Southwest Trip 2021

Grand Canyon Day 2: What Goes Down, Must Come Up

Alternate title: Anything Mules Can Do, I Can Do Better

We woke at 7 to prepare for our Grand Canyon adventure day. I was feeling fresh as a daisy, while Daniel is definitely catching my cold. At least we’re prepared with plenty of cough drops and DayQuil.

We keep looking out our window. No animals yet. We haven’t even seen the chipmunk again.

After prepping our hiking gear, we set off for the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center, from which we’d catch our bus to the trailhead. We also stopped off at the cafe for coffee and a bagel. Everyone at the cafe was super nice and friendly. I’m telling you, if you want to meet the most pleasant people in the world, go to any national park.

Our bus took us to the Kaibab South Trail, which would be our passageway into the Canyon. There was a three-mile trail we’d picked, from the rim to “Skeleton Point.” This trail would take us into the canyon, because we didn’t want to just see it from the rim. We wanted to experience it from the inside.

Of course, this hike was a little different than hikes we’ve done in the past. Usually you start at the bottom, make it to the top, and then the rest of the path is “all downhill from here.” Well. When you’re hiking in a canyon, it’s backwards. You do the easy part first, and then, after an already-tiring hike, you turn around and do the hard part. So of course, the whole time we’re descending, I’m looking at the path and saying, “haha wow this is going to suck on the way back.”

But that didn’t dampen our spirits too much. The hike was absolutely amazing. I was a little worried the Canyon was going to be one of those sights that once you see it, you kind of say, “that’s it…?” But it was so magnificent. And hiking it felt otherworldly. It was so quiet. We had occasional companions on the trail, but even with other people around, the Canyon was serene and silent. It was like a holy place, in that it was massive and grandiose, yet silent and dignified.

Until we reached this point, where they were doing some trail maintenance. Want to know what it sounded like? Play the intro of “Heigh Ho” from Snow White where all the dwarves are using their pickaxes in the gem mine. That’s pretty much it. So, it still sounded cool. And seeing the maintenance at work was kind of neat. Maintaining a National park is tough work!

We made it about 2 miles down when we came to a park ranger who we later dubbed “Trail Mom.” She was standing in the shade near Cedar Ridge, the overlook about 2 miles down from the rim. She was really nice, and asked us where we were going. When we said we were trying to go to Skeleton Point, she raised her eyebrows a bit and said “it’s a little late to get there and back today before it gets hot.” She offered us some advice, saying to hike to the “Saddle,” a flat spot just a bit further from where we already were. She told us anything beyond that didn’t have a great view except Skeleton Point, and that even Skeleton didn’t have a view any better than you’d get from the rim. She also reminded us just how hot it would get in the Canyon with the sun exposure, and made sure we had enough water. She was great.

So, we hiked to the Saddle, took a few more photos, and began our ascent. We actually got lucky when we were down there, as a train of mules started making their way past us along the trail! These are some hard-working beasts. My “alternate title” was merely snappy. The mules are way better at hiking than I am. And sometimes they have to carry people up! I can barely handle a backpack!

As we approached Trail Mom again, she began her ascent as well. We spent most of our hike bumping into her as she gave advice to many other hikers. One couple intended to hike almost 3 hours down before turning around with only one water bottle each. Her response: “Oh, I think we need to have a talk.”

You guys gotta listen to Trail Mom, she’s here to save your life.

And honestly, thank god we ran into her. The hike up from where we’d stopped was brutal. It was the heat of the afternoon, and shade was hard to come by. The trail was steep—steeper than my stubby little legs cared for.

The first bit of the ascent was the hardest. My body was shaking, my legs ached, my breathing was heavy. I was worried we’d made a mistake coming out so far, not that it was even that far to begin with. But it was too late now. I kept thinking about how difficult it was: “my half marathon was easier than this.” “Graduate school was easier than this.” “My multi-year stint of online dating was easier than this.” I was having a rough time.

But we went up a bit further and finally hit a bit of a stride. Pretty much every time we found a shady alcove, we‘d stop for a 2-5 minute break to catch our breath, have some water, and maybe have a snack. This rhythm was exactly what we needed to get back up. Walk a little bit. Rest a little bit. Repeat.

Before we knew it, we reached the final stretch of switchbacks, and we were back at the rim, at about 12:45. And I didn’t even feel that terrible anymore. So, if you’re ever gonna hike the Grand Canyon, remember shade, snacks, and more water than you think you need. Also chilly towels, those things were lifesavers. And don’t forget to listen to Trail Mom.

The last switchbacks

We returned to our hotel room to rest and shower. There are few times in my life that I’ve smelled worse than I did post-Grand Canyon, but the shower fixed me right up. We also kept our cheesy adventure movie theme from the night before and watched National Treasure in the room. The hotel cable lineup is crushing it.

At about 5, we set out to grab dinner. A lot of the restaurants in the national park are closed, so we turned our attention to the town of Tusayan about 15 minutes south to look at our options. We found a tacky southwestern themed steakhouse on the main drag. It was just the kind of kitschy tourist trap we were in the mood for, complete with a giant dining room meant to resemble an old west town. I guess the stage in the dining room usually housed a hokey saloon revue, but that was canceled during Covid and replaced by a scenic video reel of the Canyon. I’m kind of upset we missed out on the cowboy boots and hoop skirts from the show, but it was still fun.

The food was pretty good too. I got a “Sally Ann Thunder Whirlwind” cocktail, which basically was just a sex on the beach, but it hit the spot. For dinner we each splurged for a steak. We deserved it after our strenuous day. Daniel got the New York strip, and I got the bacon wrapped filet. Both were delicious.

On our short drive home we were greeted by some elk! This whole trip we’d been joking that the parks were lying about all the animals they had. All we’d seen so far had been squirrels, chipmunks, and the occasional lizard. But now we’ve seen elk! They were super cool, just munching on some grass. It was dinner time after all. We didn’t get any photos because we were driving and there were no pull-offs around. But we saw them, I swear.

We’re early to bed tonight. We have a long day of adventure tomorrow, and I want to start it off with watching the sunrise over the Canyon. Let’s see if I actually wake up when the alarm goes off, or if I sleep til noon.

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