I almost gave up on the visiting the Grand Canyon because when I started to research, I found out that ideally, one needs to start planning about a year in advance- especially if you plan to stay at the Grand Canyon National Park itself. All the lodging at the Grand Canyon was fully booked for months on end and I couldn’t find any hotels nearby for a decent [in my opinion] price for early May.
There was also the ‘small’ issue of plane tickets. Apart from the high prices, I would either have to fly in to Las Vegas, NV or Phoenix, AZ then make the 5 or 4.5 hour drive to the Grand Canyon National Park. I would also have to rent a vehicle, pay for lodging, and of course food. Then the almighty variable- finding a person or persons who wanted to join me at the same time I was free.
It started to become a bit too much for me and I got so discouraged that I actually gave up on visiting the Grand Canyon within the next 12 months. But as some of you know firsthand, the wanderlust bug can be really severe sometimes. Before long, I was back at it again- researching alternative flight itineraries, alternative accommodation arrangements, moving things around and, viola! It was starting to look like a real possibility. I was determined to go- even if it meant going alone.
On the Friday evening, I flew in to Phoenix, AZ and spent the night there since I didn’t want to drive up to the Grand Canyon in the dark in unfamiliar territory. The next morning, I got up early and set off. I had planned to make a detour in the Sedona area of Arizona to see the beautiful red rocks (Red Rock Scenic Byway). I had researched some good places in the area and earmarked Cathedral Rock and Bell Rock. The views along the Red Rock Scenic Byway are really beautiful and there are several places to stop. I stopped at one of them and discovered that I was exactly at Bell Rock! So I parked the car and set off on my first adventure.
The hike was easy enough at first– then I got to the base of the mountain and started to climb. It was definitely a work out. So many times, I almost gave up but I kept thinking, just a few more feet up. Sometimes when it got a little too tricky, I would wait and watch people to see how they got up, then copy their methods.
After this, I resumed the drive and arrived at the Grand Canyon National Park at about 2.30pm. I parked and headed excitedly in the general direction of the crowd. As I took each step forward, the excitement was growing- I was finally about to see what I had been waiting to see for a long time. There was no doubt about where to go. Everybody was headed to Mather point.
When I finally caught the first glimpse of it, I was in awe. I literally got goosebumps and started to tear up a little bit. It stretched as wide as the eye could see, and then some. I just kept thinking, God is great! It had an amazing color structure to it, with the sunlight and shadows playing their part and giving it some sort of effect. Then the layers as well …spectacular!!
I gave myself several minutes to take it all in then I whipped out my phone and started taking pictures, then videos, then more pictures, then selfies. Then I asked random people to take pictures of me. Then I took more selfies. lol.
I walked along the rim for a bit, still trying to take it all in but I finally decided that would be impossible to do. I just kept walking, stopping at a few points, taking more pictures, and walking. There were people everywhere- from all parts of the world. Some people were taking pictures in some very risky poses very close to the edge and I decided I had better stay far away from them. I was almost tempted to attempt some risky poses too- but then I remembered I was African and that more importantly, my mother was African (some of you may be able to relate) and so I kept far, far away from the edge.
After adjusting to my new environment for a bit, I decided to take the plunge and start my first hike. I took on the Bright Angel Trail- I liked the name (it sounded safe since it had the word angel in it) and it sounded like a good first trail. It felt easy enough and I was wondering why people thought hiking was such a difficult thing.
Then the unimaginable happened. Well, it was imaginable, I had just really hoped it wouldn’t happen. It started to rain. Heavily. But I kept going. My fingers were starting to get numb from the cold and I had no gloves, but I kept going. Then it started to hail. Heavily. So I decided to turn and go back up. From the very first step going back up, I started to feel it in my thighs! I was like “oh boy! this is the real hiking”. My heart rate spiked and I had to take several breaks but the rain and hail served as very good motivation to get done quickly.
Round trip was about 2.5 or 3 miles. My fitbit registered about 30,000 steps that day. Actually, I’m glad it rained and hailed during the hike though, as it provided an even more unique experience. Not only can I say I have hiked in the Grand Canyon, but it was done under adverse weather conditions = bad @$$!
I called it a day and drove over an hour to my accommodation for the night- a hostel in Williams, AZ, a town along historic Route 66. It was my first time ever staying in a hostel so I was a bit nervous. However, it ended up being a good experience so I will definitely try it again. At the time, it was my only option anyway – at least, based on the research I had done.
The next morning, I started at the Visitor Center to watch the video about the formation of the Grand Canyon. Then I started to hike the Rim Trail. This is a paved trail at the top with several view points. I hiked west, with my goal being to get to Hermit’s Rest. My main [pretty much only] reason for wanting to go was because I had seen a picture of a guy at hermit’s rest in an article I had read and it said it was an awesome place to visit while at the Grand Canyon.
At one of the view points on this trail, I spotted a large hole in the rocks - if you fall in, I’m sure you go straight to hell, or at least to a place where the sun doesn’t shine! I also got my first glimpse of the Colorado River at one of the viewpoints.
Don’t fall in there
Luckily, there are shuttle buses because it can be quite a hike to Hermit's Rest (private cars aren’t allowed on this road without a permit). At Hermit’s Rest there was a little shop, and the building itself was quite uniquely done. I tried to find the Hermit’s Trail so as to hike a little bit but I guess they were serious when they said on their website that the trail was ‘unmaintained’. I couldn’t even find the trail head!
I gave up on hiking the Hermit Trail and explored the other Visitor Center, Hopi House, El Tovar Hotel, Kolb Studio, Bright Angel Lodge, etc. I also had lunch at Maswik Lodge, a very nice pizza from the food court. For some reason, I was subconsciously delaying my next hike which was going to be on the South Kaibab Trail. To be honest, I was already sore from the day before but I had to complete the mission.
Left my mark at Verkamp Visitor’s Center
I took the shuttle to the trail head and started my descent. The South Kaibab Trail was significantly redder than the Bright Angel Trail and definitely more challenging-even going down. But it was fun and had several great view points- a reward for about every mile or half mile of hiking. There was the Ooh-Aah point, which really did have that effect on you.
After this trail, I was tired and strongly considering heading out to my hotel to get some rest, but I wanted to view a sunset at the Canyon. I hadn’t been able to view any sunrises there (usually around 6am in May) and the previous night, I had to get to my hostel before 9pm so no time to stick around for a sunset. That was my last night anywhere near the park so it had to be that day. Problem was, it was still a long time to sunset (8.22pm) and it was getting quite cold.
There wasn’t actually any guarantee that there would be a good/great sunset viewing because it was a really cloudy day. In fact, many times I was tempted to just leave the park due to the cold and wind. Before long, I was rewarded- but it was a really short show. I’m glad I took pictures when I did because I kept waiting for 'something more' and it never came. It was a cool experience to view the sunset over the Canyon, as well as watch other people view the sunset with all their fancy photography and video equipment.
I spent that night in Kingman, AZ so that I could be closer to Grand Canyon West, the location of my next set of adventures. Grand Canyon West is not [yet] as popular as the Grand Canyon National Park, but it should be because it is just as awesome, if not more!
Grand Canyon West is run by the Hualapai Tribe of Indians and a lot of their culture and tradition is very evident here. Depending on your ticket type, you get to walk the skywalk, have lunch, dance and sing with the native people, ride horses, go bull riding, experience a magic show (which was really cool- the card I picked out and wrote my name on somehow found itself folded into 4 in a tiny closed box- I tell you, I watched the guy closely, I don’t know how he did it), etc. They also have helicopter rides so you can descend into the canyon and connect on a deeper level [pun intended].
Hualapai Tribe Members
The most popular thing is the glass skywalk. It has a horseshoe shape and is totally see-through so you can gaze straight down into the Grand Canyon. The skywalk was nice- but a bit scary. I kept asking myself "who send me message?" Cameras (nothing really) aren’t allowed on there. I guess for safety, but also because they have official photographers there to take your picture and you are encouraged to buy your very expensive pictures. After this, I grabbed a quick lunch and started the 4.5 hour drive back to Phoenix airport but I would easily have stayed longer as there was so much to do!
I’m glad I also visited Grand Canyon West as it gave me a rest from hiking. It was actually fun, and I learned some history about one of the Indian tribes. Sometimes, history is sad but it is very important that we learn about our history. It is also good to learn about other cultures so that harmful, evil, and untrue stereotypes do not continue to be perpetuated by ignorance.
So that's it folks! - My long weekend at the Grand Canyon. I can't wait to go back out west to visit more of the beautiful national parks on that side of the U.S.
Visit my blog for more travel stories, travel tips, and pictures from this trip and others :)