This 2014 “Make it up as we go” adventure originally started out (for the most part) as a three week trip to the Phoenix area to see some spring training baseball games, and a few local sites and attractions. We were simply going to rent a condo and fly down, renting a car once we got there.
One night as we were sitting at our dining room table discussing the trip, Mary threw out the notion of driving down to Phoenix from Langley. I said that sounded like a really cool idea but that would add a week to either end of the trip. Three weeks had just become five.
Then, I commented that if we were going to drive that far, why not see what other things we might do, and suggested we turn it into an extended road trip of 7-8 weeks.
We are blessed with having an absolutely wonderful management team in place at DSA, and we broached the subject with them of taking an extended vacation, and leaving things in their hands. With their encouragement and support, Mary and I began in earnest to lay out the framework of this trip.
The first two things we wrote down on our planning notes were, the Grand Canyon, and Mount Rushmore, and we said that everything else we could see and do during our adventure was going to be gravy.
As we started to look into distances, and all the things we might do, the length of the trip stretched out to roughly 10 weeks, which would mean we would be gone from the beginning of March until some time in early mid-May. The more we discussed the possibilities, it became obvious to us that we were about to embark on a road-trip of a lifetime.
In my previous blog-posts, I’ve been taking you through our journey from Langley to Phoenix, which in reality means that we are about 4 weeks further into our trip than what you’ve read so far. As I write this entry, Mary and I are sitting in our room at a historic landmark hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and we have notes, brochures, maps, website print-outs, and travel-related books we’ve bought along the way, all spread out on the bed. We are having so much fun planning this trip as we go.
I had teased you with the notion of a Grand Canyon blog, at the end of the post entitled “Williams or Flagstaff?” It’s now time for me to make good on that.
The difficulty with writing a post about the Grand Canyon is that there is no one word that best describes the experience or the feeling you get – not just in the first moment that you see it, but for the entire time you are visiting it. To my mind, I would need to create a mash-up of awesome, incredible, staggering, breath-taking, wondrous, magnificent, amazing, humbling, astounding, marvelous, spectacular, and to be honest somewhat overwhelming.
Permit me to just say wow!
The second challenge in writing a post about the Grand Canyon is figuring out what pictures I should use to populate my commentary. I went through them all and while I am very happy with them, they simply cannot do justice to the wonder that is the Canyon. These are just one-dimensional images, and I have to tell you that we had a hard time absorbing what our eyes could see.
Consider that it is one mile deep, 277 miles long and as wide as 16 miles across in some places. Try and process that in your head, and then find a picture or two that best illustrates it. I can’t.
Mary and I walked 11.3 kms of the 16.3 kms of trails and the views kept changing as we moved our way along the rim. Some of the trails are fairly flat as well as being paved, while others are not. Some of the trails are also quite steep – fun going downhill, but a tough climb in many areas, especially given that you are well over 6,000 feet about sea level, and the air is thinner.
I’ve illustrated this blog-post with a sampling of some of the pictures I took, and I will leave you with the notion that I took hundreds of “mental” snapshots that day – images that I will carry in my head for the rest of my life.
I thought it might also be helpful to provide you with a few pieces of hopefully useful information if you are ever planning a trip of your own. So, in no particular order;
* There are two primary entrance points to the Grand Canyon. The South Rim, which is where we went and where 90% of the annual visitors go to see the canyon, and the North Rim which is only open from mid-May to mid-October due to weather restraints.
* There is a third entry point about 250 miles west (4+ hours of driving) of the South Rim entrance. It is on the Hualapai Indian Reservation, and you’ve probably seen pictures of the famous 70 foot glass-bottomed skywalk which they built, 4,000 feet about the canyon floor. It is actually closer to Las Vegas than it is to Williams or Flagstaff.
* If you are planning to go to the South Rim entrance from Phoenix, it is essentially a 3 to 3 1/2 hour drive each way. You really are best served to drive to Williams, Flagstaff, or even Tusayan, (a village that is just a couple of miles from the entrance to the park), and spend the night. That allows you a full day at the Grand Canyon. You might even want to book a second night, and stay late at the Canyon to watch the sunset. It is supposed to be an incredible sight.
* It costs $25 per vehicle to get into the park and that pass is good for 7 consecutive days.
* You will find numerous ads for the National Geographic Visitor Centre which is 1.5 miles from the South Entrance station (at Tusayan). The ads suggest you can purchase your park pass in advance and avoid line-ups getting into the park. This is true and a good thing to do. The ads also invite you to watch (for a fee), an IMAX film entitled “Grand Canyon – The Hidden Secrets”. It is a beautifully shot story (no surprise since it is a National Geographic production) about the history of man and his relationship with the Canyon. It is not however the film you necessarily want to see and it is not only expensive, it will eat up about an hour of your visit (waiting time and viewing time). If you do want to see a terrific film about the Canyon itself, hold off until you get to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center inside the park, and watch the 22 minute IMAX feature called “A Journey of Wonder”.
* Once you get to the park you are provided with a very helpful newspaper called “The Guide” which will help you plan and navigate your visit. It contains, among other things, a detailed map outlining the three bus shuttle zones, as well as all the trail distances.
* Please don’t be intimidated by the trail distances I mentioned that Mary and I walked. There are 16 different shuttle drop-off points, and the shuttles run every 15 minutes all day long. Distances between the drop-off points vary from .6 kms to 2.3 kms.
* If you can, take a backpack with snacks and food in it. The cost of food at the Canyon is absurd! We paid $18 for a roast beef sandwich and a peanut-butter and jam sandwich because we were starving and had not come prepared. The good news is that if you take your water bottle with you, there are spring water dispensing stations all along the trails.
I hope that by sharing some of these facts and observations with you, planning your trip to the Grand Canyon will be a bit easier.