I’m starting to learn that life is all about expectations. Expect a lot, and invariably be disappointed. Have no expectations, and anything remotely good will seem infinitely better.
It’s particularly true in travel, and it’s one of the reasons why I actually do very little research before traveling. I book my accommodation, maybe ask for a few recommendations and then show up and see what I find. I’m infinitely more excited to stumble across a cute little cafe or hidden park, only to discover later that the major guidebooks thought it was pretty brilliant, too.
Of all the places we were going on our USA road trip, I was most excited about the Grand Canyon. The list of superlatives used to describe this deep gorge in Arizona is endless: stunning, astounding, awe-inspiring, breathtaking, the best natural wonder in the USA. Naturally, I expected I would be wowed simply by the sight of this mile-deep canyon.
Yes, I was impressed. Yes, it was beautiful and serene and wonderful to be surrounded by such a vast expanse of nature. But the low-lit, overcast skies didn’t do much to pull out the color of the canyon walls. The weather was chilly at the North Rim, the rain was pelting at the South Rim. The South Rim was overrun with tourists, buses, scenic magnets, parking lots, camera flashes.
The poor weather prevented any hiking, my poor planning meant we didn’t do a mule ride or whitewater rafting or any sort of activity that would put us IN the canyon to appreciate the scope. Renee and I sat munching on Clif Bars under a picnic gazebo in Grand Canyon Village, waiting for the pouring rain to give us a break to run to the car: yes, we were glad we had visited the Grand Canyon. Yes, we would do it differently next time.
Instead of the magnificent scope of the Grand Canyon, perhaps what awed me the most was the tranquility of the overlook from the Navajo Bridge. We spotted the turnoff for the Navajo Bridge as we drove to the South Rim, and decided to pull over because we had a car and this was a road trip and roadside stops are simply what you do.
The stillness of the Colorado River, the vibrant red of the Marble Canyon walls, the stretching blue skies: this was the grandness of Arizona that I had been searching for. Completely unexpected, completely beautiful.
Another unexpected bit of beauty was our overnight stay at Cliff Dwellers Lodge. The motel seems to appear like a mirage on the side of the road, a haven of good food and comfortable beds under blue skies and red canyon walls. Waking up to the sun lighting up the Vermillion Cliffs was refreshing after driving through no-visibility rain to arrive in darkness and gloom the night before. Near a popular spot for fly fishing, kayaking and river rafting, the Lodge is also located on the road that connects the North and the South Rims: in other words, it’s the perfect place to crash for a night if you’re planning on visiting both bits of the Grand Canyon.
So, perhaps, all I can say is this: I was disappointed by the Grand Canyon, but not the journey it took to get there. May those lowered expectations mean that you are awed by the mere sight of the thing.
Note: Cliff Dwellers Lodge generously offered us a discounted stay, but all opinions are my own.