The Grand Canyon was on my route map for later in the year when I reached Arizona, but as I studied my atlas one night in snowy Colorado I realized that I would be closer to the canyon when I was in Moab than I would be when I was in Phoenix. So in-between Canyonlands and Zion, I drove south over the border and spent two days descending (twice) into the canyon…and then climbing back out again.

This was my second visit to the Grand Canyon, but my first time seeing it.

The day’s last ray’s of sun light up a peak in the Grand Canyon

Almost exactly six years ago, I was on a cross-country roadtrip with one of my brothers as I moved from the east coast (South Carolina) to the west coast (California.) I’d packed all of my belongings into a tiny car, and as we journeyed across the country we slept in the two front seats under a massive feather tick that made the car look as though it was stuffed with a giant marshmallow.

It was my first time in any of those western states, and I felt as though I’d tumbled through a wormhole and landed on some strange other planet. We pulled over at every possible point along the Colorado River approaching the Grand Canyon National Park, marveling at the sight of the river snaking its way through the canyon and the fierceness of the wind that pulled us toward its edge. I paid the entrance fee to the park and as we pulled up to the first lookout point, a cloud slid in and filled the canyon, blanketing the air with a fog so thick that we could barely see each other. We drove the length of the park and out the other side, and the fog never lifted. We felt a little robbed.

But this time, there was barely a cloud in the sky and the view – from the top of the canyon looking down, and from the bottom of the canyon looking back up – was sublime.

View of the Milky Way from my dispersed camping site outside of the Grand Canyon National Park

I did both the Hermit and the Bright Angel trails, and while the top of the Bright Angel trail was extremely crowded, the number of hikers lessened considerably the closer I got to the bottom.

I was concerned that it might be difficult to find a place to park at night due to the large areas of reservation land outside the park (they require a recreational permit for overnight parking,) but there are boondocking (dispersed camping) sites in the national forest just outside of the Tusayan entrance to the park and it was actually the closest I’ve been able to stay to a park entrance without actually being in the park. The nights were as clear as the days, and the night sky, mesmerizing.

I’d seen and hiked a lot of Canyons in the days prior, but there’s something special about the Grand Canyon and anytime that I wasn’t hiking it, I was at its edge, simply seeing, watching the light and shadows chase each other across the colorful canyon walls.

The Desert View watchtower at the south rim of the Grand Canyon