Animal interaction at Grand Canyon

From Mather Point, a person can see the North Rim 10 miles away.

The last time I went to the Grand Canyon was seven years ago. The trip was family oriented; my dad, grandparents and brother were with me as we hung out at South Rim for a few hours. This time, it was just my Dad and me, along with the elk and bighorn sheep who decided to introduce themselves at dusk.

An elk takes a drink from water next to U.S. Highway 180. This is just a short distance away from the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park.

After getting into the park, we noticed several cars along the side of the road. A group of elk were roaming around the side of the road. One of the females, also known as “cows,” was taking a drink from some water next to the road. A man with a camera was snapping pictures, and I noticed the rest of the herd were in the distance. Leading this group of females was the male with the big antlers. Apparently it is mating season for elk, and the “bull” will follow this group of females into early winter. Although we weren’t able to get up close to the male (and probably a good idea since bulls will defend their harem), we could hear his call. Amid the astonishment from would-be photographers, the male let out an “oooh.” That was enough interaction for me, and Dad and I moved on to the South Rim.

Pictures of the Grand Canyon don’t do this natural wonder justice. At 10 miles wide in these pictures, the Grand Canyon can actually stretch up to 18 miles wide in some places. And from 7000 feet high on the South Rim, it’s a mile straight down to the bottom (seven miles by hike). Filling all this space are the red rock geological formations that gave me an awestruck moment when I walked to the edge of the canyon at Mather Point.

I put my arm around my Dad, and he gave me his profound words of wisdom, “Son, this is what erosion looks like.” Thanks Dad …

My father takes in the view of Grand Canyon.

Sunset was coming at this point. We made our way to the beginning of the Bright Angel Trail. Although hikers can go all the way to the Colorado River and up in a day, park officials discourage it because people have died from heat exhaustion. I wasn’t going to go that far; I just started walking down the trail. The guard rails were gone, and that meant that it was another chance for wildlife interaction.

Within two minutes, a bounding bighorn sheep leapt up to the trail. I took out my camera and captured a few shots before the device died (Lesson learned. Bring extra batteries). The animal lost interest in me and the other hikers. He hopped up the side of the canyon to the top of the trail to join the rest of his herd. And this is when I learned that what I thought was a photogenic moment was actually intense fear for others.

Vivian was not from the United States. I’m guessing she was from Germany, but I had to stop myself from laughing when I saw her. Paralyzed by fear, she was whispering because she thought another sheep was going to attack us. When I got my camera out to try and snap a picture, she tried to discourage me.

“Be quiet,” she rasped. “Don’t use flash.”

Another hiker came up the path, and we waited for about five minutes as Vivian continued to try and hide against the side of the mountain. After she curled up in a ball, the hiker and I decided to move on.

This bighorn sheep bounded onto the Bright Angel Head Trail and nearly came close enough for me to pet him. How could someone be scared of him?

“I’m going to go,” the hiker said. “You can come with us if you want. It’s safer in numbers.”

That’s when Vivian decided to join us. As she and I talked, she grew a little embarrassed that she had been afraid of a sheep. But I guess that’s what’s fun about visiting a new place. You never know what to expect.


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