In March 1996, I sat at the edge of a 6-million-year-old chasm. I was 14, donning an en vogue B.U.M. Equipment windbreaker jacket, and unable to fully comprehend what my eyes were seeing in front of me.
Despite photographic evidence that we'd traveled with our state-of-the-art Panasonic home video camera, I have no recollection of ever seeing these "vacation videos," and my mom has been unable to locate them. So, it begs the question: Did we lug that cinder-block-of-a-device along with us from the Midwest to the Southwest just to gain street cred?
Make way for the Menomonie Production Crew.
Also, apparently, some things never change. I often hear comments from people who either read these blog posts or are on a hike with us, gasping that I'm too close to the edge. Even at 14, long before my hiking days, I found myself on the edge of a canyon.
Fast-forward to May 2023, smartphone in place of video camera, I stood there again. Only now, the 6-million-year-old chasm was 27 years older. And I still couldn't fully comprehend what was in front of me.
Allow me to throw out some mind-boggling Grand Canyon stats, courtesy of the National Park Service:
The Grand Canyon is Old (But the Earth is Still Way Older)
So, the Grand Canyon is 6 million years old. The Colorado River carves through the solid rock of the canyon, eroding the thickness of a piece of paper every year, which means it only took the Colorado River 6 million years to create what we see as the Grand Canyon today.
However, the topmost layer of the Grand Canyon, the Kaibab Formation comprised of shallow sea deposits, is 270 million years old.
To put its age in perspective a little bit, the oldest known rock in the Grand Canyon, Elves Chasm Gneiss, is 1,840 million years old, which is still only 2/5 the age of the Earth – 4,560 million years old.
The Grand Canyon is Huge
The average depth of the Grand Canyon is one mile (5,280 feet). The average rim-to-rim width is 10 miles, with a maximum width of 18 miles. It is 278 river miles long. The canyon's volume is 5.45 trillion cubic yards.
Grand Canyon National Park, keeping in mind not all of the canyon is within the bounds of the park, is 1,904 square miles (1,218,375 acres), making the park larger than the state of Rhode Island. The entire Grand Canyon is 2,600 square miles, which makes it larger than the state of Delaware.
The Grand Canyon is Visual Representation of Changes in the Climate
Made up of multiple layers of sedimentary rock, the evidence of numerous cycles of changes to the climate that affected the environment lie in the colorful and visually interesting stratum of the canyon. Everything from tropical seas, coastal beaches, sand dunes, swamps, lagoons, and Sahara-like deserts that once existed here are encapsulated within the horizontal rock layers.
The upper six layers of prominently stacked rocks record 70 million years of rising and falling sea levels. The limestone layers equate to shallow sea environments, sandstone layers mean sandy beaches or dunes, and shale layers translate to mud flats, swamps, or coastal plains.
Ok, so now that everyone grasps the numerical, geological, and historical magnitude of the Grand Canyon, I can continue on with the account from Day 1 of our trip to the South Rim.
South Rim Trail to Hermits Rest
Upon entering the park, our plan was to find a parking space, then walk and/or use the shuttle bus if necessary to get to the Hermits Rest Route. We did have to drive around the park quite a bit before finding an open parking space, but we landed in Lot D and were able to walk a short distance to get to the Rim Trail, which would lead us to Hermits Rest and through numerous scenic overlooks and expanses of the Grand Canyon along the way.
(Sadly, I don't think I am any taller now than I was at 14, either.)
We meandered along the Rim Trail, walking out onto every overlook for more views and photos.
It wasn't too long before we started seeing some rain coming down in the distance, but it made for some interesting clouds and added drama and dimension to our photos.
From this vantage point on the Rim Trail, you can start to see a sliver of the Colorado River.
It's hard to believe that itty bitty river did all this damage. Ha!
Then, the rain got closer, the skies above us got a bit darker, the wind picked up, and we could periodically hear thunder in the distance, so we decided it was probably a good idea to get our (cheap) ponchos out of our packs and put them on.
But that didn't stop us or slow us down. We forged ahead and continued taking in the sights.
Caught some rolling thunder in this one.
Look at that rain!
At nearly 5 miles in, we were all kind of wondering how much farther we were willing to risk it in this weather, as we gazed up at the threatening gray sky.
Soon, a shuttle bus rolled up to one of its stops nearby us on the trail. The driver opened the door. We waved him on, letting him know we didn't need a ride yet. He leaned towards us and said, "Sorry, folks. They are evacuating Hermits Rest Route due to lightning. You have to get on the bus."
Well, that put an end to our Rim Trail hike to Hermits Rest. This is the first time we'd been evacuated on any hike.
Over the intercom on the shuttle bus floated stern announcements about the evacuation. The bus driver drove around the route looking for any hikers that he could pick up and bring to safety.
After an extended ride time, the now full shuttle bus took us back to the village area. We decided it might be a good time to grab some food while we discussed our next plan. So, we found a "cafeteria-style" food court and fueled up. My husband chuckled and said it reminded him of a ski resort village eatery.
After we finished eating, we made our way over to the Kachina Lodge, which is where I and my family stayed back in 1996.
Since our original plan's route was cut short, we decided to walk back to the Rim Trail and take it in the opposite direction from where we began earlier in the day, because that section of trail was not closed/evacuated. Doing this added a couple more miles to our total for the day. But we did make stops at some of the interpretive signs along the trail, as well as checked out a few of the shops.
When we reached the end of the trail, we jumped on a shuttle bus that would return us near the lot where we'd parked. As we began navigating out of the park, we were treated to several elk sightings.
It's not my favorite thing to hike on mostly paved trails with lots of other people at every overlook, but all in all, it was a nice day taking in the magnificent sights of the Grand Canyon South Rim hike. And nobody got struck by lightning, so that was good.
Tomorrow will be another short hike down a little ways into the canyon, as well as more sightseeing.