Family road trip to Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon’s South Rim, Arizona, USA (July 2015)
The Grand Canyon (July 2015)

Ok, so when someone says they visited the “The Grand Canyon” you need to ask them to clarify which part – it is absolutely enormous! Unfortunately, we could only squeeze 2 nights into our itinerary for our visit, so after doing my research I decided we would visit the South Rim. On most accounts that I read during my research, this was the most spectacular – the real Grand Canyon. Not to detract from the other parts, but we couldn’t see it all…. So South Rim it was.   As it turned out, 2 nights (one full day) really wasn’t enough time to spend there either; there was so much more we could have done and seen, although from the children’s perspective, that was probably the extent their attention span could manage.

This was another trip that turned out to be a success, with all the planning working out well.  Here are my tips and our experience of our road trip and visit to The Grand Canyon:

How to get there
Hoover Dam, Nevada/Arizona (July 2015)

Of course you can fly to the Grand Canyon, but we decided to drive from Las Vegas, taking Route 66. Non-stop without traffic it should take about 5 hours but we planned a few breaks along the way. After checking out of our hotel and retrieving the car from the hotel’s valet area, we headed down the I515 and then US93 towards the Hoover Dam for our first stop. We turned off for the Hoover Dam access road and before we knew it we came across a large car park with lots of people walking up some stairs – I thought “this must be it” so parked up and decided to investigate whether this was the Hoover Dam, leaving the kids and hubby in the car as they were too lazy to climb the stairs, especially if it wasn’t the Dam. It turned out it wasn’t the Hoover Dam but the stairs led up to a lookout point on the Memorial Bridge, which was a great spot to view the Hoover Dam from. Of course I took lots of photos, including one of the Nevada/Arizona State border, so I thought it was well worth the climb.

After getting back in the car we drove around the bend and there it was: the Hoover Dam. We drove across it and there were people everywhere. The car park looked quite full so we ended up turning around and driving back across it again. My hubby, being a toolmaker/engineer, was very underwhelmed by the Dam – he kept saying “is that it?” The kids didn’t show much interest either. We decided to stay in the car, as we’d seen it, driven across it, and that was enough for us. So we kept on going, rather than getting out to do a tour. Personally, I was impressed at its size and I thought it was really beautiful especially with the aqua colour of the water on our ‘blue sky’ day. But I was happy to keep on going, since we’d had a late start and had plenty more miles to cover that day.

Kingman, Arizona (July 2015)

We drove on towards Kingman, which was where we were going to join the old Route 66. At Kingman we stopped at a 1950’s themed diner called “Mr D’z” for some brunch. The food was great and there was Hollywood and rock’n’roll memorabilia everywhere including an old juke box and vintage car out front – I loved it and could have stayed there forever except for a bunch of tourists that sat down at the table next to us with some really disgusting table habits! After we ate, we went across the road to the Route 66 “Powerhouse” visitor centre (museum) and checked out some more old memorabilia from a time gone by – all sorts of items from the lifestyle of the 20’s through to 50’s and 60’s era, including some more vintage cars. We also took this opportunity to buy some souvenirs at their gift shop.

Route 66, Kingman, Arizona (July 2015)

Then we jumped back in the car and hit the famous Route 66, admiring the changing scenery along the way, from barren hills and canyons, to dry open plains, wildflowers and then greener hills. Considering it was Friday, we were thankful there was hardly any traffic.

Delgadillos Snow Cap, Seligman, Arizona (July 2015)

Through my Trip Advisor research I read about a place on Route 66 near Seligman called Delgadillos Snow Cap so we decided to have a rest stop there and grab a drink. It’s a small place in a tiny town, full of character, with old cars and fuel tanks out back, straight from a scene out of Disney’s “Cars”. We couldn’t quite work out at first where to enter the ‘shack’ like store – turns out you can pick either door – and inside it was really cramped. I don’t know how they were managing to cook from their tiny cramped kitchen. While I stood at the counter the guy serving me told some really corny jokes and pulled pranks on us: he squirted me with some fake mustard, then offered my daughter a half cone for her ice cream (literally a half cone) – I couldn’t help but laugh at the craziness.

Delgadillos Snow Cap, Seligman (July 2015)

We got milk shakes and ice-creams and sat outside eating them (they were really yummy). Then after a quick visit to the toilet facilities out back by the vintage cars, we got back on the last leg of Route 66 towards Williams and then rejoined the I64 heading north to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

As we approached closer to the Grand Canyon National Park the scenery became greener, there were more pine trees around and it got quite a bit cooler as we climbed higher, which was a refreshing change after the intense heat in Las Vegas. We noticed some smoke from a fire in the distance, and were relieved it didn’t seem to be where we were heading.

GCNP, Arizona (July 2015)

Around dusk at 7pm we drove into the national park entrance at the South Rim, paid our entrance fee and looked for our accommodation in the Grand Canyon Village. Some deer were grazing by the side of the road as we drove along, they didn’t seem at all bothered or scared by us as we paused to take a photo before slowly crawling past. We found our accommodation, checked in and then drove to the car park where our room was to park up for the night. It was pitch dark by now, very quiet and after a full day of driving all we really wanted was a meal and a bed.

Where to stay

There isn’t a lot of choice of accommodation actually in the national park in Grand Canyon Village. This is a good thing though. I read somewhere they are trying to keep the commercialism out of the park, conservation is very important, so there is no high rise, not much phone reception, and traffic is limited. Our first choice of accommodation was Bright Angel Lodge, which looked really good on Trip Adviser from its reviews and location, however it was fully booked months in advance (we were staying on a Friday and Saturday night). So we ended up booking Yavapai West lodge which was fairly basic, budget motel lodging. It was all we really needed: comfy beds, a bathroom, TV and a small fridge. The kids were beside themselves though – there was no wifi or internet in the rooms! How on earth would they survive 2 nights! At check-in we were given a room key with a little inbuilt flash light – we appreciated this as we walked over to the Yavapai Restaurant, the darkness was unlike anything we had experienced before. (We are city folk afterall)

The Grand Canyon, Arizona (July 2015)
Places to visit
Hopi House, GCNP, Arizona (July 2015)

The Grand Canyon – what more can I say. There are various scenic viewing points to choose from. We started our day at Bright Angel Lodge. After we ate breakfast in their lovely restaurant, we walked out the backdoor and were hit with the spectacular view that is The Grand Canyon. At the beginning we were pushed to find words. I had heard how magnificent it was but still it took my breath away. It was enormous in every direction – across and down. We strolled around to The Lookout, Buckey O’Neill cabin, Lookout studio, then walked along the rim to Hopi House and El Tovar.

Trail of Time, GCNP, Arizona (July 2015)

We stopped in at the Verkamp’s visitor centre, before walking some more along the rim, through gorgeous woodlands to the Geology museum and Yavapai Point, checking out the “Trail of Time”, which was a 2 billion year timeline of the geology of the Grand Canyon. Even though it wasn’t very hot, we got very thirsty on our leisurely walk over a couple of hours (take water bottles people!) and the rest of the family was complaining a bit but I didn’t care. I thought it was all wonderful – the views, fresh air and smell of pine were fantastic and the winds moving through the trees sounded like the ocean. It was an experience I will remember for years to come. Also, the temperature was just right -slightly cloudy and breezy so the sun wasn’t too hot and plus there was shade from nearby trees along the way, although I still managed to get sunburnt. We continued on to Mather Point and the Grand Canyon visitor centre. We were going to take the shuttle bus back to our lodging from there but the line was too long so we decided to walk back – it turned out to be only another 10 minutes walk.

GCNP, Arizona (July 2015)

We spent the afternoon relaxing, checking out the local wildlife (birds and squirrels) and took a brief visit to the Canyon Village Market “general store” for a look around. The store sold everything from beer and small groceries to T-shirts and souvenirs.

My tip for sunset
Waiting for the sunset (July 2015)

We decided to head back to Yavapai Point around 6.30pm, found a good spot to sit amongst the rocks and waited. A few other people had the same idea but it wasn’t too crowded, although we were glad we got there early to claim a nice rock to sit on. The sun slowly descended and I was beginning to get worried we wouldn’t see any nice colours in the sky, as it was looking quite hazy, but then some clouds cleared, some sunlight shone through and hit some of the ridges behind us, the light changed in the canyons and then the sky erupted into orange-yellow. A young guy proposed to his girlfriend at that moment and everyone clapped as she said ‘yes’. After the sun dipped below the horizon a lot of the crowd left, but the sky continued to change colour, some pinks came out and made the canyons ridges also change colours. My new Canon camera didn’t do it justice (probably not helped by my novice skills).

Sunset over the Grand Canyon (July 2015)

The next day, as we left the Grand Canyon, we took a different route on our way out of the park, heading east on Desert View Drive towards Cameron, aiming for Phoenix via Flagstaff and Sedona. We found this to be a good decision as there were some really lovely viewing points along to way to stop for some last minute photos. It was a beautiful clear blue sky that day compared to the clouds the day before, which made the colours of the ridges in the canyons look quite different and vibrant. It was amazing how the sunlight brought out the oranges and reds in the rock. I also managed to see a rare Californian Condor soaring below me in the distance, although unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo before it disappeared.

Desert View Watchtower, Arizona (July 2015)

Desert View Watchtower was definitely worth a stop; again, more beautiful views and the old watchtower is stunning.  There is also a monument there, to commemorate the 1956 aviation disaster in the area, where two commercial aircraft (TWA and United) collided mid air, resulting in the loss of 128 lives.

Leaving the Grand Canyon, Arizona (July 2015)

As we drove out of the national park we found it fascinating how the landscape changed again along the way, so different from the direction we had come in. It became a lot flatter and looked in some places like the earth had literally split.

Getting around

There’s a free shuttle bus system which does round trips in the Grand Canyon Village; driving is allowed in some parts and there’s ample car parking (don’t stop or park on the roadside); walking is highly recommended though – get out and take in some fresh air! We caught the shuttle bus from Yavapai Lodge in the morning over to Bright Angel Lodge for breakfast before we adventured out to view the Grand Canyon.

Food options

There aren’t a lot of options but I certainly suggest caution about the Yavapai Restaurant (bistro). We ordered our food using touch pad screens, then collected it when it was ready. The food we chose wasn’t very nice at all when we ate there on our first night. It was over-cooked, by foreign students (we think it was their way of earning board) and they managed to get our orders wrong along the way. It wasn’t cheap either, at about US$90 for the 4 of us we expected better quality, not the cold and dry ribs, cold steak, and tasteless salad we were served. Even the glass of Sauvignon Blanc wine I had was so awful I couldn’t finish it. On our 2nd night though they redeemed themselves when we got a take away pizza from there, which was really tasty. We also recommend the restaurant at Bright Angel Lodge where we had breakfast – their food was really good and the restaurant itself had lovely décor, plus the service was friendly too.

Bright Angel Lodge restaurant (July 2015)
Negatives 

The lack of internet (although this is also a positive) and mobile (cell)phone reception.  Also, some better food options would have made the overall experience more enjoyable.

Regrets

If we’d had more time there were many more view points we could have visited, plus I would have liked to hike down into the canyon and perhaps seen the river up close. Maybe one day we will go back without the children to see more – they certainly enjoyed the Grand Canyon but being children they had a short attention span, I don’t think they would have appreciated a longer tour. Plus hiking down to the ‘floor’ and then back up, may have been too strenuous for them.

Our children enjoying the Grand Canyon (July 2015)

As I look back and reflect on our road trip, I am really happy with the route we chose to the Grand Canyon.  If we had entered the national park from the east, from Flagstaff, we would have seen glimpses of the views from the road – almost a ‘spoiler’ of sorts.  The way we came in, from William through the forest at dusk meant that we didn’t see any of its grandeur until we walked out to the ridge the next morning and were hit with it.  As I said earlier, we were momentarily lost for words.

We were also lucky with the weather, perhaps because it was July (or is the climate generally kind most of the year?).  I can imagine on a wet or overcast day, the colours of the rock would be nowhere near as spectacular.  We were fortunate to have experienced a fantastic sunset and ‘bluebird’ day as we left – memories we will hold for a lifetime!