Grand Canyon is one of those very difficult places to describe, because of its singularity and uniqueness. It is also hard to picture, the photos never depict its greatness, we always have the feeling that they are not as beautiful as what we saw… it is undoubtedly one of the most impressive natural phenomena, the views are incomparable: the Colorado river down in the gorge it carved over millions of years, forming the Grand Canyon. It stretches over 446 km (277 miles), 29 km (18 miles) wide at some points, and only a few meters in others, and it seems completely impassable.
After Las Vegas’s craziness, we could hardly wait to get into Grand Canyon National Park and have the chance to admire this wonder, curiosity and expectation were on high. As kilometres went by, impatience increased, because we couldn’t glimpse anything on the horizon (we were expecting to see something, if nothing else only a hill?), the landscape is almost flat until you get by the rim (which you can’t see before, as if the floor suddenly went missing!).
We considered the possibility to hike down to the river, but the intense heat and the distances made us decide against it – the entire loop is about 16 miles long, only possible with overnight sleeping down at Phantom Ranch (which was fully booked) or camping (no gear available) – useful information at this link. We read about frequent rescues of dehydrated adventurous hikers who attempt to do the entire hike in one day, we didn’t want to take such risks with the kids. There are also mule rides but the kids weren’t tall enough, so we decided to appreciate the views from above along the rim (which in this area is possible to walk along several kilometres), with stops everywhere for photos to get all the angles and the colours… result, hundreds of pictures! The light at dawn and sunset is incomparable, emphasizing the chromatic variations of ochre which seem to belong to a talented artist’s palette. We saw reindeers, lots of squirrels, condors… this is where we feel nature’s power and strength. Even the choice of adjectives to qualify this place is difficult, but I would choose inspiring, extraordinary and overwhelming as the most adequate.
Some pre-travel research made us decide for an extension to Page, near the border between Arizona and Utah, where it is possible to visit several remarkable canyons.
Arizona’s territory is partly covered by the biggest Indian protected reserve, the Navajo Nation, which spreads to Utah and New Mexico. This is a semi-autonomous Native American-governed territory, with special jurisdiction and laws. We saw no sign indicating we had entered the reserve, except for the car’s watch, which received satellite information and kept changing the hour according to Arizona’s or the Reserve’s time zone (which is aligned with New Mexico’s and Utah’s hour). This was really confusing! Navajo people are integrated in society, although many live in communities where they keep their ancestral traditions, and where tourists represent an important income.
When we arrive to Page, we feel like we stepped into profound America. It is a small quiet town, with lots of churches – we never saw so many in such a small area before, we were told that Page has 24 churches, and much lower number of bars… it is the perfect base to visit the canyons, make a boat trip on Colorado River, canoeing on Lake Powell, visit the Glen Canyon Dam… there are lots of activities here. The Horseshoe Bend (a U-turn of the river, which looks like a horseshoe, hence the name) is – as everything around here – gorgeous, but getting close to the precipice to see it and take pictures is vertiginous, to say the least… not recommended for those with fear of heights, this is not for the faint of heart, but for those who manage to get to the edge (we got there by crawling on the floor 🙂 ), it is definitely impressive and worth the effort.
We chose an off-road Hummer adventure and a boat / canoe day trip, both awesome and highlights of our entire trip. The forms built over the years by sand, rain and wind are extraordinarily beautiful, with incredible colours and textures, and it was a really great experience to walk through them – besides their beauty, they are incredibly fresh, with much lower temperatures than outside (up to 10º less!). At this point we were going through an unprecedented heat wave with strong alerts because of health risks, so the canyons’ coolness was really welcomed 🙂
Our driver, Josh, to whom we thank for an awesome afternoon, was very nice, and gave us an adrenaline rush with his extreme driving through the desert dunes, huge thrill for all of us. He gave us all sorts of information about the canyons origins, about the Navajo and the tensions which still exist between the communities (white and Indians) over land rights, traditions, etc… we definitely recommend the Secret Canyon Tour with Hummer adventures.
The canoeing day was also unforgettable! With great water temperatures (we were diving every now and then because of the heat, it felt great!), we walked to the hidden canyon which was also spectacular. We had a great lunch on the boat, it was one of those days when one wonders: why can’t we always be on vacations? 🙂 The landscape around the lake is strangely familiar, we feel in a western and almost expect to see Cowboys or Indians to show up at any moment! Our guides were also very thoughtful and nice, our thanks to them as this was a truly great experience. If you happen to be in Page, this is also a must (info on Hidden Canyon Adventures).
After these amazing days, time came for us to leave and proceed to our next stop, the disturbing Death Valley. With temperatures rising to never before felt values (this was now the opening news in every TV channel), historical maximums were expected the next days… precisely our days in the desert… but you’ll have to wait for our next post to find out how that was!