Into The Grand Canyon Part I -> Chasing Impossibilities
“It’s never going to happen” I though to myself
I was standing on the rim of the Great Ditch and I realized right away that there was no way I could ever capture it. Here I was, the blogger, the photographer (or so I like to think of myself)….and I was stymied. This was just too vast, too enormous to portray in any real way. The depths went so deep they made me dizzy, the width so wide the far side was in a haze, and the colors were intense in some spots yet completely wiped out in others. I could barely comprehend it myself, and I was THERE.
To give you an idea of what I was up against here are four little facts;
- The Grand Canyon is one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the only one exclusively within the US.
- It’s 277 miles (446 km) in length, up to 18 miles (29 km) across and over 1 mile (1.6 km) deep.
- It’s got so many layers of history that the rock found at the bottom (schist) is around 2 billion years old while the top (limestone) is a mere 230 million years old.
- It’s so big there are no roads that cross it, and the only way you can see it all is if you’re in outer space.
The fact that my little ant-form and puny lens perched at the tip of a mere foot of the vast rim couldn’t capture its grandiosity is bleedin’ obvious. NO-ONE can capture this place, except maybe NASA and even then you just can’t get the feel of the place without physically being here.
We’d made our reservations for South Rim of the Grand Canyon as far back as April. We knew this was where we wanted to spend our time after the crazy intensity of Balloon Fiesta, plus Paul’s dad had never been here so it seemed like the perfect fit. We weren’t entirely unprepared either. We’d visited the North Rim our very first year on the road so we already kinda knew what we were coming up against. Granted that time we only did a day-trip, and the mid-day light had been terrible (zero photo gems out of that visit), but it gave us a glimpse of the Great Chasm and a longing to come back.
Being here again was both fabulous, and utterly depressing (as a photographer). Not only was the shooting going to be a bear, but Grand Canyon was going through it wettest October EVER (a result of El Niño no doubt) and the forecast was showing 7 days of rain (and hail, and lightning) out of our forecasted 9 days here. I was going to have to rush out between storm clearings and hope (pray, beg) for reasonable light. Conditions couldn’t really be any worse.
But as those of you’ve who’ve followed the blog know I am as hard-headed as an old goat and when I see a challenge I attack it much like a raging bull in a rodeo ring. Besides the Grand Canyon isn’t ALL about photography (well for most normal people anyway) and there’s a ton more to the South Rim than just gawking at the Ditch. I was determined to discover those secrets.
I’d also, in my naivety thought I could cover our Grand Canyon sojourn in one single post. As I started working on it one became two, which became three which I guess in retrospect is only fitting. It would be rather Un-Grand of me to cover such a majestic place in a mere 1,000 words, would it not?
So, with 9 glorious days to explore the Chasm we set out to do it as much justice as we could. Over the next two posts I’ll give you an overview of those days including some amateur photo tips, what we got up to and our thoughts on the whole experience. Plus I’ll answer the age old question “North Rim or South?”. My answer may surprise you. Stay tuned….SPONSORED LINK:
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
I don’t think any pictures have done the Grand Canyon justice. I spent over a week in the dispersed camping just outside the south entrance and went in every day and every day I said “Wow!”. In my mind it is truly indescribably. Go see it is what I tell anyone who asks.
It’s just a giant hole in the ground but what a hole!
True words indeed.
Awesome blog Nina – I am always in awe of the Canyon, but your photos and words do it some justice. Just WOW!, it is indeed hard to comprehend.
Well shucks, thanks! I’m saving my best shots for the next post, so hopefully I’ll get to wow you a little more. Still didn’t manage to capture this place IMHO, but I got a smidgen closer.
I’ve hiked to the bottom of the “big ditch”(as the cowboy calls it) twice–none of my photos even began to do the Grand Canyon justice. Looking forward to seeing all of yours!
Ok, I’m seriously impressed you’ve done that hike TWICE! That’s a major hike! Would you believe we didn’t hike below the rim once in our 9 days here? And yet we still hiked around 5 miles each day. Just another indication of how massive this place is.
And at the time my Mom was 60 years plus and she hiked with us both times!!! A group of my friends from Montana met my Mom and sister plus some friends of my sister’s at the Grand Canyon. It’s an amazing hike–hard but amazing!
Jan Mains -- billandjanrvingtheusa.blogspot.com says
I feel the same way about Slot Canyon.
The Slot Canyons are amazing..and beautiful. Very different, but I love them too.
Hahah… I couldn’t photograph the place either. I tried, but I don’t think any of my efforts made it to my blog!
I totally understand. The first year we visited (back in 2010) I think I took ~100 shots and NONE of them made the blog. When I got home I was just so disappointed in the results that I couldn’t bring myself to publish a single one. This time around I was more prepared, but I still didn’t get exactly what I hoped for. It’s just one of those places.
I agree, it’s hard to describe the Canyon in mere words or even photos. You have to experience it by hiking to the bottom. My husband and I have backpacked the canyon 2 times, hiked North Rim to South Rim in 11 hrs one time, & spent 8 days on the Colorado River whitewater rafting…each trip has been its own unique experience. The Canyon speaks to your soul, tests your limits, and keeps drawing you back again. Next spring we are backpacking Havasau Falls to see the turquoise pools & waterfalls. I encourage everyone to hike it….at least once in their lifetime!
Backpacking into the Canyon itself is one if the few things we didn’t do while we were here, and it’s one of my many reasons to come back. I’d LOVE to do it…post-pets one day.
Eric Rondeau says
This is totally Awesome!
John & BJ says
My vote to experience the Canyon is to start at Lees Ferry and come off the river at Pierce Ferry 20 days later. Even that barely scratches the itch.
I know several folks who’ve done that trip and EVERYone raves about it. Maybe Post-Polly we’ll get to do it.
And yet you did capture it admirably Nina!
Ed@Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets says
Take all the photos you want. Take magnificent photos. It won’t matter. There is something about the Grand Canyon that only being there can even begin to express. It simply cannot be put into words …or photos. It is beyond description. We have been there many, many times. And EVERY time, we are in awe.
Pam Wright says
From your facebook photos, I can see that you were able to get so many colorful details of this beautiful canyon. Looking forward to the narratives of your visit:)
Jil mohr says
I have never been able to capture all that I see there… But the beauty of it all rests in my mind and the memories from the first time I saw it about 56 years ago…
I was astounded at how hard she was to photograph. It was a challenge, but a fun one.
and you did a great job….
We have hiked down to the deepest depths, rafted 280 miles through it and honored the Canyon’s spirit by sharing our marriage vows on the North Rim….and still we have yet to fathom it’s grandeur. You took some beautiful pics Nina…hard to do, when your subject is so surreal. We had to cancel our own reservations to “close down” the North Rim (10/23-10/31), but will be there on opening day next year to yet again embrace it’s beauty.
That’s the way to experience the Canyon…from above, below and both sides. You’ve definitely got the Canyon Bug and have honored her well.
It is definitely one of those jaw dropping places everyone must experience once. Gorgeous pictures, despite the rain. We’ll be there in a few short weeks!
Hopefully the weather will be good for you. We got some decent sun between our many storms, so it worked out ok. If you stay close to the rim you can always “rush” over whenever there’s a clearing. That’s what I did.
JanisP Not in Ecuador says
Well I haven’t been to the Big Ditch yet, but I think you did a Grand job on the photos! I can’t wait to hear more about it. I’m planning on visiting there in May and I’m getting more and more excited about it every day.
Oh you’re going to love it! Hopefully I can give you a few more tips and build that excitement just a tad more. I’ll do my best.
The Grand Canyon should be “Required Viewing” during ones lifetime!!! Gives new meaning to just how amazing our earth really is!!!
It’s one of those places that puts things in perspective, in a Grand way. You realize how big nature is, how small you are and yet how everything is connected. It’s magnificent.
Somehow when I have photographed the canyon, it kind of looks like I am taking a picture of a picture, if that makes any sense at all. Like I am standing in front of a very good painted backdrop of the Grand Canyon. Just goes to show that the technology miracle workers still haven’t quite captured the detail and intensity of the human eye and brain! I am really looking forward to your next post, because your photos are always awesome. I often send them on to my daughter-in-law (they are our best camping buds) with a “Look at this!” tag.
My mom and step-dad hiked the canyon when they were in their mid-50s, and even though they were in good shape, my step-dad said my mom was so tired coming out that she just crawled in the camper and slept for hours. They also took a raft trip on the river, another year. They would spend all year planning their next adventure. One year they did the mule ride. Since the weight limit was 200 pounds, my stepdad had to diet for a while. They weigh you the night before, and so he asked them if he would be weighed again. When they said no, he told them his next stop was for a beer. My mom died of Alzheimer’s 13 years ago, and stepdad before her, just a few weeks after she went into a nursing home. Their birthdays are Oct. 4, and Oct 5, so this month I am always thinking of them more often than usual. Robert, my stepdad, loved that we lived in our RV for over a year, traveling, and he would be loving that so many people are sharing their travels, as you and Paul are doing. He always regretted that he didn’t retire earlier so he would have more time to travel with Mom. So he would be cheering you on!
I am venting a little here, so thanks for the chance to share a little about them.
What great memories of your parents! I thought of my mom a lot while I was here. Can’t exactly explain why, but there’s certainly something about this place that inspires you to think of the Grander things in life. Thanks for sharing your story.
The Grand Canyon is just that, grand, magnificent, awesome, huge and all those other words. We’ve been twice for over a week on each side and didn’t begin to spend enough time there. We hiked down below the rim but never from rim to rim which is something David really wanted to do. My pictures couldn’t capture it either. But I’m no where near the photographer you are so I’ll bet some of your future pictures will be better than most I’ve seen. Ranger Gaelyn (http://geogypsytraveler.com/) posts some great ones too. Hers are mostly from North Rim.
I have a WHOLE new appreciation for Gaelyn’s pics now that I’ve been photographing on the rim. I always enjoyed her canyon pics before this, but now I realize how magnificent they really are.
Todd Paulus says
We haven’t been to the Grand Canyon in many years. This just tickles my desire to get back there. I remember the last time we were there with my sister and her husband in the campground in separate, but small vehicles that we were sleeping in. We played Trivial Pursuit until after dark, and our laughter caused some shouts from the neighbors! But the Canyon never ceases to take our breath away.
You Rebels you LOL! Sounds like you had quite the fine time.
Steve De Baets says
The first time we visited the south rim of the Grand Canyon it was so crowded we had to park on the side of the road next to a grove of trees. As we exited the trees we were on the walkway next to the edge of the canyon. I was instantly stuck by the silence of all the people until I walked over to the handrail and looked over at the greatness of the Grand Canyon.
You are so right. Isn’t that walk to the rim crazy! When I first tried to “find” the rim I got turned around and just couldn’t seem to get there. I couldn’t believe I couldn’t find something as big as this! But as strange as it is, the entire Canyon “hides” itself until the very last moment and then “boom” it’s suddenly there. One second you’re in the brush and trees, the next you’re staring at this huge, insane chasm. It’s such a dramatic reveal that most people are just dumb-struck.
Looking forward to your Grand Canyon recaps, a truly marvelous place. One of my funniest stories from the Canyon … my brother was doing a rim-to-rim race from North Rim to South Rim with plans to stay in El Tovar Hotel on south rim. He finished fast. Standing at the hotel front desk, very dirty and extremely smelly, he was told rooms would not be available for another 2 hours. His response … ‘no Problem, I’ll just wait here in the lobby’. Amazingly, they found him a room within 5 minutes.
LOL Good story!! One of our RV buddies did ~34-miles in one day while we were in the Canyon. Thankfully he could just jump back into his rig at the end of it all for a shower 🙂
I read somewhere it’s one of the hardest places to photograph. Looks to me like you are doing a great job at it though.
I would definitely agree. This was my most challenging photo week EVER.
We were there in November a couple of years ago and stayed at the same campground. We endured freezing temps and knew not to hook-up to water. It was entertaining to watch folks trying to ‘unfreeze’ their RV’s and when we walked to the rim, hoards of tourists were coatless and shivering. A true case of perception and reality not meshing. And that’s how my photography went. I failed miserably in capturing the images I had in my mind. I look forward to hearing your tidbits on capturing such a grand sight.
The Grand Canyon November!!! You guys are HARD CORE RVers LOL! I’d love to see the snow here, but I think I’d rather be in a cabin.
Kate Roberts says
Oh my…………don’t be belittling your photographic efforts! We’re newbies at this whole wonderful thing…most of which is your fault! Capturing what we see (currently in Death Valley) is proving to be much more of a challenge than EVER anticipated. Photos in blog rec’d this morning are wonderful, especially the sunset and Man and his Dog. Thank you for the inspiration!
Well thank you…I’m always supper critical of my own photography (and writing). I guess it’s what urges me to keep trying to improve. Just imagine how good my shots will be 10 years from now 🙂
Bettina Arrigoni says
Amazing! You are an inspiration. It is one of the places on my bucket list.
Thanks for sharing.
I worked at the Grand Canyon, (Bright Angel Lodge) one summer. Odd fact…on average tourists spend 1 hour at the canyon: 45 minutes of that in the gift shop!
How interesting! I guess I must be odder than most ‘coz I think I spent a minimum of 2-3 hours on the rim every single day and I only went into the Gift Store (for ~15 mins) once. Amazing that folks don’t spend more time enjoying the view.
I was there in ’85 and it really is one giant hole! Looking forward to your pics and writeup. Have followed both your blogs for years and have never been disappointed. This Jan we’ll finally be able to get to AZ and other parts for 3 months. Have my wife reading your blog now so she can catch up.
Jerry Ericsson says
There are two places that I want to see before I die, one was the Yellowstone National Park – saw that last summer, and the Grand Canyon. I love seeing your photos and your wonderful descriptive writing. we will be on our way in that direction in the next week or so. Not sure when we will be there though.
If you can try and stay here at least a week. When we booked 9 days I initially thought it was going to be too long, but it ended up being just perfect. We got to see a ton of different Canyon “moods” and really managed to get a connection to the big Chasm in a way we couldn’t possibly have done in a few days. It was well worth it.
Well from the photos you’ve posted thus far, I think you did a mighty fine job of capturing the beauty of the South Rim! I’ve hiked to the river on the Bright Angel trail (a killer 21-mile round trip one-day event) and have always wanted to go back to do it in a more leisurely fashion (staying overnight). I must say the North Rim is my favorite, though. I’m looking forward to your posts on how to successfully photograph the canyon, and I’m also very curious as to which wins as your favorite (North or South Rim).
I’m VERY impressed you hiked the whole Bright Angel Trail. It’s hard-core! I’ll be answering the south/north rim question in my last post on the Canyon…stay tuned 🙂
Wayne & Karen says
The first time we saw the Canyon in real life I was trying to video the whole scene and I commented on the video because Karen is always giving me grief about not commenting. I said “The reason I am not saying anything is that there are no words that can describe this!!!! ” It takes your breath away as you stand there trying to absorb the beauty!!
That “gob-smacked” feeling is definitely something I can relate to. The Canyon tends to do that to you.
No matter how much time I spend with the canyon and mass amounts of photos in many moods it is just impossible to capture the majesty.
I have a WHOLE NEW appreciation for how GOOD your pics of the Canyon are Gaelyn. Being here has taught me that. Your blog has been one of my biggest Canyon photo inspirations.
Another place I should have seen a dozen times and have yet to see once! I think we’ll get there this Spring, don’t know if South or North or both, interested to see which one speaks to you the most 🙂 While one cannot capture the size, you do a wonderful job of capturing the feel. That feel is different for each person so I would expect that yours wouldn’t mimic others – and these few certainly confirm that. Your affection for the subjects really shines through in the last frame.
The feel for each person is indeed different, and there’s no doubt it invokes something special in each of us. I would love to be able to read people’s minds (just for a while) on the rim. I know I had some pretty profound thoughts. I wonder what everyone else was thinking?
If you think it looks cool while standing on the edge and looking over. You should be at the bottom looking up. In my 57 years of being in this great country I have never seen such beauty. Hiking to the bottom and staying at the phantom ranch should be on everyone’s bucket list.
One day we’ll definitely make it to the bottom…one day…
Been ‘off the internet grid for a bit’, and wow, two Nina’s update on such a spectacular place, waiting for me upon my return…
GREAT SHOTS! Thank you so much of you’re keen eye, and ability to balance a ‘shutter, against such beauty’ – a gift for sure!
We went to the same spot for the sunset, and the next day for the sunrise – to capture the differences between a setting and rising sun. We has 1/4 moon setting as sunrise was approaching. And, as I’m sure it is now, we were in some COOOLLLLDDDD WEATHER! We took our Amazing Campfire In A Can for the sunrise. A few early AM joggers up for a sunrise run, really thought we were an interesting site. A couple from Hamurg(SP?) Germany stopped to pet our Poppin’s, warm their hands. And ended up joining us for the balance of the sunrise. We shared our Coffee and Kahlua with them, and still exchange emails today.
Really fun to contrast the Sunrise shots, with the Sunset shots. As your shots show, the shadows, the colors the clouds – all change the view at any moment. Comparing the day vs night views, is fun and rewarding.
And yeah, I as a kid (just about when color TV was in the experimental stage), had the mule ride down the trail into the canyon. A different time of life, and one that I remember to this day.
Nina – Thanks for sharing what you captured, as it brings back The Hole In The Ground to all of us that have seen it over the decades.
Travel safe, and now, off to read Post II…
We had some pretty chilly mornings there, but no snow although I can imagine it would be gorgeous.
Interesting side story. We met a 72-year old woman on the bus who’d been coming to the Grand Canyon for years. She told us she was waiting for first snow to take the mule-ride down to the bottom. Told us she’d done it 12 years ago and it was one of her best life experiences, so she wanted to do it again, but this time IN the snow! I hope I have her gumption at her age. What a cool woman!
We have spent countless hours at the Grand Canyon, having seen her in many moods in the changing light. Terry has hiked her from rim to rim and I have hiked down to the bottom and back. We never tire of this natural wonder. Although it is pretty near impossible to capture the full depth of her majesty in photos, you have done a mightly impressive job Nina.
Pic caption: “Maybe outer space would be better.”
Well, with scenery like this, I think I’d doubt that in favor of keeping my feet firmly walking the Terra firma of such beauty before me.
But hey, that’s just me. 🙂