The Grand Canyon was the third national park I visited in 3 days, the culmination of a whole lot of determination and a significant amount of driving. A startling number of people asked me if I was planning to visit this park, admitting in the same breath that they'd driven past or even lived within a couple of hours of it and never visited. Having been there, I can say without doubt that anyone who passes up this place is making a gigantic mistake.
Of course, because I had limited time, I had to forego Bryce Canyon, but since Utah is now one of my favorite places on Earth, I'll be back to see it, and to spend more quality time at Arches and Zion.
I visited the South Rim, which is open all year. There were tons of people around, all walking out to the view closest to the visitor center and then hopping on one of the buses that transport visitors up and down the roads that chase the canyon out to Hermit's Rest. I opted for taking my car and the ability to stop, walk, and take photos whenever I wanted ( and let's be real - I stopped in every. single. spot.)
First, though, I walked along the trail that hugs the edge of the canyon, stopping to peer over the edge and saying, over and over, "I can't believe this". Since I'm often alone for days at a time, I've taken to talking right out loud a lot, which has created some interesting moments. It's a good way to create space in a crowd, anyway. Luckily, the trail was pretty empty, so I had the place to myself for the most part.
After walking 2 or 3 miles I made my way back to the visitor center, veering off the rim trail and into the sun dappled evergreen woods. There was a slight breeze, and I puttered along, picking up tiny pine cones, bits of weathered wood, and juniper berries that littered the floor of the forest.
After a peanut butter and honey sandwich in the parking lot, I headed deeper into the park, toward Hermit's Rest. There are many stops along the way, and I hit just about every one. Despite seeing so much over 3 days, I still had room to absorb more. Every peek over the edge of the canyon filled me up and then emptied me out, leaving me feeling washed clean.
I finally began to understand, to really feel, the purple mountain majesty line from "America the Beautiful". I had a visceral reaction to the canyon, perhaps the culmination of 3 days of soaking in places so big and amazing that there was no possible outcome except for this. I was stunned at how connected I felt; it was a humbling experience. My eyes teared repeatedly as I gazed out over the stripes of red, purple, and ocher rock.
At one point the car in front of me slowed down and the driver pointed to an elk on the side of the road. Never having seen an elk, I initially thought it was a deer. Still, I took it as a sign, just like all of the smaller deer I've seen along the way. Maybe the level of overwhelm I was experiencing required the largest member of the deer family to make an appearance. Everything on that day was shouting "YES, YES, YES!" It was pure magic.
I decided to leave in the late afternoon, fully sated. I hemmed and hawed on the way back to my hotel, but eventually decided to make a stop at Flintstones Bedrock City, a tired, sweet, tiny theme park that is well worth the $5 to wander through if you happen to be passing by. It made my day feel strangely balanced and allowed me to take a breath, and a step back, before I curled up in my hotel room.