I decided to go to Arizona.
I came to this decision suddenly, during the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico. Something about watching the colorful globes float above the desert triggered a deep urge within me to continue going west, all the way to Arizona.
I had always wanted to see The Grand Canyon as an adult, and I was close enough to make it happen! So after the Balloon Fiesta, instead of going back up North to Colorado, I got in my car and chased the horizon ever further west. I explored Mesa Verde on my way, and after that breathtaking morning, I continued my way into Arizona.
I spent the entire afternoon driving through the Arizona desert. It was a long car ride, but I loved every moment of it. Desert has this special kind of beauty that is difficult for me to explain, or even understand. Perhaps it was simply the novelty of seeing a unique new landscape after driving through so many cornfields.
On my way, I did happen to take an obligatory cheesy photo at Four Corners. This was a place where you could (supposedly) stand in all four states at once: Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. Since these were the four states that I ended up exploring on my road trip, this became a perfect symbol for my journey.
I had timed things right for once and was happy to make it to Flagstaff before night. I navigated the frustrating one way streets to arrive at Grand Canyon Hostel. It was a relief to arrive after literally spending the entire day in the car. And it turned out the hostel was fantastic! There was an awesome vibe at this place. The people in the main lobby area were all hanging out and chatting. Everyone was getting along with each other, planning trips for dinner, discussing bars to go explore, or deciding their sightseeing agendas for the next morning. There was an awesome mix of Americans and people from all over the world. The staff was very friendly and very laid back. I immediately knew I had made the right choice coming here.
I asked the staff about any sort of shuttle to The Grand Canyon for tomorrow. After spending all day today in the car driving, I decided I deserved a break. One of the guests told me to find a guy with short buzzed hair who was trying to get people together to carpool. I found him and he spent a lot of time trying to talk me out of going to the Grand Canyon and to go to a National Monument in Utah four hours away instead. I had no plans for this. Then I did the math and realized that he was making a huge profit off everyone as well. I said I would consider it, but was mostly set on going to The Grand Canyon. He was alright though, we went to a Thai restaurant and explored Flagstaff for a while. It was actually a very cool town, but occasionally there were really strange homeless people who made me pretty nervous. One guy actually started screaming in the middle of the street outside the hostel until the cops came and arrested him. Despite this one odd occurrence, I actually felt very safe and secure in the hostel. It was a good place.
I was awake very early the next morning and on the earliest shuttle to the south rim. It felt good to sit in the shuttle and stare out the window mindlessly. I was glad that I decided to buy a shuttle ticket and give myself a day off from driving.
I couldn’t believe it. I was going to see The Grand Canyon! Just a few days earlier, I had watched hundreds of hot air balloons fill the skies of New Mexico. A few days before that, I had been hiking the Flatirons in Boulder. This trip was becoming a really amazing adventure.
The shuttle arrived at The South Rim of The Grand Canyon. I had a backpack full of food and water, and was ready to have an adventure. So where to start? I went to the front desk and asked the older lady working there if there were trails that actually led into the canyon. I know most people just walk along the rim and look into it, but I wanted more. She gave me a map and showed me the two main trails into the canyon. One was called the Bright Angel trail, and the other was The Kaibob Trail. She explained that she had never been on the Kaibob trail herself, but it supposedly had better views.
Well, I was sold. I took the shuttle bus to the entrance of the Kaibab trail. It was early in the morning and I was going to really make the most of this day. I was feeling so alive lately. Quitting my job and going out to explore America was bringing me back to life! Behind me on the bus, a couple was talking about their experiences in Zion National Park. Excited because I was going there soon, I introduced myself and started talking to them. Their names were Alyssa and Chad. They were visiting here from California and gave me some recommendations for trails to check out in Zion.
The bus stopped and we all got off. I had seen nothing of the actual canyon yet, and so I walked along the path looking for the entrance to the Kaibab trail. And that is when I finally got my first glimpse of The Grand Canyon.
Man, I was speechless.
For a few moments, I couldn’t even process what I was seeing. I had seen so many pictures of The Grand Canyon, but none of them conveyed the actual experience of looking into this giant chasm in the earth. It was just so overwhelming. The incomprehensible size. The deafening vastness. The brilliant redness that vibrated out of every cliff and crevice. I stared with my jaw dropped for a while, and Chad and Alyssa came asking me if this was my first time seeing it.
Actually, I had been here once when I was three years old. But my memories were pretty hazy and apparently my brain was way too young to really process the scale of it. I remembered The Grand Canyon, but not like this.
I began the hike down the Kaibab trail. I loved it! The winding trail kept giving way to mind boggling views of the amazing canyon. I could not even believe my eyes. This place was incredible. I was so glad I decided to hike down into it, instead of just walking the rim. I chatted with my new friends Chad and Alyssa as we hiked down.
“Have you noticed,” Alyssa eventually asked, “how talkative everyone who is going down into the canyon is? But everyone coming up is completely quiet and they all look exhausted. I think climbing out of here is going to be much more exhausting than we realize.”
She was right.
“I saw a fun shirt about the canyon in the gift shop,” started Chad. “It said ‘what goes down must come up.’ I wanted to get it!”
Yeah, I would definitely have to be careful. There were signs everywhere warning people to be careful hiking into the grand canyon because hiking here was different than most places. Normally, you do the hard part of hiking uphill first, and then once you are tired you can turn around and hike down easily. But here, in the grand canyon, you do the easy part first. And then once you are tired, you have to turn around and trek all the way back up. Apparently lots of people overestimate their fitness, underestimate the heat, and can’t make it out. Wow!
I kept this in mind but didn’t let me stop from taking in the incredible views. This was really amazing. We got to the first lookout spot and got some awesome pictures. Alyssa didn’t want to descend any further into the beautiful abyss of the canyon. I was prepared to say goodbye to my new friends, but Chad wanted to continue going. She agreed to meet him up top, and Chad and I continued downward ever further into the chasm.
As I eagerly treked down into this canyon, memories of being here when I was a child began to flood back. I remembered vividly being here with my dad. I remembered the excitement of the fun dirt trails and winding paths. I remember how much fun I had running downward as a little kid. It was all coming back, and I was feeling some nostalgia as that childhood joy washed over me.
The further we went, the bigger the canyon seemed. I would look back up to see that we had barely dipped into the canyon. I would look down and see it seeming to continue forever, the dirt path zigzagging along cliffs and rocks, and down into the valleys so deep below. I just couldn’t believe how vast this canyon was. Nor could I believe that this incredibly massive place had been carved by water.
We got to the next viewing area, called Cedar Ridge. This spot was much prettier and we got some amazing pictures. We hung out for a while and then decided to turn around. I had briefly considered going down further to the next area: Skeleton Point. But I decided against it. So we headed back up the trail. Oh man. Within minutes, my legs were on fire and I was huffing and puffing. It was suddenly so much hotter out. The rim of the canyon now seemed to tower over me and taunt me. But it was ok. I was in good shape. Chad and I paced ourselves, biding our time, and taking breaks to occasionally stop and enjoy in the views while we caught our breath. Now the tables were turned. We hiked upward in mostly silence, huffing and puffing, while groups of people jovially scampered downward past us into the canyon.
As I mentioned, I had come here as a kid when I was 3. Apparently I had went running down the trail until I was too tired and went to sleep. My poor dad had to carry me all the way back up. He was exhausted by the time he got to the top, carrying me while I peacefully slept. Now, as I hiked up on my own, I had a whole new appreciation for what I put him through that day. My poor dad!! Hiking this was grueling enough. It would be terrible carrying a sleeping toddler on a hot day! Kids are such jerks!
There were lots of mules! We saw mules carrying people and packs. I guess people camp out at the bottom of the grand canyon, and then mules carry them and their supplies back up. I was definitely curious to what the bottom of the grand canyon looked like. Next time I come back, I will plan it better so I can camp out at the bottom.
I always thought that mules were small animals, but these things were HUGE. I felt bad for them too. It seemed a terrible life to spend day in, day out, not just climbing up out of this canyon, but carrying a bunch of lazy people and their supplies on their back.
Chad and I finally made it up to the top. The climb up was tiring but not nearly as bad as I had expected. I chatted with Chad and Alyssa for a while, and then they decided to travel on. We traded contact info and parted ways. It’s so fun to make friends while traveling.
I went and had lunch, gave my legs a short rest, and then decided to go explore the other Bright Angel trail. Perhaps this was a terrible idea. My legs were tired from hiking in and out of the canyon once already. Going back in didn’t seem smart. But I really wanted to see the Bright Angel trail and decide which one I liked better. So once I was hydrated and fed, I began the zig zagging path back into the canyon. As I was starting my descent back into the chasm, an energized girl was climbing up. She had a lot of energy but you could tell her body was worn out and she was running on endorphins. She stopped for a bit and told a few of us that she had started her hike at 6 AM. She climbed down the entire Kaibab trail to the Colorado River, and now was hiking back up this Bright Angel trail. She was clearly insane. There were so many posted signs warning how dangerous that was to do. But she was pretty close to the top, so good for her! What an experience that would be!
In the end, I decided I liked The Kaibab trail slightly more. But even here in Bright Angel, the views were amazing. With the foresight of having just climbed out of the canyon once today, I realized how deceptive this place was. This canyon was like a siren’s song, beckoning hundreds of people inward and downward. How many people had this canyon lured in over the centuries, seducing them with breathtaking views, luring them just a little further until they were too far to make it out.
I continued down further than I wanted. I was always chasing the next view around the corner. It was so easy to keep going down a little further. The canyon seemed so friendly, so inviting, so seductive. It was casting its spell on me, but I wouldn’t be seduced by these breathtaking views. Finally, despite my urge to continue ever further, I knew I needed to turn around. My legs were already jello from the first journey. This second one would be harder to climb out of. And as soon as I turned around, I saw through the spell of the Grand Canyon. I had been seduced by the beautiful canyon walls to keep hiking down, further and further. Much further than I had originally planned. Now those same canyon walls, once seductive and inviting, had become my prison walls. They were now towering over me and taunting me. The canyon that started as enchanting was now a jail I had to climb my way out of.
But I wouldn’t be defeated. I wouldn’t fall into the siren’s trap. I began. Step by step I climbed forward, taking my time, pacing myself so I never got exhausted. I went slow, I stayed steady, I never got out of breath, and I never gave up. Step by step. And when I reached the top of this trail, I laughed. I wondered how many people over the centuries had easily climbed too far in. Not me. I hadn’t been fooled.
I had some time left before my shuttle back to the hostel, so I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon walking the outer rim trail. This was just a simple trail that followed along the edge of the canyon. This trail was notably crowded. Most people who come to the Grand Canyon just walk the outer rim trail, but never climb into it. But now that it was later in the day, it was clearing out. I wandered for a while until I found a quiet spot under trees where I could be alone. It felt really good to just sit. I was exhausted. My legs were jello. But I felt great too.
I sat down under a tree at the edge of the cliff, alone in the late afternoon silence, and I gazed into the abyss of The Grand Canyon. And The Grand Canyon gazed back at me. Without making a sound, the huge reddish cliffs screamed at me. They demanded my full attention. They shouted with their presence, much louder than any sound ever could. They were so massive. And vast. My mind still couldn’t even process the scale of this place. The Grand Canyon was so loud in its enormity. It stretched out before me and beyond me, and screamed of its size and vastness, not just in physical space, but in time as well. These canyons had been here for thousands of years, slowly carved out by centuries of water flow. Not only did I feel dwarfed by the physical vastness of this place, but by their temporal vastness… their age! These enormous red cliffs screamed of their eternity. My whole life was just a blink to these canyons. They had been around much longer than my brain could understand. They had seen so much time pass on earth. So many people come and go, live and die, while they remained here, ageless, seemingly eternal. I suddenly understood how the thirty years of my existence was just a drop of sand in the endless eternal desert of Time.
I thought about my life, my world back home, and my future. I thought about every twist and turn in the path of my journey that brought me here to this point. Exactly where I was supposed to be. Suddenly my life seemed so miniscule. It wasn’t just the canyons themselves. It was how their vastness, in time and space, revealed The Universe to me, in all it’s dimensions, as something so much greater than I could ever hope to fathom.
I was in awe. I was humbled. Something was changing within me.
The sun set just as I made it back to my shuttle bus. I spent most of the ride back fairly lost in my thoughts. The grand canyon had reflected something back to me, something that I couldn’t quite explain, but something that changed my perception. This trip meant something. I had just gotten something amazing, even though I lacked the words to understand it.
I said goodbye to the Grand Canyon, thankful for the glimpse of something greater than myself, and the shuttle drove us away. I wondered when I would ever make it back here again.