It’s 3:15am, and we’re woken by our alarm. More accurately, we’re woken by a never-ending car alarm, but that’s another story.
We’re up, dressed and out of the motel by 4am, on the road from Flagstaff and bombing it towards the Grand Canyon.
It’s dark, apart from a pink patch on the horizon which is glowing steadily bigger and brighter. It’s a race now. We’re part of a chain of cars all speeding towards the entrance, desperate to make the big moment, to make sure that we haven’t got up this early in vain.
We get to the car park on the South Rim, and suddenly everyone’s running. We’re part of a mass rush from the car park, like stampeding wildebeest.
I think sunrise may be the best time of day to visit the Grand Canyon. Admittedly, our Grand Canyon sunset experience never actually happened (thank you rainstorm, thunder & lightning), so I can’t tell for certain. But I think I have a pretty good argument.
At least let me state my case.
For a start, it’s obviously insanely beautiful.
See what I mean?
At first, the canyon is blue with the cold dawn light. Then, as the sun creeps over the edge of the North Rim, the upper parts of the canyon are flooded with a warm golden light. Gradually, the sun rises higher in the sky, and the light filters down to the canyon’s lower levels, and the iconic red colour of the rock starts to reveal itself. It’s the most heart-warming and uplifting process to experience.
Sure, there are other people. As with sunrise in any beautiful and famous place, you’re going to get tourists with cameras. But I was pleasantly surprised at how few people there were. It felt less like a tourist trap, and more like an intrepid bunch of us who’d made it there against all the odds.
There was such a sense of hush. Barely anyone made a sound, and those who were spoke in hushed tones that fell into the deep canyon and were lost. It was like being in a library or a cathedral.
After the sun had risen in all its glory, we got down to the serious business of hiking. Or more accurately, strolling along the edge of the canyon and making friends with squirrels.
I’ve since heard that you shouldn’t go near these squirrels, as as they can get violent and bitey in their quest for food. Apparently they’re responsible for more injuries at the Grand Canyon than anything else, and there are signs all along the South Rim warning visitors about them.
We didn’t see any signs, and fortunately the squirrel we befriended was clearly a pacifist. He didn’t try to attack us – he just wanted to be friends and steal our breakfast bars. (Or she – I literally have no idea how you tell if a squirrel is male or female without getting up close and too personal.)
And still there weren’t that many other people around. Not enough to really notice, anyway. Even by the time we left (at 8:30am – still early by most days’ standards) it wasn’t all that busy.
I would definitely recommend sunrise as the time to experience this stunning place!