On Grand Expectations & Grand Canyons

I’ve always been one of those people for whom the anticipation of things is something I enjoy nearly as much as the object or activity in question. I love planning and I love dreaming, and for me, by drawing out the build up to something good, I’m able to extend the joy of the experience....

I’ve always been one of those people for whom the anticipation of things is something I enjoy nearly as much as the object or activity in question. I love planning and I love dreaming, and for me, by drawing out the build up to something good, I’m able to extend the joy of the experience.

Of course, the flip-side of prolonging things and heightening one’s anticipation is that I also tend to monumentally build up my expectations as well. The bar is set the much higher and the potential to be disappointed is that much greater as well. I’m sure one of the reasons we found our first month of traveling back in 2012 so rough is because we had literally spent years planning and romanticizing our trip and there was just no way the reality could really live up to our lofty visions. With time, I’ve come to be a bit more carpe diem when it comes to pursuing my pleasures, as I’ve learned the hard way that when you’ve had so much lead up to a supposedly epic experience—whether that be your last Austen novel or your RTW trip—more often than not you wind up underwhelmed and disillusioned.

The Grand Canyon, Arizona

So, I was more than a little nervous on the day we left Page, Arizona and made our way towards the Grand Canyon. So much of the joy of Page had come from the element of surprise and not having any idea of what to expect, but obviously we would have no such luck with the Grand Canyon. I mean, everyone has heard of the Grand Canyon, and even if by some impossibility you haven’t, the name absolutely obliterates any chance of you keeping your expectations in check. It’s not the Good Canyon, or even the Great Canyon; it’s the GRAND (Frickin’) Canyon.

Fun Fact: Every time I reference the Grand Canyon, I always have to follow up with a Lucille Austero from Arrested Development impression where I coo, “How grand! How terribly grand!”

The Grand Canyon, Arizona

Weirdly the Grand Canyon has always been one of those places that I (obviously) knew existed, and yet for some reason never believed I would ever see. It was probably the spot on our road trip that I was the most excited to see and this, paired with the fact that we had already seen such insanely beautiful things, meant that my expectations were stratospheric. As we drove into the parking lot for the South Rim, it felt like everything we had seen and done thus far had been leading up to this. I was 100% certain that there was literally no possible way that I was going to make it through the day without being severely disappointed.

But! If there is anywhere in the world bigger than my expectations, a place that effortlessly swallows them whole and looks good doing so, it’s the Grand Canyon. I have never been happier to be so completely wrong.

The Grand Canyon, Arizona
The Grand Canyon, Arizona

There are no words to describe how incredible the Grand Canyon truly is. It is unfathomably big , yes, but it is also so very beautiful. The perfect place to perfect our panorama skills. For some reason the mental image I had of it in my mind only featured burnt red rock, and so I was completely unprepared for the multitude of colors that made up the variegated rock face of the canyon. Every time I shifted my gaze as I attempted to drink in the landscape in front of me, I felt like I saw a new shade and a different hue came into view.

The Grand Canyon, Arizona
The Grand Canyon, Arizona

We had been warned by friends that to visit the Grand Canyon and not dare to step beneath the rim was unfathomable. By now, however, I’m sure y’all know the drill: dogs aren’t allowed on any trails below the rim.

Steph, Tony, Rory and Emmy lou in front of the Grand Canyon

As such, we had to “make do” with simply gazing out from ancient watchtowers and strolling along the lip with our two fur kids. I still think we got a really good sense of just how expansive the canyon is and, to be perfectly honest, I don’t know how our day could have been any better (I secretly believe that hiking could only have put a damper on things). What I do know is that it would not have been the same to experience this place without the dogs; after all, they are largely the reason we took to the road and finally made our way here.

The Grand Canyon, Arizona
The Grand Canyon, Arizona

This may not be the perfect way to experience the Grand Canyon, but it looks like our kind of perfect. Our half-day there was filled with moments and feelings of perfect joy, perfect awe and perfect luck that we get to experience this as a family. As visits to the Grand Canyon go, I’d say that yeah, this one was perfectly grand.

Now it’s your turn: Have you ever visited the Grand Canyon? If so, what did you think? (And did you hike?!) If not, would you like to?

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36 comments Leave a comment

  1. I am also a planner and in the past I have hyped places up too much and have been disappointed but like you, I was so amazed by the Grand Canyon. I couldn’t get over how much it looked like a painting, my eyes almost couldn’t comprehend it’s vastness and beauty. Sunset there was my favourite and we also got up early to see the sunrise over it and did some hiking around it and a couple of kms in and out again. I really want to do an overnight hike and stay in the canyon some day

    Jun. 9 2015 @ 1:07 am
    1. Katie author

      You’re so right Katie: The Grand Canyon really does look like a painting! I just couldn’t get over (or comprehend) all the different textures and shades of color, and even just moving your head slightly, it felt like the view changed so dramatically. Although I’m not really a hiker and we didn’t get to dip beneath the rim this time, I do think it would be a really special (and extremely challenging) experience to hike the Canyon. From other accounts I’ve scene, the landscape changes quite dramatically as you move through it, which shouldn’t be surprising, I guess, given how massive it is!

      Jun. 10 2015 @ 11:02 am
  2. I always worry whenever something is so built up in my mind that I’ll inevitably be disappointed. But I can’t imagine the Grand Canyon could be disappointing. It looks insane! I’m glad that your day was your kind of perfect…I love it when that happens. You photos are fantastic. I love all of the different colors 🙂 I really hope I get to see it in person one of these days.

    Jun. 9 2015 @ 2:42 am
    1. Justine author

      Almost without exception, since leaving on our travels, I have found that the places I have been the most excited for have been the ones that I have been the most disappointed by. To date, I think the only places we’ve visited that we had a big build up towards and that didn’t let us down were Sri Lanka and the Grand Canyon! It’s definitely worth visiting, since even after nearly a week of touring similar and absolutely breathtaking parks in the area, it still managed to dazzle and impress us!

      Jun. 10 2015 @ 11:07 am
  3. I’m so pleased that it lived up to expectations! I know exactly what you mean about being nervous before visiting a big site. So many of the top names have disappointed me (the pyramids in Egypt and the Chinese Warriors especially) I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, but I hope to get there one day.

    Jun. 9 2015 @ 6:04 am
    1. Jackie (Farm Lane Books) author

      We weren’t disappointed by the Terracotta Army in China, but then again, we’d had such a hard slog up to that point in that country and Xi’an was the first city that we really liked, that I’m sure that played some part! I have also heard that the Pyramids are (sadly) disappointing, though they do seem like the kind of thing you HAVE to see if you’re in the area, don’t they? I’m so glad the Grand Canyon didn’t follow the regular pattern of sights being built up only to let you down… it really is fantastic! I hope you get to visit some day!

      Jun. 10 2015 @ 11:10 am
  4. Well, I think everyone’s “perfect” experience is different. Traveling with dogs through Utah Natl Parks, and Grand Canyon, etc (and south of the border, of course) we, too, are more restricted. But, lets be honest, you two don’t claim to love hiking anyway…so would going below the rim really have been “it” for you? I doubt it. As we travel we try to just make things work out in our best way, taking everyones advice into consideration, and then doing what is right for us. Great pics! Too bad you didn’t hit the Copper Canyon on your way down Mexico to compare 🙂 Next time!

    Jun. 9 2015 @ 2:00 pm
    1. Rhonda author

      Oh, absolutely, perfect means different things to different people, and for non-hikers with dogs, I think our trip to the Grand Canyon was just about as perfect as could be. We’ve long made our peace with the fact that right now we’re traveling with certain restricts (read: the dogs), but then again, I think that’s true for most people: you’re restricted by time or money or some other factor… rarely does real life actually allow for perfection and most of us are just making do the best we can.

      I so wish we had been able to check out Copper Canyon, but I couldn’t get much information about staying in Alamós and other areas at that time (and I am pretty sure you can’t take dogs on the train!), but I know we’ll be passing through that part of the country again at some point and we’ll be so much more comfortable with the country and our Spanish that I’m sure we’ll have an even better time!

      Jun. 10 2015 @ 11:20 am
  5. YAY! We looooved it too. Venturing down into the canyon was really a bit of a mindf*** (not helped by my vertigo).

    Jun. 10 2015 @ 1:33 am
    1. NZ Muse author

      Oooh, I never considered the vertigo factor in hiking down into the GC, but I can definitely see how that would be a factor… especially for Tony who has a visceral fear of heights that results in vertigo. Perhaps it’s for the best that we stayed rim-side, but I would be open to hiking down into the Canyon one day… (if only it weren’t such a pain to hike back out, right???)

      Jun. 10 2015 @ 11:25 am
  6. Wooooow. Wow wow wow. I never understood the appeal of the Grand Canyon before these photos. Seriously. You’ve made me want to see this place one day. As Lucille would say…HOW VERY GRAND.

    Jun. 10 2015 @ 4:47 am
    1. Edna author

      I know, right? Until we were about a month out from actually leaving on this road trip, I had never seriously considered visiting the Grand Canyon, so it’s not like this was a long-held dream. But once I realized we would be passing through that part of the country, I became OBSESSED just because it felt like an epic thing to be able to say we had seen. And then as we traveled through Utah and Arizona and the country was SO PRETTY there, my expectations ratcheted up and up until I thought I was going to explode. We tried our best to photograph its majesty and did I pretty good job (if I do say so myself!), and I’ve never been happier to have splurged on a new ipad at Xmas so that we could get the panoramas, but still, it’s no comparison to actually being there. Whenever you’re in that part of the U.S. again, you have to go! Especially for a lover of sunrises, as I know you are, it would be so epic!

      Jun. 10 2015 @ 11:29 am
  7. I know exactly what you mean about expectations and disappointments. I’m so glad that the Grand Canyon lived up to (and even exceeded?) your expectations. I love the shots of you sightseeing with the hounds too 🙂

    Jun. 10 2015 @ 9:12 am
    1. Amy author

      I think the Grand Canyon definitely did exceed my expectations! It would have been nice to be able to do more there, but we still had a great day and I’m so glad that we did make the effort to visit. I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed at the Grand Canyon as I definitely understand the hype now!

      Jun. 10 2015 @ 11:33 am
  8. Totally agree about the Grand Canyon. We went a few hours out of our way on a tight schedule to check it out just a few days ago. We only had 30 mins or so, but just that short period of time was worth it for the unbelievable landscape. It is stunning and something everyone should see at least once in their lives. Hiking and rafting would have been great, but frankly, the views from the rim (we entered from the east entrance) were worth the trek.

    Jun. 10 2015 @ 9:42 am
    1. Drew author

      It’s too bad you only had 30 minutes for the GC, but that’s still better than nothing! Rafting it would be so cool, but I’d hate to be so jaded or disenfranchised that the views from the edge felt like a consolation prize.

      Jun. 10 2015 @ 11:40 am
  9. Allie

    It always brings me such joy to see others appreciate the Grand Canyon! It is one of those places that cannot be overhyped: it will always inspire awe, no matter how much anticipation has been built up. To me, natural wonders will always be the very best places to visit. 🙂

    I hiked to the bottom of the Canyon seven years ago: my family and I hiked to Phantom Ranch, and stayed for two nights. It was absolutely the most exhausted I’ve ever been (the night we reached the bottom), and the most exhilarated (the moment I made it back to the top!). It was scorching hot, like walking in an oven, and I felt so grateful whenever we found a bit of shade, or when we could walk alongside a creek and soak our shirts (which were bone dry 20 minutes later). Hiking into the Canyon gives you a greater understanding of its immensity, but you can also appreciate it just as well walking along the rim.

    The Grand Canyon gives me that feeling you spoke of in your post about Zion: for a nonbeliever, this is a place where I can believe some kind of power lives.

    Jun. 10 2015 @ 8:10 pm
    1. Allie author

      Allie, thank you so much for commenting and sharing your own experience at the Grand Canyon! We did some trekking in Nepal so I think we might be able to hack a GC hike, but oh, it sounds challenging! I can only imagine how accomplished you felt at the end of your hike, and yes, it would be really the only way to truly understand just how massive it is, though obviously you get some taste of that just staring out across it.

      And yes, definitely some kind of deep, ancient power resides in the Grand Canyon. That power is palpable when you are there, without a doubt.

      Jun. 12 2015 @ 9:47 am
  10. It is so good when a place overwhelms you rather than under whelms you. It is often a fine line as to whether you have romantizied a place or whether it lives up to the expectations. Love the photos and the light captured

    Jun. 11 2015 @ 5:13 pm
    1. Paula McInerney author

      Thanks, Paula! For us, it is always a pleasant surprise when a place overwhelms, as the instances where that has really happened are few and far between, and especially when we know as much about them as we do the Grand Canyon. Normally it’s the unknown places that really surprise us so, in its own way, the Grand Canyon is one of the biggest surprises we’ve ever had!

      Jun. 12 2015 @ 9:53 am
  11. Steph – it’s so awesome to hear that the Grand Canyon met and then exceed your expectations! I am planning a cross country trip from California back to the East Coast with several girlfriends, and it’s on our itinerary. I am a bit weary of building up my expectation for all of the stops on our tour — but I just can’t help but be excited about Grand Canyon. So now, I am doubly looking forward to it!

    Jun. 11 2015 @ 6:52 pm
    1. Jenia author

      Yes, definitely do it! I am confident you will not be disappointed because there’s just no possible way for it to let you down. You will have an awesome time! Hurrah for U.S. road trips!

      Jun. 12 2015 @ 9:54 am
  12. It’s funny how sometimes you can almost develop a thick skin about the places with the biggest and boldest reputations – setting yourself up to be underwhelmed just in case but at the same time having these lofty expectations! I felt the same way about the GC, after seeing Canyonlands in Moab I thought the GC would be fairly similar but it does just have something special about it, completely unique. I’m always a big fan of places that are almost too vast for your eyes to take in – standing on the south rim it’s hard to believe it’s a 24 mile hike to the other side.

    I still maintain that to appreciate the geology fully you have to venture below the rim – even just for a 10 minutes stroll like we saw some people doing, but it’s not going anywhere and you had such a special experience with your hounds in tow, it’s worth the trade off!

    Jun. 12 2015 @ 1:23 am
    1. Maddie author

      You know, I think when we visited Canyonlands in Moab that I wondered at that moment if maybe the Grand Canyon would look just like that. But time and again, I was amazed at how unique and distinct each of the different parks we visited were, and even though we had already visited 5 or 6 amazing parks and viewpoints before arriving at the GC, it still blew us away and was completely its own thing.

      I definitely see what you’re saying about the different perspective you get when you start hiking into the canyon. If we hadn’t had the dog, I’m sure we would have done a little bit of that, but it just wasn’t meant to be this time around. As you say, there’s always next time!

      Jun. 12 2015 @ 9:59 am
  13. Yep! I’ve been to the Grand Canyon on our very first trip to America. It was huge. It was beautiful. It was awe-inspiring. I felt as if I had gone to heaven and I wept a few tears of…I don’t know what really. Happiness to be alive and to witness such a sight. We drove around both rims until the sun set an there was a silence and a sense of peace.

    I’m not a superstitious soul but I could righty believe that some of the carvings were animal spirits from legends of Native Americans.

    We were there in January and there was snow everywhere. I also had a 9 year old child with whom I strictly said had to stay at my side at all times as there was very little fencing! Would I like to hike there? Sure, but not in the heat of the summer or where the bears wander. No siree! Speaking of wild animals, we went to the Yosemite National Park too and I kept wondering why I couldn’t open the car door.
    There was a coyote right behind it. I almost had a panic attack as not only was it right next to my hand but at the time I thought it was a wolf….!

    Jun. 15 2015 @ 5:53 am
    1. Victoria@ The British Berliner author

      Sounds like you had an awesome (& very moving!) experience at the GC! I agree that if ever I were to attempt a hike there I would not be interested in doing so in the dead heat of summer… If I’m to be a hiker at all, I’m very much a cold weather hiker (as I learned in Nepal!). But even without the hiking, as you experience as well, the GC is a transcendental experience. It’s so big and beautiful!

      Jun. 16 2015 @ 12:09 pm
  14. COMPLETELY AGREE!! I grew up in San Diego, a mere 8 hours away from the Grand Canyon and managed to miss it until about a year and a half ago. For some reason I told myself that it was not going to be that grand, otherwise I would have seen it, right? I was so utterly bowled over by it’s grandiosity that I think I ran in circles, laughed manically and then cried a little bit. Definitely, definitely, grand as all get-out!

    Jun. 19 2015 @ 1:10 pm
    1. Jenny @ Till the Money Runs Out author

      Yeah, in some ways it feels like the Grand Canyon gets talked about so much that it winds up feeling like it’s not really a real thing until you go and see it for yourself and its amazingness just smacks you in the face. It’s kind of like if you actually got to visit Jurassic Park for real, or the first time you see a cuttlefish or a shark or a manta ray on a dive and suddenly your whole understanding of the world shifts and your mind expands as it attempts to make space for this glorious thing. I loved hearing about your own experience at the Grand Canyon—I can so perfectly imagine you reacting exactly like that!

      Jun. 21 2015 @ 4:03 pm
  15. Glad you enjoyed it…I’ve heard of some people being disappointed after all the hype and seem to recall some hilarious Yelp reviews about it. My yuppier friends were disappointed that there wasn’t a Starbucks on the South Rim :/

    I have hiked and camped halfway down, at Indian Gardens and then hiked out the next morning. Watching the sun rise over the canyon and seeing the layers of canyon light up was magnificent!

    This year, I’ll be rafting through the canyon for 11 days and look forward to an entirely different aspect of the Canyon.

    Jun. 22 2015 @ 1:38 pm
    1. Leigh author

      Oooh! Rafting through the Canyon would be amazing, I imagine! And definitely more appealing to me than hiking… I will look forward to hearing all about your adventure and perhaps the next time we revisit the GC (because surely we will be back!) we’ll tackle the mighty Colorado river too!

      Jun. 22 2015 @ 2:57 pm
  16. Ah, the Grand Canyon! It’s definitely a place that’s on my list. I have an uncle who hikes through it every year and one of these years I just might join him!

    Jun. 29 2015 @ 9:50 am
    1. Heather author

      Next time you’re Stateside you have to visit! It sounds like you’ve already got an expert tour guide in the family… 😉

      Jun. 29 2015 @ 5:26 pm
  17. Wow, the Grand Canyon looks so impressive in your photos. I wonder how much time you’d recommend spending there. Every photo seems like a breathtaking view – did that get old after a few or did you find yourself wanting to experience more?

    Also, love the Arrested Development reference!

    Jul. 6 2015 @ 10:33 pm
    1. Todd @ Visit50 author

      I suppose how much time you spend at the Grand Canyon depends on how much you want to see & do! We only spent about half a day and that was perfectly sufficient for us because we weren’t going to do any major hiking or rafting… but if we wanted to do either of those things, then I’d say you’d want to spend at least 2 days or possibly 3. If you only want to sightsee from the rim, then I think half a day is perfect, though if you spent a whole day, you could potentially drive to other sections of the canyon which might afford different views. We weren’t personally bored at any point during our visit, but I suppose that once we felt we had seen enough, we just decided to walk back to our car and called it a day! I don’t think either of us felt we NEEDED to spend more time experiencing the canyon as we did, but I’d certainly be interested in returning and trying some different activities (perhaps even a gentle hike!).

      Jul. 7 2015 @ 12:28 pm
  18. Went there camping (near the Village Store) last April—and girl, I’m drunk looking, staring at this grand natural earth formations. It sweep me off my feet at first sight. I had goosebumps, literally. I had to sit down, took my old notebook and checked the Grand Canyon off my bucket list. It’s a wonderful feeling!

    Jul. 9 2015 @ 10:59 am
    1. alain author

      Thank you for sharing your own incredible experience at the Grand Canyon. It sounds like it really affected you—we totally understand how you feel!

      Jul. 9 2015 @ 6:32 pm

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