Back to

Experiencing the Grand Canyon for the First Time

Hello from Page, Arizona where we’re living in a real house and sleeping in real beds! Mid-course comforts (showers, a fridge, air conditioning) have given me the energy to reflect on our time spent at the Grand Canyon. Unlike a few other students, I hadn’t seen the Grand Canyon before this trip. I have to admit, I wasn’t particularly excited about it when I first saw it on our course itinerary. In my mind, it was just a crowded and touristy hole in the ground. Anyone who has actually been knows I was obviously wrong.

My first glimpse of the canyon was amazing. We pulled our fifteen-person van over on the side of a random road and blindly followed our guide Jed, an expert on the Grand Canyon, up a hill with no path. When we emerged from the trees, we were at the edge of the Grand Canyon, and it was breathtaking. For fifteen minutes, we all sat in silence and observed the beauty and magnificence of the canyon. Thanks to Jed, my first experience with it wasn’t marred by crowds or fences or people taking photos, it was just us and the canyon. I think I could’ve sat there forever taking it in. After that first view, we drove to a designated lookout point, one with a parking lot and a lot of people. That really made me appreciate how lucky I was to see it without all that first.

During our time there, we learned about indigenous tribes who used to call the Grand Canyon home and still see it as a spiritual place today. As tourists of the canyon, we tried to be mindful of that since many of those tribes were kicked out when it became a National Park. Jed also gave us an overview of the geology of the canyon, telling us how it was made and giving us a mnemonic to help us remember the order of the different layers of rock – Know The Canyon’s History, Study Rocks Made By Time. I also learned that the rock is really really old, and it just keeps getting older as you descend. We got to see that on our 8-hour hike 3,000 feet down in to the canyon. We made it down to the Redwall layer and were able to experience the canyon from a different perspective. From above, it looks huge and seems to go on forever, but when you’re inside it, it surrounds you and really makes you feel small. When we got to our lunch spot, I looked up at where we started and thought, wow, that’s really high. Then I looked down at the bottom of the canyon and thought wow, we’re really high up. That hike was probably one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever done. I drank more than 3 liters of water (pro tip: bring a lot of water if you’re hiking in a desert) and was moving so slowly in the final stretch. But it was so rewarding, and I’m grateful for the people I hiked with who kept me going even when I wanted to stop.

I’m lucky I got to experience the canyon in such a unique way, and what I’ve realized from our time there is that the Grand Canyon is more than just a hole in the ground, it’s an incredible hole in the ground, and I know I’ll be going back.