After a long day of travelling yesterday, today felt like the official first day of our holiday And it got off to a very early start, with a 5am alarm in the hotel. I definitely wouldn't normally choose to get up at 5am on holiday, but for parts of this USA road trip it really does make sense to get going early. First of all, the national parks can be very crowded and if you try to arrive at peak times of the day you can get both get stuck in significant traffic jams to get in, plus struggle to find somewhere to park. Secondly, the intense heat we were expecting in Arizona meant that our aim was to finished with any strenuous activities of the day by around 10am.
The hotel we're staying in doesn't serve breakfast - and I'm sure it wouldn't have been offering it at 5am even if it did - so we ate a quick snack that we'd bought in Tusayan last night, then downed a cup of coffee and set off towards the Grand Canyon.
The southern entrance to Grand Canyon National Park is only a mile or so up the road from Tusayan. A big difference between national parks in the UK and the USA is that in the USA, they aren't free to get into. It typically costs around $35 per vehicle to enter a national park here but you can save money by purchasing an annual pass called "America the Beautiful". This costs $80 and lets you into all of the national parks in the country. So if you're planning to visit more than a couple, it really makes sense to buy. We wanted to purchase one this morning when we got to Grand Canyon, but we were there so early that the entrance booths weren't actually manned We managed to pay $80 for a paper ticket out of a machine instead, which we can exchange for a proper pass next time we're at a manned national park booth.
With setting out so early we definitely didn't have any problems parking and we were able to find a space in the first car park we came to. As we were getting out of the car and trying to work out which direction we needed to walk in, I turned around and saw...
Don't know what it was - maybe some sort of elk? It didn't seem disturbed by the fact that we'd just parked our car a few metres away anyway!
From the parking spot we'd chosen, we didn't have far to go before we got our very first view of the Grand Canyon.
This is Mather Point, which is the closest viewpoint to the car parks and therefore often one of the busiest. Some of the pictures I've seen online show people jostling for space to take photos here. But at 6am, we had it all to ourselves
The only problem with being here so soon after sunrise was that the sun was very bright in one direction, so it was difficult to take clear photos that way.
It was a nice temperature at this time of the morning though, with a cool breeze, so quite easy to walk around in.
Our plan was to follow part of the Rim Trail, which goes along the southern rim of the canyon.
It was difficult to make much progress initially, because we just had to keep stopping and taking photos of the incredible views.
It was an easy path to walk on though - mostly tarmac - so we'd perhaps been a bit over-enthusiastic in wearing walking boots.
The path took us to a series of fantastic viewpoints.
I wasn't anywhere near the edge of any of them, Tim's just positioned some clever photos
We experimented with taking some Grand Canyon selfies
I kept thinking we'd seen the best possible views already...
...then we'd turn a corner, see the canyon from a new angle and it would be even better.
Often the views from random points on the path were just as good as the ones from the official viewpoints.
I loved the view at this one
We met a few other people who were out walking at this time of the morning - and a few who were out jogging! - but not loads. There was plenty of wildlife though; in addition to the large deer-like creature below, there were countless squirrels and chipmunks scurrying out of our way as we walked along the path.
At one point the path we were following became a geological trail. I didn't really pay attention to all the info boards, but there were definitely some interesting geological features here.
Look at the stripy rocks in the distance!
After a couple of miles of walking, we came to Grand Canyon village where there are various shops, restaurants and hotels within the national park.
It was getting towards 8am by this point, so starting to become a little bit busier. Not so busy that we didn't meet another deer, though.
We were only walking along the rim of the canyon, but some people hike down into it. It gets hotter the further down into the canyon you climb and hikers sometimes get into difficulties when they underestimate how strenuous it will be to climb back out of the canyon. At the start of one of the downward trails, we passed this helpful info board which warned people that they were risking death
We could see the trail winding down into the canyon from here. Probably not visible in the photo, but we did see a fair few people setting off down it.
We were quite happy with the views from the top
A nice feature of the Rim Trail is that there are periodic signs telling you how far you've got to walk until the next viewpoint.
They made it easier for us to judge how many more viewpoints we wanted to try and fit in before it got too hot.
There's also a free system of shuttle buses within the park, which seems really well organised.
The walk we were doing clearly wasn't circular, but it didn't matter because once we'd had enough we could catch a shuttle bus back towards Grand Canyon Village.
It certainly seemed less strenuous than hiking down and back up again!
The shuttle bus stops were signposted as well and we never seemed to be much more than half a mile away from one.
Of course, some visitors to the park don't walk at all and use the shuttles to move between viewpoints. So a couple of times we completed a solitary hike to a viewpoint, only to arrived just as the shuttle bus was dropping off a pile of other visitors.
We found that if we waited around a bit though, people tended to move on quite quickly, eager to get on the next shuttle.
By this point we were actually trying to stop ourselves taking photos, conscious that we probably already had more than enough, but it was hard to do.
I couldn't resist taking a photo of these little cactuses growing by the side of the path. So much smaller than the ones we saw in Phoenix yesterday!
They were growing near a viewpoint called Powell Point, named after one of the first explorers of the Grand Canyon.
The views from here were pretty amazing.
I can't imagine what the first explorers must have thought when they arrived here and found this!
From this viewpoint we had a glimpse of the Colorado river, which runs through the canyon. It was difficult to capture in photos, but you might be able to make out a lighter colour at the bottom of the canyon.
The view of the river was a bit clearer from Hopi Point, the final viewpoint that we walked to. If you zoom in on this photo, you might be able to make out what looks like a murky brown at the bottom of the canyon In real life we could see it was the river and even make out some rapids in it.
By this point it was after 9am and it was starting to get seriously hot.
We decided to call it a day and caught one shuttle back to Grand Canyon Village, then a second from there to where we were parked. Having not had a proper breakfast this morning we were also starving by this point, so we drove back to Tusayan in search of food. Then we retired to the hotel room to cool off, catch up on some blogging and laundry, and avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day.
It's not often that I'd walk 17 000 steps before 10am on an empty stomach, but I think today it was worth it