My measly 25 years on this planet is like a spec of dust compared to the millions of years in front of me. There is no other place (I think) on this planet in which you can literally see the millions of years of Earth's history with a single glance than at the Grand Canyon.
I wound up in the Southwest because of my job in January this year. And of course, if you're going to be in Arizona, you absolutely have to go see the Grand Canyon. I flew in a few days earlier just to get a chance to experience this world famous landmark.
Prior to my visit, I always imagined the Southwest as just a hot dry dessert. I never even considered any other weather conditions. Boy was I wrong! I hit a major snow storm on my drive up from Vegas to Flagstaff. Actually, I have never in my life driven in such a winter snowstorm (and I've live in Chicago for 20 years!). The highway was moving less than 10 miles an hour with almost 0% visibility and skidding vehicles on all sides. Not only was it one of the most scariest drives I've ever had, I was also by myself in the middles of nowhere. There were no exits until you reach the city. What's more, all the road signs were covered in snow and cell phone reception was impossible. I almost had a nervous breakdown, actually I probably did. But I just kept following a truck, carefully outlining its tracks in the snow with my car just so I wouldn't get stuck. I took a gamble on taking the second exit as we approached Flagstaff (the first one was dark and seemed like it went to nowhere). Thank heavens my hotel was right off the highway exit as you approach the city. Phewww! Survival.
So, as I learned firsthand, some regions in the Southwest have really bad winters, especially in high elevation. But there was no way I was going to let the snow keep me from seeing the Grand Canyon. A long hot shower later, plus 10 back to back episodes of Hardcore Pawn and Chinese food, I was passed out, eagerly awaiting my trip to the Grand Canyon the next morning.
I woke up super early and set out to drive to the Grand Canyon. Luckily, the snow storm passed and the roads were cleared. I even broke a personal record: for the first time in my life, I hit over 100 miles per hour while driving. And the more I though about it, the more it made me realize that speed is just relative. When driving through the barren snow covered land, going 100m/h feels no different than 10. You see nothing but the road in the horizon.
Visiting the Grand Canyon during the winter turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Because there aren't as many tourists as in the summer months, it gives you a chance to really personally enjoy the beauty of the landscape.
It felt surreal seeing this vast wonder with your own eyes. It was such an indescribable feeling approaching the edge of the canyon, looking down at the depths below. I just kept thinking about how lucky we are just for being on this planet. Being there, you cant help but think how minuscule you are in front of mountain, how powerless you are in front of a river, how insignificant you are under the stars. It was both humbling and empowering at the same time.
The Grand Canyon reveals millions of years of Earth's history. The plains of the Proterozoic and Paleozoic strata (yes, I do Wikipedia everything) were uplifted because of continental shifts. A few millions of years thereafter, the Colorado River has persistently cut through the layers of rock. Thus, the Grand Canyon is unique in exposing some of the oldest layers of rock on this planet.
I also found it really interesting that there are still some Native American tribes that live inside the canyon. I also heard that mules, as well as helicopters, are used to deliver items to the villages.
Wandering the icy pathways, it's pretty freakin' terrifying approaching the edge, especially cause many places don't have a fence or anything between you and the cliff. You can literally walk right up to the edge and look down below. The ice and snow does not help.
I asked one of the bus drivers if there are many accidental deaths at the Canyon. Boy, as soon as one question was out of my mouth, he did not stop talking as he graciously shared information about the Canyon and the people that lived there. Although I cannot recall most of the facts he told me, he did say that surprisingly there are not too many accidental deaths, but some suicides do occur every year. What a scary thought.
When not wandering the frozen pathways, the Bright Angel Lodge is the place to warm up. They had delicious soups and sandwiches. And if you're ever there, ask for Paul. He’s cute.