The Grand Canyon is surely beyond description, but that has never stopped anyone from doing their best to describe it. The words travelers usually summon up to account for the ineffable include “immense,” “spectacular,” “dazzling.”
Unless, of course, the travelers in question are only four or five years old. As we stood gazing wide-eyed at the vast expanse of red rock and sunlight, the littlest member of our group piped up with her opinion of this natural wonder. This little girl took one look at the view and said contemptuously and with an air of thoroughly betrayed expectations: “There is no stuff.”
She was right, of course. There are no roller coasters, nor concession stands, nor carnival games to be had at the Grand Canyon. That and other considerations might make it a less than appealing destination for younger travelers. The distances one must cross on foot to explore the Canyon and the precipitous drops and dizzying ledges make this national park fall somewhat short of traditional notions of “kid-friendly.”
But for those of an age to apprehend danger when it is nearby and to appreciate the spectacular when they see it, the Grand Canyon is beyond comparison. The original awe you feel when you first approach the guardrail looking out over the Canyon takes a long time to wear off. And when it finally does, there are still innumerable details to fascinate the traveler – the wildlife, for one. Massive condors circle the Canyon, casting their shadows over the ground below. You will see several signs warning against feeding the wild animals – but the very bold, very fat squirrels are a living proof that most humans are no match for them. Even the sightseers that try their best to avoid feeding these creatures may find that the squirrels have lost their fear to such a degree that they will crawl into your pockets looking for food.
Another must-see is sunrise and sunset over the Grand Canyon. We saw both. As we sat watching the sun slowly sink toward the edge of the ridge, casting long shadows and filling the Canyon with the deep light of a sunset painting, we were momentarily distracted by a tourist whose sudden death, we were certain, we were about to witness. One of our group had picked up a book titled “Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon,” which told the stories of climbers, hikers, sightseers, and others whose lives had ended in the park. Many of them had fallen to their deaths, and the tourist who had caught our attention seemed moments from doing the same. We all breathed a sigh of relief when she had snapped her photos and moved away from the ledge. The rock in the Grand Canyon can be deceptive. What looks solid and sturdy does occasionally crumble, and you would do well to give the ledges a wide berth, no matter how badly you want that selfie. While one of our group chatted with a sightseer from Spain whose English was excellent (she was one of many international tourists at the Grand Canyon), we enjoyed the view until the sun had set and the light and shadows turned to dusk.
In the morning we rose at five to see the sunrise. It was windy that morning, and those in the group with glasses were glad for them; the wind occasionally blew dust and dirt into our faces. It was a more solemn occasion than the sunset had been. Almost no one spoke as the sun rose over the cliffs. The whirs and clicks of cameras were the only sounds. It was a sight we were all glad to have seen. Even if you can stay only a day in the Grand Canyon, try to see the sunset and sunrise. In modern times, hectic schedules and inconveniently placed buildings mean that many of us rarely watch them anyway, and the chance to watch them in such a setting won’t come often or easily.
After the sunrise, we hiked the Bright Angel Trail into the Canyon. We made it about two miles before turning around and beginning to trek back up. Some travelers undertake to hike all the way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, but that would have to be an adventure for another day.
We said goodbye to the Grand Canyon later. Of all the famous sights of the West, this one earned a special spot in our memories. Nothing else on that long road trip would equal or even rival it.