The Grand Canyon is listed among the Seven Natural Wonders for a reason. There is an indescribable grandiosity to these cinnabar slopes that cascade into the distance as far as the eye could see.
Seeing this with your own eyes is the experience of a lifetime, and that’s why visiting the Grand Canyon is a bucket list experience for so many people.
Just like at the Glacier National Park in Montana where I only spent one day, I was able to spend a day at the Grand Canyon National Park while on a journey from Los Angeles, California to Flagstaff, Arizona.
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon offers iconic and expansive panoramic views, and it’s easily accessible from both Flagstaff and Las Vegas.
The road into the National Park leads directly to the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center, the ideal place to learn about the area and decide how to spend time there by watching a twenty minute movie, or speaking with a Park Ranger.
The nearby Yavapai Geological Museum has a gift shop, and exhibits that detail the area’s geology. From there the rim trail extends in either direction;
Eastward is the Desert View Watchtower, a four-story stone cylinder built with local stones and inspired by Hopi art and architecture.
On the way there is a series of ruins from an 800 year old Pueblo settlement that now serves as an educational area.
Heading west, the trail ultimately comes to Hermit Rest, a building known for the prominent fireplace and rubble stone chimney. I chose to go west.
The early portion of the westward trail is known as the trail of time. It’s an interactive walking tour that tells the story of the geological eons and the different types of rocks associated with each eon.
The trail continues to the Grand Canyon Village, an area with a railroad station, and accommodations for visitors.
The beautifully ornate El Tovar is built with local pine and limestone and is situated along the rim of the canyon. Bright Angel Lodge is a series of cabins designed by the same creative mind behind Desert Watchtower and Hermits Rest.
It marks the beginning of one of the most popular hiking paths in the park, the Bright Angel Trail. This trail passes through an area known as the Indian Garden, where groundwater meets solid shale stone and rises into a creek. The Havasupai people farmed corn and melons here until the late 1800s.
The patch of green stands out from the surrounding earth tones at the base of the canyon.
Further along the Rim Trail is Maricopa Point, a prominent and narrow strip of land that allows for views in either direction. Looking down from here, structures from the Orphan Lode Mine are visible. This abandoned uranium mine remains closed to the public because of the exposed radioactive material deep within the tunnels.
At Powell Point, there is a memorial and sign that honors the pioneers who embarked on the first documented expedition through the Grand Canyon.
Braving the rapids and the possibility of attack from hostile Native Americans meant that the expedition in 1869 was more about survival than scientific research, so General Powell undertook another expedition less than three years later.
As I approached Hopi Point, I noticed a tall solitary figure with a yagi antenna and a pair of binoculars looking towards Battleship Station Rock; a formation that bears the resemblance of a war vessel that’s a popular nesting area for California Condors.
Wildlife researcher and National Park Volunteer “Condor Bob” explained to me that he was tracking one of the rarest birds on the planet, a critically endangered member of the raptor family where every single individual is actively tracked by conservationists aiming to preserve them.
He told me that if I was willing to remain at Hopi Point for the next hour, it was highly likely that I would be able to get a glimpse of a California Condor that was in the area.
Bob is an avid sailor with a boat in the Bahamas and he spent part of his early life researching whales in the Gulf of Mexico. The wait was well-spent with conversations about whale watching in Dominica, and the storied relationship between sailing and Barbadian Rum.
The condor eventually sails into view, just over the canyon rim across from where we stood.
There is never a single flap from the wingspan that often spans over nine feet. Too far away to capture a clear picture, but that was probably for the best since it would have never done justice to this spectacular bird that’s confused for a plane more often than it’s mistaken for another bird.
Continuing along on the route are some of the most tranquil areas of the rim trail with vistas that are both picturesque and peaceful. An area known as The Abyss allows for almost vertical views to the bottom of the canyon to those daring to stand on the edge and stare into the abyss.
Just further is Pima Point, an area of the trail known for the clearest view of the Colorado River. Conditions are often quiet enough to actually hear the rumbling of the river in the distance and even the drone of an airplane flying overheard.
A bell from Spanish Missionaries hanging from a boulder-built archway marks the arrival at Hermits Rest. All structures here are built from these huge boulders, and are meant to resemble a mountain man’s attempt at building a luxurious but robust dwelling.
From here, the Hermit Trail descends towards the Colorado River. Although it’s meant for more experienced hikers and I began the day with no intention of hiking. When I realized that I could refill my water bottles at Hermits Rest, I decided to spend half an hour rambling along the rocky early portion of the trail before heading back to see the sunset from a more scenic spot.
Seeing a sunset at the Grand Canyon allows you to literary see the beauty of the canyon in a brand new light.
The crimson rocks glow scarlet, then auburn. Blue shadows grow longer and darker as the air gets cooler. And then, after a few minutes, it’s over.
Image of the El Tovar Hotel and Desert View Watchtower are both via Wikipedia.
For more articles about hiking in North America, here’s one about Exploring an Island in the largest lake West of the Mississippi River, and here’s another about Spending a Day in Glacier National Park. As long as you’re visiting the Grand Canyon, driving to Flagstaff to visit Mother Road Brewing is a detour worth making!