After ten days spent with out friends Abel and Vanessa in Las Vegas we were ready for a new adventure. Las Vegas was a great stop over as we had the chance to catch up with friends, to rest in a motionless home (haha), to maintain the truck and launch our blog. All these without having to plan or think too much of where to drive, to park, or what trail to hike. Thank you Abel and Vanessa for your hospitality!
In Vegas we also had the opportunity to meet our good friend Jamie Stewart, who was coming to town for some fun in the casinos. We went out for lunch and in the afternoon tried our luck at the black jack tables. JP soon lost all his cash whilst Jamie started with a big deep but making an awesome comeback. Thank you for the sushi dinner Jamie! We had a great time with you!
We knew Grand Canyon would be spectacular, something we have never seen before. But we didn’t expect to have such an insightful geological journey back in time. The Grand Canyon allowed us to see and understand millions of years of geologic formations of the Earth crust. It was a journey that made us reflect on our ephemeral and transient existence on this planet.
The Grand Canyon is better experienced over a couple of days. The canyon has over 440km length, 30km width and 1.6km depth. Thus you better take the time when planning your visit. We dedicated almost a week camping and hiking on the South Rim, driving around the canyon to see the Colorado river on the famous “Horse Show Bend”, to view the “Marble Canyon” and to reach the North Rim, which rises to 2500m elevation. Our first stop on our way to the South Rim was at the iconic Hoover Dam.
Hoover Dam & Route 66
Leaving Nevada behind and entering Arizona on our way to Grand Canyon we stopped at the famous Hoover Dam, a state of art dam construction in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River. Built in the 30s during the Great Depression, it is an amazing engineering achievement. We were really impressed with the super tall and massive concrete arch-gravity dam and with the suspended bridges crossing Colorado River.
After visiting the dam we decided to call the day and to camp overnight on the historic Route 66. We took a small detour from the highway and found a fairly good spot on a hidden side road of Route 66. It was quiet and we had a great rest to prepare for Grand Canyon the following day.
Grand Canyon National Park, South Rim
In the afternoon we reached the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park and had our first grand view of the impressive canyon and its geologic layers. Its dimension, scale, height, and colors are extraordinary. One can only feel humbled and somehow insignificant when imagining where we stand in the long evolution timeline of our planet.
After a walking through the various viewpoints around the Visitor Center observing, wondering, contemplating and trying to understand the meaning of these rock formations we went to the visitor center to learn about the Park and to see what trails we could do the next day.
After studying our options, we decided to take the South Kaibab Trail to the Skeleton Point where we would get a good view of Colorado river carving through the canyon. South Kaibab is a steep dirt trail mostly from canyon walls and can be extremely icy in winter. It can be a tricky hike as there is no water along the trail and the wonderful views make it very easy to lose track of how far down you have hiked. As the trail would be a day hike with of least 10km, which we would do in about 4 hours, we decided it would be better to start early morning following day.
The Kaibab Forest is just next to the National Park and there we could wild camp for free. It was the perfect place to enjoy the nature for free, in the proximity of the Grand Canyon. It was very nice hearing the wolf howling at distance while we were safe and comfortable inside our truck. We had a good dinner and prepared our gear for the Kaibab hike next morning.
South Kaibab Trail – Grand Canyon National Park South Rim
Our day started with the preparation of a nutritious breakfast and the selection of the amount of food and water we would bring to the trail. The trailhead is accessible only by shuttle bus so our starting point was the Visitor Center where we took the shuttle bus to trailhead at Yaki Point. We felt good and ready to complete our 6 miles journey to Skeleton Point and back.
As we walked down the trail we talked about how different canyon hikes are from mountain hikes. Whilst in mountain hikes one hikes up and then all the way down, on canyon hikes it is the other way around. First we go down into the Earth’s crust by the canyon and only after we return all the way up. The into the canyon journey is like going back in time, stepping on the very same surface soil where dinosaurs may have stepped millions of year ago. As we walked down on the canyon walls the views were outstanding.
The Grand Canyon was carved out by the Colorado River over six million years. The rain, extreme temperatures and erosion slowly formed the canyon up to its current size, width and depth. Nearly 40 major sedimentary rock layers are exposed in the canyon range, in age from about 200 million to nearly 2 billion years old. Most were deposited in warm, shallow seas and near ancient, long-gone sea shores in western North America. Both marine and terrestrial sediments are represented, including fossilized sand dunes from an extinct desert.
We continued our way down for about 2 hours until we reached Skeleton Point. From there we could clearly see the Colorado river way below, carving through the canyon about 1km below. It was an incredible view so we decided to break up for lunch and enjoy the view before heading back.
The first part hiking down was fine but now we were about the start the difficult part. We put ourselves together and started the tough ascent 🙂 We finished the hike back to the trailhead by 5pm and as we felt good we decided not to take the shuttle bus and walk back to the Visitor Center where our truck was parked. It was a quiet walk and from there we could admire the beautiful sunset.
Once back to the truck we drove back to the same camping spot we camped on the previous night. We were lucky nobody took our place. After a well-deserved shower to remove all the Dinosaurs dust and sand we prepared a good dinner paired with a glass of white wine. We had a chilled out evening after a full day of wonders.
Horse Shoe Bend and Marble Canyon
The Grand Canyon is a huge crack on Earth’s surface and it is not possible to frame it in one picture. It stretches for hundreds of kilometers in Arizona, and there are plenty of locations in both sides of the canyon which are worth visiting. As we had just completed the Grand Canyon National Park South Rim we decided that we would drive around the canyon passing by the famous Horse Shoe Bend and the Marble Canyon on our way to the Grand Canyon National Park North Rim.
The scenic route is outstanding, with several viewpoints with amazing panoramas to the Grand Canyon along the way. The route Grand View of South Rim and the observation tower gave us the opportunity to see the canyon from above and from different angels. It was mind-blowing.
We continued driving through towards Horse Shoe Bend on a dry and deserted realm. Very unique landscapes with almost no one around besides the indigenous Navajo community selling authentic hand-made art craft and jewelries.
We were amazed by the scenery and the solitude of the place. It was almost 2pm and were still to reach Horse Shoe Bend. We were hoping to reach the North Rim by early evening but soon we realized it would be impossible as we were stopping too often to admire the unique landscape.
We reached Horse Shoe Bend at 4:30pm and we couldn’t believe the amount of tourists visiting. There were several busses parked on the parking lot and the tourists were everywhere. We followed the trail to where most of the people were concentrated and soon understood the reason for so many visits: an amazing view of the Colorado River in all its might turning around a massive solid sandstone rock on a 270 degrees bend: the famous Horse Shoe Bend. A majestic view: something quite incredible! We were amazed. Looking at the time we realized the sunset was approaching fast so after a few shots we ran back to the truck to make our way to Marble Canyon for the sunset.
We came back on route 89 and at the junction with Page we took route 89A towards Jacob Lake and the North Rim. Incredible red desert mountain landscapes by sunset.
It was at Marble Canyon where we saw a dramatic sunset over the Colorado River from the top of a huge bridge. The canyon is not made of marble as you might think, but of polished colorful sandstone. The sight was stunningly beautiful. We stopped the truck on the bridge and I jumped out trying to catch the last light of the sun and immortalize this beautiful moment. JP hurried to park at the end of the bridge and run back like a crazy person just to get a glimpse of this amazing view. We got our pictures, we got our moment. The run was all worth it.
We knew we would not make it to the North Rim that day so we looked for a wild spot next to some standing rocks, relatively close to the road. I was hoping the wind would not blow too hard that night, looking at the rock formation. It felt a bit creepy, it seemed that the rock we parked next to could roll anytime with a strong wind. It was just my impression and a bit of paranoia on an unknown territory. We were actually quite safe hiding behind the rock from the strong wind blowing that evening.
North Rim - Grand Canyon
That day we experienced one of the most beautiful morning lights we had on the road. The sky was getting clearer as the sun would rise and the road more beautiful as we were approaching the North Rim. The scenery changed dramatically from canyons and desert to pine forests and large meadows, an inviting scenery for wild animals.
We crossed again Kaibab National Forest and then we entered the North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park. It was a complete different scenery than at the South Rim. While in the south was much more crowded, touristy, drier, less vegetation and an ampler view to the deserted canyons, here we were in high altitude, about 8300 feet (2,500m), with fewer tourists, less established infrastructure, wilder, with loads of vegetation, pine trees and a stunning view from the top of the majestic canyon.
When we reached the North Rim we took a short trail, less than 1km to the Bright Angel Point. Here we could see the other part of the canyon, the South Rim and the South Kaibab trail that we hiked the other day. That was pretty cool.
Our shorts and t-shirts were changed by winter clothes because of the high altitude. We were suddenly again in the cold weather zone, dressing up thick to hike the North Kaibab Trail up to Supai Tunel on a 4.6 miles return hike.
I was very curious why did we see so much vegetation on this side and very little on the other side. The US National Parks are very well organized and offer information about everything you want to know at the visitor centers and there are also plenty of plaques in strategic points with the information one needs.
Basically all these pine trees and denser vegetation grow because North Rim is located at higher altitudes, about 2500m, it receives more precipitations, including snowfalls. As the snow melts the water seeps into the ground forming springs and natural holding tanks of water which help to grow denser vegetation.
On our way we saw a few people running on the trail with shorts and shirts. We were wondering if they are running down to Colorado river where there is a ranch or a campground they could spend the night at. One answered he was doing the whole loop Rim to Rim to Rim in one day. This means hike 2000m elevation down South Kaibab trail to Colorado River then hike another 2500m elevation up to the North Rim before returning the very same day to the other Rim by the same route on a 67km round trip. He started at 4am and would return by 9pm… without stopping running. That’s superman exercise, and we were thinking we were tough... :))))
We were happy with our little exercise compared to theirs and to realize there is so much more to do in Grand Canyon National Park. We reached the view point of Supai Tunnel and we faced a incredible view. Just beautiful.
Coming back up was very demanding, but fun. We returned soaking wet and felt lucky we had our truck to take a quick shower, change with dry clothes and continue with our journey in the search for an overnight camping spot.
The road back spoiled us with herds of bisons, wolfs and an epic view to the mountains of Grand Escalante National Monument.
We completed the loop of the Grand Canyon and we felt incredibly good about our experience. It was more than hiking, camping next to the canyon, see incredible views of Colorado River and of the Grand Canyon. It was a journey in time, a moment of deep reflection, when one wonders about our purpose on Earth and the meaning of our existence. When you are facing visual realities of over 2 billion years of Earth origination, you really feel your existence is such a small particle of energy and matter in space and time.