A sleepy-looking young ranger leans over a counter toward a man with platinum-blond hair and adamantly states, “Sir, we’re nowhere near Las Vegas. I really can’t help you with that.” I was beginning to understand why the rangers at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon seemed a little irritable. Rather than intervene in what had become a battle of wills, I contemplated the nature of tourist destinations.
Like Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon always pops up on tourists’ bucket lists, which automatically makes it less cool for actual Southwesterners. I’ve lived here three and a half years and I’d never been until last week, and I know that I’m not alone. Maybe it’s because we live in such a destination location ourselves. But as Yogi Berra might have said, you’ve never been until you’ve gone, and—perhaps obviously—it is so worth the trip.
This actually might be the best time of year to hit the park. The biggest problem with tent camping right now is the chill, but after a day of amazing Canyon hikes and a night of s’mores and starry skies, you barely notice. Think 70-degree days, 30-degree nights and zero crowds. Even the no-grade Rim Trail and popular Bright Angel Trail were sparsely populated.
The most solitary hike you can take is the trail to Shoshone Point between Yaki and Grandview Points off Desert View Drive. This secluded walk through a pine forest is intentionally kept under wraps, and though it starts near a main thoroughfare, it’s easy to miss. Don’t. The solitary stroll down the deserted lane ends at one of the most stunning views ever. You can literally stand on the South Rim here with no hint of a fence.
Obligatory slack-jawed staring aside, the park has plenty going for it. A couple days of hiking puts you off hills altogether and onto bike rides and cocktails. Inspired by titillating “Ride the Rim” T-shirts in the rental shop window, we took on the greenway for an exhilarating 20-mile round-trip cycle up and down piney avenues, past mules, over train tracks and, yes, right along the Rim for more spectacular views. The turnaround point is Hermit’s Rest, a stone house-cum-gift shop where you can eat a picnic overlooking (you guessed it) the Canyon while a diverse group of fauna, from mule deer to bright blue pinyon jays, beg for a bite.
The way back to civilization is paved with fantasies of prickly pear margaritas. Catching the delirious sunset with one in your hand, however, is easier said than done as the historic El Tovar Lodge’s west-facing cocktail room fills up pretty fast. Disappointment didn’t last too long, though. I bundled up, ordered a sparkling wine to go and sat on the porch of the Arizona Room. Sitting there, toasting the sun, the Canyon and the national park signs and designs of my childhood, I felt blessed to live so close to so many tremendous wonders. Grand doesn’t even begin to cover it, and the bubbly wasn’t half-bad either.