Grand Canyon National Park - Arizona
There were several times through grade and middle school when I had to write essays about my family history. I'm not sure why English teachers across the country like this topic but they do; in the twelve years and thirteen schools I attended it was a common assignment. And almost always I'd end up writing about Andrew J. Hattan, a distant relative on my mother's side (thank goodness for a parent obsessed with genealogy), who explored the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon with John Powell in 1872. At Powell Point along the South Rim of the canyon is the Powell Memorial and Hattan is listed among the other members of the expeditions.
We hadn't planned to go to the Grand Canyon. We'd planned an adventure to White Sands National Monument but a rainstorm moved in and changed our minds. And the Grand Canyon was only a few hours away, nine to be exact, so why not make the drive? Totally doable. And my mom suggested a stop a the Powell Memorial as long as we were headed that direction.
We took state highways and back roads as much as we could, stopping along the way to see Saguaro National Park in Tuscon, and I just fell in love with the landscape. I’ve never been anywhere like Arizona at night; so much clear dark sky, the Milky Way stretched across the darkness like diamonds. How do you describe stars without saying they sparkle and shine like… well, stars? So unlike anything else and very much themselves. I never knew what I was missing due to light pollution until I stood under a clear and cold Arizona night sky.
I’d also never seen elk. I was excited to see some in the wild, out doing elk things and being elk in a natural setting. This setting happened to include highway verges at night. This is not the place I’d choose to see elk for the first time. The headlights would catch the green reflection of eyes or the tan bodies would be lit for a few seconds and at any moment I was worried one would step out in front of the car.
After the tense drive we arrived at the little group of hotels that sit just outside the south entrance of Grand Canyon National Park sometime around three am. The parking lots were crammed full even in the off season on a week night.
The alarm went off after only a few hours and we got up before dawn, rolling out of bed, yawning as we paid the entrance fee (the park Ranger at the gate was incredibly cheerful) and went to find a spot to watch the sunrise. Dawn at the Grand Canyon. I feel like that's the name of a book or song, maybe the start of a story. If it isn’t then it absolutely should be. And we weren’t the only early arrivals. It was nice to sit with everyone else, voices hushed, waiting patiently as the first golden glow lit up the sky.
If you get a chance go for the sunrise, get up while it's still dark and race the sun, sit with someone you love, and wait patiently.
A few helpful things to know before you go -
the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is open all year (the north is closed for winter).
get a park pass - America the Beautiful Pass is $80 and covers national parks and wildlife refuges.
check sunset and sunrise times and pick your place to watch either one in advance - we started out at Yaki Point and then ended up walking along the Rim Trail as the sun rose higher. It’s also where we got to meet some elk face to face.