I met up with blogging friends Hans and Lisa while they were visiting the northern Oregon coast. During our customary post-hike brewery stop, Hans mentioned their plans to be near Sedona, Arizona the following March. Both he and Lisa invited me to come visit. They both raved about the fantastic red rock scenery, adding "you'll be in photographic heaven."
Hmmm......I'd miss a week of ski season, and March usually had the best conditions. But on the flip side, this was a chance to visit an amazing area with my own personal tour guides. I'd be a fool to pass up such a great opportunity. After mulling it over during the fall months, in early January I decided to go for it. After all, life is short.
|Grand Canyon just after sunset|
Having never been anywhere near Sedona, I took to the internet for research. Lo and behold, I discovered the Grand Canyon's South Rim was not far away. Although I'd visited the North Rim in October 2015, the South Rim remained an elusive bucket list item. An additional two-hour drive would take me right there. This was a side trip I just had to tack on! So plans were made to fly into Phoenix, rent a vehicle, and spend the first two days at the Grand Canyon before heading back south to Sedona.
Now for accommodations. Being a cheapskate, I didn't want to pay a bundle of cash to stay in a motel at the Park. I considered just getting a campsite and sleeping in my rental car. But that meant bringing along some sort of bedding that would take up precious suitcase space.
Then a friend suggested looking into renting a camper van. I found a place in Phoenix that offered just such a vehicle. Not only did the rear area convert into a bed, the very back had a kitchen, complete with fridge, sink and Coleman stove. Dishes and bedding were also included. And I discovered their prices were a tiny bit cheaper than renting a car (although I later discovered my auto insurance didn't cover RVs, necessitating the purchase of additional insurance). So I booked the van and a campsite at the Grand Canyon for two nights. Pieces were falling into place nicely for "Linda's Great Adventure."
Finally, the day arrived. I was a tiny bit nervous about trying to navigate such a large vehicle in Phoenix traffic, but quickly discovered the van, although way bigger than my Subaru, wasn't too difficult to drive. It didn't take long before I left the metro area freeways behind. Away I drove through barren, catcus-filled desert.
My first Arizona surprise - the large number of long, steep hills between Phoenix and Flagstaff. (I was particularly amused by the warning to turn off air conditioning on the first big climb out of town.) The van didn't like going uphill at all, and plodded along in the slow lane. But, as I discovered, Flagstaff is at an elevation of 7000 feet (which produced an unwelcome weather event two days later) and up is the only way to get there.
|Kitchen in the back!|
It took about 4 hours of driving to reach the South Rim. After watching several death-defying near misses from vehicles passing when they shouldn't on the final road into the park, I was more than ready to leave my van at the campground. Hoping to catch the sunset, I quickly unpacked warm clothes and my camera gear. Now which way to the Canyon?
|Warm light just after sunrise|
I quickly discovered the park's extensive shuttle bus system. A ranger at the campground directed me to a nearby stop. I watched the sun slowly sink while impatiently waiting for a bus to arrive. Daylight was running out fast. Just as I was contemplating finding the rim on foot, a bus finally pulled up. Nearing the Visitor Center, the sky began turning amazing shades of red and pink. Oh no, I was missing the show!
Hopping off, I got turned around (being in a unfamiliar place at dusk didn't help) and wasted precious time trying to locate a path that led to the rim. By the time I finally found the way to Mather Point, it was too late. The sky had turned dark. I met a huge crowd of people, all heading in the opposite direction.
|The light has yet to reach the canyon bottom|
Well, I was here now. Sunset or not, I was seeing this canyon. Walking out onto Mather Point's rocky promontory, the Grand Canyon's rippled features spread out before me. It was just as breathtaking in twilight. I grabbed my camera, turned up the ISO as high as it would go, and took photos anyway. And to my surprise, although a bit grainy, I liked the colorful images that were captured.
|Peek a boo|
A wide, paved path paralleled the canyon's rim. Although the sun was long gone, a tiny bit of light remained in the sky. After sitting all day I could really use the exercise. My map showed the rim path led a mile and half to a short connector trail that would take me back to the campground. I had my headlamp, so why not walk back?
|So. Many. Photo. Subjects|
After a hot drive, the cool night air felt wonderful. And the star-lit sky was beautiful. My twilight walk was so pleasant, I kept my headlamp off. Several other groups of people had the same idea, and I met many folks out for a nighttime stroll along the canyon rim.
But past Yavapai Point, the sky turned pitch-black, and the crowds thinned to nearly zero. Nothing more to see, the headlamp came on and I anxiously followed the paved path further. Although my map showed it was only another 3/4 mile to the campground connector trail, this stretch seemed to take much longer. I began to realize walking at night in an unfamiliar place was probably not the smartest thing I'd ever done. But luckily, the connector trail was well-marked, and after a small hiccup blundering through a road construction area, I located the campground and my campsite.
|Someone hanging out on the edge|
The next day, I had aspirations of rising early and catching sunrise over the canyon. But I'd neglected to check what time the sun came up. Bedding down in my van, I decided to play things by ear. (Before going to sleep, I drank a bunch of water and figured I'd naturally wake up when nature called).
|Can you spot the two guys?|
But....a warm bed is hard to leave on a cold, dark morning. The next morning I overslept, and totally missed the sunrise.
Finally getting my act together, I headed back towards the canyon rim. Although contemplating taking the bus back towards the visitor center, I didn't feel like waiting and instead retraced the previous night's route in reverse.
Now that it was daylight, I could see everything I'd missed. The canyon was as grand as ever, tiered layers of colorful eroded rock as far as the eye could see.
|Mather Point in the morning|
I walked the rim path all the way back to the visitor center, snapping copious photos. Sadly, the harsh morning light didn't make for great photography conditions, and I wasn't happy with most of my images.
|Top of the world|
But the day was young, and I had lots of sights to see. And high on my wish list, I hoped to explore a bit of the canyon taking a hike below its rim. Coming soon in a future post!