March 27, 2020

Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA

Jun 2007

We have been to Grand Canyon more than a dozen times.  The Jun 2007 visit is special since both our daughters were able to join us in the trip.  Yes, the elder one was transitioning between an MBA degree and a career in an investment bank in London and had a rare window when she could join us for the fun and frolic.  The younger one was enjoying a summer break in her undergrad engineering course.

Grand Canyon is an awesome geological wonder.  It is big.  446 km long, 29 km wide, and 2 km deep.  You can fill it with all the river water in the world; and it would just be half full.  You can fill it with all the human beings in the world; giving each of them a small room; and yet it would not be full.

In a recent trip to Antarctica, a geologist told me that "water, all the time, trumps rocks".  That is even more true with Grand Canyon.  River Colorado, flowing through the area, has been deepening and widening the canyon for 70 million years.  The rock you see at the bottom is more than a billion years old.  The rock that you see at the top is about 250 million years old.  People have created treks to the bottom of the canyon several hundred years back.  In fact, there is a village at the bottom of the canyon with a population of about 300 people.  US Postal service delivers mails to the village through mules!

The best place to acquire an insight into the large size of the canyon is from the small aircraft that takes you from LA to Grand Canyon.

View of Grand Canyon from aircraft

View of Grand Canyon from aircraft

The best times to view the Canyon are at sunset and at the crack of dawn.  The Sun at horizon level brings out the features of the rocks in vivid color painting a vibrant saturated orange glow on the otherwise brown rocks.

Therefore you need to stay overnight; and inside the Grand Canyon Park.  One of the best places to stay is the Bright Angel Lodge at the Southern Rim (yes, at the very edge of the rim).    You can see the sunset, the sunrise, and an awesome display of the night sky (unpolluted by any light over a 440 x 20 km stretch).  This is a Park facility; inexpensive; but booked for years.  We were advised that there would always be last minute cancellations and one has a chance with a walk in.  We made a reservation in Flagstaff, the nearest town (about 90 minutes away from the canyon) and took a chance with a walk in.  Voila, we got a rim side room at Bright Angels Lodge ((about 3 seconds away from the canyon).

Bright Angels Lodge, at the very rim of the Canyon

View of the Canyon from our bedroom window

View of the Canyon when you step outside the lodge

There are several places along the Rim which offer spectacular views of the canyon.  Mather point, Yavapai point, Hopi point, Pima point, and Hermit's rest are some of them.  We chose the Hopi point to watch a sunset on a clear shining evening.

Grand Canyon at Sunset.  The rocks took an orange glow

Grand Canyon at Sunset.  A shining Colorado with its white water rapids at the bottom of the canyon.

The next day, we were at a viewpoint before the crack of dawn braving cold weather to see the Canyon at Sunrise.

The Sun started rising, and the rocks began to acquire their definitions.

Rocks acquired an orange glow, this time slightly mellow

At Sunrise.  Observation platform in the foreground, Rock tower in the middle, and Colorado in the bottom

The Sun goes above the horizon, rocks turn yellow, and the river takes a shine again

We took a helicopter ride over the canyon during mid day.  One could appreciate the depth of the canyon better from the helicopter than the various viewpoints.  The pilot took us over three rock towers named Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma (and called the Trinity point) and a waterfalls that is known as Vishnu Waterfalls.  When human beings are awestruck with wonder, they attribute it to divinity.  And the magnanimous ones to all divinities!

Grand Canyon: View from helicopter

The various viewpoints at the Rim offered spectacular views as well.

Grand Canyon:  View from the rim

Grand Canyon: View from the rim

Grand Canyon: View from the rim

Grand Canyon: View from the rim

One more excellent place to view the canyon?  From the bottom of the canyon, looking up at the 2 km tall rocks.  We chose to do this while doing the white water rapids in River Colorado down below.

When you see from a helicopter,  you would get a sense of the speed of the flow and the stretches where the white water rapids are.

River Colorado, ferocious flow with white water rapids

We drove two hours to the Hualapai Lodge to stay overnight.  Early morning, we were picked up by the Hualapai tribe (who alone are permitted to run the rafting on white water rapids in the Canyon).  They took us on an hour long bus ride to the bottom of the canyon, equipped us with safety devices and took us on the raft.

The first stretch was deceptively calm.

River Colorado and the Canyon walls on either side

And then the water starts rushing; our raft starts rushing, bobbing up and down.

Our raft is about to enter the first stretch of rapids around the corner

Then we are taken through our very first baby rapids.  Water rises (or the raft dips, we do not know) a few feet and we get drenched.  Our captain, a native of the tribe, a woman who has done this many times, tells us that this removes the fear of water and the discomfiture of getting drenched. 

And then she takes us through 20 km of increasingly ferocious rapids.  She steers the raft skilfully through the whirlpools (which ends up tossing us up, down, and in circles).

Our fear is gone.  We are fully wet.  All that we are focused on is to cling to the raft and avoid getting thrown over.

Water overwhelming our raft at the rapids

The 20 km rapids stretch is followed by a 45 km smooth sailing on a calm stretch of the river enjoying the view of the Canyon from down below.  A small trek takes us to the point where a helicopter would pick us for the 2 km vertical ride to the Rim.

After the rapids, awaiting the 2 km upward ride to the rim on a heli

They tell us that Grand Canyon is not the largest or the deepest canyon in the world.  A canyon in Australia is longer.  A canyon in China is deeper.  However, Grand Canyon has the most spectacular view.  No wonder we kept returning to it multiple times in the last three decades.

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