Seeing the Grand Canyon in Arizona wasn’t part of my plan when I went to California last February 2013 to be with my wife, who was on business trip at that time, on our wedding anniversary. On her insistence though, I drafted a plan for the roughly 750-mile (1,200-kilometer) drive from the Silicon Valley area to Arizona’s lone World Heritage Site. Fellow officemates who were also on business trip happily agreed to split the long drive with us. We would leave around midnight, a few hours after my arrival in the US. I would take the first shift behind the wheel – as I was still on Manila time – and exchange places with the rest of the group until we made it to Arizona.
Driving to Arizona
On my arrival at San Francisco International Airport, the car rental company gave me a crossover, a seven-seater Ford Flex, which was perfect for our group of seven. As planned, we left near midnight and took turns driving south on U.S. Interstate 5, turning eastward on State Route 58 and Interstate 40. Long drives such as this require a bit of advance planning on where to gas up and eat, as freeway exits are sometimes hard to come by (the distance between Ludlow and Kelso, California on I-40 (28 miles/45 kilometers), ranks among the top ten longest gaps between exits on an interstate in the United States) and not all exits have service stations and/or dining places.
After 14 hours and 5 fuel stops, we arrived at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center on the South Rim. Being accessible all-year round, the vast majority of visitors to the Grand Canyon visit the South Rim. Filled with excitement, we approached nearby Mather Point, the closest viewpoint to the Visitor Center and understandably the first glimpse of most of the canyon’s 5 million visitors annually. As the grand vista of the Grand Canyon unfolded before my eyes, I could not help but be awestruck by its immense scale and natural beauty. The canyon’s layers of brown and red rock stretched as far as the eye could see. From our vantage point, the Colorado River could be seen in a few breaks between the canyon walls.
Grand Dimensions of the Grand Canyon
Colorado River, the body of water that carved the Grand Canyon, runs for 1,450 miles (2,333 kilometers) from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado to its outlet at the Gulf of California in Mexico. That’s nearly equivalent to our drive from Silicon Valley to Grand Canyon and back!
Geologists estimate that the canyon is the result of six million years of erosion by the Colorado River. Today, the banks of the Colorado River average 1 mile (1.6 kilometer) below South Rim. The canyon itself stretches for 277 miles along the Colorado River. North and South Rims are situated 10 miles across the canyon, but a rim-to-rim trip requires a multi-day 24-mile hike for the descent, crossing the Colorado, and the ascent on the opposite side. A faster but longer route is a five-hour 200-mile roundabout drive from either rim to opposite rim.
Sunset at Hopi Point
As it was winter during our visit, it became colder and colder as the day drew to a close. This was far from the Grand Canyon I saw in photographs and books where the massive landscape always looked sunny and parched dry. In reality, the South Rim is 7,000 feet (2,134 meters) above sea level and average winter temperatures here range from -8° to 5°C. North Rim, even higher at about 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) above sea level, is inaccessible during the winter months due to snow.
We drove five miles west to Hopi Point, the most popular overlook for sunset on the South Rim. Hopi Point juts north into to the canyon, allowing unobstructed views at either side of the overlook. It was barely above freezing as the sun approached the horizon. As the sun dipped into the west, the last light of the day cast a reddish brown hue on the surrounding cliffs, blanketing the scenery in a magical aura.
We left for Las Vegas after just three hours in the park. It was indeed a grand road trip, the impressive landscape of the Grand Canyon more than made up for the long drive.
Driving distances from the Grand Canyon Visitor Center to major cities in the US Southwest are as follows: Las Vegas, NV: 275 miles, San Francisco, CA: 790 miles, Los Angeles, CA: 500 miles, San Diego, CA: 550 miles, Phoenix, AZ: 230 miles.