon floor and back in one day). It can get much hotter in the canyon than on the rim, and the return trip is all uphill, which can take twice as long as it took you to go down. And it's harder because of the high elevation. So you have to bring enough food and water, give yourself enough time, and know when to rest. Apparently, many hikers have to be rescued from the canyon every year because they simply weren't prepared.

After getting up extra early to watch the sunrise from Mather Point, I took the shuttle to the South Kaibab trailhead. I definitely didn't have to worry about getting lost, since there were plenty of other hikers and the trail was very well maintained. It was also shared by mule trains, so I had to be careful where I put my feet, if you know what I mean.

Hiking down to Skeleton Point took me almost as long as it did to go back up, since I stopped so many times to take pictures. The views were still awesome even though you're not as high up as when you're on the rim; it's a more intimate look at the canyon. On the way back up, I didn't take a single photo. I didn't want to waste any energy. I "turtled" my say to the top - slow and steady, one foot in front of the other, stopping once in awhile but not too long. Drinking water, nibbling on protein bars to keep my energy up. Every time I'd come over a rise it was hard not to feel discouraged when I saw how much futher I had to go. Fortunately, it wasn't terribly hot, so it wasn't as draining as it could have been in, say, August. Still, the end just didn't seem to want to come. Until, finally, mercifully, it did.

I chatted with another hiker who had passed me earlier on the way up - Steve from Seattle. Then the shuttle bus came and I hopped on and was whisked away, back to the village and the lodge and my room and BED. I just couldn't wait to lie down. I didn't even have dinner that night.

It was an exhausting, but exhilarating way to end what had been a truly fantastic trip. I don't know when or if I'll ever return to this part of the Southwest but I'll always have wonderful memories of the days that I spent there.

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