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Old 8th January 2010, 20:14   #1
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Default Visit to The Grand Canyon in Jul-09

For the last couple of years I was based out of the US and had an opportunity to travel around a fair bit - north-eastern US for the most part and a bit of the west coast.

The last of my trips, the one to the Grand Canyon, was also the crowning glory of my stay in the US. For a variety of reasons – (i) The Grand Canyon (GC) had always been a holy grail for me, a place I absolutely had to visit before leaving the US, (ii) GC is a photographer’s classroom – light keeps changing all the time, and the deep gorges and crevices along the walls of the canyon respond differently to this dance of light and shade, and (iii) I had planned the trip with help from my friend and co-traveler, heavily relying on resources available online, which was good learning and immensely satisfying. I visited the Canyon only for two days over the weekend of July 18-19th, but left with memories and photographs of a lifetime. This is my attempt at re-living it all by penning down my experiences at the GC.

The trip began in Phoenix, Arizona where my friend and fellow photography enthusiast, Satvik, and I flew in from San Francisco and Los Angeles respectively. We then took a short 30 minute flight aboard a propeller plane to Flagstaff, Arizona which is probably exclusively used by tourists visiting the Grand Canyon & Sedona. We then hired a sparkling white Hyundai Elantra and began the one and a half hour drive north along US-89 and AZ-64 up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The landscape was nothing like what I had previously seen elsewhere in the US. Scattered thorny cacti and desert shrubs seemed like blemishes on the parched skin of the earth. We admired this change in topography from the cool confines of our Elantra while the temperature outside was soaring.

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It was only 11am, but one could be forgiven for mistaking it for peak afternoon, such was the heat. The two-lane highway cut a pretty picture as it cut through the flat desert towards the picturesque Canyon.

Despite the heat, we had decided to try our luck at getting a camp-site at the Desert View Campground situated very close to the Desert View Point. This area, towards the eastern end of the South Rim, is less touristy since most of the hustle-bustle of tourist traffic is concentrated around the western end of the Rim. Upon arriving just before noon, we were relieved to find campsites available and we set shop at site #20. It had good shade which was all we wanted then!

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Setting up the tent didn’t take that long, which was a huge surprise to the debutante duo. Satvik had flagged, days before the trip, the need to practice setting up the tent once at home before D-day. But as it always happen, what is preached is seldom practiced! On this one occasion, we did not have to rue it. Tent securely set up, we set out to pay the rent for the site, buy groceries and camping essentials and pacify our growling tummies. Fortunately for us, the afternoon was overcast and we could see dark clouds descending on the eastern reaches of the Canyon in the form of rain. Our part of the Canyon was left pleasantly cool, devoid of the rain and the muck which is not a mean thing since the GC is known for its illustrious thunderstorms. The evening was spent driving to the Grand Canyon Village which is the hub of all things touristy – restaurants, souvenir shops, cars, pollution, noise and swathes of Indian tourists from nearby California. The entire 30 minute drive is interspersed with various look-out points offering breathtaking vistas of the plunging Canyon. We stopped at a few, gave out the customary OOHs and AAHs and drove on. Dinner was had at the food court in the Village and then we set out on the journey back.

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No camping trip is complete without a campfire and some booze to complete the picture! Rightly so, we set about lighting our little bonfire. Except that there was a minor glitch in our plans. We had the firewood but nothing to light the fire! After a protracted exercise in passing the buck to procure a lighting device, chivalry got the better of Satvik and he went ahead to bug our next-door neighbours who had a lit a campfire for a box of lights. They probably didn’t feel amused at such an invasion of their quiet privacy, but we didn’t care less, shameless that we were…we are. Then out came the bottles of wine, the recyclable plastic glasses and the camera. It was a clear & cool night, by no means cold, which was simply awesome for night out camping!
One of the highlights for me were the pictures I went on to take at this trip and having Satvik as a fellow traveler was just awesome. Taking several minutes capturing the same scene with different settings and compositions can be excruciatingly boring for a co-traveler if he/she is not interested in photography. One would then be forced to give in to the demands of reasonable behavior and make-do with fewer pictures or continue clicking in utter oblivion to the companion’s mounting frustration. Fortunately, neither of us was faced with this dreadful choice. Both were as happy running from one view point to the other, hungry to take in as much of the Canyon as possible as we were spending half an hour capturing different moods of the light & shadows cast by the campfire.

We called it a night around 9pm since we knew we had to rise early next day to catch the sunrise. Originally we had planned to wake up at 4:30 and drive up to Yavapai Point or Mather Point close to the Grand Canyon Village to witness the first rays of the sun piercing the Grand Canyon and infusing it with life and colours. However, we snoozed our way to 5:00am and then had no option but to rush to the Desert View Point instead to be in time for the sunrise. It was sublime! It did not matter where you were.

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The low-lying cloud cover near the horizon shone with gilt edge as the sun peeped out of its abode. The sun and the clouds played hide and seek for a few minutes before the Sun finally stamped its authority on the landscape and blazed out in full glory. The effect on the Canyon was magical. The shades of brown, red, green and grey became vibrant. The flats of the “temples” in the canyon were dotted with shadows of the clouds which the mighty sun cast on them.

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There were only a couple other sunrise-catchers in the area which was a relief. I could not have imagined getting a single shot of the sunrise and the Canyon sans omnipresent tourists had we been at the traditional sunrise view points –Yavapai and Mather. We were virtually undisturbed in our one to one and a half hour photography workshop, which would have been impossible at Yavapai and Mather.

Next on the agenda was hiking down 1.5miles along the South Kaibab Trail up to Cedar Ridge. It’s a steep hike down, with a lot of switchbacks in the initial stretch. We began this hike at around 8am after wasting about half hour getting ourselves ready for the hike – filling our camelbacks and taking essential supplies of food, Gatorade, water, sunscreen etc. The South Kaibab Trail is notorious for not having any water supply along the way. So it is advisable to start as early as possible and carry a lot of water and food, lest you should add to the casualty statistic at the Grand Canyon. Every year quite a few over-ambitious or under-prepared hikers fall prey to the debilitating heat and moisture-sapping climate of the Canyon. Although it was still not too hot, with better preparation we could have hit the trail a good 45 minutes earlier which would have been perfect. And this feeling of being late was only compounded when we saw park rangers and other hikers on their way back at 8am!! Anyhow, we forged ahead, befriending other fellow-hikers and fat squirrels that call the Canyon’s crevices their home.

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It must have taken about 45 minutes to descend 1.5 miles but took almost twice as much while climbing back up to the rim. However, the vistas were truly incredible. The Cedar Ridge overlook point juts into the Canyon, giving you a feeling of standing in the middle of the plunging gorge. It was a very overwhelming experience. We took a few minutes to take in the views and capture them in camera.

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Back on the rim, the only thing we could think of was FOOD! We decided to check out Sophie’s Kitchen in Tusayan, a small restaurant serving decent Mexican food. After returning our hiking poles and buying supplies and GC fridge magnets as souvenirs, we left for our campsite to grab some shuteye. The heat was a little oppressive but the exhaustion was so overwhelming that siesta came calling very soon. Just as we were waking up after a couple of hours the park ranger in charge of our campground came calling, announcing a talk on “Famous Mishaps at the Grand Canyon”. With a topic like that, it didn’t take much for us to shed our mid-afternoon laziness and head towards the Desert View Point in time for the talk. All the time wondering why in this world would anyone want to canvass mishaps that may have occurred in one’s own backyard! Anyhow, the talk was informative, gossipy and amusing with the park ranger narrating tales of the years gone by since the Grand Canyon was declared a regulated National Park. Particularly amusing was the tale of an American actress who, while shooting for a commercial, fell off the rim into the depths of the gorge, only to be rescued by a brave park ranger who also went plunging after her. Later, she ordered all photographs of the trip confiscated and destroyed as she had come out of the Canyon naked from the waist below!!

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As the talk wound down, the sunset took over as the crowning glory of our trip. The receding light was still bright enough to electrify the sky. The rays of setting sun still strong enough to pierce through the folds of the Canyon, casting over them long veils of translucent sunlight. The dead trees dotting the Rim stood there as testimonials to the eons that have passed since the master craftsman of this landscape – the Colorado River – started chiseling away at the surrounding rocks creating this natural masterpiece. We stood there smacking our lips at the prospect of capturing some great pictures and utterly overwhelmed by the enormity of the Canyon.

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We drove back one final time to our campsite, thoroughly pleased with the workout we had give to my Canon Rebel XSi 450D, its newest companion – the 18-200mm lens and the equally new tripod. Deciding to skip dinner, we decided to sleep early in order to grab a good 5 hours of sleep before waking up at 3:00am, winding up our tents and leaving by 3:30am and driving back to Flagstaff to catch the flight to Phoenix, en-route to San Francisco. But there was one last piece of drama that remained to unfold. We were taking the same route back that we took to come to GC. Unfortunately, there had been an accident on US-89 and there was a long queue of commuter and heavy vehicles ahead of us. As we sat there waiting for the road to clear, minutes ticked by. 3:35am…3:45am…3:55am. Finally Satvik reached out to the truck driver behind us and got to know that one side of the road has been cleared and vehicular traffic is being resumed slowly. Phew!! We finally got going. Else, we would have had to go back on AZ 64, drive half hour towards the Grand Canyon Village and take the alternate route to Flagstaff via Tusayan. Fortunately, we reached the airport well in time for the flight.

The flight aboard the propeller plane to Phoenix was particularly turbulent. The flying machine swirled and jerked, twisted and turned almost at will, as if determined to give us a final, memorable send-off at the end of a fulfilling trip to the Canyon. We breathed a sigh of relief when it touched down at Phoenix, intact in one piece, and with all of us alive. As they say, all is well that ends well.

P.S.: We couldn’t do the overnight trek to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back due to want of time. I would definitely want to do that at some point in the future.

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Old 8th January 2010, 23:19   #2
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Amazing place! Wonderful pictures!! Excellent write-up!!!
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Old 9th January 2010, 00:16   #3
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Lovely narration and pictrues...... thanks for sharing. More pictures to come?
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Old 9th January 2010, 01:58   #4
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That's a beautiful place. Thanks for sharing those pics. They are superb.
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Old 9th January 2010, 02:57   #5
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Nice pics shutterbugger. Jul is a great time to visit GC. (except for the July 4th weekend when its crowded).
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Old 9th January 2010, 10:29   #6
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Originally Posted by prasadee View Post
Nice pics shutterbugger. Jul is a great time to visit GC. (except for the July 4th weekend when its crowded).
Yes, July is great to take picture postcard images of the Canyon. Though I would love to visit it when there is snow around! the South Rim is open all year and would offer amazing photographic opportunities!
Also, camping on the North Rim would be an entirely different experience away for the swarming crowds of tourists. That way one could even combine GC with a trip to Arches NP.

Originally Posted by ramkya1 View Post
Lovely narration and pictrues...... thanks for sharing. More pictures to come?
Thanks! I will upload a few more...

Last edited by aah78 : 10th January 2010 at 02:31. Reason: Posts merged.
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