CHASING THE SUNRISE
I’m not a morning person. I’m one of those late owl kinda guys, happily staying up long into the night. Normally when I hear my alarm going off at 4:30am, I’m not overly enthusiastic. This morning, however, is an exception. I am instantly awake and raring
4:45AM COMES AND goes but no sign of a bus. I begin to dig into my back pocket to retrieve the bus timetable, silently praying I haven't made a mistake. Suddenly two bright headlights appear from around the corner, and we thankfully join an almost full busload of fellow travellers and hikers. The bus takes us five minutes down the road to the main bus depot in the heart of the Grand Canyon Village, right next to the sprawling visitors centre. Here we wait patiently to board another bus that will take us out to the start of the South Kaibab trail. Our destination for this morning's sunrise spectacular is Ooh-Aah Point, a title given due to the general reaction the view gets from jaw-dropped visitors. It's only a 15-minute trip, but the bus feels as though it is going backwards as the horizon alarmingly becomes brighter and brighter by the minute. “Will we make it in time?” is the one fearful thought that I continually try to repress. Finally, at 5:45am we arrive at the start of the trail and quickly disembark at the start of the track with only five minutes to make it down to the point. We start out at a brisk walk which becomes faster and faster until we are into a full run down the trail, the fear of missing those first flickering rays our motivation.
The canyon before dawn takes on a whole new look, with the usually steep red walls becoming a soft blue, growing lighter and lighter as the sun draws closer to rising. Racing and sliding around the winding canyon path we spot below a group sitting on a few large rocks jutting out from the corner of the track. A sign confirms we have arrived at our destination. Chests heaving and lungs burning we jump up onto one of the rocks to find a perfect
viewing spot. It's obvious the sun is just moments away from breaking the horizon. Ripping open my bag I grab my camera and tripod and try to find a level spot as quickly as possible without losing the whole thing down the 120-metre drop in front of us.
There's little wonder people find it hard to describe the Grand Canyon.
It's the vastness of the view that grabs you – a grand, majestic tapestry of lines running across the horizon; ridges and valleys, layer upon layer trailing downwards to the Colorado river below. The hue of the canyon walls is no longer a cool blue but now a dark red as the first sun rays peek over the far eastern ridge. A sunrise anywhere on the right day is magic, but watching it illuminate a whole canyon in front of you is something else. We try to savour each moment as our view is slowly filled with the warm morning sunlight. Long shadows are drawn out from the many ridges and bluffs. Although there are 15-25 people there for the sunrise, it's mainly silent apart from the odd camera shutter. Before we know it, the sun is above the far canyon ridge and moving steadily westward. Jerseys and jackets are quickly discarded as the sun already packs some heat. We continue our journey downwards along the dusty red track towards our next stop, Skeleton Point.
About an hour into our trek we decide it's time for a drink and sandwich. Finishing my last mouthful, I see Dan head over to the edge of the canyon and lookout. Turning, he yells at me to get my camera out for a photo. I'm not sure if it was the heat or something in the sandwiches but before I could get the lens cap off Dan was on the edge of the canyon, shirt off with the rest of his clothing following suit! The sight of him stark naked, hands raised in the air in triumph over the canyon made me laugh so hard I almost couldn't even take the picture – a timeless classic to show his kids someday. Fortunately, noone was walking up or down the trail at the same time!
Fully clothed we continue down past Skeleton Point, on to Trail Junction and finally down onto the black suspension bridge across the Colorado River. It's now nearing midday, around four hours since we left Ohh Aah Point, and the heat is making for hard walking. Sweaty, hot and tired we gratefully drop our packs onto the sandy banks of the river and swiftly begin removing our boots and unpack our towels. Sprinting into the water, I am expecting a cool refreshing dip but am instead met with instant loss of breath and brain freeze! Never have I experienced a river so cold. I later discover that the river is mainly fed by the melting snow from the Rocky Mountains and agree that ‘melted snow' fits the description perfectly. Numb but refreshed, we finish the rest of our lunch lying the sun at the bottom of the canyon and enjoy the incredible views around us, trying to ignore what is to come. The hard part. Up. My memories of the return leg back up consist mainly of looking down at my feet and making sure that I continue to put one foot in front of the other. Legs and skin burning, we slowly but steadily make it back up the 11 kilometres to the top and onto our bus before falling into our RV exhausted but jubilant.
We know we have experienced the very best the Grand Canyon has to offer. Expectations were high coming here, but without a doubt, this place has delivered with flying colours. Lying in the RV dirty, dusty and sweaty I can't wait until next time.
Jared Buckley is an aspiring visual storyteller, using both still and moving images to tell his adventures. Born and raised in the South Island, he currently lives and works in Auckland where he is studying Film and Television at the New Zealand Broadcasting School. Passionate about photojournalism and travel photography, he's constantly dreaming of his next overseas adventure!
FOLLOWING PAGE: TheGreatAdventure – Ileana Soon is a designer and illustrator who was born in Borneo, Malaysia, educated in Australia, and now is currently based in Los Angeles. She is on a quest to create work that has emotional resonance through the mediums of design and film.
A sunrise anywhere on the right day is magic but watching it illuminate a whole canyon in front of you is something else.’