Grand Canyon National Park (June 27-28, 2005)

Second stop in the Cross USA trip - Summer 2005

Grand Canyon was the second major stop during our cross USA trip. We arrived at the park after a scenic drive from Sedona with many stops along the way to admire the beautiful sceneries. One thing that struck me was the relatively flat road and landscape leading to Grand Canyon, giving no hints of what we were about to see. The plateau surrounding the canyons must be very large. The weather was quite pleasant and the sky was clear when we reached the park. The Mather campground was full, but by waiting for an hour (around noon until they finish sorting out cancellations), we were able to get a site.

We first went to the Market Plaza , thinking that the Visitor Center would be in the neighborhood. Instead, we found a shopping area (as the name suggested - duh!), and a shuttle stop that would take us to the Visitor Center . Grand Canyon has a good shuttle system that goes from before dawn to late evening. We got to most places in the park using this means of transportation. We spent a couple of hours at the Visitor Center reading about its history and also listening to a park introduction. Since the park is so large, a few hours invested here to sort out the itinerary would be definitely worthwhile. With limited time, we had to be selective about what to see. Long hikes are ruled out because of that reason. We decided to go to rim points near the Visitor Center and to the western side, leaving the eastbound Desert View Drive for the following day when we would leave the park.

We spent a good part of the afternoon checking out various rim trail viewpoints. We visited Mather Point which was in the vicinity of the Visitor Center , then took the shuttle to see the South Kaibab Trailhead and Yaki Point. They all offered great views of the canyons. Humans seemed quite small and insignificant in this "grand" setting. The view is different from all the parks I'd been to. Its beauty was one of the grandeur of nature without the typical green forest and waterfalls I'd seen in California .. To see the river and waterfalls up close, one would have to hike down to the canyon floor. In order to better appreciate the landscape, you would also need to read about the geology at the Visitor Center and as you look at this vast landscape, contemplate the force of water, wind and gravitation that had been and still are at work for millions of year. I could think of no other places that would reveal millions of year of erosion right in front of your eyes.


After a short rest to wait for the sun to go down, we board another shuttle to check out the sunset at Hopi Point. I was in for a surprise. This location is the most popular sunset photo spot in the park. That means even boarding the shuttle was a hassle - waiting in line for at least 15 minutes before getting on a bus. This reminded me of lines at amusement park rides. After a bumpy ride, we got to Hopi Point. The park ranger had not been kidding earlier when he suggested that I ought to get to Hopi Point early to get a place to shoot the sunset, and that it would be difficult to capture the scenery without people in the pictures. I found a reasonably nice spot with a gnarly tree as the foreground and the Colorado River showing up in the deep canyon. My wife had to act as a nice bouncer to keep other photographers out of the field of focus. With a 5.2 feet frame at 105 lbs, I suppose she had no choice but being nice J . Everyone was polite so we did not have any major issue. The scenery was quite beautiful with the rain clouds covering most of the horizon with the sun peeking through the clouds creating large bands of golden light on distant canyons. Shooting at the sunset without a light meter and graduated filter was not easy for me. I managed to capture a few reasonable pictures, but none would equal the beautiful scenery and subtle spectrum of colors in front of us. The next time I go to Grand Canyon , I will look for a different sunset location to avoid the crowd and truly appreciate the sunset over this vast landscape.

Early the following morning, we dragged myself out of the sleeping bag and walked back to the Market Plaza to catch a shuttle to a sunrise picture spot. At the suggestion of the shuttle driver, I went to Yavapai Point. The sun was already over the horizon by the time I reached the rim - I had lost an hour with walking and waiting for the shuttle. The lesson is to drive to be in control of the element of time. Yavapai turned out to be a great sunrise spot, with the sun casting various light intensity on the rim and the buttes below. I had better results capturing sunrise pictures of light reflecting off the canyon walls.

As planned earlier, we took the Desert View Drive on the way out of the park. We stopped at all the viewpoints ( Grandview , Moran and Lipan) on the drive and also visited the Tusayan museum to learn about the pueblo life in past centuries. For more information about this museum, follow this link . Just before departing the park, we stopped by Desert View. There was an impressive building called Watch Tower which was architected by Mary Colter. It was designed to provide a high vintage point for the canyon, but also blend into the environment. The building was also adorned by Hopi style painting. Following is a link to pictures of the Watch Tower . From this location, you also have a panoramic view of the canyon and the Colorado River .

Spending just 2 days at Grand Canyon , we barely scratched the surface of exploring the park by confining ourselves to rim viewpoints. That gives me a good excuse to return another time to explore the canyon floor.

To learn more about Grand Canyon and plan a trip, check out the National Park link, as well as the Grand Canyon website, among others.

Follow this link to see some pictures I took in Grand Canyon National Park .