While you may not be alone at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, you will escape perhaps 98% of all park visitors, especially if you hike the South Kaibab Trail. Besides the solitude you get to see up close that the Grand Canyon is in fact largely desert. When you mention this to those only on the Rim, especially earlier in the season, you may get some funny looks. It is quite chilly on the Rim in early May. In fact, it can be freezing at night. But as you can see, in the Canyon, you are very much in the desert which does make for some dangerous hiking conditions, but also brings you in close contact with some beautiful flowering cacti.
There are several short trails around Bright Angel trail leading to the Colorado River. If you're not too tired from the hike in, or you've given yourself the luxury of an extra day of exploring, these relatively flat trails can be a lot of fun. Just remember that the temperature of the water is just above freezing year round and that the currents will carry away even the strongest swimmer.
We found that most of the viewpoints between Bright Angel Lodge and Mather Point were quite crowded, even in October.
However, if you like to escape the crowds, head off this beaten path and walk the Rim Trail west from Bright Angel Lodge. Within a few hundred feet you will find some breathing space. And, the further you walk the fewer people you will encounter. You can walk 8 miles all the way to Hermit's Rest, or hop on the free Shuttle at any viewpoint.
We came across this agave plant with it's 8 foot tall bloom along the Rim Trail.
A great stopping point if you're hiking in the summer.
Jim has a saying that, up there (in the "real" world and "real life), no one cares who you are down here and that down here, in the Canyon, no one cares who you are up there. Its so different being this far away from everything. I've been farther from home in terms of actual miles before, but here, seven miles below the rim of the Canyon, I've never felt farther away from everything in my whole life. And many of the things that matter "up there" just don't exist in this world "down here."
Jim told me it would take a while for the experience of hiking the Canyon to sink in. But even out here I'm starting to get it. Everything out here is magic. The sight of the Colorado patiently winding its way across the floor, the rust and green Canyon walls and even the dirt covered trail, are all magic. There is solitude and peace down here. A silence that reaches to your soul. You really can find yourself out here, or lose yourself, whichever you choose.
Jim went on to explain that he's been hiking in the Canyon for 26 years now, and that its the only place where he's ever felt a sense of peace. He explained that the sense of peace comes from knowing that all of this was created before our lifetimes, that it existed before us and will continue to exist long after our brief stay on this planet draws to an end.
At one point during our trip, Jim looked around and wondered aloud, "how many more times will I be able to do this." Jim's only 49, but has had his share of health problems. To me, he was a modern day Colin Fletcher. But it appeared that the Canyon was taking a toll on him. Yet he keeps returning for that sense of peace and because he loves it. So he'll keep returning for as long as he can.
Not quite what I expected. According to Jim and Dan, we'll be having three days of rain. We stopped at this point a few hundred feet down the trail. Jim grinned and said we were lucky. Of the millions of people who visit the Canyon, we were among the few who got to stand here and watch the clouds race across the canyon. Despite the fact that it was 30 degrees, raining and we were carrying at least 50 pounds apiece, it was pure magic.
The views will leave you in awe. Even on a cold rainy day in November. It was pretty disappointing at first to see the Canyon under cloud cover and rain. But as Jim, my hiking guide put it, this is a view that few visitors get to see. But even in the midst and clouds, it was still incredible.
Here is another example of a full spring issuing forth from the side of a cliff. The spring is accessed by a trail that comes up from Tapeats Rapid near mile 133, though you also have access via 4WD roads on the North Rim, taking you to either the Thunder River or Bill Hall trailheads emanating at the edge of the Rim much higher yet above.
Hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon requires at least one full day. Some people manage to do the trip to the river AND BACK in one day but this is extremely hazardous, the person attempting it risking dehydration and hypothermia, and the Park Service attempts to discourage the activity.
It is possible to take a one-day mule trip to Plateau Point almost to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. This is still 1,200 feet (366 meters) above the Colorado River but provides some excellant views of the river, the inner gorge and the south rim.
Even the mules take 2 days to go all the way to the river and back. A river trip along the full length of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon can be done in as little as a week in a motor powered raft or may take as long as 2 or 3 weeks in an oar powered raft or dory.
Shorter half-Canyon trips are also possible but these require you to either hike in and join the trip or leave the trip and hike out at Phantom Ranch.
Hiking up and out of Thunder Creek, you come onto another valley. Obviously, from the name, someone was surpised :-]
The springs emanate from the sheer cliffwalls along the edge of the massive Tapeats Amphitheater. Greenery that exists along the creek, evaporates quickly as you continue hiking upward.
Most of the Americans take the bus or their cars from one viewpoint to another. Better to miss a viewpoint and take a hike, much more quiet and more interesting.