Tue 22 May 2012 - Wed 23 May 2012 85 °F
Ahh, Grand Canyon, ubiquitous entry on the itineraries of tourists of America from all corners of the globe. As you candidly admit in your visitor center information, you may not be the longest, the widest, or the deepest canyon in the world, but you might be the grandest, if only there were a way to empirically measure grandness in scientific units.
In my frenzied pre-roadtrop planning, I had of course booked us a campsite ahead of time, and as we pulled in at 11PM, we remarked at how crowded together the campsites seemed. This was explained the next day when we discovered the nearest tents were actually taking up the spot where we would have pitched a tent, had we not installed a bed in the back of our car. A trio of guys (one from West Chester, PA, of all places) had assumed we weren't taking our campsite, since we arrived so late, and put it to good use. No harm, no foul -- they were friendly and apologetic, and it didn't inconvenience us.
Being an idiot, as I was talking to them, I let the milk I was heating for my morning chai boil over. Something about the high altitude, perhaps, made it behave rather differently than milk normally does when overheated: it shot in a perfect cylindrical stream, as though from a garden hose, from the kettle's spout, right onto my arm. It didn't seem to hurt at first, but after the guys cleared out, I realized my arm was actually scalded pretty badly. Application of cold water and first while chanting the mantra "Stop whingeing; I am a trooper," did the trick, and it stopped hurting, though the burn looked like a huge port wine mark. (Now it looks like peeling zombie skin.)
And of course, seeing the canyon from the ground for the first time made both of us forget everything else in our heads. Writing this a few days later, I can say that as we have traveled, seeing gorgeous and unique landscapes wherever we go, we've become a little bit immune to all of the beauty, but we have still run into sights that have made our jaws drop, and the canyon was one of them, despite all the pictures we've seen.
In my last entry, I talked about nearly hitting an elk on the way into the park late at night. Once camped, we were to discover that our space was shared with a herd of elk and unkindnesses of ravens - in fact, the Grand Canyon has given us our closest encounters with wildlife on the roadtrop so far. It is surreal to be walking through the campground, round a corner, and find your way nearly blocked by a creature the size of a van, eating a tree. Elk are so huge, I can't imagine anything preying on them besides packs of wolves, which don't exist in that area, and fast cars on dark country roads. They looked at us puny humans with what can only be described as complete indifference, or perhaps dismissive contempt, as we inched our way around them a mere five feet away, frantically taking photographs.
In the next 40 hours or so, Matt and I did some walking on the Rim Trail, built a campfire to roast marshmallows, and finally hiked 1.5 miles into the canyon (and back out again) on the Bright Angel Trail. Hiking into the canyon was easy, but the climb out was pretty killer.
Neither of us was really prepared for how much high altitude affects breathing and exertion, but the worst of it was probably the fast-rising sun, which achieved an uncomfortable blaze by 9:30AM, making the most difficult part of the hike a race for shade as well as a climb.
We had no idea how relatively easy that hike was. We were to learn our lesson a few days later in Yosemite.