The Grand Canyon at Night (& Early Morning)


Millions of people experience the Grand Canyon every year, but far fewer stick around to see it after the sun has set. In my case, I had arrived after dark, on a very cold December night. There was a full moon, that had just risen in the east, and I was about to see the Canyon in a completely different light.

Bright Angel Lodge (where I was staying) is one of four places to stay at the South Rim. I checked into my room, unpacked a couple of extra layers of clothing, and headed out to the canyon rim, which was only about 200 feet away from my room.

Stepping out of the Bright Angel Lodge, you’re quite suddenly at the edge of the Grand Canyon.  Nearby is Lookout Studio, which occupies one of the best pieces of real estate in America.

There are very few street lights along the South Rim paths, which is good and bad. Good, because you can enjoy an uncomparable view of the stars, but bad, since you often can’t see exactly where you’re stepping. Plan ahead–pack a flashlight.

This is one of the cabins that make up part of the Bright Angel Lodge complex.  I stayed in the motel portion, which is just slightly more basic (and cheaper) than the cabins.  The motel rooms tend to be noisier, since the walls are old and thin.  The cabins, on the other hand, are free-standing, or duplexes, with exterior doors and more room inside (some also have fireplaces).

Not content with the view from the canyon rim near the motels, I decided to drive a short distance up Hermit’s Rest Road.  Most of the year, it’s closed to private vehicles, but not during the winter months.

I decided to seek out a good vantage point, which I remembered from my previous visit to the canyon in 2004.  Powell Point juts out into the canyon, providing a great view to the east, north, and west.

You might think this picture was taken at sunrise, but no!  It’s all moonlight.  And let me tell you, it’s a spooky experience walking out onto Powell Point in the middle of the night, with no one around, and no lights except the light of the moon.

Near Powell Point is the remains of an old mining operation (can you believe, mining in the Grand Canyon?).  It’s long since abandoned, but the old headframe remains.

I didn’t stay long out at Powell Point.  I quickly became aware that I was a long way from the nearest human being, at the edge of a very deep canyon, with absolutely no knowledge of what creatures might be watching me.  So, I headed back to Bright Angel Lodge to warm up, soak in my tub (the only option, since my room didn’t include a shower), and rest up for more exploring at daybreak.

The Next Morning…

The next morning, I emerged from my motel room to find it had grown even colder overnight.  When looking out on a view like this, the weather simply doesn’t matter.

The sky was turning from the dark blue of night to the hazy pink of dawn.  The sun wasn’t quite up yet, when I took this picture, and most of the light once again came from the moon, which was now on the other side of the sky.

I decided to go for a short walk down the legendary Bright Angel trail, which departs from the rim near Bright Angel Lodge and Kolb Studio.  The trail will take you all the way to the Colorado River, and is used daily by tourists traveling with the canyon’s pack mules. Thus, the need for a mule etiquette lesson.

You’ll also notice another sign as you start down Bright Angel Trail–one that’s meant to scare some common sense into you.  The sign warns against trying to hike to the bottom of the canyon and back in one day.  It’s a grueling hike, even to try it in two days, and the trip up is (of course) harder than the journey down.  Add in changes in the weather (it can be summer-like at the bottom and wintry at the rim) and a lack of water, and the result can be disastrous. 

I only went as far as the first tunnel, which was chiseled straight through the rocky canyon wall.  That’s the moon in the sky above, by the way, not the sun.

At this point the sun was just about to appear on the horizon.  I turned around and headed back to the rim, for that incredible moment.

What could be more awesome than dangling your feet over the edge of the Grand Canyon as the sun comes up?

(By the way, notice the Colorado River in the picture above.  It’s difficult to see from most locations along the rim.)

I spent the next hour or so enjoying the show of shadows that constantly changed as the sun climbed into the sky.

The canyon walls change color as the day passes…

…and sometimes, they’re better in black & white.

Once you’re done at the Grand Canyon, head east on AZ Rte. 64, which will take you along the rim for a while, then exits the park into the Navajo Nation.

This is my second visit in recent years to the Grand Canyon.  During my first visit, I spent more time hiking along the rim, and out at Hermit’s Rest.

Note: This trip was first published in 2006.

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