Today was one of my most anticipated days in the whole trip – Grand Canyon Day! I’ve actually visited the Grand Canyon on two previous occasions, but each time only had a few hours for a limited look around. This time, I was keen to spend a decent amount of time there, so I made sure we had a full day.
We set off early from the hotel and drove the fifty or so miles north to the south rim entrance. During this short stretch on a quiet road, I finally dared to try out the car’s cruise control system. It’s amazing! Wish I hadn’t waited so long, because it would have really taken some of the fatigue out of driving the I-80. This trip is slowly persuading me that all I really want in a car is a “go” button and some minor input into the steering.
With hindsight, arriving at the Grand Canyon on a Saturday was maybe a bad idea, since we ended up queuing to get into the park for about twenty minutes. The scratchy 1610AM park information station informed us that the GC was in the top ten national parks in the country, and that the car parks usually fill up around noon, so maybe it is always like this? We eventually got in though, and parked up and wandered over to the rim.
I’m not sure how best to describe the Grand Canyon. It’s big, right. Really big. That’s the first thing you notice as you stand on the edge. It’s kind of everywhere and stretches off to the limits of your vision. It’s also deep, and in some parts you’re looking straight down to the canyon floor a significant fraction of a mile below. Those black specks you can see moving around on that path-like thing? They’re people, on an actual path. And it’s wide, ten miles or so, and you can see the other side.
When you’re done thinking about how big it is, you start to think about how it came to be – just one small river carving it out over millions of years. But then you go one step deeper and you realise that what the river carved out is something that was itself laid down over millions, billions of years. And you suddenly realise that everything is really, really old. And big. Then you sit down and take a good, long look at the back of your hand. Dude…
Anyway, that’s all I’ve got on the Grand Canyon. Photos don’t really touch it, and it’s really difficult to describe. It also affects people in different ways. I could stare at it for hours (and did), while Michelle was unmoved and thought it was a bit “meh”. So I’ll leave a few (inadequate) photos and move on.
One of the things you can’t escape at the Grand Canyon is tourists, and the early part of the south rim was crawling with them. A vast herd of shambling humanity, jostling for position on the crowded guard rails for the all important selfie shot. Cameras everywhere, whole sections of the footpath cordoned off while Dad arranges his family in the correct configuration for this year’s Christmas card shot. Shots of kids, shots of dogs, shots of couples, shots of grandma and shots of that stuffed toy that you drag everywhere and take photos of for some reason. It must be the most photographed location on the planet.
So we decided to wander off down the rim trail to see if it was a little quieter. Sure enough, walking just a couple of hundred yards sees a marked decrease in the frantic tourist activity and in some places it even becomes very peaceful. We ended up walking the three miles or so over to the village, to see the El Tovar hotel (which is the hotel from National Lampoon’s Vacation). I’d originally wanted to book in here to stay, but it was fully booked when we came to plan the trip. With hindsight, I’m happy we never got a room there, since it’s not quite on the rim’s edge and the area surrounding it is another tourist hotspot – spend any significant time there and you’d likely suffer a serious selfie-stick injury!
After the walk along the rim, we both fancied an ice cream so headed over to the ice-cream shop and ordered a couple of double scoop cones. Now, I assumed that a double scoop cone would contain two scoops of ice cream, from a scoop. Turns out that I was assuming the metric “scoop”, while Americans work with an entirely different definition of the word “scoop”. Their scoop seems to entail taking four or five metric scoops, rolling them together into a meta-scoop and forcing this into a groaning cone. Then doing it again. When I saw the dairy edifice that was being constructed before my eyes, I had to stop the poor scooper and change our order to single scoop cones. We shuffled out sheepishly, carrying enough ice-cream to feed a family of four for a week.
On the way back to the car, we happened upon some mooses (moosen? mice?) roaming freely among the cars and buses and selfie-sticks, with apparently no regard for their own safety. We paused only to take 250 identical photos, and made a mental note to re-watch Northern Exposure when we get home.
As a side note, we’ve been trying to spot all 50 states’ license plates on this trip. We’d been doing okay before yesterday, but visiting these tourist heavy spots has really bumped up our tally. So much so that we’ve taken to wandering around car parks like a couple of car thieves, occasionally stopping to excitedly shout “Missouri! It’s a Missouri! Do we have a Missouri?!”
Final stop of the day was a viewpoint 25 miles up the road that we thought might be a little bit quieter. This stop had more awesome canyon, and also a stone tower that had been specifically engineered to look old (it had double glazing, so I’m not entirely sure if that project is considered a success or not…). It was also crawling with tourists again, so we took a few snaps, collected a Massachusetts in the car park and made our way back to Williams.
Overall, an awesome day! Next time we’ll actually go down into the canyon.