There’s an ancient atmosphere to the Grand Canyon. Maybe it’s the idea that it was carved out of the land by the single-minded force of the Colorado River, or the fact that it seems to turn the world upside down—making people who were afraid of heights suddenly wary of depths. Seeing it has always made me think about the generations of peoples who have experienced it—from the indigenous peoples who once lived within it to the first modern settlers who came upon it as they traveled West. I first visited the Grand Canyon with my parents as a kid and stared out into the vastness from the South Rim. Years later, as a college student with friends, I rode a mule down a rugged trail to camp at the bottom.
Bringing my kids to see the majesty of the canyon has always been a goal. I was extra excited because I had not been to the canyon since they built the glass-floored Skywalk. Pippa, our seven-year-old, walked three feet ahead of her dad, Kyle, and me for most of the trip. Our four-year-old, Zeke, walked between Kyle and me, holding our hands and letting his legs give out beneath him every few feet so we would swing him like a dusty-kneed pendulum.
Kyle and I were so caught up in the ordinary pleasantness of the day that when I first stepped out onto the Skywalk, I wasn’t prepared for the feeling that came over me, standing 4,000 feet above the canyon floor. I looked self-consciously around after the first stunned moment and realized I wasn’t the only one. People from around the world paused as they took their first hesitant steps onto the bridge. Even Pippa, the independent trailblazer of our party, held fast to my hand as we took tentative steps onto the shining glass floor.
We crept along like foals taking our first faltering steps as we made our way onto the bridge. Then we began to relax. We stood up straighter and by the time we reached the middle, Pippa and Zeke had let go of our hands and were absorbed in the sights around them. I looked out at the variegated striae that made up the gold-and-ochre walls of the canyon. Beneath my feet, I could see straight down—it occurred to me that I had never seen the canyon from this vantage point. I’d seen it from the rim—and even from inside it, looking out—but not straight down into it. None of those ancient people or adventurous pioneers had ever been able to see this sight the way my family and I were seeing it. Pippa and Zeke were on their knees, staring down through the glass at some wonder they had glimpsed far below.
Toward the middle of the U-shaped-bridge, people posed for pictures against the glass walls. In less than 70 feet, people had gone from wary travelers to a crowd transformed. The glass bridge, like a glass slipper, held some kind of fairytale magic that made it feel like we belonged in the last place you ever thought we’d be. By the time we stepped inside the adjacent restaurant, we felt like we had experienced something wonderful and been a part of something that only could have been accomplished in our time—our generation’s way of communing with this ancient place.
Lunch at the Sky View Restaurant provided an unexpected feast for our senses. From the table next to the panoramic windows revealing the Skywalk and the stunning West Rim, we could have spent the entire meal just enjoying the view. Pippa detailed the sights she’d seen that morning. Zeke interrupted to point out a hawk with its red tail soaring past the window.
I was impressed by the variety on the menu, and each smell that emerged from the kitchen made my mouth water. I was delighted to see that the menu had Angus sliders and a vegetarian burger, as well as a traditional burger on a brioche bun—plenty of great choices. Kyle ordered us appetizers of chili cheese nachos and spicy deep-fried pickle chips to share. While noshing, we lost ourselves in the delicious menu options so much that we ended up relying on the friendly server’s suggestions for our entrées. It ended up being the right move. Everything she brought to the table was amazing. Nothing like dining at the edge of the Grand Canyon.
The ramshackle bones of the old guano mine and Hualapai Village made us feel like we were on the set of an old Western movie. Zeke was crazy about the idea that they used to mine for bat droppings here. We scrambled to the top of Guano Point, and the view was breathtaking. I held tight to Zeke, and Kyle held onto Pippa, but it wasn’t really necessary. They each had a reverence for the immensity of the canyon. When you stand at the edge of something like that, you can’t help but feel how small you are.
Pippa was equally enthralled by the Hualapai ambassadors who spoke to visitors on their land. She loved the idea that we were learning about a completely different culture that was born generations ago, right there at the Grand Canyon. She was also fascinated with the idea of a spirit animal and hoped she and Zeke might catch a rare glimpse of a bald eagle.
There’s nothing else quite like riding in a helicopter. During takeoff, we were all caught up in the vibrations and sound of the blades—even the sight of them as they spun above us. Once we were in the air, though, all attention was on the majesty of the canyon below. Rock formations that were mere suggestions from the West Rim rose from the bottom of the canyon like rough-hewn skyscrapers of an earthen metropolis. The virtuoso that created the masterpiece was a ribbon of water. As we entered into the heart of the canyon, the Colorado River came into focus. The mighty Colorado’s red-brown color—the same hue as the earth around it—served as a testament to the fact that it carries on with its sculpting, pushing tiny pieces of the canyon floor toward the Sea of Cortez.
When we reached the bottom, we hopped out of the helicopter and enjoyed seeing the canyon from the inside out. The 15-minute descent flew by (so to speak). I appreciated that my kids were getting to see the interior of the canyon—something I never would have attempted on foot, or even on a mule at their age. It was another reason why I was glad I hadn’t waited to bring them here, another reason why the best time to visit the Grand Canyon was right now.
“This is amazing!” Pippa said, gaping at the scene around her.
Kyle and I exchanged glances, acknowledging the success of the experience.