Ron Swanson said it’s okay to cry at the Grand Canyon.
September 1, 2018 | Labor Day Part III
Will and I woke up at three o’clock in the morning—probably the earliest I have ever woken up in my life—to get ready, eat breakfast, and drive from our hotel to the south rim of The Grand Canyon. We arrived right around five in the morning, parked in a super close parking spot, took a trip to the bathrooms (which was literally the most disgusting bathroom I have ever been in in my entire life—I’ll spare you the details), and then booked it to Mather Point, where we arrived just as golden hour began.
If you don’t know, golden hour is right around sunrise or sunset and the lighting, colors, and atmosphere are spectacular.
God bless. It was an incredible experience. Click here to see the photos we snapped of the sun rising over the canyon walls.
We hung out for essentially all of golden hour, just drinking in the beauty, and then quickly ran back to the car to drop off a couple things before beginning our hike.
The Rim Trail
Perhaps the most ambitious decision of my hiking life so far was to decide to hike the Rim Trail at the Grand Canyon. A thirteen mile trail that follows the rim for almost its entire length, the trial is “easy,” with very few elevation changes and a great deal of it is paved.
I have never hiked or walked or ran anything close to thirteen miles straight. I had minimal faith in us completing the entire trail, and in actuality we started at Mather Point, which is not the trail head but about 0.8 miles from it. Will, on the other hand (remember the guy who can run a six minute mile and crush me with his pinky finger?) is very accustomed to twelve+ mile treks. He was exceedingly optimistic.
We set out around 6:30 in the morning with packs on our backs. I brought all of the camera gear because when are you ever going to hike the rim trail at the Grand Canyon again? Probably never. Will brought all of the snacks and water.
Literally every turn and bend in the trail had us stopping in awe. For photos, for staring, for moments of sheer joy and amazement. God spent a little more time on you, Grand Canyon.
There are a few great things about the Rim Trail. Like I said above, the trail has very few elevation changes, so it is a fairly flat hike. You aren’t climbing down into the canyon. If you want to do that and you are very fit, the Bright Angel Trail might be for you. Click here for some other day hikes at the south rim.
The Rim Trail follows the same route as many of the shuttles, so you get some fantastic (and occasionally crowded) view points along the way. However, because you’re hiking and not shuttle hopping, you also get the in-between view points that the shuttles don’t stop at. Granted, there won’t be stairs and railings and information plaques at these view points, but who needs that when you have… the Grand Canyon literally in front of you for thirteen miles?
Tip: get up early to get a parking spot inside of the park, set out exploring before it gets super hot, and even if you’re there during peak season (or Labor Day Weekend, like us), the crowds will be significantly more manageable at ungodly morning hours.
An interesting aspect of hiking at a place as widely known as The Grand Canyon is that you will encounter an incredible amount of ethnicities in just one day. In our experience, this was mostly wonderful and exciting. Occasionally you will encounter cultural differences that may be frustrating, such as a family camped out at a view point taking literally a hundred photos while you are obviously waiting (politely) for them to finish. But all-in-all, we had great experiences with everyone on the trail.
We came across four deer at one point who were not even ten feet from the trail. They were extremely comfortable with humans.
We stopped after three miles to eat some granola bars, drink some water, and apply sunscreen. The sun, having fully risen, was beginning to bathe the trail in its late summer light and my plaid shirt went in my backpack soon after we set off hiking again.
Some view points just get you. Right in the feels. Let me tell you, even when you are very tired and your legs and feet are killing you, this view never gets old.
We didn’t go to the Visitor Center prior to our hike—mostly because it wasn’t open yet—so it was nice to have certain pieces of information available along the trail. We wondered about who the first human to even see the canyon was. Well this guy, Major John Wesley Powell, was the first explorer of the Grand Canyon. He and his crew explored the Colorado River that cuts through the canyon in their row boats in 1869.
We later learned that the Grand Canyon was awarded federal protection in 1893, but was not made a National Park until 1919, which was three years after the National Park Service was established. The canyon was already receiving over forty thousand visitors a year, compared to today’s five million. If you want to read more about the park’s history, click here to visit the National Parks website.
I pulled out my zoom lens at this point as we took a small hiking break. We stood and stared at details like these for a long time. The shadows of passing clouds darkening the landscape below. The jagged white rocks with tufts of vegetation on their sides. The red rock, crumbling and sharp in stark contrast to the younger layers of white rock above them. You can see the erosion and passing of time in front of you.
Game time: can you spot Will?
(Disclaimer to Will’s mother. I’m sorry—it was his idea. And yes, he was terrified.)
Second game: can you spot the rain storm coming for us?
After stopping for lunch around eleven and then deciding to keep hiking after the comfort of a full stomach, the clouds began to roll in. At first this was pretty gracious of them, seeing as the sun was high above us and the desert summer was getting hot on our necks.
We began seeing rain storms in the distance, and even lightning farther away. It was gorgeous. It also made me a little nervous.
My legs had slowly begun to fall apart by this point of the hike. It started with my calves and ankles and traveled slowly from my knees, to my quads, and finally to my glutes. I was just about out of juice, but we only had a little over a mile left. We would be done in no time! Will’s encouragement was all I needed.
Well friends, with only a mile to go, the heavens opened and it began to absolutely pour on us. We quickly covered my backpack with my rain cover, pulled our hats snuggly to our heads, and clutched our freezing cold hands as we powered through the last mile of our day hike in a deluge of monsoon season rain. Our hike that had been in the mostly comfortable eighty degree range quickly plunged into the low sixties.
We did it! What ended up being 12.2 miles for us took about seven hours. My legs were falling off, I was limping the last mile, and our shoes were sodden. But we did it. We snapped a few pictures, climbed aboard a (very crowded) shuttle, and shivered the entire ride back to the Visitor Center. We quickly got our National Parks Passports stamped, watched a short film about the formation of the canyon, perused the gift shop, and then basically flat out ran back to our car through the wind and rain to finally turn on the heater and warm up our soaked, frozen little selves.
I could not walk like a proper human being for several days afterward. But we did it. When again in my life will I have the opportunity to walk almost the entire Grand Canyon South Rim Trail? I’m so proud of us, but I am especially proud of myself. I have been working out five days a week so that I could do THAT. And I DID IT.
Backpacking through Zion here I come.
What is the longest distance you have ever hiked?! Leave it in the comments below! If you enjoyed this post, let me know by giving it a “like,” and if you haven’t joined our family yet, hit that subscribe button!
Until next time,
Labor Day Part I | Labor Day Part II