After a couple of miles, we get back in the car and make our way to the rim.
There are many places to view the canyon, but we head for the lodge -- a cavernous space of dark wood with a dozen leather couches that face colossal windows -- and to the stone terrace out back. It's late afternoon by now and the light is grand. My guy persuades me to walk out onto a point that seems suspended over the precipice, so that he can take a photo. There is no danger at all, but I hesitate over the narrow, railed path. With my fear of heights, it seems crazy now that I've decided on this place for my vacation.
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What we learn over the next few days is that the North Rim is 1,000 feet higher in elevation than the South Rim, and on average 10 degrees cooler. That explains the remarkable difference in vegetation and the chill that overcomes us at nightfall. Neither one of us has packed a jacket and only I packed a shirt with long sleeves. But not to worry. We're both exhausted and determined to rise early the next morning -- my birthday -- to see the 5:11 a.m. sunrise and take our first hike into the canyon.
At 3:30, the alarm goes off. It's pitch dark and time's a wasting. Thankfully we prepped the night before by distributing gear and water bottles between our daypacks and laying out our hiking clothes. By 4:00, we're on the road, driving at a snail's pace after being warned about the bison and mule deer that come out of the forests at dawn and dusk. Sure enough, not more than 10 minutes along, we encounter a herd of bison lumbering across the road, not a care in the world. We wait for them to pass and then crawl forward into the darkness.
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It takes longer than we anticipated, but we're set up on Bright Angel Point by 4:45, all alone. The air smells cold, like sheets hung on a line. A few long clouds lay out along the horizon, and in the distance it seems to be raining. But gradually the light from the rising sun turns the darkness to gray and then to pink. A ravens sails over our heads and perches on a dead tree nearby. Slowly, a small crowd gathers and the sun rises. In the narrow window between the rim and the edge of a cloud, it flares briefly like a candle on a cake. "Happy Birthday," my guy says. I squeeze his arm.
In twenty minutes, we'll be well on our way into the canyon, down the North Kaibab trail. Yes. The drive was worth it.
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