Nature's Masterpiece
30 BEFORE 30 - Celine Novenario () - January 9, 2011 - 12:00am

It took five days, 820 miles of driving, and several years of anticipation. Finally, I was looking at the Grand Canyon for the first time. And I felt … underwhelmed.

The funny thing about the Grand Canyon is that while it’s familiar from all the images you’ve seen before, it becomes imperceptibly vast once in front of your very eyes.

It is an experience that can be likened to, I would say, setting eyes on the “Mona Lisa” for the first time. The great Da Vinci’s masterpiece can hardly be appreciated if one just shuffles through with fellow tourists, snapping a picture and moving along.

To plumb the depths of that enigmatic woman’s smile, one needs to take a moment to look at it from different angles, study the proportions and appreciate the subtle nuances. Anything less than that and you’ll feel shortchanged.

Thankfully, we had time to appreciate Mother Nature’s masterpiece.

On Hermit Trail, the path is often rocky and unmaintained, adding an element of adventure to the isolation. Photos by Kate Mawby

My partner in crime Kate and I decided to get up close and personal with the Grand Canyon by hiking in one of the park’s more secluded trails: the aptly named Hermit Trail.

True to its name, we passed a grand total of five hikers during our 4.5-hour hike — a result, perhaps, of the trail’s state.

Built in 1910 during the construction of the Santa Fe railroad, the trail has largely been left unmaintained ever since.

The path is extremely rocky and in parts washed out. At one point, we clambered over large boulders and had to stop to take pictures of the open vistas of the Grand Canyon.

After a quick photo session, we realized we may have veered off the path — park management was not, after all, expecting us to rappel down to our destination, Santa Maria Spring, did it? Despite the little detour, we made good time. Before long, we reached the little resting shack draped with crawling vines and set against the backdrop of the Grand Canyon.

The spring, a mere trickle of water flowing from a faucet into a tub, was not quite impressive.

Oh well, “it’s the journey, not the destination,” right?

Greenery and fiery canyons mark the spot for Santa Maria Springs.

After resting and refueling with apples, trail mix and water, we decided to hike back up. We weren’t tired at all but decided it would be wise to pay heed to signs peppering the Grand Canyon trail that read “Reaching the bottom: Optional. Getting back up: Mandatory.”

The big temptation when hiking the Grand Canyon is to hike too far down since going downwards is considerably less taxing than climbing up. Danger comes when hikers fail to reserve sufficient energy, time, food and water for the steep and far more tiring climb back up.

Midway through our uphill hike, I thanked my lucky stars we erred on the side of caution. The summer sun began to beat mercilessly, and the steep slopes literally took my breath away. Later, as we celebrated the end of a challenging hike with coffee and tea, I saw the Grand Canyon with new eyes, feeling I’d discovered one of its secrets.

That afternoon, we set off for Yaki Point on the easternmost part of the South Rim to watch the sunset. The crowds were sparse and we got to pick a spot with an unobstructed view of the formations that rose like majestic temples from the canyon floor.

We watched silently and shivered in the brisk mountain wind as the setting sun painted the canyon a myriad of desert hues before disappearing altogether.

Lured by a park ranger’s stories of stunning colors, the next day we squeezed in one last hike down South Kaibab Trail before setting off for Las Vegas.

I stop for a breather to enjoy the majesty of the Grand Canyon.

With five hours of driving looming ahead of us, we decided on a quick one-mile hike to an overlook christened Ooh Aah Point by the park’s rangers.

This trail was positively luxurious compared to Hermit Trail, with well-paved and sturdily cobbled paths from beginning to end. Foot-traffic was higher but the path was still relatively peaceful. Sooner than expected, we reached an open lookout point with a spectacular view of multi-layered canyons revealing a wide spectrum of colors.

“Is this it?” Kate and I asked each other. The view certainly called for an “ooh” and an “aah,” but there was no sign and all the hikers kept going further.

After a group emerged from the path dressed in jeans, Kate and I decided that this could not be the end destination so we kept on going. When Kate finally reached the next overlook and read the sign, she started to laugh. We had accidentally hiked an additional half mile past our intended destination, all the way to Cedar Ridge.

South Kaibab’s hiking trail is positively luxurious in comparison to the Hermit Trail’s rocky and washed out path.

We took a quick break to eat, drink, stretch and gaze at the tops of those mysterious mesas, and then we were off to return to the rim.

When we planned our trip to the Grand Canyon, it was meant to be a trip that would allow me to cross off one thing and move on to something else. But what makes the Grand Canyon a true masterpiece, I’ve found, is that it keeps a hold on you and draws you back time and again.

I would like to come back and see what it’s like to hike all the way to the canyon’s bottom. I daydream of an adrenaline rush that would come from whitewater rafting in the surging rivers below. I’m curious to see what the canyons would look like capped in snow during the winter.

I would love to keep coming back to the Grand Canyon to watch as Mother Nature continues to sculpt and hone its great masterpiece.

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