When I go on vacation, I don't like to wing it. I like to plan and be prepared. I'm all for experiencing little surprises along the way, but for the most part, I like knowing where we're going before we go, and what we're doing before we do it. So before every vacation we take, I try to spend some time reading about our destination, what it's like, what to see, and what to do.
I've returned from our trip to the Grand Canyon with a sense of awe, happiness, satisfaction -- and humility. Despite all my research, I was unprepared for many of the things we saw and did. Here are five things that surprised me:
I knew the Grand Canyon would be grand, but I was unprepared for the vastness of it all. We couldn't see the canyon at all when we were driving to it. We kept looking around and everything around us for miles and miles was just flat. And then all of a sudden, the ground ended in front of us, and we realized we were actually up on the edge. The earth opened up, and it was like a huge hole had been dug out of the planet.
Can you see itty-bitty Alfie on the edge of that cliff? See the bottom edge of the photo? That's not even halfway down.
For some reason I thought the canyon would be narrower. Instead, it's a huge chasm that's miles across. When you stand on the edge and look out, you truly feel insignificant. My words and photos just don't do it justice. I'm not sure anyone else's can.
It's cold (and wet)
In my mind, Arizona = desert. Boy, was I wrong. I didn't expect to see pine forests, but both the northern and southern rim are covered with pine trees. When you look out at the Grand Canyon, the whole top part is covered by a thin, deep green carpet of trees (and it really does look like a carpet, not like individual trees, because they are so far away). I didn't expect it to rain, either, but it did. Yup, it rains. And hails. And snows.
When you look out over the canyon, it's not uncommon to see birds soaring, drifting on the curents like the magnificent, free creatures they are. We also saw tons of elk and deer on the roadside, crossing the roads at night, even grazing on the lawn in front of our hotel room! Frankly, I'm amazed that these animals venture so close, what with all the headlights and the camera flashes. That must be one sweet lawn.
It seems like there's no such thing as wilderness these days. Some people might find that sad, but I'm all for it. We had cellphone coverage the whole time, and our hotel had excellent wireless internet access in the lobby. Don't worry, it's not totally developed: I did have to change my route to the lobby because there were a bunch of elk blocking my path.
We were at the Grand Canyon from about noon on Monday till about 4PM on Wednesday. Alfie wondered whether we'd sit around with nothing to after we got to the Grand Canyon and took a few photos. But afterwards, we both agreed that our vacation could have lasted a week without running out of things to do. Granted, you could hit all the most famous landmarks of the South Rim in a day (a very looong day), and indeed, many people do. But it's a tight squeeze, because each place you stop at has a different view of the Canyon, and each time you stop you want to take a whole new set of photos.
Besides, the Grand Canyon is more than a series of photo opps connected by bus or car drives. I'd have liked to hike the Rim Trail and Grand View Trail for more than 10 minutes. I'd have loved to bike on trails that wind through miles of forest. If we had even more time, I'd have loved to get all the way to the bottom (although I don't know whether I'd trust the mules to take me down, or trust myself to hike all the way back up). I'd have loved to get on a raft and ride the rapids (just the small ones). I'd have loved to make side trips to Sedona, Havasu Falls, and the Sunset Crater Volcano. I'd have loved to hang out in Flagstaff and get my kicks on Route 66.
But we can't really complain. We saw the Grand Canyon.