I had just got back from the Christmas/New Year Holidays in England and Portugal and I was back at work. So understandably, I had contracted a very serious case of wanderlust almost immediately upon my return. I started to make a list (I love lists!) of places I would like to visit- I’m not sure why I thought this would be helpful but it turns out it was because less than 6 months later, I found myself at the Grand Canyon!
I almost gave up because when I started to research, I found out that ideally, one needs to start planning about a year in advance- especially if you plan to stay at the Grand Canyon National Park itself or in the neighboring town(s). All the lodging at the Grand Canyon was fully booked for months on end and I couldn’t find any hotels in Tusayan or even Williams or Flagstaff for a decent [in my opinion] price for early May.
There was also the ‘small’ issue of plane tickets. I tried searching for deals that coincided with the dates I was free (I wonder why I wasn’t consulted before the deals were decided upon. smh). I would either have to fly in to Las Vegas, NV or Phoenix, AZ then make the 5 hour or 4.5 hour drive to the Grand Canyon National Park. I would also have to rent a vehicle, pay for lodging, and of course food. Then the almighty variable- finding a person or persons who wanted to join me at the same time I was free.
It started to become a bit too much for me and I got so discouraged that I actually gave up on visiting the Grand Canyon within the next 12 months. But as some of you know first hand, the wanderlust bug can be really severe sometimes. Before long, I was back at it again- researching alternative flight itineraries, alternative accommodation arrangements (hello hostelworld.com), moving things around and viola! It was starting to look like a real possibility. I was determined to go- even if it meant going alone.
On the Friday, I flew in to Phoenix, AZ but since I knew I would be arriving at night (~7pm) and didn’t want to drive up to the Grand Canyon in the dark in unfamiliar territory, I had planned to spend the night in Phoenix. The next morning, I got up early, purchased the rest of my essentials from the local store and set off. It was a beautiful day, sun was shining, birds were chirping … perfect.
I joined some friends for breakfast at Cliff Castle Casino Hotel in a town called Camp Verde, AZ. It was really good and a reasonably priced buffet right by the casino area. After filling my tummy, I continued on my way. I had planned to make a detour in the Sedona area of Arizona to see the beautiful red rocks (Red Rock Scenic Byway). I had researched some good places in the area and earmarked Cathedral Rock and Bell Rock.
The views along the Red Rock Scenic Byway are really beautiful and there are several places to stop. I stopped at one of them and saw that I was exactly at Bell Rock! So I parked the car and paid the park fee, packed my backpack full of snacks and hydration, and set off on my first adventure. The hike was easy enough at first– I saw several others, some even running/jogging! Then I got to the base of the mountain and started to climb. It was definitely a work out. So many times, I almost gave up but I kept thinking, just a few more feet up. Sometimes when it got a little too tricky, I would wait and watch people and see how they got up, then copy their methods.
When it was time to come down though, there weren’t too many people to watch and copy from. I couldn’t figure out how to come down!! I almost started to cry- all I kept thinking of was James Franco in that movie where he got stuck between two huge rocks while hiking alone. Yes, I was alone and that was not a very comforting feeling at the time. When I finally got down, I made my way back to the parking lot, only to not find my vehicle there. After a few minutes of confusion, it finally dawned on me that there must be multiple parking lots. Thanks to my running app, I eventually found the other parking lot, which was probably a mile away, and my car. Ok, maybe not quite a mile but it felt like it!
I resumed the drive and arrived at the Grand Canyon National Park at about 2.30pm. I found parking and excitedly headed in the general direction of the crowd. As I took each step forward, the excitement was growing- I was finally about to see what I had been waiting to see for a long time. There was no doubt about where to go. Everybody was headed to Mather point.
When I finally caught the first glimpse of it, I was in awe. I literally got goosebumps and started to tear up a little bit. It stretched as wide as the eye could see, and then some. I just kept thinking, God is great! It had an amazing color structure to it, with the sunlight and shadows playing their part and giving it some sort of effect. Then the layers as well …
I gave myself several minutes to take it all in then I whipped out my phone and started taking pictures, then videos, then more pictures, then selfies- which were horrible. Then I asked different random people to take pictures of me. Then I took more selfies. lol.
I walked along the rim for a bit, still trying to take it all in but I finally decided that would be impossible to do. I just kept walking, stopping at a few points, taking more pictures, and walking. There were people everywhere- from all parts of the world. Some people were taking pictures in some very risky poses very close to the edge and I decided I had better stay far away from them. I was almost tempted to attempt some risky poses too- but then I remembered I was African and that more importantly, my mother was African (some of you may be able to relate) and so I kept far, far away from the edge.
After adjusting to my new environment for a bit, I decided to take the plunge and start my first hike. I took on the Bright Angel Trail- I liked the name (it sounded safe since it had the word angel in it) and it sounded like a good first trail. I still think so, having hiked some of the other trails during this trip.
It was really exciting to be on an official hike at the Grand Canyon National Park. I was taking pictures every 30 seconds on average. I am not sure why, since most of the pictures ended up looking pretty much the same- but I was just shutter happy. It felt easy enough and I was wondering why people thought hiking was such a difficult thing. At the time, I felt it was easier than my adventures earlier in the day at Bell Rock!
I met some people along the way- Bob and Jenny, a father-daughter pair from Wisconsin. When they found out I was hiking alone they invited me to join them so I did. It was good to chit chat with people while hiking but they were much faster than I was so I definitely started to feel the intensity from that point on, but it was still manageable.
Then the unimaginable happened. Well, it was imaginable, I had just really hoped it wouldn’t happen. It started to rain. Heavily. But we kept going. My fingers were starting to get numb from the cold and I had no gloves, but we kept going. Then it started to hail. Heavily. So we decided to turn and go back up. From the very first step going back up, I started to feel it in my thighs! I was like “oh boy! this is the real hiking”. My heart rate climbed almost immediately and I had to take several breaks but the rain and hail served as very good motivation to get done quickly.
Round trip was about 2.5 or 3 miles. My phone died during all this so I don’t know for sure how much hiking it was. My fitbit registered about 30,000 steps that day. Actually, I’m glad it rained and hailed during the hike though, as it provided an even more unique experience. Not only can I say I have hiked in the Grand Canyon, but it was done under adverse weather conditions = bad @$$!
I called it a day and drove over an hour to my accommodation for the night- a hostel in Williams, AZ, a town along historic Route 66. It was my first time ever staying in a hostel so I was a bit nervous. However, it ended up being a good experience so I will definitely try it again. Thanks to Alfonso for encouraging me to try it. At the time, it was my only option anyway – at least, based on the research I had done.
The next morning, I went for a quick run then headed back to the National Park. I went to the Visitor Center to watch the video about the formation of the Grand Canyon. Then I started to hike the Rim Trail. This is a paved trail at the top with several view points. I hiked west, with my goal being to get to Hermit’s Rest. My main [pretty much only] reason for wanting to go was because I had seen a picture of a guy at hermit’s rest in an article I had read and it said it was an awesome place to visit while at the Grand Canyon. Here are some pictures taken from the various view points- I even spotted a large hole- if you fall in, I’m sure you go straight to hell, or at least to a place where the sun doesn’t shine! I also got my first glimpse of the Colorado River at one of the view points.
Luckily, there are shuttle buses because it could be quite a hike (private cars aren’t allowed on this road without a permit). At Hermit’s Rest there was a little shop, and the building itself was quite uniquely done. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a hot chocolate or snack because they only accepted cash. I tried to find the Hermit’s Trail so as to hike a little bit but I guess they were serious when they said on their website that the trail was ‘unmaintained’. I couldn’t even find the trail head! Here are some pictures from Hermit’s Rest. I loved the bible passage sign on the building.
I gave up on hiking the Hermit Trail and headed back towards the other Visitor Center- Verkamp’s. I explored Hopi House, El Tovar Hotel, Kolb Studio, Bright Angel Lodge, etc. I also had lunch at Maswik Lodge, a very nice pizza from the food court. For some reason, I was subconsciously delaying my next hike which was going to be on the South Kaibab Trail. To be honest, I was already sore from the day before. It didn’t help that it started to rain heavily again-however, it stopped after some time so I decided it was ‘now or never’. I had to complete the mission.
In my next post, I will share the details of how the next hike went, including chasing sunsets, bull riding, magic shows, Native American folk dancing, and shooting a gun- oh yes! that happened.
Till next time!