Uncle G’s Adventures in Grand Canyon National Park
Before I begin…
<strongstyle=”text-align: center;”>I feel obligated to put out a disclaimer:
There is nothing I can say, write, or show in a picture that’ll capture the full beauty and magnitude of the Grand Canyon.
On pure scale alone the thing is mind-boggling. Stretching over 200 miles, averaging 10 miles wide, and nearly a vertical mile of drop the Grand Canyon will leave you breathless on first sight. It’s often nicknamed in the National Park Service as the “see & pee park” because the average visitor stays 3-5 hours. People often think this park is just about seeing it, getting their breath taken away, and they’ve had a fulfilling Grand Canyon experience.
DON’T DO THIS!
While at the Grand Canyon National Park…
- Stayed for a total of 8 days
- hiked 4 trails
- attended numerous ranger programs
- slept at the bottom of the canyon for 2 nights
- toured the buildings along the rim
Did you know that…
- It houses over 4000 archaeological ruins?
- It’s one of the nations vanguard research facilities on geology, anthropology, environmental preservation, animal rehabilitation, archaeology, trail design & maintenance, and more?
- The Grand Canyon National Park is also at the edge of the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest?
My first two nights at the Grand Canyon I spent exploring the rim and its astounding views. I saw the sunset and the sunrise and pinched myself each time. “Is this really real?” Layer after layer of beige limestone, red sandstone, and brittle shale colored the walls and reflected in purple and orange hues all the way to the sea-green plateau at about ¾ the height of the Canyon. Below the plateau only a bit of the dark schist rock that makes up the inner canyon could be seen. Each one of these layers represents hundreds of millions of years. The canyon itself is only 5-7 million years old, yes, only 5-7 million years. When walking around the Grand Canyon your perspective inevitably grows. It’s a living timeline that dates back 1.8 billion years, almost half the age of the earth. The rock along the rim is roughly 200 million years old and many oceanic fossils can be found. Yes, when walking on the rim at over 7000 ft of elevation you can see all sorts of underwater fossils. Forget the mighty force that formed the canyon itself. What gargantuan force pushed underwater rock over a mile into the sky? Like I said, your perspective will inevitably grow.
The rocks & their stories, however, are not the only thing that make this park special. The ponderosa pine forest that reaches right up to edges of both the North and South rims is a glorious sight that the first settlers described as “elegant and noble in aspect”. These widely spaced trees tower in their orange bark and are often burnt along their base. It’s a fire dependent eco-system and the smoke of prescribed burns can often be seen rising from the North Rim. The Grand Canyon is pioneering new ways of preserving this national treasure. Elk is a staple attraction of the park and, ironically, is actually an invasive species not found in the park till the early 90s. You’ll spot the empty cars parked along the road before you spot the elk or deer, but wherever you see those cars, be sure that nearby there’s an animal.
On the Ground Floor…
On my 3rd, 4th, and 5th days at the park I hiked to the bottom and back. This was a life-affirming experience that not only changed my perspective on the canyon but my perspective on myself. The largess and majesty of the canyon is great from the top, but from inside, it is the belly of the whale. It is truly inspiring, awe-some, humbling, and soul-stirring. The rock of the inner canyon is 1.7-1.8 billion years old. It just looks and feels Jurassic. I expected to see a dinosaur around any bend but even that would be too young for these rocks. If you have the time and werewithall to go to the bottom, do it. You’ll want to spend a few days at the bottom – no, not to rest for the hike out – but to hike more around the base of the canyon.
On my rest day at the bottom I hiked 7 miles towards the North Rim to a place called Ribbon Falls. Ribbon Falls is a holy-looking spot teeming with plants and is the literal portal of emergence for the Zuni people. It is their Garden of Eden equivalent. I couldn’t help but feel the spirituality and life-giving-and-taking force of nature there, despite having no knowledge of the religious significance of the falls. It is simply inherent in the falls’ beauty. There’s more trails and many more native ruins throughout the bottom of the canyon I unfortunately weren’t able to see. If possible, you must go to the bottom of the canyon. The hike in and out are both challenging. The reward is far greater than the challenge.
The hike from the bottom to the rim took about 5 hours up the Bright Angel Trail I walked slowly towards the end, trying to imbibe every color, crack, and monstrous crag in the canyon. What else could ever be so fulfilling, beautiful, & magnificent? I’m still looking…
I’ll remember my time at the Grand Canyon National Park forever as some of the best days of my life and already can not wait for my second visit there.
Things to know:
- The Grand Canyon is an extreme environment. Know this and prepare appropriately for the weather while you’re there. The rim is around 7000 ft of elevation and the base is around 2000 ft, meaning it snowed on the rim while I was there but I was wearing shorts all day at the bottom. When it’s hot on the rim it’s significantly hotter in the canyon.
- Carry plenty of water and talk with the Rangers if your plans are anything greater than a day hike. They are your best source of information. Sometimes there’s pipe breaks & limited water supply on the trails so it’s good to know whether or not you’ll be able to refill.
- Attend the ranger programs. Every program I attended and every ranger I spoke with was friendly, passionate, helpful, and extremely knowledgeable. They will point out awesome details you wouldn’t know existed & give you excellent context of the canyon.
- The buildings along the rim are a sight in their own right. They are historical, interesting, and beautiful. Take the time to visit them, including desert watchtower and hermits rest, and learn their history. The main architect, Mary E.J. Coulter, is a fascinating person with an empowering story.
- Along the Bright Angel trail there are two sets of pictoglyphs. The first is right after the Upper Tunnel and the second only 100 yards past the 1.5 Mile Rest-house. Look up and to your left and see some ancient writing.
- Spring & Fall are the best times to visit with a little less crowds & more moderate temperatures. Plan well in advance for campgrounds or lodging in the park if you are driving in. They keep 2 communal campsites open for hiker/biker walk-ins.
- There are plenty of dining options available in the park and it is honestly more fairly priced than meals in the bordering town of Tusayan. There is more upscale dinner available at El Tovar Hotel. Reservations are required.
- There is a free shuttle bus that will take you around all of the park, except for Desert View Watchtower.
- Don’t be a NPS newbie. Don’t feed the wildlife or approach the wildlife.
- Backcountry permits to camp at the bottom can be attained through the mail or in person at the Backcountry Office.