Previous day –TO MONUMENT VALLEY
The Drive to Grand Canyon and Desert View
It was around a 3 hour drive to Grand Canyon from Monument Valley.This was the only place we’d visited where I didn’t feel sorry to be leaving. Picked up fuel in Kayenta and stopped briefly at the huge, touristy Cameron Trading Post for a restroom stop, after an easy if long drive that wasn’t hugely interesting.
First stop – Desert View and our first view of the Canyon from an altitude of over 7,000 feet, the highest point of all on the South Rim. Wow – quite a sight(but the best was yet to come). Beautiful Visitor Centre with great viewpoints, though the whole place was hoaching. Bought a National Geographic book on America’s National Parks as we had been so impressed so far and really wanted to find out where else might be worth a visit in future.
Drove the easy 25 miles to Grand Canyon Village , through a pine forested landscape and was amazed when we arrived at what seemed to be a nicely built, if busy, small town.It was far bigger than what we would normally call a village! Stocked up in the excellent supermarket (crisps, chocolate, wine – all the usual healthy eating snacks we can’t live without).Then followed the signposting to Bright Angel Lodge, close to a lovely wee train station.Everything looked super-organised but well done, something America seems to be very good at.
Checked in to our hotel, a beautiful old building lined with dark wood and buffalo heads.
Found out our room didn’t have a Canyon view as such but were told we might be able to change tomorrow.Wasn’t really a big deal; this was the best value of all the National Park Lodges we stayed in at $105 per night total (no breakfast).More than half the price of the others.
What I was more worried about, when we lugged our case and bags into the Buckie O’Neill Cabin , was how close we were to where hordes of visitors were accessing the Canyon rim. Maybe it would be horrendously noisy all the time?
That anxiety faded however when I saw our room (No. 6120 or 6210) . It was gorgeous! All lined with ivory painted wood, charming old-style lamps and oak furniture.Very atmospheric and with a lovely bathroom too.Our window looked out onto the main hotel building across a public pathway, but we never did look for a change of room.In fact, it was very quiet and secluded and most visitors accessed the Rim by going straight through the main hotel, not by clattering past our accommodation (thankfully).
Quickly unpacked our stuff and then excitedly raced outside to have another look at the big daddy Canyon of them all, just a few seconds walk away.
Falling for Grand Canyon big-style
That first sight of the Grand Canyon from the Rim trail at the Bright Angel Hotel, was when I fell head over heels in love with it all.
It was …….I just couldn’t find the words. A jaw-drop. Out of this world. I just stood and shook my head, overwhelmed with the colours and changing light and the spectacle of hundreds of pyramid- mountains rearing out of the Canyon basin 5,500 feet below us. It was knock me down dead stunning.
Nothing had prepared me for that view; not hours spent poring over images and photos. What struck most was that we were standing on a plateau, itself 5,000 feet up so it was like being on top of a mountain, looking across to a sea of endless peaks. And there’s no more sensational view than from a mountain peak , is there? I imagined all we’d be looking at was a sheer drop to the Colorado but it’s not like that. Yes, there are huge, scary views down sheer rock walls in places, but it was the sight of those hundreds of Far Eastern – temple –like mountains and their ever-changing light and colour which I found astonishing.
Thank goodness we’d booked for 2 nights! This was a place to be stared at and savoured over time. Not just a ‘been there, done it , got the t-shirt’ kind of sight.
For the next 2 nights, Grand Canyon just blew me away – I’ll correct that. It even blew the socks off Chris, my not-easily-impressed husband who will declare somewhere to be ‘very nice’ when I am jumping about like a ninny waxing lyrical and swooning with joy. I have roller-coaster reactions to places, though it can go the other way too. Chris sees himself as ‘steady’ , neither overwhelmed or underwhelmed. He often says he gets most pleasure from watching me enjoying where we are; if I’m happy, he’s happy.
The Rim around the hotels was mobbed of course. It was a sunny day, and people were enjoying ice-cream and the hotel’s excellent gift shop was chock a block. And there were plenty not content with the amazing view and the vertiginous drops from the Rim but were balancing on protruding rock ledges or sitting with their feet dangling over the edge.(What’s with folk who do that?? Are they crazy? Is the thrill of the spectacle in front of them just not enough?I’m partly envious at their bravery, partly horrified at the stupidity of risk.)
But nothing could detract from the magnificence in front of us.We wandered up and down the Trail, popped into the lovely Art Gallery, had a look at the El Tovar hotel which we’d read was a ‘must’ for some fine dining of an evening. Prices were high-ish but ok for a treat. Looked promising.
At 5pm- ish, we got showered and caught up with some emailing and Whats’ App messaging and picture sending to the kids back home (my two boys, now 28 and 25, my youngest’s girlfriend, currently in Hong Kong and Chris’s older brother.)I love being in touch and hate being out of email or phone contact. I am addicted to it when once I really was very sniffy about how much people ‘needed’ Wi Fi and phone signals. Changed days.
Headed out to the Rim again and wandered about looking for the best spot to get some good sunset photos.Tomorrow we’d explore a bit more of the Rim on foot and using the Shuttle bus.I was happy to just be here and take it easy for an hour or two before dinner.
Had a very enjoyable meal in our hotel’s family restaurant . Fajitas for me, very tasty and a decent steak for Chris. An ok Apple Pie for dessert, not as good as home-made but Chris’s ice cream was excellent. Mango sorbet and raspberry and banana boules– a very good mixed concoction which I wished I’d had! Cost – around $55 including two glasses of decent Chardonnay at $9 a glass.Buttery, oaky,rich, just how he likes it (though a bit out of fashion in the UK these days).Chris’s favourite overall was Hahn’s Chardonnay.
We were collapsing about 9.15pm most nights, real party animals, knackered with getting up for sunrises almost since the trip started nearly a week ago.And indeed, another sunrise beckoned so at 6.30am the next morning we headed out to walk to Mather Point to see the sun light up the Canyon.
2nd Day and thunderstorms
There was hardly another soul about and it was cold. It was quite a cloudy morning and the light wasn’t that dramatic. But we walked on along the path, totally alone, towards the famed sunrise viewpoint. Came across a female elk and fawn grazing just beside the path and watched them for a few minutes.They were totally unperturbed.
It was only a couple of miles to the point, built on a prong of rock jutting out into the void. The sun had risen but had already disappeared behind thick cloud but we were really enjoying the Rim trail. It’s very beautiful, weaving in amongst open pine forest, quiet and lovely.And always, that huge view on one side.
Mather Point offered a different view again, more expansive again.Got talking to a lone guy snapping away – what a character he was! He was bemoaning the other tourists who spoiled his shots by stepping in front of him to take selfies, or who tottered on the edge of the void. He echoed exactly my thoughts when he growled – ‘ wasn’t the place spectacular and thrilling enough without having to do that?? ‘
Then he picked up our accents and his brow furrowed when we explained we were Scots.
‘Scaatland?’ his New York(I guessed) voice sounded slightly shocked. The corners of his mouth drew down. “Well, I wont be going THERE or ANYwhere except here at home. The world’s full of nutters these days.’
I told him that Scotland was incredibly safe (and privately mused that I’d always thought America led the way re nut-jobs over the years. Maybe Europe was just catching up.)
He looked at me disbelievingly then said, ‘ Well, if you can find me a red-haired 35 year old lady, I might consider it.”
Chris burst out laughing – ‘ Scotland’s full of them. You’ll love it.’
I love meeting folk like that.No small talk – straight to a controversial opinion or three.
Got a quick shower and changed into t-shirts again as the temperature had, by 10am, risen a lot. Headed into El Tovar for café lattes and for me, one of their famous cinnamon buns. It was easily the best I’ve ever tasted. Chris ordered a breakfast , too tempted by the menu. Unfortunately, it was just ok. We forgot that we don’t like American bacon, which is crispy streaky stuff with more fat than meat. The fried potatoes , which I usually love, I also didn’t love here.They didn’t taste good, almost as if they were stale.
I loved the El Tovar itself though, from the buffalo heads mounted in the lobby, to the dark logs it was lined with, to the Indian rugs on the walls. Very traditional and another charmer of a place.
Decided we’d book dinner here tonight (despite the disappointing cooked breakfast) and finally got a time for 5.15pm. That’s super- early for eating in Europe but here, it seemed to be the norm. I loved that about the USA. I’m usually starving by that time, though Chris was brought up not eating dinner till around 8pm. Any earlier was seen(by some) in the UK as ‘a bit off’ .Apparently it’s a class thing – the posher you are , the later you eat (we always ate around 5.30pm when I was growing up so my hubby is much higher up the social ladder than me, it seems.) But here, this time was perfect as we were flaking out so early each night.The Health App on my phone said we were walking around 8-9 miles a day. On one day we’d somehow clocked up 12 miles.
I had been keen to do part of the Bright Angel trail but I knew looking down at it that there wasn’t a Scooby’s chance I could do it. Those drop offs – despite the reasonably wide path – made my legs wobble just looking at them. Another failure! Chris remarked that he didn’t really have any wish to drop down into the Canyon, that we were far better off on top of the mountain, so to speak, than losing the expansive view. It was a good try at making me feel better about what has become a problem issue for me as I love hillwalking and wild places.It’s a bit like a golfer getting the yips; I’m a hiker getting ultra nervous about sheer drops.
The weather worsens……
We walked a fair portion of the west side of the Rim Trail that afternoon starting at Bright Angel Lodge heading for Hermit’s Rest and admiring Lipan Point, Mohave Point, Hopi Point, Pima Point.
The only problem was, there were now thunderstorms gathering and the sky was darkening dramatically all the time. At each point, the view just seemed to get better and better. In many ways it was the same, yet in this weather, there was always different light, a slightly different composition, a wider angle. For anyone who loves taking photos of landscape, it was endless interest. It reminded me in that way of a mountain walk at home – the light, once you are up on a ridge or summit, is ever changing, mesmerising and you just don’t want to leave.
Then thunder cracked loudly overhead.It was close! We’d read signs warning that the worst place to be when lightening struck was on the Rim.Apparently, it gets 25,000 lightening strikes a year. I felt nervous suddenly,exposed. Hearing a Shuttle bus behind us, we raced ahead to the bus-stop and hopped on. In minutes, we had arrived at the end of the line, Hermit’s Rest where it looked like everyone in the vicinity had taken refuge from the now-torrential rain and the bitter cold. Inside, it was mobbed. Nice centre, with some good books.
It was also quite a spot, noticeable when we headed out again as soon as the shower passed. But in minutes, there was another loud crack overhead and a sheet of lightening hit the north rim. The long arrow of light was visible for several seconds. Wow. Scary. Time for the bus again!
El Tovar dining
And time for our meal in the El Tovar. I’ve posted a link to the review I did of it. It was a $100 disappointment. Ok, I’m a critical diner in the sense that I make a lot of food at home, never use ready meals and bake a lot. I’m no Masterchef, nowhere near it, but I love good food and enjoy cooking. So, if I’m paying for food outside, I want it to taste genuinely well made. Too often these days, it just isn’t. Profit getting in the way of the best ingredients? Who knows.
Still, there was sunset to look forward to as 7pm approached though the overcast skies weren’t promising much. Hopped on the Shuttle bus again,and they were all very , very busy now with folks wanting to see the same thing.Got off at Hopi Point.There was only a smidgin of sun winking through dark clouds so sunset was literally a damp squib. Then the rain came on seriously again and there was another rush of visitors for the bus to get out of the deluge.
I did notice that the buses weren’t as frequent as at Zion. Only every half hour in the hour before and after sunset and every 15mins between those times. It meant a long wait at times. Back at 7.45, pitch black and raining heavily.Headed in for a read and a drink in our lovely room. Lights off by back of 9pm!
A last attempt at sunrise
Up at stupid o’clock in the (forlorn) hope of a good sunrise.Headed out to catch the 6.15pm shuttle to the Village, then the 6.45 shuttle out to Yaki Point.In the total darkness, we weren’t the only people slightly confused over which bus to take and where.The timetables for the different routes are only on that route so we weren’t fully sure of what time the connection was to Yaki. It wasn’t busy and a very grumpy female bus driver eventually told us and a few other bedraggled souls,huddled in the cold, that it was her bus we needed. She was an exception to the rule, as everyone we met who worked in the Parks or in shops etc was incredibly friendly and helpful.Waited 15 mins till the Yaki bus left.Noticed a family being dropped off at the South Kaibab trailhead, two really young children all kitted out for the trek. It was a rotten morning for it, very wet and cold.We knew in our hearts already that there would be no great sunrise.
Sure enough, it was very cloudy at Yaki and I slightly regretted seeing that warm bus zoom away,just as the rain started. There was a lot of mist rising in the valley but almost no light.We waited there for another thirty very cold , damp minutes, everyone sheltering under the pine trees, until the next bus came to pick us all up.Some folk only had T- shirts on, some Indian women only had flimsy, if beautiful, saris on – they must have been frozen! In all, it had taken us about 90 minutes to get out and back to Yaki, with only a short time at the viewpoint.A bit of a damp squib end to our time here.
By 8.30am we had packed up, drank gallons of tea, had some tinned grapefruit and a banana and were ready to go. It was a shame to say goodbye to this magnificent place in such lousy weather but we felt, in the very short time that we had, that we had done it some justice.It’s somewhere I would love to return to, perhaps in winter when it’s under snow.Truly one of the world’s great landscapes which actually exceeded all the hype.
More Grand Canyon Photos
NEXT: Bearzona and the final day’s drive to Las Vegas