I was at the Grand Canyon and had only 24 hours to explore its unreal beauty and what did I do? I laid down for five minutes and woke up half an hour before sunset – a must see at the Gran Canyon. I raced from bus to bus, asking each driver with desperation in my voice for best closet sunset spot and was met with a shaking head. I wouldn’t make it. Still, impossibilities never held me back and so I raced along the edge and towards the spot I had figured out to be my best shot. It was a race against time. And when I arrived, the sun was just gone. It was too late.
Or was it? More and people people started to gather and positioned themselves. Granted, it weren’t many due to it being offseason and remarkably chilly. My breath began to come out in clouds and the overcast sky seemed to have swallowed all light there was. Just as I was contemplating kicking myself for my stupidity and a phone that was so old it had developed a very stubborn mind if its own (I DID set the alarm!), a little slit opened just above the horizon and illuminated the dense cloud cover with a sudden stream of red and golden rays.
Suddenly the dull grey mood lifted and was turned into an inky blue painting the canyon and contrasting with the crimson red layer above. I hardly knew whether I should snap away and get plenty photos that would not do this spectacle any justice whatsoever or just stand there gazing in admiration. Sometimes blogger life can leave you torn in such silly situations. I took the obligatory shots and then pulled my scarf and gloves tighter, hands in pockets and eyes fixed to the horizon. I did not want to miss out.
Darkness falls fast in Arizona and before I knew it, I was wrapped in a chilly cloak of the night and its frosty air and had to tear myself away to catch the last bus back to the village. The last thing I wanted was to be stuck at the edge of a 4 mile deep canyon without lights or means to get back to the warmth of my lodge at Maswick Lodge. Walking for one and a half hour at night is so not advisable.
And so I got cosy in the festively decked lodge listening to Christmas music and dreaming of eggnog. I fell asleep – as I should – and nearly missed sunrise because I was way too tired to move at a pace of a normal human being. I guess the sloths of Costa Rica had left a deeper impression than I was aware of. I miraculously made it again just as the sun was poking its bright head over the canyon and dotting the upper layers a bright warm yellow, defying the icy blue and cold reds down below.
Silhouettes danced on the horizon their traditional smartphone and selfie trance as I was parading along the rim to get the best shots. In the end I had to join the crowd’s dance and found the best place at Mathers Point, being able to look both west and east along the canyon, from the now yellow stones to my left and suicidal tourists clambering down the slopes and the stark contrast of light versus dark on my right (minus suicidal tourists, which I preferred).
Speaking of suicidal tourists, did you know that the Grand Canyon is the deadliest national park worldwide? I found it hard to believe, having travelled all over Australia and even seen Kings Canyon not once but twice. But a lot of people die here and those deaths are just sad and could have been avoided as they are mostly out of stupidity. I remember my Australian friend telling me she was sick of “being babied” by the government with its many signs telling you what not to do and fences stopping you from taking a step too far. Here at the Grand Canyon, so I was told, nothing of the sort would appear. People simply had to use their common sense. And apparently failed and fell a lot.
I personally did not feel any less taken care of than in Australia as I found a lot of information boards warning of the elevation and its effects, reminding what to bring and how to be prepared but I could see why people wouldn’t be. People can be reckless and frankly just presumptuous with their “it won’t happen to me” attitude. I also fell somewhat prey to the belief the hike down the canyon wouldn’t be too bad but was luckily instructed by my Detours Arizona Guide as to what awaited me.
Elevation is the keyword once you enter Arizona. My tour guides kept talking about it and so did my couchsurf hosts earlier. What was the deal? Due to the state covering so many different heights in such short distances, temperatures and oxygen levels are changing as well and visitors need to be prepared. After frying on Costa Rican beaches I had put on five layers, borrowed wooly scarf and gloves as well as an extra jacket to weather the cold. It was not enough.
For Phoenix’s 15*C it was alright and Sedona was perfectly manageable but once I opened the doors to gaze down the slopes of one of the world’s wonders, I realised that the layer look could only so much prepare me for temperatures around zero degrees. Well, I should only speak for myself as a fellow tour attendee rocked a light long sleeve with flip flops. She reassured me she wasn’t cold. I think it took me a whole minute to stop staring at her in utter disbelief.
I was very glad I had ventured to the Grand Canyon with a tour as going solo would have meant quite a long ride without anyone filling me in on what I saw. I wouldn’t have known I was looking a nothing but volcanoes when a triangular mountain range rose up or would have visited the trading post in the Hopi reserve and heard about their traditions. Tour guides are always different and I had the luck to hear all about geology and archaeology on my way through Sedona and to the Canyon. On the way back it was more local faun as well as Native American cultures. A good mix, if you as me.
The Grand Canyon and Sedona Tour itself was a day tour but could be combined with an overnight stay at one of the many lodges, which I highly recommend as it otherwise would be very rushed and the experience not early as impressive as it had been for me. The tour started in the wee hours between 6 and 7am and had us drive most of the time with only a stop in the town centre of Sedona, several times along the Grand Canyon and one at the trading post for different views as well as many toilet stops as the group needed. Over lunch, an hour was given for leisure time and own explorations but since I had the overnight option included, it was a 24h for me.
What did I do with a full day that was up to me and not set to a schedule? Well, I took the fateful nap that nearly had me miss the sunset, I checked out the local lodges, got comfy bear the Christmasy fireplace and snuggled up with a hot chocolate over spectacular views. I walked a big part of the rim trail and throughout the entire time I saw only a handful of people since it was off-season.
If you are now thinking, you’d rather go in summer, be warned of the crowds and the heat. But if you do go, ask your tour guide for rarely visited spots as you’d be surprised as to how lazy tourists can get when it comes to visiting the Grand Canyon and choosing from which angles they will see it. Especially once I hopped on my second tour to take me back, I was shown all the off-the-beaten-path places to enjoy without selfie sticks in your face. I am now armed with the knowledge of great hikes and if I ever get back – which I certainly will – I know where to escape the tourists and greet nature one on one.
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