Busy day, this one. We woke up after “sleeping in” until 6:00 at the Hampton Inn in Flagstaff, AZ. Very nice hotel, reasonably priced, with a nice rooms, decent continental breakfast, and most importantly, a POOL!!! After Quin woke up, he and I went downstairs for some fruit, cereal, and juice. Jenny and Ethan joined us shortly afterwards. After we were sufficiently fed, we got into our swimming suits and took in some much deserved swimming. We had the place to ourselves, which was nice since the kids are extremely loud! I’d say we swam for at least an hour this way. Ethan has become a very good swimmer and really enjoys the water. He particularly likes when I launch him into flips, but we can only do that when nobody else is in the water. Quin thinks that he can do anything that Ethan can do, but still can’t swim. He really enjoys jumping from the edge of the pool into the water - not really jumping to me, but into the water. I still catch him, though… He hates that!
By 10:00 we were wheels up and on our way to the Grand Canyon. The first order of business was to feed the Starbucks need, though. Using my trusty iPhone we located a Starbucks no more than 1 mile away. During that short drive, we could already see that today was going to be interesting. That pervasive wind from the day before hadn’t subsided. In fact, it seemed to be gaining in strength! I really hate wind, even more so when I’m trying to work out. With that in mind, my mind was completely blown when I saw a biker huffing his backside up the mountain we were driving up. It was 40 degrees (a generous exaggeration) with wind gusts up to 50 miles per hour!!! Some people are cut from a different cloth, I guess.
With caffeine desired satiated, we headed up Highway 89 towards the Grand Canyon. About 75 minutes later we crossed Highway 64 and headed west towards Grand Canyon National Park. I’ve been to the park 2 times in the past. Once with my family on a vacation in the early 90s, and once with a school trip in the late 90s. Both times I visited probably added up to 30 minutes of looking at the park, so I was looking forward to this opportunity to spend some real time here. We were optimistic that the weather forecast was all wrong, too, as the car thermometer read 65 degrees, though it was still windy as hell!
Our first stop along 64 was prior to getting into the park, a little place called Little Colorado River Gorge. We parked there and were immediately blown away, literally, by the wind. We hadn’t really been out of the car to experience the full force of the wind yet, and it was brutal. It was so bad that two of the port-a-potties actually fell over. Here’s the picture to prove it!
Anyway, this viewpoint, along with most others east of the canyon, was lined with Indian craft salesmen. We wound our way through the sales tents to find our first glimpse of the canyon, and man was it spectacular. This particular vista was of a far east locale but had a great view of the Colorado River. Well, it could have been the Little Colorado River, I’m not sure, but it was awesome. Unfortunately, I started to feel guilty and a little nervous that we had left Quin in the van, which by now was over 500 meters away, because he was taking a nap. So I took what I refer to as the “Glen Grady tour of the Canyon, 35 seconds and out” and headed back to the car. Luckily he was still sleeping peacefully in the van.
We continued west towards the park proper. At regular intervals we would pass views that exceeded the last ones we saw, all from the car. We did the same things that we remember our parents doing to us on trips like this, we kept urging Ethan to look out the window at how beautiful that was!!! He was happily playing his Nintendo DS, though, in what I’m sure he’ll remember when he’s 37 years old!!! It’s refreshing and frightening at the same time to realize that we’re turning into our parents!
As we continued to drive, we noticed that the weatherman was getting more and more accurate. The temperature, a respectable 65 degrees at our first stop, had dropped to 50 over the course of about 7 miles. We eventually entered Grand Canyon National Park’s east entrance and stopped at the first vista, the Desert View. We all got out of the car this time, Quin in his new riding backpack, and the rest of us on foot, to take in our first real look at the Canyon.
I’ll spare the gory details, but to sum it up, Jenny and I took around 400 pictures of the canyon. It seems that every time you move 10 feet, it completely changes. We tried feebly to capture the awe we felt by snapping all of those pictures, but I’m sure they won’t quite translate. If you’ve never visited, visit.
Our stay at Desert View lasted about 1 hour, already doubling my previous two trips to the canyon. We were able to walk up the Observation Tower, an 80 foot high structure that was undergoing some repairs. At the top, the view of the canyon looked much the same, since it is so damn far down there in the first place!!! It was a bit nerve wracking going up there as I realized they were tracking the width of the cracks in the wall, no doubt hoping that the structure wouldn’t fall down. One thing we noticed immediately were all the foreign visitors to the canyon. Many people from Asia and Europe were populating the park. Man, that makes our little driving excursion seem small by comparison!
We stopped at a couple more vistas and eventually wound our way around to Tusayan, AZ just south of the park where we were to meet my parents who have recently relocated their winter headquarters to the Phoenix area. This was the first time the kids have seen them since Christmas, and the reunion was precious. I was a little worried about how Quin would react to them, but he did not disappoint, giving big hugs and kisses to both of them, especially Grandpa! Boy does he have a thing for his “bompas.”
After an overpriced cafe lunch, we went back to the park with mom and dad for some quick glimpses of the big crack before we finally returned for our pre-planned tour of the canyon, a sunset jeep tour. Our guide was Mike, a foreign (I say British, my dad says Australian) guy of advanced middle age who knew lots of interesting information about the canyon and its surrounding forests. The tour would take us through the Kaibab National Forest and back into the park. Along the way, Mike filled us with little known facts about the park and surrounding forests. Some of bits I remember include:
- In order to control overgrowth, the forestry department allows anybody to come into the Kaibab National Forest and, for a $20 permit, take 4 chords of wood.
- A chord of wood is 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet, a volumetric measurement.
- There are trees in the national forest that are 350 years old and older!
- The Hopi and Navajo people both held residence in the Grand Canyon in the past, and at the same time. One was a subset of the other, but I don’t recall which.
- They use mules to trek to the bottom of the canyon because horses are too skittish (though mustangs might be able to make the trip) and donkey’s are just too stubborn.
- Last year, 22 people died in the canyon. 3 from dehydration, 3 from suicide, and 16 from tragic accidents near the edge.
- If you lose your footing near the edge, the next time you are likely to touch something is 300 feet later. That fall is rarely survived.
After 2 hours and several stops, Mike, who incidentally looked a lot like my uncle Al, brought us to where we were to watch the sunset. We were 30 minutes early, but the weather was already starting to roll in. He kept saying that the weather can change in a heartbeat there, but eventually conceded that it was not going to this evening. We were able to leave early just as the snow started coming down! All in all it was a great tour despite the fact that we did not get to see the sunset.
After our “early” departure from the tour, we were finally admitted to the hotel (long story, I’ll post it later if I feel bored, or just ask me over a beer sometime - let’s just say the cleaning crew must be very sparse at this hotel). While the kids enjoyed their grandparents for awhile, Jenny and I ventured out to get an overpriced pizza from the Pizza Hut Express in town. We then scarfed that and various sundries we had brought along for the trip while watching Duke eek out a victory over Butler in the NCAA basketball championship game. After that, Quin hung out with Grandma and Grandpa while Ethan, Jenny, and I went to the main lodge to take in some video games and some bowling - yes, they have bowling at this hotel.
- If going to the Grand Canyon and you don’t plan on doing spending more than a day, stay in Flagstaff or elsewhere. Tusayan and the GC Village are just too expensive - the lodging, the food, the fuel. We would have probably have been much better off just staying at the Hampton Inn another night and driving back after our tour.
- The Grand Canyon can be cold!!! Pack for all occasions.
- If you can, spend a couple of days at the Canyon and do one of the hikes, not just around the rim, but into the canyon itself.
- The “Canyon Walk” that you’ve likely seen on TV with the horseshoe glass walkway out over the canyon is NOT at the Grand Canyon National Park. That structure is somewhere 250 miles west of the park and was built by a Native American Group.
- Gas in Flagstaff is actually more expensive than the smaller surrounding communities!!! Who knew?
I think there’s a ton I’ve missed, but I think I’ve been writing long enough. Today’s journey to Sedona will have to wait until tomorrow for details. As a preview, though, we’re happy today to be in the Phoenix area where we hope to relax a bit, finally…