16 SEP 15
For decades, a trip to the Grand Canyon has been the ultimate summer vacation outing for families all around the world. With it’s breathtaking views, and natural wonder, it’s no surprise that the national park that houses one of Mother Nature’s most epic creations stays incredibly busy year-round.
I hit the Grand Canyon this week to relive my childhood summer vacation memories and to experience the park in a way that most people don’t—by venturing below the rim. Clad in heavy duty hiking boots and sporting my trusty backpack full of water and other supplies, I ventured around the park, often times connecting with paths that ebbed and flowed alongside some of the parks main paved roads. I stared in awe at the throngs of charter busses, packed to the brim with well-dressed tourists eager to snap a selfie at one of the many designated overlooks near the visitor center before hopping back on the bus and heading back to a nearby hotel. I felt sorry for them. All crammed on top of one another, vying for a quick view to aim their point-and-shoot cameras at before their vehicle carried them off on a trail of tar. One after another, they passed by. Staring out the windows at the wildlife and rugged hikers daring to travel the park by foot. After awhile, I realized the feeling was mutual. I could see the confusion and sorrow in their eyes for the poor traveler forced to brave the elements. It was overwhelming at how few people in the park actually wanted to experience it’s grandeur. It was time to get off the beaten path. And that meant traveling below the canyon rim.
It was a little after 5 o’clock in the morning when we hopped in the car and left our campsite in the Mather campgroup located in the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. It was pitch dark outside, and the thunderstorm that had hit the park the night before left a chill in the morning air that had us reaching for all of the layers and winter hats. We were headed to the South Kaibab trailhead, about a twenty minute drive from the campsite. The trail was supposedly home to some of the best places to catch the sun’s colorful morning rays as they crested over the canyon wall—casting light over the rocky nooks and crannies that make up the Grand Canyon’s interior. We arrived at the trailhead around 5:30 a.m. and started our descent beneath the canyon’s rim. A series of switchbacks quickly led us about 600 feet below the rim to the Ooh-Aah Point that provided us with our first look into the canyon towards the east just in time to see the first rays of light pour in—setting fire to every red rock and ridge they touched. The light show lasted about fifteen minutes, and a few other early-rising hikers gathered around us to take it all in. Some continued along the trail that led to several other resting places before reaching the river below. Some opted to make the steep hike back up to the rim to head back to the campsite for a rewarding breakfast or another hour of sleep. For us, it was enough to be right where we were. Staring down at the earth below, trying to pinpoint the actual canyon floor and pointing out newly lit up rock formations and canyon treasures that we hadn’t noticed before.
For some people, tar trails and selfie stick-worthy overlooks are enough—but if you really want to see the Grand Canyon—take a trip below the canyon rim.