Just by looking at the above photo, you know our next destination – Grand Canyon National Park (again). I say again because last March a day trip from Williams, AZ brought us here. But last time we failed to consider our visit was smack in the middle of spring break. Definitely bad timing on our part! It was ridiculously crowded. This time, however, promised to be very different – hopefully with the weather being cooler, the crowds would be at a more tolerable level although I wonder if there ever is a time when this park isn’t crowded. Plus instead of a four hour visit, it would be a four day visit! And even better we would be staying at the Grand Canyon Trailer Village (review coming), inside the national park.
Four days! Woo hoo! More time to explore from the western edge to the eastern edge of the park and everything in between. More time to witness the vibrant colors of the canyon at any and all times of the day, at sunrise, at sunset and every hour in between. More time to soak up the gorgeous scenery while enjoying a relaxing walk along the trails. More time to explore the museums, the shops and the historic buildings, especially those designed by famed architect, Mary Colter. Oh boy, we couldn’t wait!
When we arrived at the South Entrance Station on AZ 64, the lines weren’t very long, a hopeful sign that it might be less crowded in the park (it wasn’t). Entrance fees are $30 per private vehicle or $15 per person entering the park by public transportation, on foot, by bicycle or via the Colorado River. Admission is for seven days and includes both rims. Remember that the fee is waived with a National Park Service Senior Pass or America the Beautiful Pass.
Located approximately one mile from the South Rim, Grand Canyon Trailer Village which is run by a concessionaire is a great place to stay. Admittedly it is a little bit tight here for a 45 foot rig but we managed just fine. It is the only campground in the National Park with full hookups, plus it is within walking distance to Market Plaza where there is a large well stocked market which has groceries, camping and hiking gear, propane tank exchanges, and even a deli with quick and easy meal options. A post office and bank are located next door.
And with the campground being inside the National Park, that not only meant no long drive to get here, easy access to everything, but most importantly no need to queue up at the entrance station! It’s kinda the same subtle but oh so worthwhile benefit as staying at a Disney property when you visit Disney World.
Nearby Yavapai Lodge offers a coffee shop, a restaurant and a tavern. The restaurant, which serves authentic western-style BBQ, pizza and other chef-inspired items is open daily and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is a cafeteria style setup, for hours and their menu click here. We ate breakfast here several times and it was pretty decent for what is basically “fast food”. They have a kiosk based ordering system that seemed to be pretty efficient and minimized time spent waiting in line.
Another bonus with the campground is the convenient shuttle bus stop right next to the registration office. There are free shuttle buses that connect visitors with the lodges, with restaurants, shops, visitor centers, scenic overlooks and trail heads. The one major negative however was that we didn’t have reliable internet access for four days! There is no WiFi in the campground and there was only a marginal Verizon signal – definitely could have used a cell booster or directional cell antenna here.
Any first time visitor to the Grand Canyon should orient themselves as to what to see and do with a stop by the Visitor Center (we weren’t, so we didn’t). Our earlier post from March provides information and recommendations about what to see and do at the Visitor Center. If you go, be sure to pick up the handy South Rim Pocket Map – it is a must have!
Here’s some of the facts that we learned during both visits about the Grand Canyon:
- It is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and the only one that is exclusively in the US.
- It is 277 miles (446 km) in length, up to 18 miles (29 km) across and over 1 mile (1.6 km) deep.
- Grand Canyon is 2600 square miles, slightly larger than the state of Delaware. The National Park preserves more than half of the canyon.
- The National Park is bigger than the state of Rhode Island. The National Park measures in at 1,904 square miles in total while RI is around 1,212 square miles. Is there anything that isn’t bigger than RI???
- It is the second most visited National Park in the country with an estimated 5.9 million visitors per year. The Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited.
- It has an estimated 1000 caves but only 335 have been recorded. The Cave of the Domes on Horseshoe Mesa is the only one open to the public but that has been temporarily closed due to rodent activity.
- It exposes layers of rock with those at the bottom estimated to be 2 billion years old while the top layer of limestone is a mere 230 million years old.
- The South Rim is only 10 miles as the California Condor flies from the North Rim, but to unless you hike the canyon, a drive from one to the other is 215 miles.
- The Grand Canyon was carved by the Colorado River which averages about 300 feet from side to side.
- It is home to 1,750 species of plants, over 90 species of mammals and 362 species of birds.
One day we drove to Tusayan where we had an early lunch at Plaza Bonita, Family Mexican Restaurant. Yummy taco salad ($11)!
Afterward we went to the National Geographic Visitor Center which has an extensive selection of Native American arts and crafts and great Grand Canyon souvenirs in their store and also offers a selection of jeep, helicopter, skydiving, train and rafting tours. But we weren’t interested in any of that, what brought us here was the giant 6 story IMAX Theater to watch the 34 minute film, The Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets, another excellent indoctrination into the formation and geology of the canyon as well as its history. Ticket prices are: adult (Ages 11+ to 54) $13.59, youth tickets (6-10) $10.33, senior (55+) $12.50 and military $12.50. We found that the 10% discount given to AAA members made it even cheaper than the senior rate.
Our focus during this stay was to visit those areas that we didn’t have a chance to see in March. Well, as I write this I’m thinking that maybe that statement isn’t totally true! With its spectacular vistas, we simply had to walk part of the Rim Trail again, a 13 mile paved trail that stretches from the South Kaibab Trailhead to Hermit’s Rest.
And the same was true with the 1.7 mile stretch of the trail known as of the Trail of Time, an interpretive timeline trail focusing on the geological history of the canyon that covers million upon millions of years. Although we didn’t walk the entire distance of either trail, how could we not do a portion of them!
We also returned to popular overlooks such as Mather Point. Doesn’t this photo put the vastness of the Grand Canyon in perspective? The people on the precipice look like teeny weeny ants compared to the towering rock formations!
Of course, we snapped hundreds (maybe even thousands) of photos with our Samsung phones and our camera, hoping to capture the canyon’s awesome grandeur and spectacular beauty. Nice try but let’s be honest here, no matter how good the photos look, even those by professional photographers, there is no way to capture the magnificence and total awesomeness of this natural wonder, or how insignificant and minuscule one feels perched on the rim looking out over this vast abyss. It must be experienced in person.
Besides the Rim Trail and the Trail of Time, Rob decided we should be a little more adventurous by taking a short hike down the Bright Angel Trail. With an overall descent of 4380′ to the bottom and an average grade of 10% along its entire 6 mile descent (and that a 10% grade on the 6 mile ascent too), this trail ultimately ends at Phantom Ranch (another Colter landmark), a historic oasis nestled at the bottom of the canyon. BTW, the only way to reach Phantom Ranch is by mule, on foot or by rafting the Colorado River. Hate to disappoint but you’ll never read about my participating on a mule trip after reading the statements on their qualifications page that “riders must not be afraid of heights or large animals” and that “our mules are sure-footed, but they tend to walk on the outside of the trail” (I’m shuddering just reading about it). Nope, you’ll never see me saddled up on one of those beasts!
As we headed down the somewhat narrow, dirt trail, we reminisced about our first time at the canyon many years ago (in the early 90’s). We were walking down the same Bright Angel Trail when we encountered a mule train on its way up. Gulp! Quick, hug the inside trail wall to let them go by and keep your fingers crossed that none of them decide to kick! With the very narrow trail, that was a little freaky! Luckily the only mules in sight this time were quite a distance away!
We also spent quite a bit of time exploring some of the historic buildings and museums. Verkamp’s Visitor Center, originally a curio store, is the newest visitor center housed in one of the oldest buildings in the park. Built in 1905 (not by Mary Colter), it has an interesting history – check out the video on the National Park website! When the family decided not to renew their contract with the park, the building was purchased by the Park Service in 2008. Today this Visitor Center houses an information desk, bookstore and museum shop and exhibits focused on the Grand Canyon community and pioneer history.
Late one afternoon, we drove over to the Yavapai Point where the Yavapai Geology Museum is located to watch the sunset. Although it wasn’t the prettiest sunset we’ve ever seen, it was neat watching the shift in the shadows and colors as the sun slowly slipped behind the canyon walls and the lighting changed.
Having recently been to the fascinating La Posada hotel in Williams, AZ where we learned extensively about architect, Mary Colter, we were especially interested in seeing those historic buildings on the South Rim designed by her. Stay tuned for more about that!