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#2 Grand Canyon: An American Classic

I sprinted across the parking lot to the visitor center with the grace of an adrenaline-injected penguin. I had underestimated the shock factor...

Labor Day weekend, 2013. Perhaps the first trip I planned myself with a specific purpose - to visit both rims of Grand Canyon National Park (North and South).

Caveat: I was going through an HDR phase in 2013. The pictures in this post could come across as grungy, harsh...overcooked. Bear with me on this one!

There is no mystery behind the namesake of the National Park. The Colorado river has formed a canyon that is truly grand. The park is divided into two regions - North Rim and South Rim. 75% of visitors visit only the South rim. South Rim is definitely more developed in terms of accommodation, convenience, roads and services. It is more tourist-friendly and falls in-tune with a "Las Vegas" plan. But, I do not consider myself a tourist and that is why I encourage everyone to include the North rim in their travel itinerary. It is more rugged and "in-your-face." The lower human density adds to the allure. However, although the two rims are 10 miles apart from each other (on an average), the drive between the rims takes over 4 hours!! You see, there is no road cutting across the canyons. You have to meander around them. With a three day weekend and a return flight, I had to plan my trip right.

Here was the sketch for the weekend: Fly into Phoenix Friday evening and fly back to Dallas on Sunday night. Why did I choose not to return on Labor Day Monday and make the journey more comfortable? I do not know. The plan was to drive from Phoenix (~midnight) to the North rim visitor center. A drive of around 6 hours, we'd explore North Rim in the morning and leave for South Rim in the afternoon. We'd lodge for the night in Grand Canyon village (at South Rim) and explore the area the following day. We planned to drive back to Phoenix for the red-eye after sunset.

The only car available at the rental counter was a Chevy Suburban. We did not mind. I drove through the night, encountered some fog in elevated regions and was forced to take a "power nap" in the middle of nowhere. A fiery sunrise brought a wave of rejuvenation as we motored on the scenic byway past Flagstaff. We reached the entrance of North Rim around 10 am and...

Rain. Lots of it. Visibility was minimal with dense fog and cloud cover. Stepping out was for the brave in the downpour. The heated, leather seats of the SUV made the prospect even more undesirable. But, as I stated earlier, I was not a tourist! I sprinted across the parking lot to the visitor center with the grace of an adrenaline-injected penguin. I had underestimated the shock factor.

Nevertheless, I made it inside - back into warmth. I walked up to the park ranger and asked a few basic questions: park map, weather, recommendations. He suggested I wait for a bit. So I did. Let me share something about GC. The weather is capricious. I know almost every place boasts the weather to be "unpredictable" (it's like every prude socialite proclaiming to drink only socially). But that status is rather true in the case of the Grand Canyon.

We waited maybe 30 minutes in the car. Suddenly, the storm ceased, the clouds parted and the fog lifted. Bright, warm sunshine illuminated our surroundings. I was not expecting what I saw.

There, right in front of us, a massive canyon face. We had absolutely no idea of our surroundings until then. A quick 360 look-around confirmed that we were truly in the Grand Canyon. The North rim of the Grand Canyon.

North Rim

North Rim is untamed. It is rugged and stares right into your eyes. It pulls you into its deep crevasses. All viewpoints are worth checking out and are accessible by road. We first went in the direction of Point Imperial and then took the fork back down the road toward Cape Royal.

Cape Royal and Angel's Window exude grandeur. Actually, the whole of North Rim is photogenic - if you muster the courage to tease along the ledges. They would make for some epic Facebook cover pictures. If you are looking to take those photos in the Grand Canyon where you stand on a lone rock and someone captures the frame from a distant perspective, you need to head to North Rim.

We left North Rim in the afternoon to head toward Grand Canyon village at South Rim. It was a deceptively long drive. By the time we reached, the sun had set. I had not eaten in nearly 24 hours with little sleep. I did not bother to explore the village. I even forewent a Milky Way shot opportunity. I ate. I slept.

South Rim

South Rim is more familiar to the eye. It provides the "classic" Grand Canyon views and is situated in the distance like a movie screen. This is where you'd get a good view of the Colorado river as well. Your neck will get plenty of exercise as every view is panoramic! There are two main sections of the South rim - east and west. The east viewpoints are accessible via the Desert View drive. The west viewpoints are only accessible by shuttles or on foot (except during Dec-Feb end with an accessibility pass).

Of course, I did arise early to catch the spectacular sunrise. You have options to choose your sunrise spot. I took the front-desk recommendation of Yavapai Point. One of the photographers present was showing off his Milky Way capture from the previous night. Missed it! But I did not miss the Godrays-infused sunrise!

After a heavy breakfast at the Bright Angel lodge, we made a round trip of the Desert View drive. We stopped at all points; notably, Grand View point, Moran point, and Navajo point. Then, instead of taking the shuttle for the western points, we walked the Rim trail starting from the Bright Angel trailhead area all the way to Hermit's Rest (a total of ~8 miles). Walking on the rim is a great way to feel the profoundness of the Grand Canyon. Literally, you walk on the edge, only your sense of self-preservation keeping you from the mile-deep drop. For those who do not fancy the hike, there are frequent shuttles that run from point-to-point. You could either take it to every point or include some walking in-between as well. We took a shuttle from Hermit's Rest back to the parking lot.

Although we were exhausted at the end, the two days were sufficient to get an appreciable experience of the Grand Canyon. Of course, I'd love to return. I did miss my Milky Way shot!

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