The Grand Canyon is a living sculpture.
From the top, the sunset-colored chasms seem to dip and swell like chiseled waves, with soaring monuments of rock towering over the winding abyss. Leafy brush and evergreens cling impossibly to the sheer faces of plunging cliffsides, growing straight upwards and accentuating the angle of decline. To look upwards from below is to be dizzied by the immensity of folded mountains, of nearly vertical rock walls weaving between each other in jutting contradictions.
The Grand Canyon has a unique, wild, and dangerous beauty.
The Grand Canyon
We camped at the Mather campground, within the bounds of Grand Canyon National Park. We arrived to an elk invasion at the registration site. Does were milling around the parking lot, grazing and exploring and licking at the faucets of the RV water tank filling stations. My daughter got the best picture of one of them, but unfortunately, on our last day in the park, she accidentally wiped her camera. She was devastated. At least Mommy and Daddy were snapping lots of photos too. We promised to share.
The area was experiencing a cold front. Nights dropped into the thirties, and we were only allowed to run the generator from 6:00-8:00 in the evenings, so we came with a plan. We ran a space heater in the camper for those whole two hours. Once it all had to turn off, the outside door did not open! We had footie pajamas and layers of blankets and hot food to warm our bellies. We woke chilly, but we slept comfortably.
Once my kids could be dragged away from playing in the dirt and climbing on the rocks at our campsite, we headed down to the South Rim to take in the first sight of this world-renowned natural wonder.
So much to explore
There were so many more trees than I expected! I didn’t know that the Grand Canyon was surrounded by a pygmy forest of spruce and pinyon until we were there. I read all the little informational signs (I’m a nerd and I’m proud of it). Our first order of business was to recreate a photo taken by my husband’s family around 18 years ago. We found the exact spot! A stranger was kind enough to take the photo so we could all be in the picture. Unfortunately, upon republishing this post, I’m having difficulty locating the photos. Please have patience, but let me know if you want to see them!
At last, our first foray inside the actual canyon began at the Kaibab Trailhead. The way was steep and narrow—essentially a shelf of dirt and rock, with occasional segments of uneven stair-steps dammed by logs. Almost always, a completely vertical wall shot upwards on one side, while the other side was walled only by sky and stubborn plant life. We saw a couple of squirrels and a chipmunk, but the hard part was slinking by several yards of loudly buzzing bushes.
I always thought of the Grand Canyon as being a desert of rock, but it’s full of life.
Not without risk
As someone with significant balance issues, the part I was most nervous about was the wind. I had heard of gusts blowing foolish tourists, testing their limits, completely off the cliffs. The welcome realization was that these gusts, while starting plenty strong, didn’t start quite strong enough to knock an adult off their feet. The kids, however, were required to hold hands towards the wall side of the trail at all times. The gusts blustered and sputtered before building and swelling into anything to brace against, and while they sometimes blew hard and long, there were no instances that we were taken by surprise.
Every time the wind started, my oldest would yell “AERODYNAMICS!” and hunker down to walk in a crouch. I wish I could have gotten a picture of it, but I was a bit more concerned with holding on to her at the time!
Having the aforementioned balance issues, I felt the need to talk with my three-year-old. I didn’t want him trying to hold on to me if I fell off the edge. “Listen,” I told him carefully. “If Mommy falls down, you let go of my hand, stand still, and wait for Daddy. Ok?”
“Ok,” he replied stoutly.
“Okay,” I said skeptically. “So if Mommy falls, what do you do?”
“Save her!” he declared.
On the second day, we got a much earlier start. We arrived at the Bright Angel trail by 10:30 in the morning, all stocked with enough food and water to get us through the day. This trail had little tunnels and a very echoey section that the kids were thrilled about. After we passed through, they were making their own echoes for the rest of the trip.
Literally: “Can I have some KETCHUP—ketchup—ketchup?”
We hiked all day.
We made it all the way down to the rest stop they’d built down in the canyon. I looked it up for this post: we made it only about 1.5 miles(!), but it was an elevation loss of more than a thousand feet. As excited as we and the kids were about getting so far in, and wanting to go further, the hike back up was too known a factor. We made it back to the top around 4:00 PM, give or take, for a total of around 6 hours of hiking. Probably around 2/3 of that span was climbing back up.
The mind-bending thing was the temperature difference. It was cold enough for coats going in, but warm enough to strip down to minimal layers well before the lowest point in our trek. When we made it to the up to the canyon rim again, it was flurrying!
Our only photo of the Colorado River had to be taken from the top of Powell Point. There were actually warning signs along the trails to inform tourists that they would not be hiking all the way down to the river and back in one day—complete with a cartoon of a man vomiting onto the ground.
Their favorite part of the Grand Canyon
For all of that adventure, my kids’ favorite part of the whole Grand Canyon was… the shuttle bus.
I am not kidding. They begged the whole time to go back and ride the shuttle bus in a circle again. The kids grinned under their required masks and kicked their feet and enthused about the lack of seatbelts. My oldest read all the signage and snapped a hundred phots (all gone, alas). Our whole two weeks of vacation, we kept hearing how they wanted to go back… and ride the shuttle bus.
The shuttle bus.
This episode of the adventure log was originally published on May 5, 2021, before my website went on strike and deleted everything. Sigh.
For more photos of sweeping vistas, natural wonders, and family hijinks, check out my Facebook page!
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