a micro-adventure IN THE heart of the GRAND CANYON

Thousands of kilometers on the roads, hundreds on the trails to explore places, from the most famous to the most secret.
Windows open on to the World takes you, during a memorable hike, to Arizona in the heart of the Grand Canyon, one of the most legendary national parks in the United States.

VANLIFE IN THE GRAND CANYON

In 2015 we set off on the roads of America in a van.
In need of a break, nature and wide open spaces.
The new continent with its numerous national parks was for us the dream destination to go on a road trip where we could hike as often as possible.
Almost 6 years of adventures and our journey has taken us all over North and Central America.
From Alaska to Guatemala, passing through all of Canada, all the states of the United States, Mexico and Belize.
Thousands of kilometers on the roads, hundreds on the trails to explore places, from the most famous to the most secret.
But it is undoubtedly the West of the USA that will have marked us the most for its completely different scenery.
Let's take you with us for a memorable hike in Arizona, in the heart of the Grand Canyon, one of the most legendary national parks in the United States.

5 o'clock in the morning the alarm clock rings...

You often have to get up early to take advantage of the beautiful light and the quietness of dawn,
if you want to have a glimpse of some wildlife. 
This is even more true for the long hike with the steep elevation that awaits us… 
Having arrived in the park the day before with our van, we had prepared our backpacks with all we needed for the next day. 
Our ambition for this micro-adventure, starting from the departure point of the "South Kebab Trail" on the South bank to descend 1500m lower, at the level of the Colorado River, and then to go up to the level of the South bank but by another path:the « Bright Angel Trail ».
A 30km hike and a rather special first impression, like hiking upside down… 
Going down before going up! 
Exploring canyons too, and believe me having to climb 1500m of vertical slope at the end of the day after hours of walking, almost made us regret our French mountains ...

VANLIFE IN THE GRAND CANYON
VANLIFE IN THE GRAND CANYON

A POSTCARD BACKDROP

Nearly, yes! 
Because there is really something magical about hiking in the American West. 
This morning the sky is clear and the light in the canyon are a blazing orange red.
From the viewpoint of the south bank, the canyon appears to be endless. 
It's huge and you can't even see the Colorado River because it's deep and wide.
We tell ourselves that we may be a little too optimistic to do it just in one day. 
The day before the park rangers explained to us that most people did this trail over two days. 
There is even a dedicated camping area on the trail (you have to reserve your place a few days
before), but it is still doable in a day for people who are experienced but
start early, they tell us. 
We have been hiking almost every day for several months now and living at an altitude of over 2000m. 
Our bodies are therefore used to it, our physical condition is very good and we plan to carry enough water in our backpacks so we leave with no worries.

So here we are on the trail, descending meter after meter, step by step, the first 10 kilometers that separate us from the river. 
First, the path is wide enough to walk side by side, then it narrows down. 
We then meet horse hikers who are coming back up after spending the night lower down. 
Another experiece that must be amazing, we say.Yes, because the deeper we go, the greater the difference in elevation.
The panorama never ceases to amaze us.
Surrounded by a mineral landscape where even if the soil seems arid life is very present, we cannot help but scrutinize the smallest rock, the smallest cactus ...

COLORADO RIVER, THERE YOU ARE!

After a first plateau located about halfway down the descent, we finally see the river. 
The view is magnificent, one could stop there and contemplate the view for hours. 
The trail then winds through the second part of the canyon. 
The noise of the river is louder and louder and we finally arrive on the bank. 
A first suspension bridge crosses it, we're there, the Colorado River is under our feet! 
The flow is impressive.We see a few groups rafting down on big blue rafts.
The trail then runs along the Colorado River for a few kilometers. 
It's 12:30, time for a well-deserved meal on a small beach where the water seems a little calmer. 
We enjoy our meal with our feet in the water. 
But unfortunately no time to take a nap, we still have a few hours walk and especially a climb up to find our van which is 1500m higher ...

VANLIFE IN THE GRAND CANYON
VANLIFE IN THE GRAND CANYON

GO DOWN FOR A BETTER CLIMB UP

From below, we can't see the South bank of the Grand Canyon as it has been hollowed out by time and
by the force of water. 
You feel tiny and realize the millions of years it takes for nature to sculpt such a landscape.
By looking at the map and the difference in elevation we choose this direction.
The climb by the "Bright Angel Trail" would certainly be longer, but less steep, and we therefore hope a little less tiring on the second part of the day.
We see some curiosities of local fauna, a lizard straight out of the
Jurassic era, higher up a deer, then a mouflon. 
The vegetation itself becomes higher and denser in places.
The first kilometers of the ascent are quite easy after our lunch break and once on
the first plateau our legs can rest a little.
We make a detour to go to the very end of it, where the river is visible again,
in order to observe it one last time from a majestic point of view: « Plateau point », as
suspended about the void...

We observe the bird of prey as the sun begins to set, it's time to finally go up. 
We then pass in front of one of the bivouac areas on the trail. 
We would gladly spend the night there, but we don't have our tent, and all the places are taken during the holiday period. 
Next time…
We take the opportunity to refill our water bottles before tackling the last climb...
And what a climb!
The hairpin bends follow one after the other, the red “wall” facing us
seems impossible and we can hardly see the path that bears its name.
We then meet more and more people. 
This part of the trail is very popular for those who want to try the experience of descending more or less into the Grand Canyon. 
At the end we go through an arch, like a passage announcing the near arrival. 
In fact a few sharp turns further and we're there. 
30 kms later, we are back at the top of the Grand Canyon on the South Bank.

VANLIFE IN THE GRAND CANYON

END THE DAY in style

One last look from the vantage point and we find our "Popo" van waiting for us. 
We left it at our arrival point and took the bus from the park to our departure point. 
Our bags thrown into the back, we make our way just in time for the sunset a stone's throw away, to another point of view. 
« Pima Point » is THE spot recommended by park rangers for the chance to see the grandiose landscapes of the Grand Canyon set ablaze at a 180 °.
We find a rock where we can finally rest our legs. 
The sun sets and the canyon lights up, revealing the most beautiful colours of the West: yellow, then orange, red, and finally magenta / purple before disappearing into total darkness.
It's time for us to reach the park campsite and enjoy a well-deserved rest after a good meal by the fire ...

VANLIFE IN THE GRAND CANYON

"For every walk in nature one receives far more than one seeks"
Citation: John Muir

OUR TIPS

We could almost say we fell in love with the Grand Canyon, as we have been there twice now.
It was a little while ago.
A first visit at the end of May and a second, a few years later at the end of December.
Over there, you can encounter all types of weather conditions.
We sometimes forget that the area is located at an altitude of more than 2000m and that it can therefore be very cold even in May, especially in the evening.
As incredible as it may seem, we had a little snow during these two periods.
Even if the temperature rises very quickly as soon as the sun comes out, do not forget to pack a fleece, windproof jacket and beannie in your backpack whatever the season.
Also, the water level of the Colorado River is of course not the same in late spring and winter.
So be careful to check with the Park Visitors Centre before setting off on a hike and look at the weather forecast in order to plan your stay as well as possible.
The number of hours of sunshine is naturally not the same depending on the time of year and your hiking circuits will therefore need to be adapted.

For the first time in the Grand Canyon we advise you to walk all along the « South Bank ».
The South Bank is easy and accessible to all.
Without elevation, but several kilometers long, it can take you all day.
A nice warm-up that offers views, each one more beautiful than the last one.
The return trip can be by bus since several stops are scattered along the « Bank ».

For an immersive day hike in the canyon we recommend, and of course wearing good boots, the « Bright Angel Trail ».
The trail itself is already an experience and it offers very different points of view of the canyon. It is possible to turn around at any time.
Once on the plateau you are free, according to how fit you are and the time you have, to go left and continue towards the « Plateau Point » view point or go right and descend down to the Colorado River and soak your feet in it. No worries, the trails are well signposted and there are several water points noted on the map that will be given to you at the visitors centre.

The visitors centre is an essential stop for getting information about the park.
The various hikes, points of interest but also the condition of the trails and the weather during your stay, in order to enjoy the park in total safety.