THE GRAND CANYON
Is it really that grand? Unequivocally, yes.
But before we got to this magnificent pit, we headed back to Flagstaff one more time. From the Petrified Forest we had to fill up on gas, ice, food, wag bags, and do some research. We decided to stay one more night at the glamorous Cracker Barrel parking lot after investigating another suggestion from the trusty iOverlander app. According to this guide, there was a travel center where you could take a shower. Sure enough, among a sea of truckers, for $6 a piece, we got to take 45 minutes in our first real shower in over two weeks. In the mean time, we always sponge bath or hang a bag shower, but it never gets you truly clean. I regret having long hair during these spouts. These travel center bathrooms were like 12 individual 4 star hotel bathrooms that you could rent for a small time. It was wonderful and since our 'lodging' was free, it was in budget.
Squeaky clean, we headed back downtown the next day to Single Speed coffee to sort some photos and do some research. Every once in a while we have to take a cafe day where we buy overpriced coffee in exchange for the internet. These are also great opportunities for people watching to get a read on an area's general population. After our productive cafe day here prior to petrified forest, we decided to come back and verify a few permitting requirements for our future rafting trip. Although it seems fun, these cafe days can be exhausting. Making a million decisions for the next few months and figuring out where you are maybe going to sleep can mentally drain anyone. But its always nice when we take two days to plan a full two months (with wiggle room because plans can change rapidly). Currently, we have our rough outline for the rest of the summer into fall planned out, and are looking forward to some outdoor climbing and a few rafting trips in addition to all the awesome hiking to come.
After getting asked every five seconds about the trailer throughout the day of chores, we finally entered the grocery store to stock up. Our favorite stores on the road are Trader Joe's and Sprouts. TJ's make pre-prepped meals that ease the hassle of cooking at camp and Sprouts has wonderful deals on Gluten Free staples. If those two stores are not around, any ol' market will do. At this point we have a few solid meals that we rotate between, but a good sale can always add something new.
The Grand Canyon is about an hour and a half from Flagstaff, so it made for a quick trip. Our first night at the South Rim we camped off the National Forest fire road (307) right outside the Desert View entrance gate. Although a little out of the way for the whole stay in the park, this free spot was awesome, quiet, and we had it all to ourselves. Staying there the first night allowed us to hit the first come first serve campground inside the park first thing in the morning. We actually were a little to early and had breakfast while we waited for people to vacate their sites. Around 9:00am we had many choices for our home over the next few days. Site 32 provided a pull through site with a large swatch of desert scrub in the back. It was so easy we were really expecting the Grand Canyon to be more of a mad house. I can't argue with that luck though!
We had our first view of the canyon the night before when we just checked the campground with no avail. With high expectations, I was actually surprised when I saw it was exactly as beautiful as it is hyped up to be. I had a few revelations while staring out into this scene over the next few days. One of which was the fact that I don't cry at too many wonders anymore. I realized this is not necessarily because I am a spoiled brat now that I have seen so much, as I joke, but rather I have a different mentality when looking at these views. It used to be “wow, I never thought I would be able to see this. Now I am here, how lucky!” Now, I feel like it is “wow, why wouldn't I make it to this point. I can do anything or go anywhere I choose to put my mind to, how lucky!” Still grateful for the ability to be at the spot, but a lot less guilty for getting the opportunity to do so (as crazy as that sounds.)
Eric found it fulfilling as well to reach this milestone, as it has been a destination on our list for a while. Finally arriving at one of the flagship parks was an accomplishment in itself.
We spent most days hiking in the morning, relaxing in the afternoon, and chasing sunset in the evening. We don't usually make it a point to be at a specific destination for sunset everyday, but the at the Grand Canyon, this was the thing to do.
Every evening we were treated to a spectacular light show as the sun set, and it was wonderful to see it from Desert View, Hopi Point, Shoshone point, and Lipan Point. We might have gone a bit overboard with photography in this park, but it was so hard not to continuously take photos of this famously beautiful spot at every angle. It was a bitch to sort through.
Our favorite hike was not the popular Kaibab trail or Bright Angel (which we didn't even do because it was beyond packed), but the entirety of the South Rim trail. We spent one whole day walking this 15 mile trail that wrapped the edge of the South Rim from Yaki Point to Hermits Rest. It weaved through all the popular overlooks and hidden gems where we had a view of the canyon all to ourselves. It was funny to see as soon as the trail made any elevation gain (like 300 feet max) the crowds suddenly disappeared. People-watching along the way was just as much fun as watching the wildlife. We were surprised at how green and lush most of the park was and how many Elk were around. We saw a few baby Elk from a safe distance too. At one point, the crowds completely disappeared for about a mile and we experienced a moment I will never forget. Walking along the edge of the grand canyon, on trail with no guard rail or pavement, we were looking out over the cliffside when all of a sudden a group of large black birds swooped up along side us. At first we both thought they were the common turkey vulture, but huge. Then, we saw the white patches on the underside of the wings and freaked out. A group of California Condors had just flown next to us along the Grand Canyon. Shit, that was cool.
On the evening we took the shuttle out to Hopi Point for sunset, we had an interesting wildlife encounter as well. We parked at the El Tovar Hotel and walked along the rim trail from the Bright Angel transfer station to get back to our car at night. The moon was out and the canyon was gorgeous cloaked in black with moon-glow edges. We didn't have our flashlights in use, because there were enough street lamps around the built up hotel and tourist areas to see most of what we needed to. It was so built up in this back area that we didn't expect to see the family of elk, with big daddy elk, right in our pathway. We stopped and respectfully waited for them to move off into the patch of grass closer towards the hotel. Once our path was cleared, we started walking again just as another shadowy shape walked towards the giant elk. This egg shaped bastard then decided, like so many people, “I'm on vacation and I can do what ever I want in the park because my taxes pay for it, if I get hurt its the animals/park rangers/other people's fault!” He then proceeded to take out his point and shoot camera, walk right up to the elk, which were very obviously agitated by that point, and take a picture with flash right in daddy elk's face. This extremely bright burst of light and sound of course spooked the elk and sent him running blind in rage and confusion right towards us.
At that moment, I was not sure if my obituary would be reading “pushed into the grand canyon by mad elk.” The edge of the rim trail had no wall, and we were right in between this blind, freaked out elk, and a large cliff. Thanks dip-shit. Luckily, the elk diverted and ran off to another patch of grass, and the rest of his family, also disturbed by this ass hole, joined him. The jerk visitor just laughed and walked into the hotel for the night. I was so mad. We saw a ton of instances where I wish there were tons more rangers, as well as a straight-to-jail policy for most offenses. People really don't deserve the National Parks.
We stopped in the El Tovar hotel before the hour drive back to camp to use the rest room and decompress a bit. In that time, we met a slightly older couple, but younger than most visitors, sitting in the foyer. The guy was recently retired from the military and the wife just quit her job so they could travel for the foreseeable future. They too were full time campers, and we enjoyed conversing with them about favorite places to visit and difficulties of life on the road. Although we meet a lot of people in a similar situation to us, rarely do we like them. Usually people are kind of pompous or smug about their travels, even to other travelers, and the conversation is more of a 'listen to me talk about me' rather than an actual conversation. So, this particular event was a delightful change from the norm and calmed us down from the previous human encounter. It was also nice to be reminded we don't hate all people, just most.
We had planned to hike the South Kaibab trail as well, and were told time and time again how difficult it was, and to plan twice as long as a normal hike because it's extreme difficulty. We took this advice into consideration and planned a short 3.5 mile round trip hike out to Cedar Point and back because we didn't want to get in over out heads. Heading out early, packs filled with snacks, lunch, and tons of water because of the warnings we kept getting, we started our decent into the canyon. What felt like five minutes later, we reached our destination and we hadn't even needed one break yet. Ok, so uphill is harder, we thought. So we enjoyed the view from below the rim and decided to start our assent around 10. Just like on the way down, we passed group after group making the out and back trek and arrived at the trail head before noon. A total of 3 hours. The trail was hard, sure, but with how many people had warned us with a “you won't even know what hit you” attitude, we were disappointed that we believed them and cut our canyon hike short. We should have gone to Skeleton point, it would have been fine. It was a good lesson for us that in some of these overpopulated parks, the warnings about hike difficulty is intended for the 'average' person. The person who walks about a mile a week. A category I hope to never be in.
NOTE: From here on, I lost our original blog write up. Somehow. This was much more detailed, but found it was not saved correctly and had to rewrite it so we wrote a bit more generalized. And we were pissed 🙁
However, the beginning of this hike was a bit tainted due to the events within the campground the previous two nights.
Eric, take it away!
While out and about camping, hiking, and backpacking, our biggest fears are not the wildlife, avalanches, wildfires, or any other natural disaster. We are always afraid of who we will run into. 90% of the people we interact with are kind, generous, and often overly talkative folks just happy to be outside exploring nature. 9.9% of the remainder are at worst mopey recluses. Then there are the Jane Judahs of the world, and we were 'fortunate' enough to spend two nights, two days camped across from this intoxicated, paranoid-schizophrenic, wracked by violent delusions and shouting into an non-existent Bluetooth earpiece.
While this is not the first, nor the last encounter we will have with tragically mentally disturbed individuals, they never get any less stressful. We became aware of our potentially homicidal neighbor while taking a down day at camp to cook clean and just relax away from the crush of humanity down at the main viewpoints and attractions. By early afternoon, we noticed our new neighbor across the street was having a very heated conversation with what we assumed to be a close family member or confident. Only after the first hour of yelling did we start tuning into some of the conversation and realized that our day of relaxing without worrying about the general population was over. Storming around her tornado aftermath of a campsite, slamming her car door, throwing random objects, downing a bottle of fireball, and never missing a beat on her argument with herself, she treated us to some downright alarming general threats to no-one in particular.
You may know her greatest hits, such as “Ill cut off his dick and feed it too him” “FUCK YOU YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE” “I'll go back to prison, I don't give a fuck” “Ill cut her, that lying bitch” “I'M NOT A PEDOPHILE” along with many others. After another hour of this, Nat and I went to go talk to the camp host to ensure the Park Rangers were informed of this volatile person in the campground. After a bit of a wait, we went on a walk to the nearby lookout to get away from the insanity and were flagged down by the camp host and a ranger where they asked us what we had heard and what was going on. We relayed our experience and continued our walk assuming everything was under control. On returning to camp we ran into the camp host for a third time and she relayed that the rangers spoke to Jane, and found out she was in fact a paranoid schizophrenic with violent delusions as well as having a small knife at camp (but who doesn't, its camping). And like the great law enforcement officer Barmy Fife, they asked her to keep it down and wished her a good day, driving off into the sunset proud of a job well done.
Well either the ranger talk or the handle of cinnamon whiskey had settled her down as she was napping in her tent when we returned to camp. We wrapped up our evening, went to bed happy to be undisturbed for a few hours. Whelp, 2am rolled around and we were awoken by the pleasant sights and sounds of an insane woman rummaging around her site swinging a powerful flashlight beam around and occasionally shouting “I will stab you”. With no cell service and the Rangers doing fuck all, we double checked the location of our camp knives, our door locks, and tried to go back to sleep hoping that maybe she will go for a walk and wander off the edge of the canyon. The next morning Jane was still around, still disrupted but slightly less violent, fortunately we had a hike planned and left camp hoping that our trailer was not destroyed when we got back.
What we felt the worst about was a ruined camping experience for someone else. While Jane was going off across from us, a father and son from Texas were trying to set up camp in the site directly next door. While the dad may have gone camping a few times, you could tell the son was new to the activity and was still making up his mind about it. Also, the dad sounded like a voice double for Hank Hill, it was beautiful listen to him try to describe how to set up a tent and inflate a mattress (gotta make a tight seal!). They were clearly getting more and more nervous about the crazy bitch 50ft away, but valiantly powered through. They must have packed up after the midnight murder outburst and left because the site was vacant first thing in the morning. Great job NPS!
Back to you, Nat!
Now, we understand how law enforcement works. Obviously, if there wasn't any law necessarily being broken, they couldn't cite or remove her just based on complaints. And I definitely understand how it is dealing with schizophrenic paranoid possibly homeless people. They can seem perfectly aware of their behavior and have full authority over their behaviors, it just sounds bad as an observer. And if there is no perceived threat, evidence of a crime committed or potential to harm her self or others, then there was not much the rangers could do. However, roll throughs would have been nice at least. Or at least a noise complaint. Or something!! But parks are heavily underfunded, resources scarce, and the park is as packed as Disney World, so there are bound to be other events that take precedence. It didn't help our experience though.
Other than Jane Judah, Desert View campground was great. We especially enjoyed walking to the Desert View Watchtower, setting out our camp chairs, cracking open a beer, and gazing off into the infinite beauty of nature contrasted against the infinite stupidity of humanity. The selfie watching was a drinking game within itself. I would highly recommend taking time to just sit and enjoy a beverage in a populated park again. Probably one of my favorite activities because it made the crowds an enjoyable part of the experience rather than just a huge annoyance. Thinking you would be able to get any kind of solitude at the overlooks along the rim is preposterous. Basically, it became a way of 'if you can't beat em', join em'!
The tower at Desert View also was beneficial during our stay. Verizon serviced the whole park, but AT&T was non existent as we found with most of western Arizona. Except for when you climbed the five flights of stairs and stood close to the south facing window in the observation tower. This was how we were able to check in with my mom when she had her surgery, and how we kept in touch with both families to make sure they knew we weren't dead. Usually we use the visitor center WIFI, but none of the facilities around camp offered that unfortunately. The park is so huge that driving to the main visitor center took an hour, so we could not do that every day. The campgrounds around the main area were all reserve only as well, so we had not other options for connectivity. We were very happy to have the service from the tower, but it was funny how we had to walk 20 minutes and climb five flights of stairs just to call home. Funny, but also annoying and stressful. One thing I will not miss from life on the road.
One of the most rewarding aspects of traveling, especially through your own home country, is having preconceptions about an area proven wrong. Most of the time that happens in regards to the landscapes of an area. When I thought of the Grand Canyon, I thought of very arid land, little to no vegetation, and no civilization for miles around. Some of that was correct, but some was not. The forest land surrounding the south rim was lush and cool, and had a variety of plants and animals in the area. This was primarily high desert, and was only about an hour and a half outside of Flagstaff. There were small towns around the park, but a lot of it was reservation land as well. It is really cool to be able to create an accurate mental picture of the North Western corner of Arizona now, and have all these little details about the landscape due to personal experience. I hope to fill in the gaps for a lot of our world, let alone the rest of the continent.
To sum it up, the Grand Canyon was indeed grand. We both look forward to coming back and rafting the Colorado river through the canyon, as well as seeing the North Rim. Also, a quick comment for future me, I have no desire to backpack rim to rim. The trails that allow you to do so were overflowing and the permits are booked solid. Eric, however, is still interested. I hope to also see some less populated areas of this park land, but I can say with 100% certainty, I have no need to every explore the front country of the South Rim again.
Unless I become a profession canyon landscape photographer that is.
10/10 - would chase sunset over the canyon again (but, like, maybe two more times in my life, it was exhausting!!)
Song: Traveler – Chris Stapleton (Natalie was obsessed with Chris Stapleton during this week.)