Since moving to Arizona in late 2012, I have visited the South Rim of the Grand Canyon twice. The first time was in October 2013 when my close friends, Mary and Vanessa, flew out to visit me, and the second was April 2014 as part of my honeymoon with my wonderful husband. Bradley and I love visiting State and National Parks, and the plan for our first anniversary was to take a four day trip up to Utah and visit Brice Canyon. Unfortunately, I returned quite sick from Pathfinder’s camporee the weekend before our trip. I was sick for a week and had to take 4.5 days off from work. That disrupted our anniversary plans, but we’re flexible.
I saved up my vacation hours so Friday, May 29 through Sunday, May 31, we were able to go on a shorter, three-day trip up to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We could not find lodging for a decent price, so a few days before we were set to leave, I suggested we camp instead. Camping with just the two of us, just like we have wanted to do for a year! We loaded up the Nisson xTerra with everything a couple would need for camping at high elevation and cold night temperatures: brand new instant tent, air mattress, warm double sleeping bag, extra blankets, a canopy (in case of rain), warm clothes, cooking sets, firewood, and more food than we probably needed. With no reservation anywhere and with a prayer, we were off on our adventure!
On the way up, we made use of our brand new annual National Parks access pass and stopped by Sunset Crater, a little north east of Flagstaff. We stretched our legs by walking around and taking pictures. Wehad visited Sunset Crater/Wupatki National Monument two summers ago when we were dating, so it was nice to see it again.
That evening, shortly before sunset, we found the last available campsite at De Motte Campground in Kaibab National Forest, just a few miles outside of the park’s entrance. Praise the Lord! There was a little path lined with stones and dandelions from the parking to the campsite itself. So quaint! We were able to pitch the tent and set up most things before dark. Then I prepared dinner over an open fire, and it was a lot of fun. I realized quickly that cooking on an open fire is fast. It is the clean up (all that black soot everywhere!) that is not as pleasant.
Sabbath morning, we are a hearty breakfast, set up the canopy after feel a few raindrops and had worship. We sang our favorite hymns – most had to do with nature like This Is My Father’s World and All Things Bright and Beautiful – and read the Bible. I read Psalm 104 and Bradley read from Job. After a quick lunch, we packed up the food and snacks for a picnic dinner, jumped in the xTerra and went down to the Grand Canyon. (We have a pass so we do not have to pay any fees.)
My favorite part was spending Sabbath afternoon up at Point Imperial (the highest point of the entire canyon at 8,803 feet above sea level). We had read Psalm 104 earlier as a devotional, which praises the Lord as Creator. It was fitting! Standing there overlooking a canyon that literally drops one mile below you was truly breathtaking! And you get a very real sense of how small, yet precious, you are.
We ate a picnic dinner looking out across the canyon to the Painted Desert. We hiked through the burn-lands in the backcountry. A fire in 2000 destroyed a large part of the Ponderosa forests. It is a little sorrowful to see the wide empty expanse of fallen trees dotted every so often with the burned-out trunks of old Ponderosas still standing like sentinels over the hills blanketed with new growth in the form of hordes of tiny aspens and thorn-brushes. It brought to mind the phrase: “Beauty for ashes.” We returned to the Point to watch the sun set and close out Sabbath listening to the ka-kaws of ravens and the finals calls of the songbirds.
Though the canyon and the park were beautiful, I also loved camping in the boreal forest with towering Ponderosa pines, bushy spruce, elegant firs, and white-trunked aspen. We saw easily over a hundred mule deer in the meadows and enjoyed listening to the machine-gun-like chattering of the Kaibab squirrels with their silvery tails. And birds… there were birds every where and of all kinds! The air was filled with melodious birdsong!
If you have children, I recommend the South Rim with their safety railings, paved trails, and shuttle buses that can take you from point to point. The North Rim is rugged and ideal for those who are up for picnic meals, hikes in high altitude, and driving quite a few miles along narrow, windy forest roads to get to the (far fewer) scenic views. You are almost at 9,000 feet; I experienced mild altitude sickness myself Sunday before we left due to the thinner air and probably going just a little too far on the hike the day before. The entire weekend, we hiked close to 8 or so miles.
Sunday morning while packing up camp, I was fatigued and light-headed with a faster-than-usual pulse, but that did not stop me from enjoying the canyon one more time… just at a slower pace and from a chair at the viewing deck of the Grand Canyon Lodge.