On our second day at the Grand Canyon, our plan was to get up very early and watch the sunrise over the canyon. We had beautiful views the day before at sunset and then at night. The standard views of the canyon are spectacular but the special times provide a different experience. Since sunrise was at 6:30 am we figured that we needed to get up by 6 am at least (if we really hustled). 5:30 am would be better. There would be incredible light on the western part of the canyon at sunrise. But when morning rolled around as often happens things seemed a little different. Although the sky was crystal clear it was cold outside - a little below freezing. The king size bed, which we paying plenty for since we were in the national park, was warm and cozy. Somehow the pictures that we got at sunset the day before seemed good enough. We both rolled over and went back to sleep till 8:00.
When we finally got up we caught the park shuttle over the to the rim lodges. We explored the area a little before starting our hike. First priority was to find the restaurant that we had picked out for lunch. We checked out the menu, which looked good, and verified the hours that they served lunch. We did not want to return from our hike and find the restaurant closed.
Next we checked out the Bright Angel trailhead. This is one of the two main trails from the South Rim down to the bottom of the canyon. Back in the late 1980's I went to the Grand Canyon by myself. I backpacked down into the canyon and stayed at Bright Angel campground by the Colorado River. I hiked back up to the rim the next day. I went down the South Kaibab trail, which is the shortest trail from the South Rim, direct and steep. I came back up the Bright Angel trail which is more gradual. Still, it's almost 5000 feet of elevation gain which is a lot of work with a full backpack. I don't remember the details of that trip very well but I do remember getting a different impression of the size of the canyon. It is one thing to stand on the rim and look at the Grand Canyon. It is another thing to spend an entire day climbing out of it. You don't see how big it is, you feel how big it is.
I wanted to see the top of the Bright Angel trail. Because it was in the shade of the rim the trail was covered with snow. I had originally wanted to day hike part way into the canyon but because of the recent snowfall the trail was snow covered and icy. People were hiking down but they were using traction devices on their boots. We didn't want to do that so we had opted instead for a hike along the rim. Looking at the top of the trail it was clear we had made the right decision.
We had a good alternative. There is a nice trail along the rim that extends from the rim lodges 7.8 miles to Hermit's Rest. There are a number of sidetrails along the way that lead to spectacular viewpoints of the canyon. Slightly back from the rim is a road that is only open to park service shuttle buses. So most tourists take the shuttle and hop off at the various viewpoints to take pictures. Then they hop back on the shuttle to go to the next viewpoint. But it makes for very convenient hiking as well. We started out on the trail towards Hermit's Rest and figured we would hike until we reached the end, got tired, or got close to the closing time of the restaurant where we wanted to eat lunch. Then we would hop on the shuttle to take us back to Grand Canyon Village. Very civilized.
There are five million visitors a year who visit Grand Canyon National Park every year and most of them come to the South Rim. So it wasn't a surprise that the area around the lodges on the rim was filled with people. We started hiking west along the rim trail along with a crowd of people. But as happens everywhere you only have to walk a half a mile or so to get away from people. As we hiked the crowds thinned out rapidly.
It was a great day for hiking. It was pleasantly cool so hiking was very comfortable. The trail followed the rim closely with many outstanding viewpoints along the way. At several places there were ridges that jutted into the canyon which were reached by side trails. We went to all of them. Every viewpoint gave a different view of the canyon and all were awe inspriring. At one point there was an Asian hiker who asked me to take his picture. He climbed over the guard rail and posed at the edge of a big dropoff. I took his picture but I could see Sandy was nervous. As we hiked back he was with his group posing by another dropoff. He probably got some great photos. I just hope that he got home! We got a lot of good photos too but stayed safely away from the edge. The Grand Canyon is a very deep hole.
It was a nice hike. Between the viewpoints there were very few hikers, although at the shuttle stops there were always lots of people.
At one point we noticed an elk sitting across the road. When I crossed to get a picture it turned out that there were about ten elk. Most of them were just lying down but a few were moving around munching on the vegetation. I was able to get within ten feet of them before they reacted to my presence. Obviously in the national park the elk are not afraid of people.
We hiked for several hours along the Rim Trail. The views were awesome and the weather was pleasant. We didn't make it all the way to Hermit's Rest. At 2 pm we decided to catch the shuttle at Monument Creek vista. We knew that the restaurant stopped serving lunch at 3 pm and we didn't want to miss lunch! Next time we might hike all the way to Hermit's Rest.
The bus was crowded. Between tourists going from viewpoint to viewpoint and hikers (like us) not wanting to hike all the way back, the bus was full. An interesting note was that the driver on our bus, according to the sign at the front, was Steve L. By the way, in my completely objective opinion, he did a great job.
We got back to the restaurant in plenty of time. From our table by the window we were able to watch the tourists walking along the rim. It was a great place for people watching. I am always amazed by some of the people in popular national parks: women in high heels, old guys with shorts and dark socks, little kids, dogs. It's always amusing. Lunch was really good too.
After eating we caught the shuttle back to our hotel. We walked to the store and I got myself a Grand Canyon tshirt. That's mandatory for me on any hiking trip. After that we had a quiet evening - some wine and snacks in our room. We checked out our pictures from the hike on the computer. Relaxing after a day on the trail always feels good.
It was a long time since I'd been to the Grand Canyon. I still like some other national parks better, like Zion, but I have to admit that the hike into the canyon caught my interest. I would really like to go back to the Grand Canyon sometime in the next year and hike down to the bottom of the canyon and out again.