On Saturday we left behind the buzz of Vegas and made our way to Arizona, whose state line with Nevada, runs right through the middle of the Hoover Dam. It took us an hour to travel 4mls to get over the dam but the journey was worth seeing this magnificent engineering structure. What was unexpected is that despite travelling further east and into the desert we should get rain, and bucket loads as thunderstorms passed through the area. At around 1.30pm you felt as if the night was about to close in! The views over the beautiful Lake Mead were dark and menacing. Arizona turns out to be much greener than we thought and as we drove for 5.5hours to the Canyon it was only in the last few miles we finally saw a few cacti.
The canyon is just stunning – it’s impossible to express the depth, the size or the scale of this vast natural phenomenon. We arrived as the sun was setting, but there wasn’t a ‘sunset’ given the cloud cover. We had 2 full days in the Canyon and the only way to properly see it and feel the size is to trek – miles downhill! Which means a long hard slog, miles in fact, back up to the rim again. We are staying on the South rim which is 7000ft above sea level and therefore cool, whilst down in the Canyon it is 20-30 degress higher in temperature.
At the top of the trails that descend into the canyon are signs that are clearly designed to frighten you to death. They have tails of people who died trekking, warnings about how the heat will fry your brain and ‘helpful’ advice about carrying gallons of water. Do these guys know how much water weighs? Just carrying the weight of it will probably kill me.
Plainly, no one takes any notice of the dire warnings as we came up behind someone whose gargantuan size blocked the narrow trail. A body like a bag of spanners and legs like overfilled shopping bags, going down would not be the problem but a Chinook helicopter would be required to get them back to the top.
Following a trial trek to the 3 mile point halfway down the Canyon, we decided that the next day we would get up at 5am and hit the trail at first light. Our aim was to get to a point 6 miles down where we could peer down to the Colorado River at the bottom of the Canyon.
Our early morning start was rewarded with the sighting of 5 elks outside our hotel. As we wandered down, the temperature rose sharply and, by the time we got to the view point (some 3 hours later) it hit 45c. Nevertheless, it was worth the effort as we were rewarded with fabulous views of the inside of the canyon, a Californian Condor (a very big bird – a protected species) and the Colorado River as it runs over a series of rapids towards the Pacific Ocean. The long climb back, a 4.6 mile ascent, it wasn’t a barrel of laughs as the steep climb, the relentless sun and the high altitude provided a stern test of the lungs and legs. If I had a job as a ranger here I would be able, after a few months, to join the Cirque de Soleil.
Words can’t describe how impressive this place is – the size and power of it is quite overwhelming. A few facts and dimensions: The canyon sprawls across 1.2 million acres, aged at only 6 million years, the strata show a well-preserved, 2-billion-year-old slice of geologic history. 227 miles of Colorado River flow through it. Also home to 1500 plant species, 305 bird species, 76 mammal, 41 reptile and amphibian (20 species being snake), and the frogs make a hell of a racket at night-time, 26 fish species. Following a turbulent history, today the stewardship of the canyon is a delicate balance of water management, preservation of the park’s pristine places and contemporary issues of native-American survival.