We were up bright and early on day four, driving away from our wigwam at 6:10 AM. I should probably mention that Arizona is in the Mountain Timezone but doesn’t recognize Daylight Savings so we were three hours behind Raleigh time already. So, yeah, translated to 9:10 AM doesn’t sound so impressive! Still, we were excited to be taking full advantage of our as-yet-unacclimated body clocks in order to have a full day at the Grand Canyon.
Back on I-40 and three hours away from the canyon, we traveled west about 30 miles to the quaint town of Winslow. Yep, the best roadside attraction of this trip was standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona!
The town of Winslow embraces its Take It Easy claim to fame and dedicates an entire street corner dedicated to the song with a statue of co-writer Jackson Brown and a flat-bed Ford parked on the side of the road. Only months removed from The Eagles’ co-writer Glenn Frey’s passing, remnants of a memorial shrine still remained. We took several photos and then moved on as other vehicles with license plates from eastern states arrived to do the same at this early hour! Winslow itself is a lovely little quintessential Route 66 town.
On the road again with the mountains near Flagstaff nearly 100 miles away.
It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford slowin’ down to take a look at me…
Don’t forget Winona!
Continuing out of Winslow, we drove still further west towards a mysterious snow-capped mountain seemingly misplaced in the middle of the desert. Distance can be deceiving and we changed our minds every five minutes while predicting whether this mountain is before or after Flagstaff. Impromptu interstate games are exhilarating, I tell you!
It turns out the mountain is just north of Flagstaff and we turned north off I-40 just before reaching it. Route 89 took us north towards the western entrance to Grand Canyon National Park. There, we parked at the Desert View Visitor Center and quickly ate our packed lunch in the car. A mere two months later, the Grand Canyon would be experiencing extreme heat warnings above 110 degrees, but on this morning, it was too cold and window to eat outside!
It doesn’t get more western than watching a tumbleweed blow aross the road in front of the car!
Steep grade on route 89 heading north out of the beautiful evergreen forests outside of Flagstaff.
Route 64 approaching the east entrance to the Grand Canyon
We glimpsed our first views of the canyon from the grounds surrounding the watchtower before heading inside to pick up Junior Ranger booklets for the boys and enjoying all of gorgeous murals and views from the tower.
First view of the canyon.
Our plan was to spend the afternoon driving west through the park towards Grand Canyon Village, stopping at several viewpoints along the way, and taking a hike down into the canyon. I’d read about the shuttle bus routes while planning the trip, but figured we would be hitting the park at a time of relatively low visitation and we would only be stopping to park a few times so it wouldn’t be necessary. Our next stop at Grandview Point forced us to reevaluate our plans! In stark contrast to the largely empty parking lot at the watchtower, open parking spaces at Grandview were non-existent and we lucked out by nabbing a close space just as the occupying car was leaving. We enjoyed the view with a sizable crowd and realized that the crowd warnings I’d read while preparing for this day were absolutely correct!
The rule with signs is usually “take a picture now, read it later.” The boys are always itching to move on before we can completely read any sign!
If the difficulty at Grandview hadn’t prompted us to ditch our car and take a shuttle, the fact that the road to the South Kaibab Trailhead was only accessible to shuttle buses solidified that decision. So, we quickly decided to park at the main visitor center. However, it was now noon local time and the sprawling lot was already full. Since we were staying at a rim hotel that evening, we decided to try the lot by our hotel. Finally, success! Our car never left that space in the El Tovar parking lot until we left the park the following morning!
We hopped on the blue bus (Village Loop) back to the visitor center where we planned to watch the movie first, but an orange bus (Kaibab Rim Loop) was already waiting so we decided to head right to the trailhead instead.
The South Kaibab trail leads all the way to the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon. We wouldn’t be hiking the entire route with the boys, of course, so we had two possible turn-around points in mind for an out-and-back trip. The “Ooh Aah” point is 0.9 miles down while Cedar Ridge, with restrooms and a picnic area, is the farthest point I expected to be able to hike at 1.5 miles.
The hike begins with a series of switchbacks. Realizing that the hike would only be more difficult going uphill the entire way back, we decided early on that we would only hike as far as the Ooh Aah point. Signs warned that squirrels in the area carried the black plague (say what?!) so Jasper, taking his Junior Rangering very seriously, warned random hikers passing us to not touch the squirrels. He wasn’t too excited about hiking on this day and kept telling us at every overlook, “I think this is the Ooh Aah point!” knowing that we would be turning back when we reached that point. Eventually, we did reach the point and stopped to enjoy the magnificent view, eat a snack, and work on a few Junior Ranger pages.
We thoroughly enjoyed the trail and the hike back up 693 feet to the rim. The conditions were perfect with cool air and clear blue skies. Hiking at the speed of our slowest hiker (*coughJaspercough*) and with several stops to rest along the way, the hike down and back up took two hours to complete.
Junior Rangering on the trail again.
Caution: switchbacks ahead!
We took the bus back to the visitor center (which completely elevated our expectations for all National Park visitor centers we’d later see, but none, not even Yosemite, even came close to matching its size!) and walked into the park film which had just begun. Jasper had one page remaining in his Junior Ranger booklet so we walked out to the rim to enjoy the picturesque Grand Canyon view and finish the last page at Mather Point.
Books complete, we returned to the visitor center to wait in line for the next available park ranger who ended up being Lance. Oh, Lance. It’s wonderful people like you who can so easily make a child’s day! THANK YOU for that! After reviewing their booklets, he asked if they wanted the serious oath or the fun oath. He proceeded with the LONG fun oath, making the boys promise to compose a 300-page essay about what they learned about the Grand Canyon before embarking on a 47-city lecture tour to share their knowledge. The boys found it all quite hysterical! With that, their first Junior Ranger badges of the trip had proudly been earned.
We made a quick stop at the gift shop for magnets, postcards, and a plush big horn sheep. We didn’t see any big horns at the canyon, but it ended up being quite an appropriate souvenir for the trip as we would see big horns prominently included in the wildlife sections of almost every park we would visit.
We caught a bus back to the hotel, checked into the Kachina Lodge, and ate our pasta salad dinner that we had purchased back in Albuquerque the previous day. From the hotel, we walked briefly at the rim over to Bright Angel where were enjoyed some ice cream. Exhausted, we were tucked into bed by 8:00.
Sunset at Bright Angel