I made a point to get up early and head out to the east entrance of the canyon as per the advice of my research. Once again the landscape was spectacular and the temptation to stop after every twist or turn was strong. I stopped a couple of times at designated scenic views and when I saw a sign for buffalo jerky. I like buffalo jerky. Buffalo jerky is usually locally made. I pulled over and looked at the other wares for sale at the Navajo-run little market. It was early and they were just setting up. I bought a little pendant piece that was different than the usual tourist stuff I had seen at roadside places.
I finally arrived at the first view of the canyon, the Desert View Watchtower. It was early but the crowd was healthy. I walked up to the viewing ledge and got my first view. It was impressive, even at the smaller end. I spent some time there, trying to pace myself, following the map given to me at the entrance.
The tower itself wasn’t impressive, since it was made as a replica of Native American building technique but was really a frame of metal. But at least they told you so on the little information stand.
I continued on down the road, stopping at recommended viewing sites, the view becoming more and more breathtaking as the canyon got larger. I sought out the Kaibab Trail, also as per recommendations. I looked at the trail on a map. It was only 3 miles. I could do that. I easily and happily began descending, stopping often to admire and reflect and, of course photograph.
Tourists always say they want to avoid other tourists. It’s completely hypocritical of course, but I’m no different. I sometimes try to seek out the path less traveled or less populated. But in the end, so is everyone else. The canyon was a bit different. I was glad to have people around me. For one, they didn’t disrupt what I had come there to see. No matter how crowded it was, the canyon itself was devoid of people. No one could take the view away. Even at viewing sites with crowds pressed against a railing and posing endlessly, all you had to do was stand behind someone, wait a few seconds and take their place and the extraordinary beauty opened up before you. It didn’t matter who was standing beside or behind you.
As I walked down the trail, I watched people of all ages and sizes walking back up. They were hot and sweaty and out of breath. Many were taking breaks and panting. I realized the further I went, the more I was setting myself up for the same fate. I set the timer on my phone for 60 minutes. I wouldn’t walk down longer than that. After about 50 minutes I arrived at a particularly scenic view with a large rock cliff jutting out, inviting poses. Lots of people had stopped there, so I did too. I waited my turn to scoot up to the edge of the rock. I didn’t walk it like others had. I’m too clumsy and I had too much swinging camera equipment on me to risk it. I sat on the edge, feeling the wind on my face and took a long time to soak it all in.
Everyone talks about the Grand Canyon. How you have to see it in person to really grasp the scale and beauty. They were right. It did not disappoint. It was wonderful. I was so happy to be there. I listened to the conversations around me. One woman, sitting just below me, her back on the rock I was sitting on, commented on what a perfect spot it was. “If only we could get some kind of drink service,” I joked. “Like a margarita and good pizza.” She laughed. “That would be better than nuts and water.”
The hike continued down to another view. It was only .3 miles and I couldn’t decide if I wanted to keep going. That walk up was looking more and more imposing. I decided against it and started back up.
My God, I am so out of shape, I thought. I could only make it a section at a time before my heart threatened to burst out of my chest. So, like the others I had seen before, I rested often, drank my water, waited for my heart to calm down then went up a little further. Before I knew it, I had made it back up. I walked over to a shaded, grassy area, removed all my bags and camera stuff and laid down for a few minutes before going back to my car and moving on.
I parked at the Visitor’s Center, cheating a little. The regular slots were all filled up, so I snuck into the RV parking and hit behind a big one. An element is technically a recreational vehicle, right?
The Visitor’s Center is very well designed and pleasant to navigate with lots of big informational panels, a coffee shop, restrooms, gift store and a place to take the shuttle back and forth along the rim trail.
I walked west along the rim, stopping often to soak in a new view and take photos. I wanted to see the sunset at one of the west-most locations, again, based on research, so I walked back to the Visitor’s Center and found the right shuttle to take. I was behind a trio of older people. (I say older….they were in their 60s, I would guess.) I ended up staying with them most of the way and we exchanged information about shuttle schedules and how to get back after the sun went down. It was a bit confusing.
We got off just before Hopi Point, which I think is the last one. I left them and began to meander west. I passed by a perfect viewing area, another rock jutting out, but a young, couple was sitting there, clearly hoping to be alone. A few feet later, I found a similar rock and copied them. I sat right in the middle, faced toward the canyon, took my thinks off and tried my best to give off a “this is my rock” vibe.
The sun was low in the sky and I sat and watched the shadows and colors slowly change across the weird landscape of the canyon. I took pictures and breathed it all in. I thought about mom. She had always wanted to see this. I tried not to cry but did anyway. I wondered what she would think that I had actually made it there. And that I was on my way to move to be with Lauren. I hoped, as I have many times since her death, that she would have been proud of me.
I wanted to listen to music, but my phone battery was dying, so I took the headphones off. I heard the couple next to me bickering. I don’t know if they were serious or just teasing. I overheard, “What do you mean I don’t do things you want to do? When’s the last time you wanted to do something and I didn’t do it?”
How can you argue in such a landscape? I wondered. It reminded me of a line from A Room with a View when the pastor realizes the driver is flirting with his girlfriend, whom he claimed was his sister, and fusses at him. Eleanor Lavish rebukes him, “How can you object in such a landscape?”
How indeed? How could anyone be anything but happy and in awe with that wonder before you, as the sun played with it’s colors and shadows, highlighting one edge than hiding it for another protrusion. It was quite possibly one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen.
Well, besides the sight of freshly boiled crawfish pouring onto a table next to custom made dip and a beer. Nothing beats that.
I put my headphones back on, finding a particularly dramatic song from Pride and Prejudice and allowed the battery to drain itself. It was worth it.
Before the sun hit the edge of the earth, I sought out the proper shuttle pick up stop. I was exhausted and I wanted to be on the first bus back.
As the sun set, more people joined me and when the bus arrived, I grabbed a seat and leaned my head against the window. I was so tired and I still had to drive an hour and a half.
Arriving back at the Visitor’s Center, I had to find the parking lot where the element was in the dark. Then, too I was happy to have lots of people around. I followed the sidewalk to the first parking lot and detected the shape of a lone vehicle. Getting closer, it was my beloved, old Element and I was so happy to see her.
By the time I got back to my motel room, I was pooped. I had considered going back to see the North Rim or even Antelope Canyon the next day but I couldn’t imagine doing that. I had had enough hiking for a while.
Tomorrow, I would sleep in, hang out, write and then go find the Hoover Dam and the giant angels.