In trying to decide what we could do to pass the time during Cal’s spring break, she turned to me and said, “Want to see if there’s any camping available in the Grand Canyon?” Well, of course I did, and lo and behold, there was a campsite at Mather Campground during the first weekend of her Spring Break. So, instead of the stereotypical booze-fueled debauchery that is synonymous with college co-eds letting loose, we packed up our gear and skedaddled onto the 7-hour drive to the Grand Canyon National Park.
On the drive out, we saw some of the finest nothingness both California and Arizona had to offer. And I don’t say that sarcastically. The 40 was the largest chunk of our trip, and passes in between the Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve, both amazing, and vastly different, desert landscapes. We also stopped off at a random Dairy Queen in Needles, the last city before Arizona, where I introduced Cal to the glory that is the Butterfinger Blizzard.
“Is it like a milkshake?”
“Milkshakes wish they were Blizzards.”
With the tank full, next stop was Kingman, Arizona. We had decided to grab groceries and ice in Arizona, as we were taking a smaller cooler and wanted to make sure that we could keep any food fresh and cold. We only planned on cooking a couple of dinners, since there are plenty of food options in the park. Groceries acquired, we were back on the road for the last, but definitely not least, leg of the trip: the 64 North. Half annoying 2-lane highway, half stunning stretch of asphalt that takes you through desert into the stunning Kaibab National Forest, the 64 appropriately prepares you for the beauty of the area surrounding the Grand Canyon itself.
Now, prior to the trip, we were asked if we’d want to review some new gear from European brand Easy Camp, which of course we did. More on that over HERE.
Once we had everything set up and put away at the very wonderful Mather Campground, we realized that no matter how tasty a Blizzard is, four or five hours later, you’re going to want real food. So off we went into the park.
A very sassy “shuttle” (it’s a full-sized bus) driver picked us up from the Mather Campground stop and took us to the next stop: the Yavapai Lodge, more specifically, the Yavapai Tavern. Now, if you didn’t know, I LOVE me some nachos. I even have a nachos tattoo. No joke. And well, in our planning for the trip, I came across the Yavapai Tavern site, which has some images/menus available, including some pictures of their nachos. We arrive at the YavTav, tucked into the back corner of the Lodge, and find the 40-something capacity venue is at capacity. Luckily, the “45-minute” wait was more of a 15-minute wait, so our famine wasn’t stretched out tooooo long.
Most of the people we met who worked at the Grand Canyon were amazing, and our waiter, Anthony, was no exception. We ordered the nachos and two beers, including a Grand Canyon Wheat for Cal and a Lumberyard IPA for myself. Anthony recommended floating some orange juice in the wheat as a sort of beer mimosa, which we went along with. He also suggested adding the pulled pork, which was first slow-cooked, then pulled, then added back to a slow cooker with BBQ sauce. We were on board.
We devoured it all and didn’t look back. At this point in time, the sun had already set, and we were exhausted, so we decided to call it a night and wake up early to catch sunrise at Mather Point.
That did not happen. Apparently a whole day driving is more exhausting than we thought, especially when it was coupled with attempts to properly warm ourselves from the temperature that dropped down to the low 30s. But, we woke up moderately early, and set out for the rim at Mather Point.
I was truly worried I’d be a widower at the end of this trip.
We once again took the shuttle, as it was not only super convenient, but timely. Once dropped off at the visitor’s center (which is the same stop for Mather Point), we snagged some of the worst coffee we’ve ever had from one of the nicest cashiers we met. After throwing away more than half of the decrepit bean water, we made our way to the rim.
Just like Yosemite’s Tunnel View, Half Dome, Glacier Point, or really any part of Yosemite, no pictures do the Grand Canyon justice. None. It was stunning. As we turned and got our first glimpse, we noticed there was a solid barrier running around the edge. Great. Perfect. In the time it took for us to go down the stairs and across the little plaza, some maniac had somehow gone over/around the barriers, down some rocks, up some rocks, and over a gap in between two rocks to be perched precariously over the precipice below. Looking at him gave me heart palpitations. So I looked away! And in front of me lay a chasm so large it was difficult to comprehend the scope of what I was looking at.
Taking in the sights
Now, I’ve seen canyons before, but none that were so wide you could fit cities in between them. Valleys, sure, but canyons? No. This one was. For hundreds of millions of years, the steady stream of the Colorado River has been carving out one of the most spectacular visions I’ve seen yet.
Layer after layer, eon after eon has been exposed, with the colored stripes becoming even more inspiring when you realize you are looking back through time. Holy shit.
We decided to walk the two+ miles from Mather Point to the Hopi House, stopping at the Yavapai Point and Geology Museum along the way. Just after the Geology Museum is the Trail of Time, a lovely paved path with exhibits and very shiny rocks from the canyon below on display. On the ground are markers to tell you how “far back in time” you’ve passed. Make sure to look up, though, as there were several stunning vistas along the way, too.
Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number
After we reached Hopi House, we decided to finish the rest of the trail to Hermit’s Rest the next day, and hopped on the shuttle back to our site for dinner, which is described in more detail HERE.
Day two of GCNP saw us going back to Hopi Point and heading West along the rim towards Hermit’s Rest, which is quite the journey. Well, it would be on foot. We opted for a shuttle ride to Maricopa Point, but walked a majority of the way to Hermit’s Rest, where more shitty coffee was had, along with the most satisfying Clif Bar I’ve ever had.
Probably not normal to see a hand pop up.
We decided to hit up YavTav one more time while we formulated our plans for sunset. Over an amazing salad and a tasty burger, we picked Hopi Point, which offered stunning views of the canyon for miles on either side.
As we set up our prime location for some fun shots, we overheard some sunset tour bus drivers explain that the tiniest little notch we could see on the rim was actually the Devil’s Watchtower, a 5-story building that, at 25 miles away, was barely discernable. I was dumbfounded. Not even looking at the Grand Canyon directly can give you a true impression of the sheer scale of grandeur.
Sunset at Hopi Point
We witnessed an amazing sunset, I suppose as perfect as it could be. As the sun dropped below the horizon, the cloudy sky glowed with an electric fury, which lit the canyon up in stunning violets and burning reds. We sat and stared. All you can do is stare, and every time you dart your eyes to see a new angle, it’s an entirely different experience. Just absolutely stunning.
As we headed back to camp for some snacks, we decided to see what we could do to get some star shots over the canyon before the moon rose and flooded out the glory of the milky way. I am so glad we did, but I admit, it was TERRIFYING.
As we approached Mather Point, there was an eerie calm. Gone were the spastic children running around their befuddled parents. Gone were the birds and lizards. All that remained was silence and darkness. We made our way along the trail using our red LED headlamps, but when we got to the point, we had to switch to white light to ensure we didn’t go toppling off the edge and secure ourselves a Darwin Award.
Somehow, all my thought took on the voice of Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Once settled into a spot, we were back into night mode, where again, you are confronted with the vastness. This time not just of the canyon in front of you, but the space above. The thrilling site of the stars, with the first hint of moonrise on the horizon, was enough to help you realize how absolutely small, and how immensely beautiful our planet is. Again, I couldn’t take a picture to do it any real justice. As hard as I try, I lack the words that can truly capture how magnificent the entire experience was.
Back at the tent, I just sat there, incredulous that I had just witnessed that level of vast nothingness. A smile broke across my lips, though, as I realized that the sun’s first light would once again illuminate the canyon below, replacing the vast darkness above with the radiant colors of the canyon below.
Mather Point in the morning