Thursday, 2 April 2015

Trek America Day 16 & 17: Grand Canyon

Our first glimpse of the Grand Canyon was when Ben decided to blindfold us and walk us to the edge.  It's a Trek Tradition, he said! We shoved aside any thoughts about him being an actual psycho and the fact we didn't actually know him that well, grabbed each others hands and allowed ourselves to be led from the van to the edge of the canyon.

Everyone's reaction was the same: WOW. 

It is pretty bloody amazing.  Just this vast jagged crack in the earth stretching out before you.  When you look down into the canyon you can see lots of different levels and humps and bumps, the rocks are all different layerings of reds and yellows and greys and browns.   The canyon sort of comes out of nowhere, because the horizon is pretty level it gives you no indication of the depth and vastness of it until you're up close.  I imagined the first explorer riding across the plain on his horse, galloping along and having to come to a very abrupt stop and thinking "oh fuck, how do I get across that". 

We were given 45 minutes to take photos and explore the visitors centre.  There's a little brick tower on the edge of the canyon that you can climb which gives you a different perspective as you can look deeper into the canyon. 

After a quick exploration we headed back to our hotel in the town, which is literally about 10 hotels, a gas station, a grocery store and a few restaurants, it's built entirely to serve tourists. Gen and I had a quick shower (the first in 2 days, bliss) and headed out for OUR HELICOPTER RIDE!!!!
I wasn't planning on doing it when I booked the trip, it's $274 (£185) which is a lot of money to spend on one experience.  But I'm not likely to have the chance again so decided it was probably worth it.  And was it!!!!! One of the best things I've ever done!!!!!! Definitely deserves that many exclamation marks.

We lucked out and were given seats at the front next to the pilot, who was a lovely gentleman full of facts and charm.  The best way to describe flying in a helicopter is its like sitting in a slightly unstable armchair high above ground.  It was just amazing.  You fly across the forest for about 8 minutes and then suddenly the ground drops away and you're flying over the canyon.  Because of the perspective you feel like the helicopter is dropping which is a bit of a queasy moment!

Flying over the canyon gives you a greater appreciation of the size of it and how it was formed, the pilot pointed out the fault line where the tectonic plates collided, and the remains of a volcano that is hundreds of years old.  The canyon is formed from plate activity and erosion; volcanoes would erupt and dam up the river, the river would slowly build up behind the volcanic dam and eventually burst it in a torrent of water. The water velocity would be very fast and carrying rocks and sediment that would erode the sides and bottom of the sandstone rocks either side of it.  Over thousands of years of this has created the canyon we see today.  And that's your geography lesson for the day!!

Flying a chopper looks very complicated, the pilot had two foot controls and two hand joystick controls and he made the slightest movements with all of them.   I love flying and I think I would have been happy to fly in a helicopter over the M25 because it's so cool, but the fact it was over the canyon made it all the better.  The view you get is amazing and you can see so much more than in a plane.  It is expensive but if you get the chance I do highly recommend it.  There was a bit of turbulence and the pilot was explaining how he can tell which areas will be rough and smooth by the rocks and cliffs and how the wind blows over them.  Interesting!

We drove back to the hotel to pick the others up then headed back to the park to see the sunset over the canyon.  My friend Amy has a rule that planned sunsets are always rubbish, but this one was an exception.  We brought beers and settled on the edge with our cameras.  Each time one of the boys went a bit too close I would nearly have a heart attack.

The way the sun shines into the canyon causes it to light up in a variety of colours, and as the sun sinks it's ever changing as shadows and light are cast into different areas.  It is beautiful and gives you an appreciation to how vast it is and what is in the belly of the canyon; in the mid day sun it looks quite flat and dark.

The following morning we woke up early to start a hike into the canyon at 6.30am.  As the temperature increases the lower you go, its best to go early so that you have more chance of beating the mid day sun on the way back up.  We had decided to do the Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point, the National Park Service had graded it very difficult and estimated it at a 9-12 hour trip.  It's a 12mile round trip with an elevation change of 940metres. We do like a challenge!!!

Ben had reminded us that every step down was a step we had to take back up and so to stop when we needed to, but we were determined to reach our destination as the views are said to be incredible.  The way down was pretty easy, the steepest part of the hike is the first 3 miles of the trail and then it starts to be a more gentle gradient. 

As the terrain flattens out, it gets greener and turns into a different world.  We made it to Plateau Point and the view was incredible.  You can see and hear the roaring turquoise Colorado river below and you have a 360 degree view of the canyon. It was incredible. 

The hike back up was probably one of the hardest things I've ever done!  We left the boys taking selfies and headed back up as we knew it would take us longer than them to get back up.  We were making good progress but the last three miles are a killer.  We stopped for ten minutes at the 3 mile rest stop and 100 metres up the track who did we bump into? Bloody Daniel!!! Casually eating a sandwich! The boys had managed to overtake us during our rest stop even though we had a head start. Bit embarrassing! My competitive spirit took over and  I made it my mission to get them in my sights and try and catch up.  I don't know why I did that as the hike was so hard and I hurt so bad after (three days later and my calves are still killing) but I'm pleased to say that I caught up with Sun and we struggled to the end together.  

We did the trek in 5h 40 mins including all breaks, woo!! Simon made it back up first in 5h 10 min which is frankly amazing, he is a machine. Danish Viking!
We had two hours until Ben picked us up again so I lay in the sun, treated myself to an ice cream and read a book on mules which I found in the gift shop. Now I want a mule. Can I have one for my birthday please Mum?

I don't think my photos below will do the Grand Canyon any justice so I think you should go visit it yourself (and go to New Orleans whilst you're at it).

1 comment:

  1. Man alive! That helicopter ride over the grand canyon looked AMAZING! Great pictures too! -x-


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