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Camping at a Natural Wonder: Our First Trip to the Grand Canyon

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

It was another exciting Saturday morning. Alarm set with the sun, a full tank of gas in the truck ready for use, and the camping gear ready to be loaded into the bed of Roxie. Our next day for adventure had arrived and we were running off of excitement, anticipation and Einstein Bagels (our morning road trip ritual).

This adventure had been something we were super excited to have been able to book; a weekend trip camping at the Grand Canyon. Not only would this be our first trip to see the Grand Canyon, it would also be our first Arizona camping trip.

This trip was coming the same weekend as the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Purple Stride event which I had been fundraising for and planned on attending since it was the first in-person event since the pandemic started. Though I wanted to attend in memory of my dad, I knew that if he were here he’d say that’s very nice, but go take the trip and enjoy the Grand Canyon - take lots of pictures. While I didn’t attend the PANCAN Purple Stride Event, I did make a point to don the Purple Stride attire in support from afar.

After waking up bright and early we hit the road and proceeded to drive to the south east side of the canyon.

For the next five hours we enjoyed the drive, the hum of the road beneath the tires, the looming tunes strategically organized into an uplifting playlist and hours of conversation. The long talks of everything from work and family, ups and downs, and all enjoyed with smiles because of the privilege to have the time to do so in such circumstances and the company to enjoy it all with.

Though I initially had expected to drive through the Arizona desert, rolling past cacti and tumbleweed until we reached the canyon’s edge, while I was planning this trip I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this area of the canyon sits within the Kaibab National Forest. Not only would we see the Grand Canyon, but we’d be able to enjoy some of the dense green forest landscapes that we love.

As we approached closer to our initial stop; the south entrance visitors center, the drive through the surrounding pine forests gave no hint of the great abyss that loomed just over the horizon. The anticipation of our arrival to the first stop was quickly building. Upon reaching the Grand Canyon Village Visitor’s Center we found the nearest path that led to the canyon overlook and made a b-line to the pathway, forgoing any restroom stops or snack breaks — seeing the canyon couldn’t wait. As the railing came into view our feet naturally picked up pace with excitement and suddenly we were greeted with the very view we had been waiting to experience.

Of all the landscapes and parks I have visited there have only been a few that have resonated with me to such depths (no pun intended) as this weekends visit. Excitedly walking faster to the edge of the path to overlook the vastness of the Grand Canyon that had now come into view, the greatness of it all instantly took over and I found myself with tears in my eyes.

Many people don’t have the opportunity to experience natural wonder let alone experience something so spectacular that it moves you to tears, but the overwhelming and immediate humbling effect is something in and of itself that no words could ever fully express.

Throughout my life I’ve seen numerous photos and videos of the Grand Canyon, but like trying to write about it, nothing ever quite does it the justice it deserves.

Gaining composure and standing in complete awe, I looked on my phone at a photo I had saved of my dad standing in front of the Grand Canyon. I had hopes of finding the same location he was at, and as we stood there looking around we realized that this in fact may have been the same general area. (After reviewing all our photos I've found the exact place the original photo was taken and plan on recreating it on our next visit.) More smiles, another photo op to recreate the moment from the younger version of my dad’s off guard pose, and we began our walk along the bit of rim trail in front of us. Each step brought new ridges and canyon breaks into view, and I couldn’t help but find myself staring out into the openness.

Having much more to explore, we decided to circle back on the pathway and check out the visitor’s center before heading to the truck to continue with the rest of the day’s sight seeing. For this trip, being it our first to the park and only a one night stay, we took the opportunity to get our bearings and become familiar with the sights, stops and available hiking options rather than dive right into intense hikes and exploration.

That being said, over the course of our visit, regardless of the magnificence that the views at the visitors center provided and that the campground promised, we made our way to a number of different overlooks between the two points, both of us yearning to embrace more and more of the canyon with the unique viewpoints that each overlook provided.

The winding drive from lookout to lookout was gorgeous in and of itself. Winding amongst the thick ponderosa pines and mountain mahogany, with only occasional glimpses of the vast canyon, the juxtaposition of green lush forest and desert canyon was dynamic.

After giving myself a brief heart attack (metaphorically speaking) by thinking I had lost my keys (which, I had unintentionally left on top of the tonneau cover of the truck bed and had thankfully gotten wedged in the Billie Bars on the truck during the proceeding drive — a moment I am not proud to admit occurred,) we selected the Grandview Point as our lunch spot and enjoyed one of the most spectacular lunchtime views.

As we sat on the edge of the trail, eating our lunch and staring down into the canyon, I instantly began building up aspirations of completing a hiking trip from rim to river. Some day, this will be completed and I'll be able to look out on the canyon knowing I've conquered it's depths. Some day.

Another astounding viewpoint was Lipan Point. Looking out over the longest perspective of the Colorado River, we learned that the small rapids we were looking out on were in fact the Hance Rapids, one of the most dangerous sections of rapids on the Colorado River, as it falls the height of a three-story building. While I’ve always wanted to give white water rafting a try, after learning more about these specific rapids, there’s no doubt, the Hance Rapids specifically are definitely ones I’d prefer to enjoy from land.

For this camping trip we booked a spot at the Desert View Campground, a small but well accommodating 49 campsite area. The camp host was the best host we’ve ever had and was nice enough to let us know of a small trail off the campground that leads to the canyon edge. Making the trip almost immediately after setting up our iKamper for the night, we decide it would be a trail we would revisit again at sundown. Until then we headed on a hike to the Desert View Watchtower and the surrounding trading post and market.

A beautiful lookout point and compliment to the surrounding landscape, we learned that the Desert View Watchtower is a 70-foot tall stone tower that was built in 1932. Though not an authentic Native American dwelling, this tower gained architectural inspiration from the Puebloan people of the Colorado Plateau, one of 11 contemporary tribes that have cultural links to the area. The tower serves as a beautiful nod to the cultural history of the Canyon.

Having wandered the grounds and now made our way back to the campground, we’d decided to enjoy the next couple of hours with some dinner, and rest for a bit from the drive and excitement that the day provided before heading back to the canyon’s edge for sunset.

Sunset was exquisite. Sitting still in the silence as colors played out before us, casting shadows on the canyon walls and washing a golden glow as far as the eye could see. It was breathtaking, but soon darkness swept in and we headed back through the forest toward our campsite once more.

Whether it was due to the magic of the day’s views, the ability to recreate a similar image as my dad, the amazement that we were not only at another National Park but at one of the Natural Wonders of the World, or a combination of all three, I found that evening around the campfire both humbling and emotional and tears flowed for some time under the vast starry night.

While the previous day had been perfect temperatures and weather, we woke in the morning to a wind chill and the promise of impending 55MPH gusts throughout the day. While we’d had our eye on a couple hikes for the day before heading out we decided that standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon with 50+MPH winds wasn’t our idea of a thrill we especially wanted to take on, so we opted for one more walk to the Watchtower, more sight seeing at another view point and one last trip back to the main visitor’s center for lunch before heading home.

After enjoying some time around the Watchtower, we made our way to a nearby overlook before heading to the visitor’s center for the last time for this trip. Our stop; Navajo Point, the highest vista on the South Rim. With an early start as our advantage, few other visitors were at the point. Wanting to soak in everything the view offered of the Canyon below, but being cautious of the wind, we mindfully stepped along the trail. Easing our way closer to the edge while avoiding stepping too close was a humbling reminder that nature is a balance of both beauty and terror.

Back at the main Grand Canyon Village area, we grabbed some breakfast burritos to enjoy out on the rocks, read through the hike details that surround that area of the park and took in all the magic of the views on a short section of the rim trail once more before calling our trip to a close. Standing at the edge, disregarding the chill in the air or the wind, we embraced everything that moment offered for a final time.

Throughout our visit one thing that continuously brought a smile to my face was how no matter the nationality, what language was spoken, or how many times they had seen it before, every single person who looked out over the canyon below had the same response; wonder and amazement — the same look of incredible disbelief in everyone’s eyes. We were witnessing the spectacular results of Mother Nature at work and everyone acknowledged it.

Something about standing over the canyon and when thinking about the average human lifespan of 70, 80, or 90 years old and learning that all this that lay before us took place over the course of well-over 40 million years was mind-blowing. This geological masterpiece was so old that dinosaurs once lumbered along its rim, possibly in the same areas we were now walking as tourists. The geological history is mind-blowing and something I will probably never get over.

Throughout my life, and especially in the past five years, there have been a number of experiences that have left a mark and forever changed me, even in some small way, as a person. When something moves you to tears, it makes a lasting impact, and experiencing the Grand Canyon was one of those moments for me. It was also one of those places that I will definitely be returning to to explore further. Nature has an ability to be imbued with a sense of spiritual power and as a result I know that the emotion that this trip invoked will forever leave an impact on my life.

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