May 2, 2008
Photo set on Flickr
Las Vegas has never been my kind of town, but it is somewhere I keep coming back with friends and family. Love it or hate it, Vegas always have something for everyone, even for those who are not into gambling or clubbing – the Sin City is close to some of America’s most grandest scenery. To the northeast are Zion and Bryce; the Monument Valley is on the east; and most notable is perhaps America’s most famous national park – the Grand Canyon. 446 km long and up to 29 km wide, the Grand Canyon is no doubt one of the largest in the world, but does it justify its moniker? I was about to find out.
Let’s get a common misconception out of the way first – Grand Canyon is not the world’s deepest canyon. Its depth of 1,737m is less than one third of Yarlung Zangbo in Tibet. You can see the Grand Canyon from both its northern and southern rims, but most people, including us, visit the latter because it is more accessible. The 2007-opened Grand Canyon Skywalk has generated a lot of buzz, but it is actually located outside of the park in the Hualapai Indian Reservation. That could be an option for people who are short on time.
After leaving Las Vegas we headed south along US 93, passing by the Hoover Dam on the Nevada-Arizona border. I didn’t stop for a tour – ticket is on a first-come, first-served basis so arrive early if you are interested. In Kingsman US 93 intersects with I-40, where we drove for 180 km until we reached Williams. Tusayan, the South Rim’s tourist hub, is a further 60 km north along SR 64. Book far in advance you could find a spot to spend the night inside the park, or else you would have to choose between Tusayan or Williams; the former is closer but much more expensive.
Mather Point, a stone’s throw away from the visitor center parking, was our first stop. And immediately I got my answer – this was unlike anything I had seen before. It truly deserves to be called the Grand Canyon.
The viewing area of Mather Point is extensive. The panorama covers most of the Rim Trail and various view points along the way. The Colorado River is buried deep within the canyon, and far to the west is a portion of the park’s most famous trail, the Bright Angel.
From Mather Point we walked along the Rim Trail to the bus stop at Village Route Transfer, passing by Yavapai Point and covering a total of 4.2 km. From Yavapai Point we could see Bright Angel Canyon, a long, straight drainage that provides the only maintained rim to river route on the north side of the Colorado.
Even though we were walking right next to it, the Grand Canyon was unapproachable. The experience of standing at the edge of this massive chasm on the surface of the earth is almost a spiritual one. As anyone who has seen it in person would attest, the Grand Canyon makes the presence of human seems minuscule in comparison to the overwhelming magnitude of nature.
We boarded the park shuttle to Hopi Point, the most popular place on the west rim to catch sunset because of its unobstructed view over a large swathe of western Grand Canyon. The foreground is centered on Dana Butte, a flat mesa 2,000 feet below the overlook and flanked by the Salt Creek and Monument Creek.
The color of the canyon was changing seemingly by the second. From dark orange to bright red then hazy purple, the dramatic color hues were a reflection to the sun’s position. Long after the sun descended below the horizon I stood still and remained in awe. Facing nature at its grandest, how else could I react?