It was my first trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I arrived on a sunny, and slightly cool, late September afternoon. I spent a few hours setting up my campsite at the North Campground, and then took a general tour of the visitor center and lodge to get acquainted with the park. As the afternoon moved on, it became more urgent to start the journey out towards the first activity of my planned itinerary: to view a sunset at Cape Royal Point.
I had noted the time the sun would set on this day, and started making my travel time calculations. One thing you may not realize about the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is that things are very spread out. I'm talking an hour and a half worth of driving kind of spread out. If you're familiar with the South Rim of the Canyon, with its many free shuttles and relatively close proximity of the various overlooks and other attractions to one another, go ahead and dispel any notions that the North Rim is the same.
Unless you are part of an official tour group or something like that, at the North Rim, you'll be spending a lot of time in your car driving between various points of interest. In the case of Cape Royal, it's the last stop on the main drive through the park, and easily 45 minutes away from the main section of the park (one way) where the campground, lodge and other facilities are. Also good to know, the roads wind through dense pine forests, with many twist and turns, so you'll be driving at a fairly slow speed the entire time.
Not only that, it's an out-and-back style road. Once you're done, you'll have to turn around and come back the way you came. So if you drive safely and the speed limit, to get to Cape Royal and back requires a minimum of an hour and a half worth of driving.
The question is, is it worth making a beeline to that point just to see a sunset? Well, that's what I wanted to find out. Now if you are wise and efficient, you could tour the entire stretch of road, stopping at all the overlooks and arriving at Cape Royal, just in time for a sunset finale. If I had it to do over again, that's definitely how I'd want to do it.
But, since I had a video to make, camera equipment to haul, and wanted to make sure to get there with plenty of time to claim a good spot to film, I decided to devote an entire drive to the endeavor. Overlooks can get a bit crowded for sunsets at the Grand Canyon, and I didn't know what to expect on my first trip out to Cape Royal.
Upon arriving at my destination, the first thing I noticed is that the parking lot at Cape Royal is very large. Lucky for me, it was not very full that day. But, I assume a large parking lot portends large crowds at times, so when you decide to visit one day, I can't promise you the parking lot won't be full, so plan wisely.
After a very short walk down a paved trail, I approached the point itself. I was easily a half an hour early based on the time the sun would descend below the horizon, and there were already people congregated at the overlook. Thankfully, it was not many, but most of the spots that allow one to sit along the west-facing side were occupied.
There were a few photographers with complex-looking cameras setting up shop in key locations. I took a look around so I could claim my spot. A lot of the spots facing west along the rail had some minor obstructions in the form of shrubs and small trees. However, I turned around and looked back in the direction down the trail towards the parking lot and saw some places that had some promise that nobody had claimed yet.
I found an excellent spot, a few feet down the trail, facing west. It provides a beautiful view with a direct line to where the sun would set below the horizon, right behind the canyon itself. I was honestly quite surprised that nobody was claiming a spot there yet.
Should I act disinterested so as not to call attention to this spot? If I stood there with tripod set up, surely that would clue others to my not-so-secret money shot spot in plain view?
I decided to not worry and set up anyway. The sun would be below the horizon soon.
It didn't take long before others scoped out my spot and started setting up shop. I'd estimate there were five or six people hanging out around me, almost touching shoulders. It was manageable, but a couple people strong-armed their way in and made maneuvering a little difficult. Fortunately I'm a pretty patient and sharing guy when it comes to stuff like that.
It was inspiring to see the sun disappear below the horizon right over the canyon. It was unlike anything I've ever experienced, and something I wish everyone could experience once in their lifetimes.
I captured the entire experience in a video that I invite you to check out in case you want to understand everything I've told you in more detail.
My favorite moments came shortly after the sun disappeared below the horizon. The deep pinks and red hues really popped several minutes after the sun was gone. I decided to wander around a bit to seek out other photo opportunities, and one of my favorites of the trip was taken from a nearby rock outcropping off to the left of the official overlook.
I got some really beautiful photos of the canyon at this time, but for some reason, footage of some fellow photographers, or rather, their silhouettes, hanging out at the official overlook ended up being my favorite of the day.
After packing up my stuff and heading back to the car, I had another 45 minute drive back to my campsite. And now I can share with you that it was all absolutely worth it, and I'd jump at the opportunity to do it again. I would classify it as one of my top experiences of the year... maybe even of my life.