The Grand Canyon certainly lived up to the name and hype. It is incredibly vast and striking, holding such intense grandeur and a truly unique splendour; one that can not be denied. Standing out on various precipices looking inwards one can not help but feel especially small and insignificant.
We perused the Canyon right at the beginning of our trip, after hitting up Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam. While venturing out this way, we decided to base ourselves in Flagastaff Arizona, finding it was the ideal balance between two points of interest for this trip; The Grand Canyon and Monument Valley. The original plan was to depart Las Vegas and make our way directly to the Grand Canyon. However the night prior we had to drastically change our plans as the weather forecasted a snow storm and advised not to enter the park.
Of course, being two, inexperienced snow bunnies we took heed.
And while at the time, such modifications to an already rigid and strained itinerary was not fitting, in the end it all work out for the better. You see in doing so we managed to visit the Hoover Dam, a site that was completely overlooked prior, yet one that ended up being utterly cherished. And because we were undeniably enamoured with said site, we set ourselves a good three to four hours behind schedule and thus rode in on the coattails of that dreaded and anticipated snow storm into Flagstaff.
Overall the drive wasn't too strenuous, of course in hindsight it never is. It will be one that will remain forever memorable because the experience was very much delightful. Beginning at the cusp of dusk, sudden patches of white began materializing here and there; ever so mysteriously blanketing fields exclusively to one side of the road. Other times simply content to clump up in batches amongst the scrub. For two Aussies who'd never seen snow prior to that moment the unfolding scenes left us slightly perplexed and presuming. And once the ideal moment arose we pulled over to investigate further. Ganders such as caressing and the haphazard formations of balls and poor attempts at snow angels. Our antics scoring us a chorus of "toots" from fellow passerby's.
Of course as we continued onwards with our drive that not-so gossamer blanket of white began to increase in density, creeping in from the fields and onto the tarmac. It softly scattered the emergency lane at first then gradually built to encroaching mountainous mounds. The threat of nightfall was imminent and that soft smattering of white turned friend to foe as it began coalescing along the pavement beneath. No longer was the road black, but patched in an omniscient grey.
It remained a novelty for some time. Alabaster streaks contrasting against the road like an impressionist painting; albeit in monochrome. The sides of the highway heavy with the burden of snowfall, increasing in substance as we drew closer to Flagstaff. And just as the we'd presumed the worst, swarms began to dance within the headlight beams, akin to the kind you get driving through the countryside on balmy summer days. Only these weren't mosquitos or flies, they were flurries of snow. What should have been a magical moment turned intimidating as our ignorance of "black ice" loomed unnervingly.
This was to be our first and last sighting of such phenomena as we drove on the cusp of a waning snow storm. The very same one which first hindered our travel efforts with its nuisance.
Those feathery flurries remained with us until we finally arrived at Flagstaff. And it was here that we finally got to revel in them. The feeling of snow against exposed skin was a most enchanting sensation and it's one that will haunt me until my dying breath.
Cold, bitting but passionate they are; like welcome, velveteen pins and needles.
Of course the next morning those obvious joys of snow slowly subsided as reality reared its ugly head once again. We left our substantial hoard of bottled water in the car, and as the temperatures plummeted to an arctic -23°C, naturally our water was not immune and froze solid. I also managed to leave a borrowed Nikon in the glove compartment. It too refused to coorporate for many hours. Best of all I slipped on that dreaded black ice, landing solidly on my back which ignited a former injury. It's safe to say I'll remain ignorant no more on the subject.
Thankfully not all was lost. Since we arrived so late in the night and after the storm our vehicle remained free of intense ice buildup. I honestly don't know how we'd manage if we had woken up and found our Jeep completely entombed in the parking lot as the majority had fared. Watching someone feverishly hack and scrape away at the mountain of snowfall frozen solid on his truck made the hairs stand on my arms.
I think I'd have a nervous breakdown if that was us.
While the snow storm felt like a major inconvenience at the time, in hindsight it was a blessing. In rearranging our itinerary we not only managed to see more than was originally anticipated but also got to experience snow for the first time. Both in operating a vehicle and in person. It also meant the journey to the Grand Canyon was even more pleasurable as remnants of the day before remained present alongside the highway.
The drive from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon is little under an hour and half. Slightly longer for us since my outdated GPS managed to detour us off course numerous times. I can't recall catching any glimpses of the canyon while driving towards it. In fact it felt rather ensconced in vegetation and snow. Aside from general road signs, one would have no idea what lay ahead, were they not expecting such natural grandeur.
Navigating through the park itself was a little confusing at times; despite being provided with a park map. I blame the dazzling display of snow encrusted tress for distracting me. We based ourselves at the Grand Canyon Village were a complimentary shuttle bus is available to escort you to each of the three available lookouts at the South Rim. While you're more than welcome to peruse the grounds, we thought it best to catch the bus considering how puzzled we become solely upon entering the park. I do recommend the bus though, it's highly convenient and you're much more at leisure to explore on foot and depending on the crowds, no need to fret over parking either.
Even while out on the bus, the canyon continues to remain concealed. Everyone seated is in eager anticipation, the air thick with much promise while we all await that moment when the trees part ways and reveal what they've been so desperate to shield.
And when the moment does come, boy is it magnificent.
You can't help but allow throaty "oohs" and "ahhs" to escape. And even with my poor, nearsightedness those swirls of corals and rusty reds are still are sight to behold.
On our first stop we met two hikers who'd camped below in the canyon overnight. We were slightly perplexed at first then curious about how they managed to walk away sans frostbite. However they were quick to advise that the temperature at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is much warmer than what was above it. I suppose the towering walls of the canyon itself create a specific microclimate as it provides a shield for the elements above. Boy did they paint such a resplendent image. One of campfires by a sedative creek and a night sky teeming with effervescence. One day I'd like to return and do the very same thing.
This first point contained numerous trails that led into the canyon itself. We did not venture in however. Being the super klutz that I am, the probability of me flailing off the sides of a cliff was highly likely. Plus my faithful Adidas Originals proved to have little traction against the snow.
Speaking of, for those who know me it will come as no surprise that I actually managed to face-plant in the snow. At the final stop I saw a ravishing scene of overhanging tree limbs overlooking the canyon that I needed to capture myself within. I envisioned the scene perfectly. Me hanging off that tree haphazardly but in the most graceful of fashions looking out into a sea of jagged rusts. As I attempted to maneuver over the rocky barrier I misjudged the actual depth of a rock swallowed in snow and lost my footing. Gravity abruptly shoved me into the snow and all in front of a watchful audience. And unfortunately for me there are shameful photographic evidence of such happenings, around fifteen photos to be exact. For the sake of my pride and humility I decided against showcasing them on the blog. However I may just share one of them over on Instagram this week so make sure you're following me on @soniademacedo if you're ready for a laugh.
Each of the three sites held such mesmerising and unique views, so picking which I preferred is an impossible task. The canyon truly is grand, stretching as far as the eye can see. I could have spent weeks upon weeks at each site, inhaling it's splendour and marvel with my being. And while the snow proved to be problematic at times it also created a blissful wonderland. Bleaching the grounds with resplendent alabaster, one you don't see much of when it comes to places like this. And while I expect the same goes during the warmer, drier months, contrasting rusts even more hypnotic, I quite enjoyed seeing the Grand Canyon during the winter days.
There's a certain charm and allure when it's frosted like this.