This part of the Great American Trek focuses on one of the world’s greatest natural wonders and my main reason for travelling through the state of Arizona, the Grand Canyon. So, is it really that grand? Is it really that big? All these questions and more are answered right here, so let’s lace up the hiking boots, we’re going for a stroll through time!
The Grand Canyon, pretty much a big hole right? Wrong. It is so much more than that. The Canyon itself is an intricate system of reservoirs, hiking trails and rivers that intertwine with the Colorado River. The Canyon was formed due to millions of years of erosion centralised in the Arizona state which fell away to form perhaps one of the world’s grandest (and more dangerous) sights.
The story of how we first laid eyes on the Canyon is a good one. As our faithful coach, comically named “The Banana Bus”, was making its way through the Arizona state, we stopped off for supplies and along the way our tour guide, Jaz, picked up a paper bag for each of us to doodle faces on. A fun activity to pass the time, we thought.
As we approached the carpark inside the National Park itself, we were instructed to form an orderly line and place our paper bags on our heads. What followed was a bumbling, stumbling and giggling line of twenty-somethings putting their full faith in their guide to lead them through the park. After stopping numerous times to reconnect our line, we came to cease our stumbling and stood in an unknown part of the park. On the count of three we were to remove our bags. One…two…three!
Blinking the light out of our eyes, we saw it for the first time. The Grand Canyon; expansive, sublime, far-reaching and tremendous. I couldn’t help but think that in the awe of seeing this natural wonder, it can’t have been real. It must have been the backdrop of a film set. Had it not been for the sheer drop to a rather unfortunate end, I would have believed this to be the case.
Staying at the Canyon
The National Park where the Grand Canyon can be found is also it’s own resort, a getaway hotspot for all ages. The park plays hosts to thousands of visitors a year and houses its own supermarket, restaurant and cafe, bar, camping grounds, luxury lodgings and of course, gift shops. The natural wonder itself holds numerous hiking trails for you to go for a walk on. From those who just like a relaxing stroll, to novice hikers, up to the most experienced of thrill seekers, you can pick and choose the journeys that you will undertake on the days you’re visiting.
Our first adventure after pitching our tents in what we thought would be the best part of the camp site (more on that later) was to order take-away pizza and eat it on the edge of one of the many cliffs of the canyon as we watched the sun setting…because where else would you eat it?
Take note though, it gets mighty windy and cold on those cliff edges, so be sure to bring a jumper with you, even in the summer. Another thing to note, the Grand Canyon, whilst ominously beautiful in its appearance, is also deceptively dangerous. Many overzealous hikers have taken a stumble and fallen into the canyon itself, injuring and even losing their lives in the process, something the park rangers want every visitor to be aware of when traversing the mountainous terrain of the park. So bear this in mind when you travel!
Hiking the Canyon
For those of you who want to tackle the hikes of the Grand Canyon, be prepared to bring plenty of water and a few snacks along the way. Some of the trails have no drinking water and this can be extremely treacherous if not properly prepared for.
For those who are highly accomplished walkers – or clinically insane – can undertake the Grand Canyon’s longest hike, the Rim-to-Rim hike. A 44 mile round-trip, which usually takes about 5-7 days to complete. This hike begins by descending 14.3 miles and 6,000 feet to the bottom of the Canyon and reconneds with the Bright Angel Trail which then makes you climb 4,500 feet and 9.6 miles back out again to the South Rim. It makes me tired just typing it!
Fear not though, there are easier trails to take in the canyon. The South Kaibab Trail offers some of the most spectacular views of the park and is only a day hike. It is however, steep (about 7,000 feet) and well defined with very little shade. So if you mean to take this trail, take the proper equipment with you. You will need to take the shuttlebus to the start of the hiking tail, so plan accordingly!
We undertook this day hike and I can confirm that the hike down is much easier than the hike up. Be sure to enjoy the view when you climb down because you won’t be paying any attention to it as you climb back up. Just be sure to have the right walking shoes because it can be slippery in places. Trust me, having a little slip with the depths of the canyons in the distance can near give you a heart attack!
Camping in the National Park
Being far away from any major big city or town, the National Park offers some of the most spectacular star gazing opportunities I have ever experienced. Depending on the weather, do not miss the opportunity to sleep out under the heavens, you never know what you may see. Case in point, me and my fellow travellers camped out under the stars on our first night in the park. After indulging in a variety of crafted beers we picked up from the local supermarket, we were approached by an unknown woman, a camper who had come to complain about our level of revelry…or so we thought. In fact, she had come with a problem. She was part of a wedding party which had taken place that day, their party had a leftover keg of beer that they needed to finish but could not, the issue being that the keg needed to be returned the next day. Challenge accepted.
This level of divine intervention kept us entertained for the rest of that evening. Keg stands were performed, stories were shared and existential questions of the universe and the multitude of stars above us were thrown around the campfire. The wedding party would wake up to find a – mostly – finished keg next to their caravan the next morning.
The second night of camping in the park however, was a different kind of event all together. After a long day of hiking down and up the canyon, we who were on dinner duty merely wanted to rest before cooking that night’s meal. Alas, the weather had an entirely different plan.
The rain started at around 5pm and lasted until approximately 9pm that same evening, staying at a steady torrential pace. Sitting in my small hiking tent, I noticed that the ground beneath started to get just that bit softer. Looking outside, the water level had begun to rise…and rise…and rise some more. The tents next to me already had created a dam-like obstruction to the path that the rain had created. I held onto hope for as long as I could but at the point where the bottom of the tent felt more like a water bed than a floor, I shouted out to my fellow campers that we needed to evacuate! Women and children first, I yelled. Quick as lighting and looking like we had just gone swimming, we retreated into the confines of the nearby restaurant. Onlookers giving us the once over with their judgemental eyes. Okay Karen, sorry we can’t all afford to stay in a lodge!
Still, looking back on this event, I couldn’t help but find it hilarious. At the time it was so outrageous it just had to be enjoyable, packing up the wet tents was not so much. But who else can say their campsite flooded at the Grand Canyon?
The Grand Canyon in Arizona is most definitely one for the bucket list. Whether you just want to sit and stare at the vastness of this natural wonder, discover more of its formation at their dedicated information/science centre, or you feel brave enough to tackle one of its many hiking trails, there is enough to do for an individual traveller, loved up couples or the whole family.