Rather than heading to the Grand Canyon over a weekend, we decided to wait until a Monday. thinking that it might be less crowded. As mentioned in our previous post, we decided to face the hour long drive from Williams rather than to take the two hour and fifteen minute train ride. Well, that sounded good in theory but we had forgotten one important fact – it was Spring Break week!
Guess Spring Breakers don’t just head for the beach but they flock to the National Parks as well. We later learned from the agent at the Railway Depot another good reason not to take the train – the number of passengers increases from 400 per day to 800 per day during Spring Break week. If you go during March, be forewarned! We were going to find out later in the day exactly how busy it was!
Anyway, off we went once again tackling the horrid roads (I-40), not as bad in the van as the coach since there aren’t as many parts to rock ‘n roll. Fortunately in Flagstaff, we exited onto AZ-64 heading north. Traffic wasn’t too bad but we started getting nervous when signs warned of very limited parking in the park.
Before arriving at the park, we passed through Tusayan where there are a number of restaurants and hotels as well as a number of things to do. Catch the IMAX 3D featuring Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets ($Adult Ages 11+ to 54 $13.59, Youth Tickets Ages 6-10 $10.33 and Senior 55+ $12.50, and Military $12.50) or a helicopter/air tour. Parking is also offered here with shuttle services to the park. We didn’t stop since we had seen the IMAX show before and we decided to take our chances on the parking.
Oh, oh was that a bad decision? There were four lines of cars backed up at the Entrance station. But it actually moved pretty fast. Good thing we have a Senior America the Beautiful pass so our entrance fee was free, otherwise it is $30 per vehicle (good for 7 days). Once through the gate the challenge was on to find a parking space. Yep, it was pretty full but Rob ignored the signs directing us to certain parking lots. Luckily we quickly found a space in the Raven parking lot near the Visitor Center at Mather Point which was just a short walk away.
Wow, beautiful Visitor Center! Even though we had been to the Canyon (both the South Rim and the North Rim) back in 2001, we didn’t remember it being so elaborate. From what I’ve read, major improvements were made between 2008-2011. Here we perused all the exhibits, watched Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder (links to a You Tube video of the movie), a 20 minute movie that took us on a dawn to dusk journey through the park and enjoyed the Science On A Sphere presentation which was pretty neat technology created by NOAA.
Once we were totally educated, since it was a beautiful day, rather than taking the shuttle, a walk along the rim trail was in order. I’m not going to expound on all the gory details about how and when the Canyon was formed or recite lots of stats (ah, yes, I can hear the collective sigh of relief) but if you are interested you can learn all the details by visiting the National Park Service website.
Whether it is your first visit or your tenth to the Canyon, trying to find adjectives to describe it is impossible. Stupendous, awe inspiring, breath taking, wondrous, beautiful, dazzling, exhilarating or spectacular sound good but simply can’t convey it’s magnificence. There truly are no words so I’m not going to even try. Photos, even professional ones, don’t do it justice either. It’s one of those places that must be seen in person.
Walking along the Rim Trail was slow going as we had to stop at each vista to soak in the view. At the Yavapai Point and Geology Museum, the Trail of Time starts. This trail which features a series of rocks and exhibits that explain how the Grand Canyon and its rock formed, gives visitors a real appreciation for the magnitude of geologic time. Bronze markers marked our location in time – every tenth marker is labeled in millions of year! This seemed to be a big hit with the kids!
By the time we reached the Village near Verkamp’s Visitor Center, we were tired and hungry. Grabbing a bite to eat should have been easy. Wrong! It was Spring Break after all. At each restaurant there was at least a 45 minute (or longer) wait and even long lines at all the snack bars and this was at 2:00 p.m. Only seats available were in the cocktail lounge at the bar at Bright Angel Lodge where they serve appetizers. Two hot dogs with fries and beer satisfied our hunger and thirst pains very nicely!
Full and happy again, rather than walk the few miles back again, we decided to wait for the shuttle bus. It was packed – standing room only! Luckily after the first stop we were able to grab seats. At each stop, only a few people got off but another 20 would get on! Now I know how a sardine in a can feels. Wonder what the legal limit is for passengers. Gotta love Spring Break!
Glad we had seen the entire park before since it was way too crowded to explore more of the park. But despite the crowds it was a totally awesome day at the Grand Canyon!
BTW, we had heard about the glass Skywalk at the Grand Canyon. However, we learned that that attraction is actually outside the National Park, located in the Grand Canyon West area, a 120-mile drive from Las Vegas and about a 180 mile drive from our resort. It is owned and run by the Hualapai Indian tribe. Too far for us to travel on this trip, perhaps a stop sometime in the future.
Talk about contrasts! One day we were gazing at the beautiful colorful Grand Canyon and the next we were walking on black ash and lava rock! Unlike the Grand Canyon which was created over millions of years by the erosion caused by the waters of the Colorado River, our next day trip was Sunset Crater, a volcanic crater which erupted around 1060. The entrance fee which provides access for 7 days to the Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments is $20 per passenger vehicle (fee is waived with an Annual Pass, Senior Pass, Access Pass, and Active Duty Military Pass). At the Visitor Center, there are interactive exhibits featuring volcanoes and the powerful forces behind them.
There are several trails within the park but the trail to the top of Sunset Crater was closed in 1973, due to the deep ruts and erosion caused by the feet of thousands of hikers. But two other trails leave from the Lenox Crater parking lot. We did the shorter and easy 0.2 mile A’a Flow Trail (pronounced AH-ah) which winds down through the lava flow, providing an up close look at the basalt formations. We didn’t do the more strenuous Lenox Crater Trail which is a steep 1-mile (1.6km) round trip, requiring about 30 minutes up and 15 minutes walking down! Pretty cool seeing all the black lava rock!
Continuing our journey through the park, our next stop was the Lava Flow Trail which is a 1 mile round trip loop. A 1/4-mile section of this trail is paved and fully accessible. We stopped to talk to a Park Ranger at the beginning of the trail. He pointed out the twisted stump and roots of a Ponderosa Pine which are not a majestic as those in other areas because of the hot, drier and nutrient poor environments which stunt the growth of the trees. The spiral growth increases their flexibility allowing the tree to survive the wind and snow. Rather than continuing on the paved trail, he suggested that we take the unpaved lower trail off to the right (requires going down some stairs). Glad he suggested that! Beautiful scenic views of the black lava rock with the snow capped San Francisco peaks as a backdrop!
Along the way we saw the remains of a spatter cone or hornito, and a permafrost ice cave. Rob remembered going into that cave with his brother when visiting here with his parents, but due to the partial collapse of a lava tube it has been closed off. Further along the trail, a sign pointed out a “squeeze up” which is formed as pasty lava oozes through a crack in the lava crust similar to a tube of toothpaste.
From here, we continued our drive along Loop Road, eventually arriving at the Wupatki Pueblo, however by now, it was getting late. Since we had already been here years ago, we decided to head back to the coach.
A few more pics…