The Grand Canyon: Finding Beauty In The Heat

The drive was characterized by an endless, straight road, and the only entertainment was a wildfire in the distance, driving fast down empty desert roads, and a brief (because it was 110°) stop at the Hoover Dam. After this five hour journey, I was ready to pull up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and see the sweeping views I had seen in pictures. However, I realized past photos had misguided me.

Instead of the expanse opening up, revealing the canyons as I expected, a small, touristy village appeared. There was hotel after hotel, with a mixture of cars, tour buses, and gift shops everywhere. After finally finding our hotel, the Thunderbird Lodge, and getting situated in our rooms, we walked to our first dinner at the Maswik Lodge Food Court, a large, cafeteria-style restaurant with average-tasting food. On the walk back, we realized that our lodge was situated on the rim of the Canyon, so we stopped for a quick peek. The full moon cast a glow into the valley; however, the darkness made it difficult to grasp the magnitude of the view.

The next morning we awoke for our sunrise hike at 4:30 a.m. and drove to Yaki Point, a popular lookout area. We walked around for a couple of hours, getting to fully experience the far-reaching view for the first time and realizing the immensity of the Canyon, even more than pictures can convey. Maya Mehta (’18), whose family we travelled with, said, “My favorite part was seeing the sun rise over the Canyon because of the way the light shined through.” The blinding sunlight in the pink sky reflected amongst the rocks, quickly warming the chilly morning air. In fact, we were there during a record-breaking heat wave, so after taking in the view we hurried off for quick breakfast at a cafe so that we could start our first hike before it got too hot.

View of Indian Garden.

We had planned a mule ride into the Canyon, but the cancellation, due to the heat, left room for us to undertake the Bright Angel Trail, the most common of the few day-hike trails, conveniently located right next to our hotel. We started around 8:30 a.m., and it was already getting hot, so we only descended about 1.5 miles, though it is 9.5 miles to the bottom. We knew it takes about two times longer to ascend than to descend the Canyon trails, and we wanted to finish before it was too hot and we were out of water. This hike was not too strenuous, because there were frequent switchbacks, and the trail was well-worn and maintained. I was somewhat disappointed that the view was not wide and panoramic; however, it gave a clear view of Indian Garden, a midpoint where many people spend the night on the way to the bottom of the Canyon. This was especially interesting to see because the lush green colors of Indian Garden contrasted with the beige and red colors of other parts of the Canyon.

At the point we turned around, my impression of the trail was tarnished by countless, pesky Kaibab squirrels. Unfortunately, they were so accustomed to humans that they tried to approach us and other hikers, getting dangerously close, considering the possibility of disease and being bitten. The squirrels made it difficult to even advance along the path, so it ended up being a suitable place to turn around. Also, we were beginning to feel the affects of the dangerous heat. Rather than humid heat, which are acclimated to on the East Coast, the desert heat is extremely dry. For example, on our rafting trip the next day we would dunk handkerchiefs in the 46° Colorado River to wrap around us and cool us off, but they would dry within seconds.

The view up from the Bright Angel Trail

We never completely descended to the bottom of the Canyon, because the 130° temperatures meant round trips in one day were prohibited, and we did not have camping gear with us. However, it was fascinating, along with dizzying, to look up as we descended and see the tall rock formations above us. My brother, Ben Melvin (’20), also enjoyed talking to the hikers who had spent the night at the bottom “and hearing their experiences in the crazy temperatures.” For lunch we returned to the Maswik Lodge Cafeteria, because there were not many restaurants close to our lodge. After post-lunch naps due to exhaustion, we walked to a nearby ice cream shop. It was worth the long line to be able to sit on the edge of the Grand Canyon afterwards and eat the enormous, cool, delicious ice cream (despite being overrun by more squirrels).

An agave flower.

We had heard rave reviews about sunsets at Hopi Point, so we boarded a shuttle bus to experience it. We ended up getting off one stop early at Powell Point, so we could do a short hike because we were early. On this short hike, we were surprised to see many plants growing through the rocks, such as the Utah juniper, banana yucca, sagebrush, and agave flowers, which my father renamed “Dr. Seuss plants” for their tall, droopy shape with puffy flowers on top. As the sun started to set, we thought the view from Powell Point was stellar, so we decided to forgo our plans of going to Hopi Point and we just remained at Powell Point. This was the best sunset of the Grand Canyon. The sky was was filled with shades of yellow and orange, which later turned to pink and purple and illuminated the rock formations all around. The sky truly looked like a painting. We could sit on the edge of the cliff and soak in the scenery as the temperature dropped to more comfortable warmth.

Sunset at Powell Point.

The South Kaibab Trail

The next morning, we decided to get an earlier start on a hike and take in the sunrise on the way. We got to the South Kaibab Trail shortly after sunrise, but the sky was still pink and the temperatures were still cool. We ate a quick breakfast at the trailhead before setting off. This was by far my favorite hike because the trail was rock-lined and much steeper, making it more adventurous. The sweeping views were truly breathtaking. In fact, there is a special location along the trail called Ooh-Aah Point where the views made us all speechless. You could climb out on rocks and look down to see oddly shaped ridges, as well as Bright Angel Campground, where many people stay at the bottom. My mother, Assistant Head of Middle School Lindsey Melvin, remarked, “I was overwhelmed by the enormousness of the Canyon floor. And the fact that every switchback provided, unimaginably, more beautiful views than the previous one.” We hiked past Ooh-Aah Point and wanted to continue to see more of the brilliant sights, but we had to drive around 2.5 hours to Page, Arizona for an afternoon rafting trip.

The view form South Kaibab Trail.

On our way to Page, we made brief stops at two viewpoints. Lipan Point boasted my favorite views of the Grand Canyon from the trip, even better than at our next stop at Desert View Watchtower, where you can climb a tower for a better view. At Lipan Point, there was an over 180° panoramic view of the Grand Canyon, and the sky was clear enough that we could see the Colorado River in the distance. The vivid rocks miles away made us feel so tiny compared to the vastness of the Canyon. These expansive views would end up being our last worthy views of the Grand Canyon. Our raft trip took place in Glen Canyon, which was magnificent, but not as large as the Grand Canyon (though, unbelievably, even hotter). The next morning we attempted to watch one more sunrise from outside our hotel, but upsettingly it was gloomy and uncharacteristically chilly, so we went back to bed before departing for Flagstaff and Sedona.

The view from Lipan Point.

All photos by Frances Melvin.

About the author

Frances is a junior at Collegiate School.