The Grand Canyon
I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and has a depth of over a mile. The scale is difficult to comprehend; as is the time taken for the Colorado River and elements to form something so vast and staggering.
One could be forgiven for staring down into the belly of the canyon and not stopping to consider that two billion years have passed since its first groove was etched into the rock surface, creating a channel for the Colorado river to flow. I can also forgive someone writing it off as a barren and rocky desert environment and failing to appreciate the wealth of ecosystems that call the canyon home. However, one thing that cannot be forgiven is that only 5% of people who visit, actually make it further than the rim. That is a crime when something such as the Grand Canyon National Park exists on planet earth, and clearly marked trails lead you down to explore. It’s too big and beautiful not to want to discover it so after going all the way there, why would you not go a little bit further?
I remember my first visit during a chilly April, there was still some snow on the trails and I stood freezing at one of the many viewpoints to watch the setting sun. I was wearing shorts, a thin jacket and flip flops (or jandals as us Kiwis call them) but despite this self-inflicted chill, I was blown away by how the rocks changed colour as the sun descended down behind the mountain. Rich reds and golds flexed and reverberated against shadows, and with that, I was a convert for life!
Since this first encounter I have been back a number of times to experience the canyon from different angles. They all offer something vastly different and unlock different aspects I wasn’t aware of before, or at least, hadn’t noticed on earlier visits. Below are my five favourite ways that I’ve chosen to bring the Grand Canyon to life for me. I’d love to hear what yours are?
Five ways to explore the Grand Canyon
HIKING THE GRAND CANYON
Hiking into the belly of canyon should be mandatory for everyone who enters the park. Even if it’s only a short distance to turn and look back up at where you’ve just come from. I remember getting up at 4:30am when I travelled with a tour company to watch the sunrise and begin hiking before the midday sun became too intense. I hiked the Bright Angel Trail down past Indian Gardens and on to Plateau Point, stopped for lunch and then back up again. This 10 mile round trip trail reveals just how much I missed when peering down from the top. What first appeared dry and barren, had transformed into lush oasis, with running streams, forests of cacti, wildflowers and soaring California Condors overhead. I could see right down the canyon walls to the river below and how the microscopic white water rafters followed the snaking contours of the Colorado. It was quiet and extremely beautiful down there, so much so that I sat at the bottom on a rocky outpost and just gazed around me. For someone with self-confessed ‘ants in my pants’ this doesn’t happen too often!
WHEN ONLY A BIRDS EYE VIEW WILL DO
Another amazing way of experiencing the Grand Canyon is to fly as a commonly sighted California Condor would, high above it; riding the wind currents down inside the canyon walls. Being in a light helicopter enabled me to swoop and glide effortlessly, mapping the contours of the land and taking in the absolute gravity and size of what lay outstretched below. This 40 minute flight was absolutely magnificent and after landing, I had a smile on my face which extended ear to ear.
RAFTING THE LENGTH OF THE GRAND CANYON
One word explains my experience with Grand Canyon Expeditions – epic! They sell a host of trips but amongst them is the chance to white-water raft the entire length of the Grand Canyon. Come on…everything I just wrote in that last sentence is amazing, everything is good about it. Our boats pushed out from Lees Ferry and got spat out 8 days later having navigated grade 5 rapids, hiked trails which few people ever have, saw only a handful of people, and spent days under the rain and sunshine in one of the last wildernesses left on earth. Sure we were travelling in loads more comfort that John Wesley Powell did on the maiden voyage down the Great Unknown in 1869 and the food was certainly better, but the experience, solitude, beauty and information the guides gave us was unblemished. I remember the layers within the canyon walls, revealing major events through history which a geologist would absolutely lose their mind over — think 6 billion years dropping its knickers and revealing its whereabouts in the form of layers cascading through the rock face.
SWIMMING IN THE COLORADO RIVER
Swimming in the Colorado River probably sounds like one of those quintessential travel experiences but the river has an extremely strong current, and the further down I went the thicker the water became. To the point where I went in to wash and came out dirtier and covered in more mud then when I went in. But there is something quite magnificent about swimming where no one else is, looking up to the top of the canyon where thousands of tourists are and not being able to see them, and just being in an area that you can only get by boat or by breaking a serious sweat on foot.
GRAND CANYON WILDERNESS CAMPING
You won’t find a more remote or stunning place to pitch your tent for the night. The people you fall asleep by are the exact same people you’ll wake up by. More people won’t arrive overnight and you won’t be woken up by anything but the sound of the gushing Colorado. It’s ridiculously peaceful, there is nothing to get stressed about, there is not Wi-Fi or phone signal, no litter, no electricity and for the briefest of moments, the world is not waiting for anything. I was simply at the bottom of the grandest canyon of all, watching the river flow past me, tent behind me, stars above me and thinking about how fortunate I was to live on planet earth.
And just to prove I am not talking complete rubbish, check this incredible video from when the Grand Canyon filled up with thick cloud!
I rest my case!