Grand Canyon National Park - Day 3 South Rim to Bright Angel Campground
Almost 15 years ago, my Uncle Dave took me to see the Grand Canyon. I was so excited. He was so excited for me. He popped Ferde Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite into the tape deck and the anticipation just built. Soon I would see America’s most famous attraction in person. I had been warned, “it’s nothing like the pictures” and “it’s really big” among other things. All from people who still had that look of amazement in their eye even in remembrance.
Getting to the Canyon was more trouble than we had expected. There were roadblocks, helicopters, car searches and a lot of start and stop traffic. The Suite was never allowed to build; the volume kept getting turned up and down. We would soon learn that an escaped prisoner from the Arizona penitentiary had made his way into the Canyon. The fugitive had become an Arizona cause celebre, noted for, above all things, his politeness. Somehow, he had intimate knowledge of the Canyon and was living off the land somewhere below. When the police realized he was not hiding out in our trunk, they let us through.
Amid all the hubbub, it was hard to focus on the wonder to come. My Uncle parked the car and giddily proclaimed that it is just over the Rim, right there. We hurried out and I stood, mesmerized. I could not react, it was too awesome, just too big. Then a thought overwhelmed me, I wanted to hike into it.
The notion obsessed me. I could not accept the view from the top. My Uncle was even a little disappointed. “Isn’t it amazing?” I may have not look amazed, but I was. “Yes it is, but I want to hike down.” “See what you can do, we have a few hours,” he responded.
As crazy as this sounded, escaped felon on the loose and all, I started walking. Even though I was in great shape, high school football season was about to start, the Canyon’s steep switchbacks intimidated me completely. It was over 90 degrees and I was going to have to come back up. The path seemed to go on forever, straight downhill. After twenty minutes of going down, I had had enough. The vista angles had not changed; I was going nowhere. This is some Canyon.
After slogging my way back up, my Uncle had a wry grin on his face, “That’s a big Canyon, no? Indeed. We moved onto the Visitor Center where I bought a Hiking in the Grand Canyon book. It did not make much sense at the time. We were leaving soon and who knew if I’d ever be back. But I wanted to read it. I wanted to know how I could get to the Colorado River. I had to hike the Canyon. It became a dream of mine. Someday I would have the chance.
Today was that unbelievable day.
We both did not get much sleep. We emerged from our tent before sunrise and started to pack in the dark. Yesterday, a last minute shopping spree at the Grand Canyon Supermarket ensured our food needs, we thought. But the Park pamphlets do their best to impart holy terror into the hikers mind. They read, “Be careful, people die on the trail,” and show pictures of 20-30 year-old males being carried out of the Canyon, strapped to gurneys. The hike could not be that bad, could it? The elevation change of 5,000 feet does not sound that treacherous.
We hopped on the hiker’s shuttle scared. Much more scared than the day before. The thought of the Grand Canyon echoes around in your mind and spreads fear. Are we crazy? Nobody else on the bus has a huge backpack. Have we overpacked? Am I going to regret my three pound sleeping bag? Did we really need all those Clif Bars? Remind me again why I’m doing this? Because it has been a dream of yours, your whole life. Because hiking the Grand Canyon is the reason you are on this two-year trip. Right. Thank you, voice of reason.
We exited the shuttle and walked with proud, confident strides to the trailhead and the Canyon rim. Oh man, it’s the Grand Canyon. What are we doing? Are we crazy? Hold on. Breathe deeply. Today’s the easiest day. Straight downhill for a few hours. We will be done before noon. Let’s get cracking. Grand Canyon here we come.
P.S. They did end up finding the fugitive somewhere near Phoenix, at I think his cousin’s house. He had spent some time in the Canyon but slipped right under the police’s nose and the numerous roadblocks. Arizona felt a collective loss when he was finally caught.