Grand Canyon National Park- Southwest Roadtrip Part 3
Driving through Arizona sometimes feels like a wide open road to nowhere that just keeps going. But we weren’t on a road to nowhere, we knew exactly where we were going and it has been on our list for a long time. We arrived at Grand Canyon National Park in the late afternoon/early evening at the North Entrance and the excitement was overwhelming. The very first thing we did was pull over at the first overlook we saw.
To use the word “grand” just doesn’t seem to be a powerful enough word to describe the amazing vastness of this place. It is one of the most spectacular places we’ve ever seen and the fact that these enormous rock walls were carved by a river you can barely see from the top makes it even more impressive. Are we really going to hike down into this monstrosity? How far should we go down and try to get back out in one day? Will we be able to make it back out? Well that wasn’t until the following day, so we still needed to go check in at our hotel and get our supplies ready for tomorrow’s adventure. Our hotel was located just outside of the South Entrance to the park so we followed the road through the park in that direction. As a side note, we recommend staying inside the park itself for convenience, but we didn’t make plans far enough in advance so there was nothing much left. Going down the road, there are many signs informing you to watch out for wild animals.
Half of the population in the car did not believe we were actually going to see any wildlife as we were driving down the road……
This guy was one of many elk we saw walking along the road or even crossing in the middle of cars. We recommend being very alert while you’re driving. Not only should you want to protect the elk and other creatures you may encounter, but you should want to protect your car as well. These aren’t your petting zoo sized animals you are working with here.
We got up early in the morning to get on the trail. As stated before, we always try to get going early. You will have a more peaceful beginning to your hike, as the trails will be less crowded and you will often have the whole wilderness to yourself. There is nothing more rewarding for lovers of the outdoors than the peacefulness of listening to nature wake up. First let’s cover some tips about hiking the Grand Canyon:
- It is the opposite of hiking mountains, so if that is what you are used to it will be a big difference. Mountains you work toward the peak and use your energy climbing early. After reaching it, you know the second half is easier. In a canyon, the first half is easier, so it’s dangerously easy to misjudge how far you should go. You just keep going down and down further into the abyss thinking you feel great without giving proper respect for the work it’s going to take to get back out.
- It is hot…very hot! And the only shade you’ll find down in the canyon is your own shadow and I don’t recommend using your energy to try to catch that guy. We started our decent at 7:00am and it was 85 degrees on the rim, but by the time we got to our turn around point (over 3 miles down into the canyon) it was well over 100. The canyon floor that day registered in at 117 degrees.
- Bring enough water. You should bring 1 liter for every hour you will be moving in the hot sun.
- Don’t ONLY drink water. Over hydrating is surprisingly as bad for you as under hydrating. Mix in a Gatorade or another drink with electrolytes, and bring some salty snacks like peanut butter crackers or mixed nuts. Replenishing the salt that your body sweats out is important and will prevent hyponatremia.
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew. There are people that are in very good shape that die hiking in the Grand Canyon because they overestimate their body’s ability to perform in extreme conditions. Don’t get in a pissing match with Mother Nature…. She is unforgiving.
We decided that a challenging, but safe turn around spot for us was Skeleton Point. It is a lookout plateau point that is far enough down where you can see the Colorado River and makes about a 6 mile round trip hike via the South Kaibab Trail. Starting down the trail, it doesn’t take long to get the first overlook point which is appropriately named Ooh Aah Point. If you go any other time of the day, this area and the path to it will be very busy. It’s just under 1 mile from the trail head, so it’s very easy to get to and the view is amazing.
With all the crowds here, be careful of posing for pictures or taking selfies. It is narrow and people can be pushy trying to get a picture, and this particular spot has had some casualties of people losing their footing trying to get that perfect pic. During the morning there were only a few people we passed, and once you make it passed Ooh Aah Point, the crowds get a lot thinner because things start to get a lot more challenging. The next resting spot and overlook that you will get to is called Cedar Ridge ↓.
You can use this as sort of a half way down point and there is a restroom here. You may run into a few other hikers here and we bumped into some donkey riders on our way back up, but after this point we had the whole trail to ourselves for the rest of the journey down.
Skeleton point was the perfect turnaround spot. It is the first place you get to where you can actually see the Colorado River and you are about half way to the canyon floor. If you have overnight gear, by all means, continue on to the bottom as I’m sure the view continues to inspire all the way down. The rangers we talked to do not recommend going past Skeleton Point if you intend on coming back out the same day. We sat there all by ourselves and enjoyed a small snack as we looked around at the massive, beautiful dome we were in. It was quite surreal.
Then came the reality of the biggest difference from mountain hiking. We have now reached our beautiful vista…. our reward for our hard work. Except it wasn’t hard work at all getting there, the hard work was getting back out and that part was still to come. The way back up was a lot slower than the way down, actually it took us twice as long. By this time, the sun is above you and you can definitely feel it draining your energy. The 3+ miles straight out of the canyon with a solid elevation gain shouldn’t be taken lightly. We actually cut it a lot closer on the water than we would have liked, because we didn’t account for how much more we would need trying to get back out. Once we got back to Cedar Ridge, we took a little break and then we started seeing a few people again. Once we reached Ooh Aah Point, it was pretty packed as was the rest of the short climb out from there. The rim by that point in the day was filled with tour buses and it was the perfect time for us to head back to the hotel, wash all the red dirt off our bodies, and get ready to find some dinner. The Grand Canyon had officially been checked off our bucketlist and it lived up to all of our expectations.