We got up bright and early the next morning, to get to the Grand Canyon before “the rush”. (We didn’t really expect a rush that time of year, but you never know.) We checked out of the hotel, grabbed a drive-through breakfast, and headed into the park. The sun was just coming up.
I parked the car in the gigantic parking lot near the main visitor center. There were very few cars there, so that was a good sign. We grabbed our cameras and headed toward a nearby overlook for our first-ever view of the Grand Canyon.
It was not disappointing. I got choked up when I saw it.
We walked along the trail by the visitor center, taking pictures at each stop. There were very few people around. It was cold, but not terrible… when the sun came up, it was around freezing.
The biggest crowds we saw were at this overlook by the entrance. There were a bunch of people with selfie sticks taking photos of themselves. And by ‘a bunch’, I mean 30 at most. It was kind of amazing.
Bally was impressed, too.
What we’d learned about the Grand Canyon is that January is a pretty questionable month there, weather-wise. It’s very likely that the roads to some of the more remote overlooks are closed in January, so you can pretty much only stick around the visitor centers and Grand Canyon Village. We got incredibly lucky, because all the roads were open.
The other huge plus to going that time of year is that during the high season (March to November), you can’t take those roads to the overlooks. You park at the visitor center, board a bus, and ride to each of the stops along the way. But in the off-season, you’re on your own. I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have been able to get to half the things we saw if we’d have had to wait for buses all day.
From the visitor center, we drove on through Grand Canyon Village and onto the road to Hermit’s Rest, which heads westward along the south rim of the canyon. We stopped at most of the overlooks along the way.
From the first overlook, you can see Bright Angel Trail. There were plenty of people walking it already, and I did not envy their climb back up.
It didn’t take long for us to notice the effects of altitude: we just had to try to climb back up the stairs from the overlook. We were gasping by the time we got to the top.
God, it was gorgeous there. Especially in the morning light.
There’s no good way to get the appropriate perspective in your photos, either. It’s so gigantic. (I still have trouble believing that the Colorado River was actually a mile below us.)
We drove to Hopi Point, then took the trail back to Powell Point. (All over the overlooks are connected by a walking trail, most of it paved.)
There’s a monument to John Wesley Powell there, commemorating the first (white guy) explorer to boat the length of the Colorado River.
From those two stops, we decided to drive all the way to Hermit’s Rest. I didn’t really know what to expect there, but it was awesome. Also, there were two other cars in the parking lot. It felt almost like we had the park to ourselves.
We went into the building there, and saw the fireplace that people had been warming themselves at for a hundred years. There’s a shop in there, too, so we picked up the requisite souvenirs of our visit.
Matt plugged a quarter into the telescope so we could check out the view.
He’d read that you could use those telescopes as a telephoto lens for your camera, so I tried it out. Um…. nope.
We walked down the trail behind the building, which led to the trailhead parking lot, where there were a couple campers parked. There was also this array of bones, which wasn’t at all creepy.
I wanted to steal the walking sticks there. (I have a fetish for those little medallions you can buy at any national or state park as souvenirs, which you’re supposed to attach to your walking stick. I have zero need for them, but I really want them.) Matt said I couldn’t, lest we get murdered by the campers or the people who left the bones there.
Then we filled our bottles with Grand Canyon spring water. It was deliciously mineraly.
We went back to the car, and went to see the stops we’d passed along the way. First was Pima Point, which we had to ourselves.
Those railings are there to protect you, but they’re kind of beat to hell:
We found our initials carved in a tree!
Then there was The Abyss, the best-named overlook.
Once we’d seen all the stops along the Hermit’s Rest road, we went back to Grand Canyon Village and parked the car. We walked down across the railroad tracks to visit the mules. The guy in front nickered ‘hi’ to us, which was adorable.
Then we crossed back along the tracks (which were still somewhat ice-covered, due to being in the shade) and went to see a train parked there, and the station.
We realized that the buses parked there with a bunch of bus drivers hanging out meant that the train was arriving, so we stayed to watch it pull into the station. I really want to take the train sometime.
Then we walked up the hill to see the hotels. Climbing two flights of stairs at altitude is not a fun adventure, and makes you feel hella old.
El Tovar is the fancy old lodge-style hotel with rocking chairs on the front porch. We sat in one, and then went inside to take a look.
It’s chock full of dead animals, as expected. Apparently the cocktail lounge there is really cool, but it was closed for renovation. We decided to move on.
Next door is Bright Angel Lodge, which also has a very outdoorsy appeal. I liked their lobby better, because it reminded me of all the up-north cabins in Minnesota.
We decided to go have a beer in their lounge instead. It was the opposite of fancy, but it was oldtimey and comfortable.
Then it was time to make our way onward so that we weren’t driving the whole way back to Scottsdale in the dark. We first went to the visitor center, used the restroom, and got coffee for the road. Then we took the park road heading east toward Desert View. We’d seen a sign at the entrance saying the road going that way might be closed, but that was not the case.
I was glad we’d taken the other route first… there’s not as much to see along the way, at least until you get to the end.
The tower was really cool. It was built by the same people who built Hermit’s Rest.
There was more snow at this end, too. Unfortunately it had started to get overcast in the late afternoon.
From there, we continued on the highway out of the park. The exit leads to a very large Navajo reservation with awesome views of the mountains. I learned later that there’s fossil evidence of dinosaurs all over the place there, too.
We descended very slowly along the route back south. There’s not as much to see going that direction, and the desert is very scrubby. We stopped in Flagstaff to get a burrito, and then headed onward. We had considered stopping to see Sedona, too, but realized we’d be pretty late getting back to Scottsdale.
On the way, we were listening to the NFC championship game on Sirius, and heard the Packers get knocked out of the playoffs. That was satisfying.
We got back to the condo in Scottsdale around sunset, where Matt’s parents were anxiously waiting for us. We had pizza for dinner, showed them all the photos we’d taken at the Grand Canyon, and hung out playing cards, followed by another visit to the awesome hot tub.