During the expansion of America, there was an old adage: If people wanted to find their riches, they were told to “go west.”
Though a little late, I followed that adage and went out west. And I was blown away.
If you haven’t gone west, you’ve been missing out. The American west is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and within it lies one of the world’s greatest wonders – the Grand Canyon.
Of the national park’s 5 million annual visitors, 99% go to the Grand Canyon for less than 4 hours and only spend 20 minutes at the actual canyon, 1% actually walk down some distance, and about half of that percent hike down to the bottom. I’m in a small, small minority of adventurers who have gone to its base.
Hiking down the Grand Canyon (and back up) is a lot harder than it seems, but more visually rewarding than just looking over the rim.
Arriving at the canyon, my first thought was, “Holy $%%^! Look at this!” I’ve seen the pictures and heard the stories, but nothing could have prepared me for just how big and grand it was. In front of me, stretching far and wide, were peaks and valleys colored with red and orange hues, jutting and falling into the ground. I took in the view, trapped by its magnificence, before I broke free and began to hike down.
Hiking down, you see all the desert animals, the intricacies of the ridges, the mountains, the streams, the cliffs that are noticeable from above. You see the color changes in the rocks up close, touching them, and enjoy the peacefulness of this place away from the crowds. I immediately knew this was somewhere I wanted to see again, and regretted only spending one night.
If you ever visit the Grand Canyon, hike down – even if it is for just a few hours. You will get to experience the canyon up close, and it gives the area more meaning and perspective – more so than just looking out over the rim and going “oooohhh” and “ahhhh.”
So I hiked down to the bottom and saw the Colorado River up close. The river majestically cuts its way through the canyon, flowing fast and furiously as it continues to sketch one of nature’s greatest paintings. The river itself is cold and rapid. If you get caught in the current, I think you’re pretty much guaranteed to end up dead.
From the bottom, the canyon takes on a totally new shape. The vast canyon disappears and all you can see is this little valley the river has cut. I spent the night at the camp down there, hiking around the river, talking to hikers, listening to a ranger talk, and trying to avoid the scorpions.
In the morning I awoke, my legs already sore. Yet I was still in for another 9.6 mile hike back up the canyon through hot, steep terrain. Hiking up was a lot tougher than hiking down, even when taking the flatter Bright Angel trail.
My companion and I moved slowly in order to take advantage of the shade, to visit the off-trail waterfalls others pointed us to, and to talk with other hikers. The hardest part for me was the steep ascent back up – the high altitude and steep rock faces made for a challenge.
After 6 hours of hiking, we made it out. A wave of emotions washed over me. Hiking the Grand Canyon was one of my major life goals, and I’d done it. Once over the top, all the pain in my legs, the tiredness, and the heat disappeared to give way to sheer joy. I had mastered the canyon. I had done what few do. I was satisfied. I felt like Rocky after he climbed those stairs.
I celebrated my wondrous achievement by watching the sun set over the canyon. There were heaps of people taking pictures, but I mostly just sat back and enjoyed the light show reflecting off the canyon walls as the sun made one final burst on the day. A wonderful end to a remarkable two days.
For more information on the United States, visit my country and city guide to US travel.