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The Grand Canyon. Is it really, though?

That was our little joke, on the rainy, foggy day we descended upon one of America’s greatest natural treasures. Of course it’s grand, and of course we were being spoiled little brats by deadpanning otherwise. But it was harmless fun, and helped salve any disappointments over the weather’s quite uncooperative conditions.

Though this was my third technical trip to the Grand Canyon, it was still a highly anticipated one. My first trip to the so-called “West Rim,” an area outside the National Park that sits on a Native American reservation, was awe-inspiring at the time — but my subsequent research revealed that was only because I didn’t have anything to compare it to.  My second trip was via helicopter, and while it was also an emotionally charged experience, it was a completely air-based adventure in which I never technically touched down in Arizona. This third venture, a pilgrimage to the iconic and most popular South Rim, was slated to blow all others out of the water — or, more accurately, the canyon.

But let’s back up to the prior evening, when we first rolled into the park. Weeks before, we’d snagged a coveted spot at the in-park Mather Campground, a process wrought with hand-wringing for these two first-timer RVers. Our inexperience was quickly sussed out by the park ranger who we eventually reached over the phone to pester with questions and politely asked us if we were new to this whole thing. How’d she guess, I wonder? Was it the panic in our voices as we asked what a pull through site was? Our relentless confusion over what “plugging in” meant? Against all odds, we eventually made our way in the darkness to our allotted spot along the loop. As we drifted to sleep in the pop-up penthouse of our JUCY, we scrolled through the stormy forecast for the next day and started to re-evaluate our plan to rise at 4am in order to catch the first hiking shuttles and be on the South Kaibob Trail at sunrise. Still exhausted from our week in Las Vegas, we made the tough call to swap the hike for extra sleep in the morning.

When we crawled out of the penthouse the next morning, I momentarily cursed the blue skies we were met with for not validating our decision to turn off the alarm. They didn’t last long though — by the time we had breakfast, packed up camp, and congratulated ourselves for surviving our first night of RVing, the sky was already starting to look a little ominous.

By the time we reached the Visitor’s Center, it was pouring, and we ran inside to grab maps, watch a short movie, and make a revised plan for the day. While we’d nixed descending into the canyon, we still had the Rim Trail to tackle.

We started our slow journey from Mather Point, in total a 13 mile trail that follows the lip of the canyon all the way to the far West of the park’s accessible roads. We’d cover just 2.6 miles in our morning of exploring, waylaid as we frequently were by gorgeous vistas, photography opportunities, and attractions along the way.

We’d catch views of the Colorado River, the famed Phantom Ranch, and eons worth of geological magic.

Though it was the middle of the blazing August heat, we found ourselves layering up in all the warmest gear we had. Half-hearted drizzle followed us throughout the day, though had the unexpected benefit, we assumed, of keeping some of the crowds at bay.

The lack of guardrails along some stretches shocked me — in a good way. How this wild and raw corner of America has manged to escape total litigation-proofing is beyond me, and we both mused that we’d probably return someday to see the whole thing from behind plexiglass. For now, it was refreshing and humbling to see it sans man-made barriers.

Yet my curiosity was piqued over a rather morbid statistic and it turns out that yup, an average of at the Grand Canyon each year, two or three generally from falling off the edge. Those unlucky few of the five million annual visitors are typically men who are engaging in high risk behavior like hopping from one rock to another for photos. (At five million it’s still not the most visited National Park in the USA — that , believe it or not, Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, a place I admit I’d never heard of prior to looking up that statistic. Grand Canyon National Park is second.)

When the fog settled into the canyon and our visibility was reduced more or less to nil, we retreated into some of the buildings and attractions along the trail. The Yavapai Point Geology Museum was packed with information on the earth science of the area, while the Kolb Studio held a small but fascinating exhibit on the human history — artists who were inspired be it, honeymooners who mysteriously disappeared in it, entrepreneurs who built a tourism infrastructure around it.

Before hopping on a free shuttle back to the visitor’s center — just one of the extensive network and schedule of them throughout the park — we nosed around the upscale El Tovar hotel and shared our picnic lunch of cheese and crackers on the swinging benches of its wrap-around porch. We both agreed; El Tovar might be the most sought-after accommodation in Grand Canyon National Park, but we wouldn’t have traded our night at the campground for it.

Back at our ride, it was time to tackle the 25 mile Dessert View Drive, a route that would eventually lead us out of the park and towards our next night’s destination of Page, Arizona. With so many endless options to pull over for a viewpoint, we picked and chose at random. The images below are from an unnamed stop that turned out to be my favorite of the day.

Our final destination was Desert View, the final stop before the East Entrance to the park. We pulled into the parking lot and whipped up a dinner of pasta with fresh vegetables right out of the back of the JUCY — such is the magic of this multi-talented vehicle (a tour of which is coming soon!)

When sunset neared, we made our way to the rim one last time. At the time it didn’t feel like we could see much at all — “is that it?” we overheard another traveler asking — though I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of my photos from the day. With editing, they look far better and show much more detail than what we actually saw with our eyes, but you won’t find me complaining about an unexpectedly successful session of shooting.

We were sad to leave the Grand Canyon a mere twenty-four hours after arriving. According to park surveys, our visit was on the long side — lasts five to seven hours. Still, we could have easily dedicated our entire trip to the Canyon. At minimum, I wish we’d had an extra day to tackle one of the below-the-rim hikes, hang around the campground a bit, check out some of the park ranger programs, and rent a bike for a bit of cycling.

However, there’s no question I’ll be back. In my extensive research for the trip, I became totally enamored with the idea of completing the strenuous between the North and South Rims of the Grand Canyon. It’s officially on the bucket list now. And that means that in this big world full of wonders I’ve yet to see, I’ll be returning to this particular one for a fourth time, at least. Because yes — it really is quite grand.

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. — Edward Abbey

Stay tuned for day our next stop — Lake Powell! Have you been to the Grand Canyon?

Many thanks to for our sweet ride! As always, you receive my honest thoughts, full opinions and poorly written jokes regardless of who is footing the bill.

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46 Comments...
  • Marni
    March 4 2016

    Wow, these photos are stunning! It looks like an incredible experience. I love that they don’t have rails along it, either – that’s the way it was meant to be seen. As sad as the deaths are, I hope they don’t begin to implement railings. Also, I am becoming more and more intrigued by the JUCY camper! A pop up sleeping area?!
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    • Meihoukai
      March 7 2016

      Yup, and love that they call it the Penthouse, ha. It totally felt like one!

  • Christopher Gema
    March 4 2016

    Every time I see pictures of the Grand Canyon, I can only imagine what it would be like to actually see it with my own two eyes. Pictures look amazing but I’m sure it’s a completely different experience when you’re actually there and see the magnitude of it. Speaking of pictures, I noticed there were some with you guys close to the edge with no guard rails … yeah … you guys are braver than I am! I don’t think I would have gotten that close even if someone paid me haha. Love the penthouse by the way, it looks awesome!
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    • Meihoukai
      March 7 2016

      I think the photos appear more dramatic than it actually was, ha. We definitely didn’t feel like we were being daredevils, though we weren’t as scared of the edge as some other visitors around us were.

  • Krystle
    March 4 2016

    I haven’t been to the Grand Canyon but it’s on my bucket list. I’m looking forward to your Lake Powell post. LP is one of my favorite places on earth.
    -Krystle
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    • Meihoukai
      March 7 2016

      I can see why! It was my favorite discovery of the trip I think. I wish we could have spent a week!

  • Sarah
    March 4 2016

    love the yoga-on-the-canyon pictures!
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    • Meihoukai
      March 7 2016

      Thanks Sarah! It’s one of my faves from the year 🙂

  • CJ
    March 4 2016

    You should definitely plan a trip to the smokey mountains in TN… theres a reason its the most visited park in the US!! Plan your trip around visiting Greenville SC, and then Charleston SC. Two beautifully underrated cities full of adventures and ambiance!

    • Meihoukai
      March 7 2016

      If Charleston is underrated it must be amazing because I always hear people raving about it! I’d love to get there myself someday, for sure 🙂

  • Eugenia A Parrish
    March 4 2016

    I lived in Las Vegas many years ago, and south-rim GC was a favorite weekend spot during the off-season [too crowded otherwise]. Three friends and I almost made the rim-to-rim hike. We made reservations at Phantom Ranch a year ahead, did local hikes to toughen up for six months and finally, we got to the North Rim and started down. About half a mile down, we ran into rangers who stopped us. A rainstorm had wiped a section of trail right off the cliff. I could look down and see it, it would only take a little scoot on our butts to get there, but they refused to let us through “for our own safety”. We were given no option but to hike back up and drive home. Luckily, Phantom Ranch returned our money, but talk about anti-climactic! We never were able to get the trip together again. Thanks for the memories!

    • Meihoukai
      March 7 2016

      Oh my gosh, that would devastate me! Especially after all that planning that is involved. Too bad they wouldn’t let you scoot, but at least Phantom Ranch gave you a refund I suppose!

  • Leah
    March 4 2016

    Looks amazing! I love that photo of Zoe with her arms in the air. And what a fashionista at the Grand Canyon! I would have guessed the most visited park would be Yosemite or Yellowstone or something. The only reason I know Great Smoky Mountains exists is Gary’s photos 😛
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    • Meihoukai
      March 7 2016

      I know, we were shocked! We Googled so many interesting facts during our intermittent patches of service 😛

  • Ellie
    March 4 2016

    I LOVE reading your blog every week! I’m visiting the Grand Canyon this summer and after reading this post, and seeing your photos, I’m even more excited!!
    I was just wondering which camera you use for your blog posts?
    Thanks,
    Ellie

    • Meihoukai
      March 7 2016

      Hey Ellie! I use a combination of cameras, all the info can be found on my obsessions page. Have fun at the Grand Canyon!

  • Mary B
    March 4 2016

    I’m with you – a helicopter tour of the canyon only whet my appetite! I have a strong need now to get down inside it. I’ve been wanting to do the hike to Havasupai falls, but I’ll have to look into your Rim to Rim hike too.

    Smoky Mountains National Park is the closest to where I grew up, and I’ve been on all sides of it… but I’m not sure I’ve actually ever been in it?! I’m shocked to learn it’s the most visited in the country – but maybe it’s because it’s so close to cities like Atlanta, Nashville and Charlotte, while a lot of other parks are more remote?
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    • Meihoukai
      March 7 2016

      Yeah, the Havasupai Falls one had my attention too since my friend Heather has raved about it. And yes, I was shocked by the Smoky Mountains designation too… though your explanation definitely makes sense and probably explains some of it!

  • Cate
    March 4 2016

    I am loving that jucy camper!! I have never been to the grand canyon, but it looks to gorgeous not to make it a priority! I love teh black and white photos! Will you be doing a monthly roundup soon?

    • Meihoukai
      March 7 2016

      Thanks Cate! Not coming up super soon, but there will be another roundup eventually 🙂 Stay tuned!

  • Ijana
    March 5 2016

    I worked at the Grand Canyon last summer! The north rim, not the south, but it’s just as grand on that side. Minus a lot of the tourists. While I was there I really wanted to make it to Lake Powell but never got the chance, so I’m looking forward to hearing what you thought of it!

    • Meihoukai
      March 7 2016

      I would love to go to the North Rim someday to compare! I read a lot about the differences while planning this trip — originally we thought we’d go to both, actually. Excited to check it out on another trip!

  • Dominique
    March 5 2016

    I stopped reading on the website about the Rim to Rim hike when I saw the Difficulty level set to Very Difficult. The fact that Difficult did not suffice, says it all for me 😉 That RV looks super fun! Dutchies are known for their caravans, but I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never set foot in one!
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    • Meihoukai
      March 7 2016

      I’ve really gotten a taste for them after this trip! Now, off to go read your Bonaire post! So excited!

  • Katie
    March 5 2016

    What a shame the weather didn’t play ball but it is beautiful even in less than perfect weather. I visited back in October 2012 and was very lucky with stunning weather. I am heading back next month and hoping to do the Bright Angel trail below the rim.
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    • Meihoukai
      March 7 2016

      Ah, that sounds awesome Katie. I still need to go back again for my below the rim hike 🙂

  • Hilary
    March 6 2016

    I love the Grand Canyon! It’s one of my favorite spots in the South West. We went in November to the North Rim, and it was super peaceful and there was almost no one there. It’s a real treat when you have it to yourself.

    Great post! Happy travels 🙂
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    • Meihoukai
      March 7 2016

      I bet it would be beautiful in November. Some friends recently posted photos where the canyon was covered in snow and man, was it gorgeous.

  • Stephanie
    March 6 2016

    Wow those pictures are stunning! I’ve always wanted to go to the Grand Canyon and I’ve been kicking myself that I didn’t take the time to visit while I was still living in the US. I’ll just have to take a trip back and ensure I see the Grand Canyon!

    Stephanie

    • Meihoukai
      March 7 2016

      It’s definitely a bucket list kinda place 🙂

  • Michelle
    March 6 2016

    This is amazing!! Once we move back to the states, this is definitely going on our bucket list. But for now, we’ll continue with checking off things on our bucket list in Europe & Asia while we’re living here.

    • Meihoukai
      March 7 2016

      I too have a different bucket list for several different continents 🙂 Kindred spirits!

  • Wow, I’m actually super surprised that the average visit is 5-7 hours. Although, I suppose the lack of places to stay might account for that. When I visited, it was for even shorter than that and I immediately put it right back on my list for a longer visit. I’ve got to hike around there!

    My mind was also blown by the lack of guardrails. Super cool but very scary if I thought about it too long. Ha! So, what did all of those things mean? Plugging in? Pulling through? I’d love to learn more about those type of campsites. 🙂

    • Meihoukai
      March 7 2016

      I’ll make sure to include that in my upcoming JUCY tour post, Amanda! Definitely good terms to know if you’re taking one 🙂

  • the adventurer
    March 6 2016

    wow these photos are beautiful! makes me want to go back and see the grand canyon again. also i love your backward bend along the cliff!

    • Meihoukai
      March 7 2016

      Thanks! I do love to get some yoga on wherever I go <3

  • Eva Casey
    March 7 2016

    Awesome photos!! That campervan looks SO cool..can’t wait to see the full tour! I have never been to the Grand Canyon, but hopefully that will change on my USA Roadtrip this spring! I’m a little bit afraid of heights, so I salute you for going for the full wheel on top of a cliff!
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    • Meihoukai
      March 7 2016

      I’m not afraid of heights but I do have respect for mother nature and the laws of gravity and so I promise I didn’t do anything too risky 🙂 It’s scary if you think too much about it though!

  • Steph G
    March 8 2016

    Bad weather or not, your pictures are beautiful. We’ve been looking at a campervan for New Zealand, so I’m excited to see your tour.
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    • Meihoukai
      March 12 2016

      Nice! New Zealand seems like the perfect place to road trip around…

  • The Grand Canyon is such a special, sacred place. I spent my 40th birthday last September on an 11 day whitewater trip through the canyon – it was simply amazing, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Havasu Fall is next on my Grand Canyon bucket list, as is the North Rim!

    • Meihoukai
      March 12 2016

      Ah, my mom is DYING to do that trip and we talk about doing it often. The one thing that is holding her back is the bathroom situation, ha! I was hoping you might address that in your post… 😉

  • Giovanna
    March 11 2016

    Ran into your blog today and absolutely love it! These pics are amazing and Grand Canyon is the next place I must check out. I also have a blog and would love to get some feedback from you 🙂 XOXO
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    • Meihoukai
      March 12 2016

      Hey Giovanna, thanks so much for reading! I’ll try to remember to take a look when I’m on my laptop and not my phone. Happy blogging!

  • Miss Classy
    August 25 2017

    Amazing Pictures. I have been visiting the Grand Canyon South Rim in 2015, and it was absolutely fantastic.
    Scrolling through your pictures reminds me of the great time there.
    Kind Regards Doris

    • Meihoukai
      September 20 2017

      I’d love to go back again! This trip was far too short — just a little preview of what I hope are many more trips in the future.