According to my calculations, it has been 865 days since I last visited the Grand Canyon. Having grown up about an hour away from the Big Ditch, this seems sort of, well, unnatural. It’s been even longer since I’ve visited in the winter, which is sad because winter tends to be the only that that a visit to the Grand Canyon doesn’t make you feel like you’re fighting your way through your friendly local neighborhood Super Wal-Mart.
One of the things that has always amazed me about the Grand Canyon is the fact that you can literally be standing 20 feet from the edge and have no idea that it even exists. Unlike many of our other semi-urbanized natural wonders, you can’t really see it that well, if at all, from the parking lot. The Canyon was “discovered” by European settlers with horrendous depth perception in 1540 . A soldier named Cárdenas was searching for the Seven Cities of Cibola under the command of his boss, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado when he and his small regiment stumbled upon the canyon. Cárdenas were either inherently godawful at judging distance and depth or they were really really drunk at the time because they thought that the river at the bottom was only 6 feet wide. Dangerously low on water, Cárdenas sent several soldiers down into the canyon, thinking that they could reach the river, obtain water, and return to the rim within a few hours. The erroneous nature of that estimate soon became clear and whatever horror stories Cárdenas’ men told the rest of their party were apparently bad enough to keep any other Europeans from visiting the canyon for more than 200 years.
People watching at the Grand Canyon is always a fun little activity this time of year. On one side of the spectrum you’ve got people in shorts who are flabbergasted at the fact that the canyon rim is covered in a foot of snow and are then forced to purchase very overpriced souvenir sweaters from the gift shop. On the other side we find the individuals (read: Phoenecians) who are dressed down like Randy from A Christmas Story (I can’t put my arms down!) even though it’s actually like 40 degrees outside.
Due to the snow, trails down into the canyon are notoriously treacherous this time of year so we stuck to the rim for the day. One of my favorite places on the South Rim is a little-known overlook called Shoshone Point. It’s unsigned and doesn’t appear on any park service maps yet can be rented out for weddings and other special events during the summer. It’s about a one-mile walk from the main park highway on a dirt road. Since the park service pretty much refuses to acknowledge that it exists this time of year, not only is it one of the most spectacular viewpoints, but you basically get it all to yourself as well. Unless other people see you parked on the side of the road in an entirely non-descript patch of forest and decide to check things out for themselves. Then you might have a bit of company. But hey, still better than dealing with 8 billion tour buses!