Despite my own doubts, I actually made it up at 2am, and out of the motel at 2:30am; with the 50 mile drive and the walk from the car-park to the trail-head, I was starting the hike a little later than I wanted at 4am.
It’s quite surreal walking down the canyon at night and apart from the occasionally strong wind, there was so little noise, you could hear the slightest breath in the air. Moving down the path and out of the final glimpse of streetlight, the stars burst into my eyes, in a wonderful spray of light and if I’d had more time, I would have lay down and stared into that scene for hours. For the most part, I had the silence and stars to myself, only to be met by a few of hikers along the way and I must confess, this is the preferred way of visiting the canyon (Later, on the ascent, there would be a lot more traffic starting on their descent.)
I reached the 1.5 miles house as dawn was breaking and exchanged silence, with a younger group coming up. It’s amusing that the seasoned hikers and regulars, are full of joy and always pleasant. The only other group I bumped into, was a couple at Indian Gardens, where I made a very brief stop next, for some walking fuel. I felt amazingly refreshed at this point and of course last time at this stop, I was already feeling tired.
I caught up a little time and reached Plateau Point at 5:50am, just as the Sun was climbing. Just as I was setting the camcorder up on the tripod, the Sun arced over the canyon – missed the effect I wanted by literally a few seconds but I did get something, without any dead batteries this time.
Getting to the point so much earlier, gave me a lot more time to chill out and just soak up the solitude but then, just as I turned to head out, a few majestic birds swooped overhead, although I just missed the markings enough, to not be able to work out whether they were Eagles or Condors. Despite just catching the tail end of the show, it was still quite a send-off for the journey back up.
Leaving at 6:30am, the ascent back up the trail was surprisingly moderate. I’d like to attribute that to being in top shape but it had equally more to do, with the new day-pack, better clothing and managed fluid and carb intake. Just short of the exit at 9:30am, I did get the start of a headache that subsided when I sat down, so maybe I still need to work on my conditioning a little more.
After making it out of the canyon at 10am, I wasted no time in driving on around the rim. Having not been this route around the canyon before, I was surprised and delighted, to get the most amazing views; almost better than the views at the South Rim proper. Another unexpected highlight, was the Desert View Watchtower, stretching out from the edge of the canyon, affording god-like panoramas of the surrounding area. It was already very busy at this point and I opted out of climbing to the top of the tower, but still received some amazing photographic opportunities at ground level.
Following highway 64, I eventually intersected the 89 and followed this route North. After crossing the Navajo bridge at Marble Canyon, I took a brief respite in the glaring heat, to enjoy the serenity of the Colorado river, below. With exception of one other bridge at Page, this is the only crossing of the Colorado for 600 miles.
Heading for diversion on the 89A, I took the long and straight path, through the Vermillion Cliffs Highyway and some of the most amazing colours in a landscape, that I’ve seen for a long time. Scattered along this drive to Fredonia, were also the most numerous of roadside shacks, selling Native American goods, that I’ve come across – literally one every few miles. Considering that this area isn’t the most travelled, I’m unsure how they can make enough income to justify the time there but I know where to come, if I ever need some hand-made items.
Last stop in Arizona, was to be Freedonia, with the first store sign coming in to view, displaying ‘lotto, gun shells, beer’. To me, this is a ridiculously odd combination but one, that apparently is quite normal. Why on earth you’d be selling beer with gun shells, I have no idea; doesn’t seem to promote responsibility.
Screaming back into Utah and with barely enough time, to head through Zion National Park. The entrance fee seemed a little steep at $25, especially considering I was only passing through but I never begrudge paying for nature, especially when the proceeds usually go directly to the rangers.
Zion’s colours and contours are worth the entrance fee alone, even without hiking any trails. I’m rendered awestruck again, with the beauty of these landscapes and look forward to the days when, I have the time to be able to hike these areas fully.
Exiting Zion, it wasn’t long before I was back on to some wide freeway. With just a brief stop for food, I made up even more time and ultimately arrived at my destination, just 40 minutes later than originally planned. I’m looking forward to a really hot bath and a cool bed and some great memories of this drive.