Grand Sunrise over the Grand Canyon

Trip Start Jun 01, 2011
1
14
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of United States  , Arizona
Friday, June 17, 2011

After a full day hanging out and getting some contract work done in Flagstaff, I had the thought to take a short nap in the evening, and to start driving once the sun set.  Driving through much of the night under the full moon a few nights earlier was so calming that I wanted to do it again.  Plus, if I could head west over the Mojave Desert by the cool of night rather than the heat of day, even better!

I had been debating whether or not I wanted to drive up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, about an hour and a half away.  Although it was a pretty large detour, I decided what the hell?  It's been 14 years since I've been there, and I don't exactly have a schedule, so why not?  Then another thought hit me.  Why don't I make most of the drive tonight, camp out somewhere close, and get up early to watch the sun rise on the canyon?  Perfect!!

My drive started some time after 11 that night.  Just one night after the full moon, the land was again glowing in the cool, blue light being reflected down on the earth.  I saw numerous deer while traveling through the forest, including perhaps the biggest buck with the biggest rack I have ever seen!  The forest dense, the road full of turns, and the deer out in force, I drove slowly as to not turn one in to jerky.  Suddenly, the trees on either side of the road disappeared and I was entering a huge, treeless park, standing out like a drop of blood on a piece of white paper.  With the feel of a giant wheat field, glowing in the moon's light, almost as if the valley itself was radiating light upward to the skies.  The few lone mountains in the region stood against the sky like a black bell curve.

About 20 miles shy of the Grand Canyon, I pulled off onto a dirt road, finding, once again, some fantastic washboard (and again, unlike my abs).  I parked my truck in an open spot where another road trailed broke off to the north.  I involuntarily smiled when I shut the engine off.

Silence.

Beautiful, still silence.  Joining in with the silence (making it not truly silent, although there still was an essence of silence... just go with it) was a chorus of nocturnal beasts: crickets, birds, far off cattle, and at least two different packs of coyotes.  It was thrilling, eerie, serene.  The occasional watery sound of tires on asphalt in the distance, though out of place with the rest of the chorus, made a graceful addition.

I woke at 4:15, the eastern sky just starting to show a hint of the new day.  By the time I reached the canyon, the skies were growing light.  After somehow missing the turn to Mather Point, I turned around and headed back, frantically looking at the clouds to the east that were already burning yellow and pink.  I parked in the first area I found (which happened to be the bus area), threw on my jacket, and ran to the lookout.

I was surprised to find a horde of people, probably pushing 100 or so, waiting patiently for the first light of the new day.  I found my place amongst the sea of Asians, already in awe of the clouds above the northeastern canyon rim, shining in yellows and oranges and pinks.  I never noticed how there exists a color that is purely pink and purely orange at the same time.  I doubt Crayola could come up with such a crayon, but the skies were bathed with it as the sun drew closer.

I've watched a lot of sunrises, many when I am out on a solo trek in the desert or the mountains.  One, in particular, comes to mind.  I was in the Needles area of Canyonlands National Park, my last morning of a 4-day trip.  I didn't intend to watch the sunrise, but in order to get back to Colorado in time for an engagement, I still needed to hike 4 hours and drive an additional 6, so I started early.  The sky was just hardly starting to turn blue when I woke up and began packing my things.  Stars were still standing watch when I hit the trail.  As I hiked in the cold dawn, the world around me slowly becoming brighter and more vivid, I came to a saddle, just a few minutes (or what I thought) until the sun would peak into view.  From where I sat, surrounded by mounds and pillars or red sandstone, I could see the actual Needles, off to the west, their highest tips already being illuminated by the Great Eastern Sun.  Meanwhile, a giant red camel back closer to me was just glowing, more and more, bragging hues of orange and red more deep and lovely than you can imagine.  As the sun crept down the Needles, it finally hit the top of the camel humps.  Bam!!  Like neon.  Electrified.  My heart sang.  I grew anxious as the light continued to move down the camel, closer and closer to where I saw.  And then it happened.  The sky it so bright just above where then sun is about to make an appearance.  Then it gets brighter.  And brighter.  Just when you don't believe it can get any brighter, the first rays of sun.  Like a whisper, a gentle kiss, but at the same time SHOUTING, like a slap to the face!  I don't know what happened internally, but I just started giggling like a little schoolgirl, tears of joy running down my face, so amazed and astounded by what I just experienced.  The best 3D graphics on the biggest IMAX screen cannot even begin to hold a flame to it.

Back to the Grand Canyon.  With that same type of anticipation, I waited.  Everyone in the crowd on edge and jittery.  Holding their breath.  Almost clenching their teeth, in suspended animation.  And, as it does every day, the sun greeted the nervous crowd.  Flash!  Flash!  Flash!  Cameras going off like machine gun fire.  I took a couple pictures, but my camera down, and felt like I was back by the camel humps, laughing, eyes watery, but glimmering of happiness.

Just minutes after the moment came, people scattered, got back on their buses, and I was left with just a handful of other folks, still watching as the canyon walls to the west were slowly being lit, top to bottom, inch by inch.  Three Asian girls were taking turns photographing the other two.  I walked over, motioning that I would take pictures of the three of them together.  In the way that girls do, they practically squealed, and I was quickly given three different cameras.  They smiled and laughed, constantly saying "Sank you, sank you!"  "Five dollars each!", I said.  I took a few other pictures for families and friends who would otherwise have one person missing, all initially shocked at the offer, but entirely grateful.

Running off three hours of sleep, I moved my truck from the commercial area to the furthest spot in the visitor's parking area, back in, and crawled back into my sleeping back.  I was surprisingly able to get a couple hours of sleep, and woke up feeling better, though still pretty wiped.  I found my way to the bathroom, where I rinsed my face and started brushing my teeth.  Two brothers, maybe 14 and 11, were washing their hands at the two sinks.  I saw the boys notice me, look at each other, perplexed and slightly smiling, and then back at me.  I was not offended in any way, but rather, humored, and wanted to say, "What?  You kids never seen a vagabond before?!"

After returning to the canyon to get a few more daytime pictures and take some more group photos for thankful families, I was back in my mobile home, heading west, to brave the Mojave.

Be sure to check out the pictures, below. Lotsa goodies.
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Comments

Disgruntled on

Nice pictures! But seriously you don't know what you are missing back in the safety and security of the cube farm! The sunrise and sunsets from the office park are spectacular. Especially on the same day.

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