My Journey to the Grand Canyon

4:30am wake-up time. Why do all flights seem to either leave obnoxiously early in the morning, or late at night? Anyways – it is what it is. My partner and I packed our bags into our friends SUV and headed to YYZ airport.

We arrived in Las Vegas at approximately 11am (thank you time zones). We arrived at the Escape Camper van site and signed our paperwork for the van we would call home for the next week. Small problem though. The van we originally rented, was unavailable. It should have been the size of a small minivan. Instead, we got a van the size of a small truck. Now, this isn’t really an issue if you have has experience driving larger vehicles. However, back home both my partner and I drive little Toyota cars. She is also 5 foot nothing and could barely see over the dash. Alas – it is what it is. We drove around the parking lot to get comfortable with the size of the vehicle and tried driving to the Vegas Strip to find parking – YA RIGHT! That ended quick. We drove right back to the Escape Camper van office and called an Uber.

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Our Escape Camper van was called Miss Pacman (it’s true!).

Our Uber driver was pretty awesome. We spoke about how he thought he was picking us up from a strip club (dude…it’s 11am). We spoke about Canada, the US election (this was before Trump won…) and how he had lived in Vegas his whole life, but had never been to the Grand Canyon! He dropped us off at the Mirage and gave us tips on what to see on the Strip in limited time.

We walked along the strip in 30 degree temperature, which was a shock considering we just came from winter weather. We went in and out of the major hotels and casinos. Everything was so grand and “extra” as the kids say now a days. There were re-makes of some of the worlds most monumental landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower and Trevi Fountain. There was so much to look at and it really was nothing I had ever seen before. Vegas sure is a one of a kind (the people are too!).

Our main goal was to get to one of Chef Gordon Ramsey’s restaurants. My partner had always watched Hells Kitchen and wanted to taste the amazingness for herself. After getting lost several times on the way, we finally found the restaurant.

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We ate our fill, and then continued on our way to grab some food for the week. We heard the Grand Canyon National Park had a grocery store, but we were not sure of how expensive it would be or what they would have. In hindsight, WHAT were we thinking buying groceries in Vegas?! When we went to the Canyon grocery store, we discovered how amazing it was! There was a cafe and a great selection of fresh produce and healthy foods. We even attempted to make tacos on one of our evenings…however to our dismay, the corrizo meat was horribly salty and inedible..oh well, we tried.

Once we grabbed some food, we grabbed an Uber, and headed back to pick up our camper van. We packed up and hit the road to the Grand Canyon!

5 hours later, we arrived to our campground at 10pm. Despite still being uncomfortable with such a large vehicle, busy and unfamiliar highways, me giving directions (never a good idea) and roads full of potholes, we arrived alive. We got some shut-eye and got a good nights rest in preparation for the following days adventure. The van was extremely comfortable and fairly warm considering the cooler temperatures in Canyon park.

The next morning was our first experience cooking from the back of our camper van. We successfully made oatmeal.

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Our first stop of the day, was the Grand Canyon National Park Visitors Centre where we collected important information about the canyon hikes, where to see the best sunset and what amenities were available during our stay. We walked to Mather Point – our first view of the Grand Canyon. No photos can really provide an accurate visual of the Grand Canyon. It is exactly that – Grand. The colours of the rock, the depth of the crevasses and shear size of the natural phenomenon is astonishing and breathtaking.

We continued walking along the edge of the Canyon and eventually turned back to rest some more and then prepare for an afternoon hike to Cedar Ridge.

The hike to Cedar Ridge was our first experience in the canyon. It was also our first experience of what it is like to hike in desert like conditions. Luckily, the November temperatures of the canyon are around the mid twenties during the day. However, during the summer, hikers are advised to hike early in the morning, or later in the afternoon to avoid heat stroke, or even death. Unfortunately many hikers go into the canyon during the summer months and do not bring enough food or water to last the hike. Many people also hike too far and do not consider that hiking back to the rim takes almost double the time it takes to hike down. At least, this is what all the warning posters stated.

Cacti, cliffs and different shades of red dirt surrounded us. The decline into the canyon put strain on our knees as essentially no step was on flat ground. We crossed paths with deer, who had no issue jumping and climbing up the side of the cliffs. Half way to Cedar Ridge, is Ooh Aah Point (I know…who got paid to name it that?). Ooh Aah Point, is a common look out point into the canyon as it is achievable for most hikers. After some water and snacks, we continued on.

After an hour hike we reached Cedar Ridge. The dirt was the deepest colour of red we had seen and no matter which direction we looked in, our eyes met with the layers of the canyon. We enjoyed the view until we felt rested enough to make the two hour hike back up the canyon which was full of much needed breaks and water. We had made it back to the ridge just in time for our first sun set at the canyon. We ended our day watching the sun set and the colours of the canyon come to life one last time before it was time for the stars to have their turn at shining.

The following day we hiked the Bright Angel Trail – not all of it of course, that is a trip in itself, but we hiked to the 3 mile rest house. This took us approximately 6 hours round trip.

The Bright Angel Trail was much more protected from the environmental elements which was appreciated. The trail was steep and rocky and wildlife surrounded us. Deer climbed the side of the cliffs as if they were weightless and watched us as we panted and took breaks – they were almost judgey. Well sorry deer, we don’t live here like you do.

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We ran into several hikers on our way to the rest house. The community of the Grand Canyon was welcoming to all hikers of all journeys. Everyone talked to each other about where they were headed. Many people were headed to Grassy Meadows for the night, which was at the bottom of the canyon, and planned to hike back up after a few days or continue onto the North Rim.

Once we reached the 3 mile rest house, we took in the view once again of a different perspective of the beautiful canyon. However, we also did not want to get caught in the canyon during sun set so we quickly headed back up towards the rim. On our way up we ran into two older men – rather hippie – who were talking about the election results. I am sure you all are aware, Donald Trump won. We were all shocked and this resulted in several hikers asking if they could return to Canada with us. These two gentleman and mostly I, got into a deep political conversation and became rather depressed thinking about the topic of what was to come of our world. When enough was enough, we continued on our ways and said our goodbyes. We then ran into two of the Grand Canyon rangers monitoring the trail and ensuring people had enough water and were not hiking too far without enough supplies or a plan on where they were spending the night. They were two older women who had immense knowledge about the canyon. We took turns passing each other on our hike up. Each time, I would have another question for them and we would engage in conversation. It was a nice break from the drastic incline and quad pain. We finished the hike just before sun set and decided to go to the village for a hot meal to reward ourselves for the last two days. I never appreciated a hot meal as much as I did in that moment – a meal that wasn’t packaged, or instantly cold from being cooked outside. We finished the day at the Yavapai Geology Museum to watch our third sunset of the trip.

The next day, was sight seeing day. We visited the remaining landmarks in the park, beginning with the Desert Tower. The Desert Tower was filled with beautiful hieroglyphics and had a three floor staircase which provided 360 degree views of the Grand Canyon. I find it also important to note, that the snack store at the Desert Tower site, had the most amazing selection of Ben and Jerrys I had ever seen. We also took this opportunity to buy a ton of snacks only found in America – including a Milky Way bar. Everyone in the store made such a big deal about these Milky Way bars and how we HAD to try them. When we took a bite, we were disappointed to realize they were exactly like a Mars bar. Milky Way…Mars bar….it all made sense now. So, yes America, we do have Milky Way bars. They are called Mars bars. And I would even go so far to say they are better.

Anyways.

Off we continued on our landmark day trip. Stopping by view points along the way – one of which was our favourite. I cannot remember which one it was, but it was breathtaking and had the most stunning view of the Canyon.

We continued onto the Tusayan Museum – a Museum educating visitors of the Canyon about the indigenous peoples who roamed the Canyon before us. We ended our day, returning to the village, visiting the Verkamps Museum and purchasing souvenirs from Hopi House. After a sun set, we prepared our van to take us back to Vegas the next morning.

We arrived back in Vegas the next day around 3pm. We visited Margarita Ville, gambled $40 each (and lost it all) and watched water and fire shows out front of the hotels. The lights were bright with colour and people of all kinds roamed the streets. My partner was mesmerized by it all. I on the other hand, felt lost in such a large crowd of people. We did however, find a Beatles store! We called it quits early, as we were sleeping in our van that night and were told for safety reasons, to go to the van earlier rather than later so people do not notice we were sleeping in the van.

And that concluded our trip to the Grand Canyon and Vegas! The next morning, we headed back to Ontario. We were really excited to eat another hot meal…and shower!

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