Road Trip 2017 #11 – Whelmed at the Grand Canyon

As far as Mr Pict and I were concerned, the showpiece event we had organised our vacation around was a trip to the Grand Canyon.  We had both visited before and been wowed by it and felt the boys just had to see this natural wonder for themselves.

We set off early in the morning (we don’t do lazy lie-ins when on vacation) and soon found ourselves driving through the Kaibab National Forest.  There were wildfire warnings along the whole stretch and some side roads were closed off to cars because fires were actively being fought along that route.  There was evidence of previous forest fires all around us too – trees with their bark turned to blistered charcoal, trees that were nothing more than long, thick stalks with no branches, singed scrub.  There was plenty of wildlife to spot too, however.  We saw deer and elk and I even saw a small mob of prairie dogs.

The Grand Canyon was our third National Park of the vacation but entering it felt like driving into a theme park complex.  The place was jam-packed and we felt lucky to get a parking spot at the Visitor Centre.  We have a National Parks passport which we get stamped at each National Park we visit so we did that and our youngest son signed up as a junior ranger and was given an activity book to fill out.  We also looked at some interesting exhibits about the canyon.  Then we headed out for a stroll to nearby Mather Point.  It’s convenient location means it is most people’s first view of the Grand Canyon and we were no different.  Mr Pict and I were excited with the anticipation of how the kids might react when they first saw the absolutely massive scale of the Grand Canyon for the first time.  Mather Point offers a breathtaking view over the landscape and provides a strong sense of the scale of the place.  From there, you can clearly see all the way across from the South Rim to the North Rim, can appreciate the beauty of all the colourful rocks, can see the mighty Colorado River look like a mere trickling stream in the canyon floor below, and comprehend the vastness of the mile deep canyon.  The kids walked onto the viewing platform area and …. they were whelmed.  They were not underwhelmed but nor were they overwhelmed; they were just whelmed.  Mr Pict and I deflated.  How could they fail to be amazed by this completely stunning landscape?

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The kids perked up when we moved along the canyon a little (in the direction of Cameron) and they were able to view the canyon without crowds of people  – we had the spot entirely to ourselves – and without barriers.  I think being able to get up as close to the edge as they felt comfortable doing (and two of my kids are daredevils in that respect) started to give them some sense of the scale.  It turned out that this was the same spot where, 17 years earlier, Mr Pict and his brother had freaked me out by appearing to stumble off the edge of the cliff into the canyon below.  Of course, what they had actually done was drop down onto a lower ledge but it was a pretty cruel trick.  I was, therefore, understandably on high alert with the four boys and their father being so close to the edge as they peered down into the abyss below.  Indeed, perhaps it was the dry heat plus an incipient cold, but I am going to blame stress and related high blood pressure for the fact that throughout our trip to the Grand Canyon my nose kept bleeding.  Still, despite the opportunity for elevated anxiety, I am glad we got out at that spot to take in the view as it allowed the kids to just relax and enjoy the scenery, to wander a bit, and do their feral things like chasing lizards and climbing trees.

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Our next stop was Grandview and it was busy again.  I stayed at the top of the viewpoint while Mr Pict and the kids headed down a trail into the canyon.  Their report was that it was pretty cool being below rim level and I am sure it was but my fear of heights was just too crippling to let me walk down a narrow trail.  I was much happier just spectating and, oddly enough, felt more at ease once I could not see them anymore.  Even from my elevation, I could see the trace of a copper mine in the canyon floor, a pale patch among the warmer tones.  I got chatting to a ranger and it transpired that the trail the other Picts were taking was the one that mules took when carrying copper out of the mine.

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Safely gathered together again, our final Grand Canyon stop of the day was at Desert View, a point where the canyon starts to meet the Painted Desert.  It was pretty cool to see the landscape divided between the wide cracks of the canyon and the steep walls of a butte.  It was also at this point that we obtained some of the clearest views of the Colorado River wending its way through the canyon.  There is also a Watch Tower at this spot, a welcome little bit of added interest for the Pictlings.  The watchtower, which is essentially a folly, stands near the rim so has spectacular views over the Grand Canyon.  It was built by an architect named Mary Jane Coulter in the 1930s and was inspired by Pueblo buildings.  We first climbed up through the tower.  The interior of the building is decorated with murals in a variety of styles echoing the traditions of local indigenous peoples and I spent some time studying and enjoying these as I circled a central hollow on each floor and ascended each flight of spiral stairs.  The very top of the tower gave us fabulous views out over the landscape so it was well worth dealing with the heights.  There were also great panoramic views to be had from the observation deck.  The kids really seemed to enjoy the watchtower so we at least finally felt like they had engaged with being at the Grand Canyon.  I am hopeful that one day they will really appreciate how impressive the place is, one of the natural wonders of the world.

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6 thoughts on “Road Trip 2017 #11 – Whelmed at the Grand Canyon

  1. I remember seeing the Grand Canyon when I was about 12 and being whelmed, too. We didn’t venture around much, more of a stop on a family trip, but it didn’t inspire awe. I went back 30 years later and was truly amazed. On that trip, we did as you did and wandered around seeing various parts and we stopped at that “watchtower.” I had forgotten until I saw your pictures. As always, you and Mr. Pict are showing the Pictlings wonderful areas that will stay with them through their lives.

    • Thank you so much for sharing that, Ellie. Your differing reactions as a child and as an adult give me hope that I am not just lying to myself that my sons will reach a point where they appreciate the Grand Canyon and are glad we dragged them there.

  2. I can empathise Laura – we’ve taken our son to a couple of natural wonders where we’ve been blown away in the past. Got just the same reaction!! Never been to the Grand Canyon – somewhere I would really love to visit someday and your itinerary here sounds great.

    • Thanks for sharing that, Joy. It’s good to know it’s a more universal experience and not just our kids. I hope you make it to the Grand Canyon some time. There’s so much to see and do in that area.

  3. I’m inclined to blame all the touristy guff that surrounds the Grand Canyon for its “whelming” first impression… You go in with such crazily built-up expectations that it’s pretty hard to exceed them! I think that what you said about the boys perking up when they got away from the crowds is spot on – once you can experience it on your own terms, and let the scale of it sink in, that’s when it’s magical. You got some great photos, too!

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