A Long Weekend at the Grand Canyon

Two Tuesdays ago, I returned from my long weekend trip to the Grand Canyon. It was exactly the quick escape I’d been craving, but it wasn’t as idyllic as we’d planned. While I was able to deal with my cold enough to get outside and enjoy myself, poor Mal, unfortunately, was battling some awful ailment that worsened as the trip progressed and kept her hotel-bound for most of the trip.

Peter, his brother, Paul, and I still got in a few hikes, despite felling bad that she couldn’t join us. (Mal insisted that we all go without her.) And luckily, Mal was able to see the canyon a few times from the rim—and that alone, I think, made the trip worth it for her. I think. And in the end, she got all of us sick, anyway, and I was still glad we went!

Anyway, here are some highlights from the trip:

The car we rented. I don’t even drive, so I feel weird saying that our car was one of the best things about the weekend, but it really was. Before our trip, Mal and Peter had reserved an economy car from Hertz. But when we flew into Phoenix very late on Friday night, the rental agents informed us that they had run out of small cars—and would we mind a free upgrade to a Mustang convertible? Um, you can probably guess what our response was.

After spending the night at the Aloft by the airport, we set out to the GC via Flagstaff with the top down and the music up. Within minutes, we stopped feeling like ridiculous tools and were loving driving in the open air. It kind of reminded me of being in the back of a pickup truck in Guatemala—but way safer and more comfortable!

mal and peter

windblown

It was also a tad windy at times!

Once we left the Phoenix city limits, the scenery became more desert-like, as the highway wound through cacti-covered hills and scruffy, rural land. I am so easily wowed by any non-urban landscape, and really enjoyed the views.

on the road to flagstaff

on the road to flagstaff

Flagstaff. Paul drove to Arizona from Albuquerque, and we met up with him in Flagstaff. We only had a few hours to spend there, but I wished we’d had more time to explore. The historic downtown runs along Route 66 and has lots of funky little cafes, coffee shops and boutiques.

flagstaff

We were in the mood to sample some local brews, so we opted for lunch outside at Beaver Street Brewery. I had the (very girly) raspberry-flavored Bramble Berry Brew and a wood-fired pizza. It was tasty—and it ended up being the best meal of the trip. By far. (More about the underwhelming food later in the post!)

beaver street brewery

mal and peter at beaver street

The Bright Angel Trail. On Sunday, Peter, Paul and I met up with Drew and Britney, two of Mal and Peter’s friends who live in Arizona and met us for a day. They only had a short time to hike, so we did a portion of the Bright Angel trail, which descends into the canyon, eventually ending at the bottom.

As a do-something-all-the-way-or-don’t-do-it-at-all girl, I, of course, was tempted to make it to the bottom and back in one day—nevermind that we started hiking a noon. But notices all over the park and the NPS website warn against it, probably because they’re sick of rescuing too many overly ambitious tourists from the canyon. In fact, at every trailhead, there’s a sign that asks, “Can you run the Boston Marathon?” and tells the horrible story of Margaret Bradley, an athletic med student who ran a 3-hour Boston Marathon, but died from heat exhaustion while hiking the canyon in 2004. (The trail she was on was nearly twice as long as she thought and she didn’t have enough food or water for such a long hike.) A fair warning, but, wow, a morbid way to begin a trek. (Though I’m sure tons of people have made it to the bottom and back in one day—Britney’s parents did once! And really—when would you ever see a sign like that in another country?)

can you run the boston marathon?

The Bright Angel trail is well-trodden and people of all ages were walking it. I’ll admit, I was a little unnerved when I first set foot onto it, though. I’m used to hiking mountains and volcanoes without steep dropoffs. Seeing how deep the canyon goes was a little freaky, at first! But within a few minutes, my fears were gone and I just enjoyed the views.

view from the bright angel trail

view from the bright angel trail

Sunset at Desert View Point. We made the 25-mile drive to check out the Watchtower. It was built in 1932 but now houses a gift shop. The tower itself was a little underwhelming—due to its tourist trap nature—but it was a gorgeous spot to see the many layers of canyon change color, from red to blue, as the sun set.

desert view watchtower

the view near the watchtower

the view near the watchtower

South Kaibab Trail. Honestly, I think we picked this hike because while we were reading all the trail descriptions, we nicknamed this one the “Kabob Trail”—and were more amused at that than we should have been. Plus, a fellow travel blogger, Drew, recommended it because it takes you through a good portion of the canyon. He was right—the scenery varies quite a bit within a short distance, so it was the perfect afternoon hike.

south kaibab trail

south kaibab trail

ooh ahh point

A very aptly named point on the trail!

We hiked down to a point called Cedar Ridge. We’d decided on that as our turn-around point because…there was a bathroom there.

cedar ridge

cedar ridge

Then, we headed back up and out of the canyon.

the grand canyon

burgs hiking

…So what was the worst part of the Grand Canyon? The food! Tusayan, the nearest “town,” where we stayed, is really lacking in good restaurants. Everything we ate was mediocre, at best. (No joke, we had two meals at a place called “We Cook Pizza and Pasta”—though not very well, I might add.) Can someone please open up a good brewpub there?

Have you been to the GC? What was the highlight of your trip?

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8 comments

  1. Reading this brought back memories of my own Grand Canyon weekend. We also did the two trails you did – Bright Angel and South Kaibab – did you make it down to Indian Gardens on the Bright Angel trail at all? I loved both treks!

    Also concur with you – the food is hideous! Worse for us, as we stayed in the NP itself, and after the first (and last) meal there (heavily oversalted, mushy pasta, NYC prices) we headed out to a grocery shop in Tusayan, got some fresh ingredients for a salad, a roast chicken and had that for dinner and lunch the next day instead. Gah!

  2. I did a road trip out West several years ago that took me to the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, and beyond. It was such a great experience driving around and constantly being impressed with the mountains. We also checked out the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado– it was the quietest place I’ve ever been to.

    It’s cool that you did some hiking in the Canyon. We didn’t really have the opportunity to do that when we went, but the views were so impressive that I didn’t care. Maybe next time I’ll try one of those donkey trails. 🙂

    1. I felt the same way, Cassie! I was so wowed by the scenery out there. And thanks for the tip on the Great Sand Dunes! I’ve yet to make it to Colorado, but that definitely sounds like an amazing place to visit, when I do. 🙂

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