Saturday, June 19, 2010

Summer Vacation: Grand Canyon

The first stop in the Nawrot summer vacation was the Grand Canyon. None of us had ever seen this Natural Wonder of the World, so we were aptly blown away. My first impression was amazement at how you don’t see it coming. In your mind you know it is massive, so you think you would see it twenty miles away, right? In fact, you drive and drive, looking at a flat horizon, then all of the sudden you come to the edge and it all opens up before you. It is breathtaking.

We visited the park on the South Rim. If you decide to visit this area as well, here are some tips and impressions from a novice:

Getting there:

We were visiting the South Rim, so we flew into Flagstaff Airport. It is a very small, two-gate airport that is primarily served by US Airways, but it is clean, friendly and efficient. There are several rental car companies to choose from, and provide excellent service. From Flagstaff, you have approximately an hour drive to the entrance to the park. There is a small airport at the Grand Canyon, but I’m not sure if it would be practical to fly in there.

Where to stay:

There are a number of lodges and cabins within the park village area where you can stay, however they are extremely expensive and book up a year in advance in some cases. If money is no object, and you plan ahead, the El Tovar is the accommodation of choice. It is a turn-of-the-century gem (recently renovated in 2005), is historically significant with a long list of famous lodgers, and is perched right at the edge of the Canyon with incredible views.

If you are interested in saving hundreds of dollars a night, I would recommend you stay right outside the park entrance, where there are a number of reasonable options. We stayed at the Best Western for two hundred dollars a night, which included a complimentary breakfast buffet, ample parking, an arcade, a bowling alley, a pool, and a nice restaurant. It was clean and comfortable, and for two nights, it worked for us.

Park Entrance:

Whether you go into the park once or twenty times, you are charged a one-time $25 fee, which is good for seven days. (A one-year pass is available for multiple parks.) This allows you to come and go at your leisure.

Where to eat:

Inside the park, there did not appear to be many places to eat, so plan ahead. The El Tovar does have an excellent restaurant, where we dined one evening (reservations recommended). It seemed to be the only true fine dining in the area. Entrees were pricey, but they did offer any adult entrée at half price for kids, which ours appreciated (they are not big fans of PB&J or chicken fingers). Parking is a huge issue in the village area, so be prepared to spend some time finding a spot, or parking and walking a distance.

Most of the scenic turnouts only had bathrooms and a picnic table or two. The Desert View turnout (featuring a watchtower) did have a snack bar.

You will find a number of casual eateries right outside the, Mexican, American fare and fast food. There is also a general store where you can stock up on snacks, drinks and sandwiches for the road. The Best Western featured a restaurant called Coronado, a full-service joint. The food was good, the wine list deplorable, but was more appealing to us than a Big Mac.

What to do:

You can easily satisfy your hankering for scenic views of the Grand Canyon by driving and stopping at a variety of turnouts. Some of these stops feature hiking, for those of you ambitious folks. There are also a number of trails available in the village area venturing down into the canyon. These hikes are pretty strenuous but provide amazing views. Make sure you bring plenty of water and snacks! I must also add that this is not Disney. There are no protective guardrails, and sheer drop-offs that offer no chance of survival if you went over the edge. My point? Think twice before you bring young children, or if you bring them, make sure they are strapped into a stroller. It was even terrifying with a 10 and 12-year old!

The big attraction at the canyon is helicopter rides. Against my better judgement, our family decided to give this a whirl. Papillon was the company recommended by AAA, and operates out of the Grand Canyon airport, right around the corner from our hotel. Reservations are recommended, for these tours are very popular. You can take a 25 minute tour, or a 50 minute tour…we choose the latter. Why not? We also chose to take an “Eco Tour”, which is operated by Papillon’s sister company. These helicopters have more windows in the cabin, and afford more expansive views for a few more dollars. I might add that this option was not automatically offered to us; we had to ask for it. The experience was indescribable. The tour went to several parts of the canyon, flew down inside it and around the rock formations, all the while listening to some pretty cool music (including Floyd’s Wish You Were Here – ha!). Strangely, I felt safer on this ride than I did during any of our hikes! I have a pretty crazy fear of heights, and my son is prone to motion sickness, but neither of us were bothered.

The only thing we did not do on this trip was take a raft ride on the Colorado River. We will save that for next time.

For more information on the Grand Canyon, visit UpTake travel website.


JoAnn said...

This is an excellent post Sandy... full of great information! Hope to get there within the next year or two. Thanks so much.

Serena said...

I'm going to mark this for future reference....I've always wanted to go to the Grand Canyon.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I too am very unhappy with dropoffs and no guardrails! That's why when we go next weekend we made reservations for just the flyover, no stop-and-climb-down options!

bermudaonion said...

I would love to go to the Grand Canyon, but I'm terrified of heights and have always wondered how I would handle it. Seeing that you're afraid of heights too and managed just fine gives me a little confidence.

Molly said...

Such a PERFECT travel article! I have never been to the Grand Canyon, but thanks to you, I know how to budget for the trip, where to stay, and what to do. Awesome :)

Beth F said...

I haven't been the canyon in years. It sounds more commercial than it was in the mid-70s when I lived in AZ. It is amazing, isn't it! I took a plane ride through the canyon -- a helicopter would have been a lot nicer to my tummy (I love helicopters!).

If it is still possible to hike down to the Havasupai falls, you should do that -- the travertine pools are (were anyway) amazing.

caite said...

I have never been there! and I must.
very nice, informative post!

Trisha said...

Very cool! I've never been, but I've always wanted to go; now I'm even more jealous!

Jeane said...

I would love to visit the Grand Canyon someday. I didn't know they did helicopter tours- that sounds amazing!

Frances said...

You have a talent for this, Sandy! Do I see a travel blog in your future? Or you could just cover your home town. Inside tips for visitors. Sounds like a wonderful trip!

Jenners said...

I love your little travel tips!! Great idea!

I was blown away by the Grand Canyon when I've visited. I guess I didn't really anticipate the sheer SIZE of it beforehand. It truly is amazing.

And Mr. Jenners and I stayed in a cabin in the off season. It .. uh ... wasn't the best experience.

Iliana said...

I bet you guys had such a fantastic time. I've never been to the Grand Canyon but one day I must go. I love hiking and can only imagine how amazing it would be there.

Anonymous said...

Jerry has always wanted to take us there, but for some reason, we haven't planned a trip. Looks like we'll have to change that. I'm glad to hear you had such a lovely time.


Michelle said...

It sounds like a wonderful vacation, and I will definitely be marking this post for future reference. I really want to take the kids to see this one day!

Ti said...

Excellent post!! So much information! I've not visited the Grand Canyon yet.

ds said...

I have always wanted to get to the bottom of the Grand Canyon (and raft the Colorado). Was lucky enough to see it once on an extended family vacation when I was in college. Since we were camping, we stayed on the road & were awestruck from "scenic overlooks." So amazing!
You provide a wealth of information here, Sandy. Definitely earning your travel guide creds! Thanks so much for this.

Susan said...

Awesome travelogue, Sandy! Makes me want to go even more. Someday, I hope.

Matt said...

I've never been to the Great Canyon and your post is just informative. Did you get on that scary glassy U-tube thing? That looks very frightening. I can keep that.

Melody said...

Great post, Sandy!
I had my first helicopter ride in NZ (to Mt. Cook) and I've to say I had mixed emotions as I was both thrilled and nervous riding it. In the end, I think the ride was worth it because the scene was just spectacular! :)

Alice said...

Fabulous pictures, Sandy! You take really good ones, you know that? I took a while reading this post and loving every bit of it. I haven't had any helo rides in my life, BUT I hope to realize that dream one day. Thank you so much for sharing this!

Heidenkind said...

I remember that tree at the Grand Canyon! Did you get a pic of the rainbow the waterfall makes?