Gettin’ Down A Big Hole On Friday

This blog entry about the events of Thursday, June 30, 2011 was originally posted on July 13, 2011.

PART 13 (DAY 15):  “Wow!  Look at that big hole!” said this little blonde American kid who was probably only about four years old, all wide-eyed and bursting with curiosity. 

“That hole is the reason we’re here,” his parent/guardian said nicely.  “That’s the Grand Canyon.”

I HAVE SEEN MANY GRAND NATURAL WONDERS around the world— the Galapagos Islands, Iguazu Falls, the peak of Mount Everest, the salt flats of Bolivia, the sand dunes of Namibia — but when it comes to bragging rights, most people talk about the big one, this “big hole” in America: the Grand Canyon.  A chasm millions of years in the making carved out by the mighty Colorado River, this must-see on everyone’s list hadn’t been crossed off mine, until that morning when I finally saw it for the first time with my own eyes.  “Wow, this is a big one.  Like, in the world,” I told Cheryl.  I explained to her that people have scolded me for having seen everything else but this, but now that argument was over.  (That honor remains with Mexico, the neighboring country which I’ve never actually been to.)

We admired the introductory views:  the multilevels of rock, the Colorado River down below, the ravens riding updrafts, plus all the views from within the observational tower — a vantage point for tourists from all around the world.  I heard Chinese, French, German, Spanish and some other ones I couldn’t immediately recognize.  Americans were also there in full force — and in varied sizes, if you know what I mean.

My eyes were filled with beautiful introductory views, but my ears were hearing something a lot less grand when Cheryl and I had pulled into the parking lot of the Desert View area just west of the eastern entrance to the national park.

Friday, Friday, gettin’ down on Friday…

“Excuse me, is that a remix of the Rebecca Black song?” I asked the girl in the truck nearby.

“Yes it is!”  Out of the speakers was Rebecca Black‘s now immortal albeit accidental and unintentional parody of bad American pop music. 

“[Turn that down!] You’re embarrassing us!” said the dude in the truck.

It was Friday after all, and it was shaping up to be a good one with or without the days-of-the-week school lesson in the song.  I actually had it in my head when I realized what day it was when I woke up earlier that morning in Navajo Nation, and Cheryl hated me for getting it stuck in her head — but it was everywhere.

Kickin’ it the front seats, we drove westbound, down Desert View Drive along the southern rim, stopping at designated view points along the way to the Grand Canyon Village.  The views from Lipan Point, the views from Moran Point, the views from the Grandview Point (once home of the old Grandview Hotel). 

“Do you want me to take a picture of you two?” asked a fellow tourist.

“Sure,” I said.  “Make sure you get the canyon in it.”

All the views were stunning, but the canyon is so big that after a while the novelty of seeing essentially the same thing admittedly became a little commonplace to me.  It’s not like Yellowstone where the landscape and animal sightings change at every other stopover.  Here, the view is of… the Grand Canyon!  And then it’s.. the Grand Canyon.  And then, ladies and gentlemen, introducing again… the Grand Canyon

Still, with that in mind, Grand Canyon National Park is a pretty overwhelming place, with many of activities to do — hiking, biking, rafting, camping — and plenty areas to do them in.  Thank goodness for the knowledge of park rangers.  (They’re better than Yelp, after all.)

“We’re on a bigger road trip so we’re sort of just passing through for the day,” I told Ranger Ty at the information desk.  “So we’re not here specifically for the Grand Canyon; we only have a day.”

Ranger Ty explained what we could do given our time; he knew the lay of the land after all and after talking to him we knew to cross biking off the list because the allowable bike path didn’t even get a view of the canyon at all.  Still there were other things to do; too many it seemed.

“It’s overwhelming,” I told him.

“Go out and hike and if you don’t see it all, don’t feel bad, you’re not going to see the [entire] Grand Canyon in a day.  At least you’ll get a sense of how these rocks were formed.” 

After watching a brief documentary of the park, then looking for parking in another area, stopping in a gift shop, and having lunch and a Grand Canyon beer at the Maswik Lodge, we finally got to hiking down the big hole of America.  The easiest trail we’d been told was the Bright Angel Trail, which could go down to the bottom of the canyon, although there are several warnings not to do so in a single day.  Many people have underestimated the trek and died of heat or dehydration — even a marathon runner who was in tip-top shape and didn’t know just how deep the hole went.  With that said, we stocked up on water from the filling station and then started the walk down amongst many other tourists.  It is perhaps most popular trail (it’s the one the donkeys go down in mule-riding trips), but not many people make it too far down before turning back.  We were determined to at least make it to the first resthouse/water filling station.

“We’re hikin’!” Cheryl proclaimed.

“We are.” 

“On the hottest day of the year.” 

“At least it’s dry.”

It was pretty sweltering out, so we kept ourselves hydrated walking down the trail, perhaps a third of the way down the canyon in terms of elevation — one whole level of geology.  The views made up for any annoyances, although that got commonplace too because we zig-zagged down switchbacks and didn’t really traverse the rim at all.  Perhaps the biggest annoyance was the song stuck in my head that I started humming.

“Can you sing another song?” Cheryl asked, tired of even the melody of “Friday.”

The crowd thinned out as we continued on.  It took us about an hour to go down to the first rest house, only a mile and a half down.  The ranger said to double the uphill trek time for a time estimate, and so we turned back after filling up and munching on stuff — away from the pesky squirrels who now associate man with food.  Needless to say, the trek upwards was harder and hotter with the mid-afternoon sun — but at least we weren’t the one of the group of rafters who had raved about navigating the mighty Colorado for a week, only to have to hike out of the canyon for almost a full day. 

“We started at seven thirty in the morning,” one told us. 

Our little afternoon hike seemed pale in comparison.  At least there was a breeze, and we had water.  “Should we stop?” I asked Cheryl in a rare patch of shade.

“No, let’s just go,” she answered.  “I don’t want to lose momentum.  We’ll just stop every ten minutes.”

We continued on.  I stopped in a patch of shade to hydrate.

“That’s only six minutes,” Cheryl informed me.  Up, up, up we went the switchbacks, back up a level of geology.  “I’m checking my watch every minute.”  Soon, she started coughing.  “Okay, stop here.”

“Has it been ten minutes?”

“Nine.  Close enough.”

Eventually we made it back up to the rim in 6 to 10-minute intervals; it was then that Cheryl realized how little of a distance we did.  “That’s all we did?”

“Eh, we did more than most people.”  (We’d met people along the way asking how the first resthouse was because they couldn’t even make it there.)  “That was just the right amount of hiking.”

“That was rough.  For me,” Cheryl admitted.  We high-fived.

“Should we go to the visitors center?” I asked.

“Yeah, let’s get a beer or something,” she answered.  She told me a story of this girl she used to work with who wondered how all these active people who hike and climb drink beer right after.  “She said, ‘Isn’t that undoing what you just did?’ And I said, ‘It’s the best beer you have.’”

Well put; we had the best beers ever in the cocktail lounge fancy El Tovar hotel, with a semi-decent view of the canyon.  Not that the mediocrity mattered; we were there for the beer and nachos

“Cheers!”

While in the area, we had also gone to the Verkamp’s Visitor Center and Store, one of the oldest surviving buildings in the park, named after one of the original business settlers there.  “Oh my God, did you hear that?” Cheryl asked me.

“What?”

“Another Junior Ranger swearing in.  ‘I promise to respect nature…’  It’s the cutest thing!”

“I thought you were going to tell me it was the Rebecca Black song again.  I was going to say, ‘What are the chances?!’”

The song has finally exited our minds later that evening when left the Grand Canyon and all it’s view.  All the campsites in the park were obviously booked solid for the 4th of July long weekend, and so we drove down to our reserved site at the KOA campground, one hour south in Flagstaff, AZ, at the base of the San Francisco Peaks.  It was there we camped out in the only spot left on such a busy and crowded weekend — an RV spot — where we had a plot to pitch our tent with a water and electricity hook-up, plus free wi-fi service.  We were surrounded by loud kids and families, which became more annoying than having that song stuck in our heads — but at least Friday was over after all and everyone’s lookin’ forward to the weekend…






Next entry: Old Faces, New Places, Old Places, New Faces

Previous entry: Navigating Navajo Nation




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Comments for “Gettin' Down A Big Hole On Friday”

  • Sorry these are coming in piecemeal after the fact; but better late than never

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/13  at  08:21 PM


  • I’m hiking the rim to rim trail (north to south) in October. Can’t wait! Plus we start the trek on the best day of the week wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/14  at  05:33 AM


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This blog post is one of sixteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: From Sea to Shining Sea," which chronicled a two-and-a-half-week road trip across the U.S.A., from New York to San Francisco, visiting several American national parks and monuments along the way.

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Old Faces, New Places, Old Places, New Faces

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Navigating Navajo Nation




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