Planning my travel to Phoenix for the NASCAR race in November, I checked just how far away the Grand Canyon was… I love to explore, and figured that with young kids in the house, this might be my only chance to see it until they are old enough to appreciate a road trip. I managed to figure I’d have enough time, but didn’t book anything so I could alter things if necessary, or if my work required me to be in Phoenix earlier than I intended. If things worked out, I’d have about 24 hours on-site…
I arrived in Phoenix early Friday morning, rented a car from the airport and drove the 3.5 hours north to the Grand Canyon Visitors Center. Arizona is an amazing state, as I passed through I noticed what looked like 4-5 starkly different climates, all with their own tree types and (as this was November), what also looked like different seasonal states. I was extremely surprised that upon arrival at the Grand Canyon, there was snow on the ground!
After arrival at the visitors center, I walked to nearby Mather and Yavapai Point, to be greeted by this epic view from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon…
Mather Point – Grand Canyon – Want to see more photos from this location? Click here. This photo is a stitch of multiple pictures.
I spent quite a bit of time there, getting plenty of detail shots, as well as panoramic photos I could stitch together later on. There was so much to take in, and it’s literally impossible to give someone the sense of scale that I felt.
Mather Point – Grand Canyon – Want to see more photos from this location? Click here.
I then learned about and jumped on one of the free shuttle buses going east from the visitors center, stopping off at the South Kaibab Trailhead first of all. This trailhead takes you deep into the canyon, but I just took a 10-15 minute walk to take a look, and found some great views.
Kaibab Trail view – Grand Canyon – Want to see more photos from this location? Click here.
What I liked about this trail was that it looked totally different the further you went down into the canyon. Oh, how I wish I had the time or supplies to have taken a fuller hike. Though I could see it was pretty hard going for some people, with thinner air at that altitude, and even ice on the trail to worry about!
Hopping back onto another shuttle bus, I jumped off again at Yaki Point – a very popular viewing location. The lack of obstructions in viewing a lower section of the canyon basin really does give a splendid vista, but it takes away the sense of scale at the same time.
Yaki Point – Grand Canyon – Want to see more photos from this location? Click here. This photo is a stitch of multiple pictures.
With a long lens, this is an amazing location to take some more obscure photos of rocky outcrops or scenes lower into the canyon. The simple fact is, any large open space like this, there are beautiful and unique scenes everywhere you point your lens…
Back onto the shuttle, I headed off back to the visitors center so I could catch a one going west. Arriving at Maricopa Point a little while later. Amazingly, not many people seemed to be interested in this location, but in my opinion it gives the greatest sense of scale, probably due to there being more visible steep cliffs. I’m glad I took a chance and got off the shuttle.
Maricopa Point – Grand Canyon – Want to see more photos from this location? Click here. This photo is a stitch of multiple pictures.
More than anywhere else, the shadows here were really incredible at the time of day I visited. Everything had such depth to it… Long lens paying off again here.
Maricopa Point – Grand Canyon – Want to see more photos from this location? Click here.
Continuing my westward journey, I arrived at Hopi Point. Without any doubt, this was my favorite location. It might be different at a different time of day, but I adore every single photograph I took here. Everything looked beautiful. It has gorgeous steep cliffs, exposed red rock on the sides facing you that isn’t covered by debris, and it was also the first time I had seen the Colorado River within the canyon.
Hopi Point – Grand Canyon – Want to see more photos from this location? Click here.
Back onto the shuttle, we were allowed a quick 3-minute stop (the driver was ahead of schedule) at Monument Creek Vista. I hopped off, took a few photos, then jumped back on. Lovely view, but enclosed at either side, giving a narrow viewing area of what is still utterly spectacular.
Monument Creek Vista – Grand Canyon – Want to see more photos from this location? Click here.
Hermit’s Rest was the last stop westward and frankly, I was a bit disappointed. Without a long walk (something I hadn’t given myself the luxury of time to do), all views seemed obstructed. There was a store there, so I was able to refresh myself, grab a drink, use the bathrooms, etc, but quickly left to head back to the visitors center in-time for sunset.
Hermit’s Rest – Grand Canyon – Want to see more photos from this location? Click here.
Missing the sunset itself, I did get to Mather Point and Yavapai Point (where I had started the day) to capture a lot of twilight. The blue hues were stunning.
Again, it is difficult to comprehend that happened next if you have never experienced it. The photos above, it was actually a lot more dark than they make it look… Then, suddenly, as the last bit of light went away, it was absolutely PITCH BLACK. There was no moon, so until my eyes adjusted (which took about 15 minutes), it felt very primal. I had never experienced anything like it; I guess I have always lived close to a source of light pollution!
Once my eyes did adjust, I was in awe… I’d never seen the stars so clearly. I so wish I had taken the time to try to take some real photos of them, but I just snapped a couple of photos. You can see stars, but my eyes saw more than the camera! :( The milky way is visible from Arizona, but not at this time of year, so that played a part in my decision not to try too hard…
I then drove, in total darkness, towards the nearest hotel on my GPS. A couple of times I had to stop to let the HUGE Elk and Deer cross the road. I arrived at the hotel (without reservation) and stayed in Grand Canyon Village overnight.
The following morning I drove back into the State Park and east to Grandview Point. I setup my GoPro camera to take a timelapse of the sunrise and then stood there in the frigid morning air – for HOURS – while other people came and went.
I’m not terribly happy with the result, it looked better in-person. Really only the twilight between dawn and sunrise was really pretty, with that blue hue again draped over everything.
Grandview Point – Grand Canyon – Want to see more photos from this location? Click here.
I then decided to head back to Phoenix. I jumped back in the car and on my way out of Grand Canyon Village saw a sign for helicopter rides… I thought I would go and see what the pricing was like, then a short while later I was in a helicopter operated by Papillon Sightseeing Tours!
An amazing experience, well worth the $200. I took the shorter route available from Grand Canyon Airport with Papillion, lasting 35mins, only due to time constraints. The video skips each time I lowered the video camera to take a still camera photo.
Papillon Helicopters – Grand Canyon – Want to see photos from this ride? Click here.
The photographs from the helicopter are pretty special to me, as was the experience. Even though most of the photos have glare from the glass, or were taken through windows with scratches, smudges, whatever else may have been on them, I don’t care one bit.
I wasn’t seated on the ‘best’ side, but there’s nothing I would expect to be able to do about that, they seat you by weight. I joined another (friendly) three-person family and got on great with them.
If you have the money and aren’t afraid to fly (this was my first time in a helicopter), I highly recommend it. I’d certainly see the Grand Canyon from the ground first, that way the helicopter view only increases your sense of scale in what you saw from the ground.
Papillon Helicopters – Grand Canyon – Want to see photos from this ride? Click here.
After landing, I jumped in the car and made the trek south to Phoenix, feeling like I totally filled my 24 hours at the Grand Canyon.
tags: featured, Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon State Park, Grand Canyon Visitors Center, Hopi Point, Maricopa Point, Mather Point, Monument Creek Vista, Papillon Helicopters, South Kaibab Trailhead, South Rim, Southern Rim, Yaki Point, Yavapai Point
Tim is British and lives in the United States with his wife and kids.
He works for software developers Image Space Inc. and Studio 397 on their racing simulations, and is a fan of Gaming, Motorsports, and photography.