On our honeymoon trip we had visited the Grand Canyon North Rim. Since we weren’t hiking down into the canyon, we had just walked along the rim a bit and checked out some viewpoints. It was pretty, but far from our favorite of parks based on that experience alone. This time, at the South Rim, we decided to hike down into the canyon (not all the way, but a little bit!). It was a whole different experience, and left us wanting to come back and hike down farther!
When we got directions on our phone from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon it said it would take us about 1.5 hours. However, as we got closer, the time kept increasing dramatically. We figured it was an accident or something. Come to find out, Grand Canyon is a popular place to go for Thanksgiving week. The wait time to get in the gate went from 20 minutes to 45 minutes and then luckily, by the time we arrived, back 30 minutes. Oy!
As we had been approaching the park we saw a plume of dark smoke and wondered what it was coming from. A factory way out in the middle of nowhere? Just before we arrived at the long entrance line, we found out what the smoke had been caused by. We first noticed a smoldering log by the side of the road. Was it just our eyes playing tricks on us? Was it really just dust being kicked up from the wind? Then another small brush pile smoking! It was definitely on fire.
As we were searching for mile markers (so that we could call in what we had seen) we entered into a huge plume of smoke with fire raging at the side of the road! If Justin hadn’t seen the firefighters with torches in their hands I would have been frantic. Apparently, it was a controlled burn of the underbrush to prevent a forest fire. Man, what a sight to see. Frightening, especially so close to a national park.
Justin had reserved a spot at the Mather Campground for the day after our arrival rather than the day of our arrival, since it was a last minute reservations and reservations needed to be made more than 24 hours in advance. We figured there would still be sites available but were a bit nervous that we would have to use up our only full day at the park to move into a new site. Luckily, the rangers were able to switch a couple things around and give us a new site for the two consecutive nights. Phew! We got one of those backward door facing pull through sites (where your camper door faces the road rather than your campsite). Not ideal but we were lucky to get what we did, plus, we wouldn’t be there for long.
One exciting perk of staying on the Grand Canyon was that there was finally SINGLE STREAM RECYCLING!! You read it right people! This is the first place on our trip to have recycling for anything besides aluminum cans and glass! Do you know how much space this freed up in the back of Dimes?! Amazing! Thanks Grand Canyon! Though, I do wish there was a dumpster next to the recycling container because by looking in, people were obversely confused. 🙁
Day 1: Biking to the Visiter Center
Last time Justin and I were at the Grand Canyon, on our honeymoon, we explored the North Rim, which was very low key. However, this time we were exploring the South Rim which we learned is tourist city!!
Something great about our camping location was that there was a paved bike path that led to many of the attractions. For our first day we figured we had time to go check out the Visitor Center and pick up the Jr Ranger books. It was a sunny 50* day which felt nice. All four of us hopped onto our bikes traveling the 1.5 miles to our destination. However, halfway down the trail we realized we were so excited to be exploring on bike we had forgotten some really important things: snacks, warm layers for the ride home and the medical kit. Justin volunteered to ride back to Wobbles, gather the supplies and meet us at the Visitor Center while I rode ahead with the girls.
Everything went swimmingly! We had a great bike ride, the girls were happy, we successfully picked up their Jr Ranger books and found ourselves a cozy spot to read some gift shop books, as always. Justin even successfully found us (“of course, you all were with the books. I knew just where to find you!”). We scooted to a Critters ranger talk where we learned fun facts about the animals that roam the South Rim and how to keep yourself and the animals safe. The rule of thumb is just that! If you see an animal and you hold your arm out straight with your thumb out, if the animal is hidden by your thumb, you should be a safe distance away, but if it isn’t, back up!
Next we all went to the Mather Lookout and realized just how much of a zoo this place was! It wasn’t just a dozen people out there taking pictures. It was more like 12 dozen people crowding around. Instead of seeing the Grand Canyon, we saw an array of iPhones on outstretched arms. There were at least 30 people waiting in line to have their picture taken on a particular rock at the viewpoint. I think it was probably so popular because that was the only vantage point where you could possibly crop out the mobs of people. So busy!
We were all chilled to the bone and looking forward to putting on our warm layers Justin had retrieved and heading back to camp for dinner. However, upon arriving at our bikes we realized that when Justin had gone back to get our warm stuff, he apparently left most of it back at the campsite!! By this time the temperature had dropped dramatically and it was close to dark. We had Justin’s, our 5 year old and my vest and two sets of mittens. The jackets, our 3 year old’s vest and gloves and my gloves had been left behind!
The bike ride home was miserable! Our 5 year old learned she couldn’t ride her bike with my big vest on her therefore was chilled to the bone and our 3 year old had a major major melt down because she wanted to ride her bike home yet was freezing so she was moving at a snail’s pace. It was getting into the teens shortly so we needed to move! She ended up riding in the bike trailer pulled by Justin but refused to get any warm things on ripping everything we put on her off. Longest 1.5 miles! Poor Justin got the brunt of it since she was towing her. Our oldest and I stopped every couple dozen feet to have me warm our icicle hands with my breath. Needless to say, the next day we had plenty of warm clothes on!
Day 2: Bright Angel Trail
We rode our bikes to the Visiter’s Center (girls in bike trailer this time and all of us with warm layers!) and took the free shuttle bus to Bright Angel Trail head.
We decided it might be nice to start down the Bright Angel Trail which eventually leads to the bottom of the canyon. Rim to bottom is a 10 mile hike. Not too bad going down but I bet its a hard one going up. The trail was semi narrow making it about two persons wide, though the one side was a complete drop off so it didn’t feel wise to pass unless there was a “pull off” where the trail widened a bit.
Soon after we headed down the trail we were delighted to see a pack of mules coming down the trail! It seemed surreal until we were struck with the reality that they would all be soon passing us! There were signs periodically that prompted hikers to stay on the inside of the trail in single file until the mules have passed you. We lucked out that when the mules passed us we were in a rock archway making it seems safer for them to pass. What beautiful animals! The trail was peppered with the fragrant mule poop thereafter. It’s pretty much just grass so it wasn’t bad at all.
Our oldest found a nice little nook on a rock for us to eat lunch in on the trail overlooking the canyon below.
We only went down into the canyon a little over a half mile making it just over a one dime hike for the girls. The girls both did great! I was picturing our 3 year old and I left behind in a slower than slug pace like at Bryce but I was pleasantly surprised by the faster pace. The views were amazing! It was really neat to be able to see the trail lead down so far into the canyon. We could see water stations and Indian Garden Campground from our view point as a cluster of cottonwoods among the bare rock.
The mule team passed us again on our way back up!
On our way back up we stopped at a particularly lovely view point to let the girls sketch what they saw in their Jr Ranger books as well as get a family photo.
From there we checked out Kolb Studio, the other Visiter’s Center (Verkamps), and part of the village shops including the Hopi House which is a mimicked reconstruction of a Pueblo dwelling. It was very well done!
We of course took advantage of reading a handful of books at each place we stopped. I think the saying should say, “Stop and read a book.” rather than “Stop and smell the roses.” It would be more appropriate for us anyway.
Though a bit rushed, our bike ride back to the campground was much warmer than last time. We even got to see a female elk near the trail spotted by our 5 year old.
We can’t wait to hike the entire Bright Angel Trail with our girls when they are a bit older. Now, onto warmer weather!