Sprinter Tour Park #11: The Grand Canyon: The 10th Factor of Immensity.

Of all the descriptions written trying to capture the grandeur and immensity of the Grand Canyon, immensity is what dominates.

Oh, it’s a gorgeous cleft in the earth, all right – with colors in abundance, not to mention wildlife, forests, flowers, rivers, waterfalls. The Big Ditch is simply overwhelming to the senses. It is too big, too grand, too long, too wide, too deep to fit within our limited vocabulary.

But immensity-defined is the Grand Canyon.

We’ve long talked about hiking to the bottom one day, all the way down to Phantom Ranch. It’s a dream held for a lengthy time, and we thought we could make it halfway down this time around. We warmed up at the North Rim, a place that is a world apart from the South Rim. Astonishing forests creep up to the very edge of the canyon. The quarter mile walk along the rim in front of The Grand Canyon Lodge provides astounding views and plenty of vertigo opportunities.

Or you can simply kick back and relax without missing much along the extended veranda porch fronting the Lodge and bumping up tight against the canyon’s sheer cliffs. Watching sunrise and sunset from this vantage point is a real delight. It beats the heck out of Imax in this writer’s opinion. But then I am biased towards being there. Nothing like the real thing to grab complete control of your mind and thoughts.

Staying at the Lodge is a must-do. You’ll get whisked back in time to a slower pace, a more realistic value system, and perhaps memories of by-gone days if you’ve accumulated enough years. Might as well be on another planet as today’s world is left far, far behind. The cabins are marvelous, the lodge itself drenched in history. If the Canyon is in your plans, this is a don’t-miss-it kind of place, even if only for a couple of days.

Then there is a drive-by road on the east side of the park that not so many travel – Cape Royal Road. It takes you to multiple viewpoints that deliver a perspective on the GC that is unforgettable. Photo opps abound at every jaw-dropping stop. Colors, formations, forests. It is a wonderful drive, and most folks pass on it because it is a good half hour drive from the Lodge, then a good hour to hit all the overlooks. So many visitors will not step beyond the main drive and overlooks that are steps from their cars, it is hard to understand why they bother to visit.

Of course, we did a hike at the South Rim after our mule ride on the North Rim. If you get the chance and can handle a sore bum and aching legs, a mule ride is well worth it. The cowboys add a lot to the understanding of the canyon and of mules. That’s where we learned that mules walk along the outside of the trail (near the cliffs, where the riders get to grip that saddle horn like a vise, white knuckles and all) because they need to see the edge. Once they know where the edge is, they relax and make easy work of the trail. (Watch the video on our Youtube Channel: http://bit.ly/deCfLO )

The hike we took on the South Rim was one recommended by a follower on facebook, the Lower Kaibob Trail. We had high hopes of going all the way down, but that was quickly dashed as the temps climbed and the steepness got to us. We put in a good 5 miles round trip – it felt like 10 on the hike up. The word “steep” was invented here.

There was a family (grandfather, parents, and kids) on the same hike from Erie, Colorado, near where we used to live. They are experienced hikers, having climbed many a trail in the Rockies. We had a fun exchange with them as we departed down, down, down on the Kaibab.

I left Jan at a plateau and hiked another quarter mile down for some views and photos. On the way back up, there’s the couple – Steve and Kirsten Harris – with a medic-ranger. Kirsten has her ankle bandaged, is laying flat on her back in the shade of some big boulders, looking might peaked, and the Ranger is radioing for assistance. Even with a light-hearted brief conversation, it was clear Kirsten was very stressed. Turns out they had to bring 6 more Rangers down with a stretcher (a big wheel in the middle for rolling down the trail.) They took her down to a plateau where she could be helicoptered out of there.

Steve emailed the x-ray to us; it was a broken ankle, all right. From a simple misstep. Made us think a lot harder about our preparations when we hit the trail. They needed more water and more snacks to offset the trauma/shock. And simply to stay cool in the heat. But it was not a big strenuous hike so….. (Watch the video of Kristen getting medical assistance on the trail on our Youtube Channel: http://bit.ly/btTbPP )

We continue to see people hiking on such trails in sandals, tennis shoes, flip-flops. If experienced hikers wearing good hiking shoes can break an ankle by simply taking a wrong step, we cannot help but wonder how these other folks make it back alive.

But that’s all part of the adventure. We prefer the safe side, stacking the odds in our favor. Great Merrell boots and shoes and backpacks, along with extra water. We alternate between Merrell and Teko socks, to keep our feet comfy and without blisters. Wide brimmed hats. Sunscreen. And we stop often so we don’t overextend ourselves.

Good lessons for hiking the canyon – or anywhere else, for that matter.

Join Rob and Jan on the 2010 Sprinter Tour as they tour 50 of America’s National Parks here.

You can also join the adventure and interact with Rob and Jan in real time both on Facebook and on Twitter

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