How a sunset at the Grand Canyon taught me to slow down and enjoy the ride.
A road trip Is about the journey, not the destination.
Hot air balloons rose over the foothills as we left Denver, driving southwest with the rising sun. I was 18 and this was my then boyfriend (now husband) and I’s first real road trip together. We were headed to Los Angeles, with nothing but a campsite in the Grand Canyon planned in between.
As the tires of my Jeep ate up the highways between Denver and Arizona, we realized that our timeline had us poised to make it to the Grand Canyon in time to watch the sunset. We limited stops to bathroom breaks and getting gas, racing the clock to try to get there in time.
The big orange orb of the desert sun was sinking close to the horizon as we paid our entrance fee and drove past the sign. We’d made it…or so I thought. My boyfriend studied our paper map (these were the days before smartphones) as I scanned the horizon. Where was this canyon? It turned out we still had 15 minutes to drive to get to the rim.
As soon as the car came to a stop we put my dog on a leash and rushed towards the first viewpoint we’d seen on the map. There were already dozens of other people situated to watch the sunset and we threaded our way through them until we found a good spot. We’d made it just in time. The canyon lit up in oranges and pinks which slowly faded to purples and blues as we watched the sun dip, shrouding that magnificent hole in shadows. We were in awe. Well, my boyfriend and I were. I think my dog missed the entire show, too focused on the ground squirrels near the parking lot.
We found our campsite, pitching our hand-me-down tent that was held together in more than one place by duct tape. The next morning we woke amongst the pines and walked back out to the viewpoint to peer down to the Colorado River below. As I leaned over the guardrail, my dog put her paws up next to me, finally taking in the sights.
Growing up, our family road trips were always very destination oriented. We’d cross the country from Denver to Oregon twice a year to see our grandparents, only stopping for gas and snacks. After watching the sunset over the canyon, I realized there was perhaps more to a road trip than just the final destination.
On our second day, we took detours. We stopped at a kitschy diner for breakfast which had a gift shop full of Route 66 souvenirs. Looking at our paper map, we realized we were right on the historic Mother Road. It would add time to our drive, but we decided to take it, following the lonely highway through the desert until we couldn’t stand the roller-coaster-like ups and downs of the old route and navigated back to the Interstate. We stopped along the highway near Palm Springs to marvel at the wind turbines, our dog getting her zoomies out on a deserted stretch of road. When Los Angeles finally came into sight, it was long past dark, but I didn’t mind. In California we went to the beach and strolled Rodeo Drive and visited the Hollywood sign, but to this day, my fondest memories of that trip are peering into the canyon with my dog.
While the Grand Canyon might be your final destination, you’d miss out on so much if you ignored all the incredible stops along the way. Check out our six favorite road trips to the park, proving that oftentimes, the journey is the best part.