Dara: The day after our amazing engagement celebration, we slept in after what was probably our coldest night on the road, waking up to frosted grass in the Kaibab National Forest (where there is free boondocking, aka dispersed camping) just outside of Tusayan. We made breakfast out of the back of the van – tea and oatmeal – then headed on our way to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon!
TJ: But first we put on the onesies!
Dara: Yesssss! One of my gifts to TJ the day before was matching onesies for both of us so we wore those with our boots and matching grey sweatshirts, and went off for the day’s adventures in gross/cute matching outfits.
TJ: Note that the fee for the Grand Canyon is $30. It’s one of the more expensive parks, since it’s so popular. If you’re going there, and 3 or more parks throughout the year, it’s probably worth buying the annual national parks pass for $80!
Our first stop was the main Grand Canyon Visitor Center at Mather Point, where we took a second to wander through the center and watch their 15-minute film, which does a pretty great job of teaching you about the canyon.
We then walked the half mile or so to the rim, where we got our first glimpse of the massive chasm that is the Grand Canyon.
It’s hard to overstate how big it is. And weirdly enough, the view from the Visitor’s Center is actually one of the smallest views of it.
Seriously. Pictures do not do justice to just how massive this canyon is. I went once before this time, briefly stopping on a cross country road trip, and really the only thing I remember is saying “wow” to myself over and over. The great thing about visiting this time, in the winter instead of the summer, was that there were so many less people.
And we had onesies! We got some great photos in our onesies at Mather Point!
Then we drove off to Yavapai Point, where we checked out the Geological Museum.
It’s worth a visit! The museum has spectacular views, and great exhibits explaining how this massive thing formed over billions and billions of years. Fun fact – most of the erosion has happened in the last 70 million years, which makes the Grand Canyon relatively new to the planet.
Our next stop on the South Rim was the ever popular Bright Angel Trailhead, which, even in the winter, was still packed.
This trail let’s you travel down the steep canyon walls, through tunnels, across cliffs, and eventually down to the bottom of the canyon.
Though that’s a multi-day affair! Multiple signs on the path warn not to even try going all the way down because going back up takes 2 or 3 times the effort, and the more than 10 miles to the bottom is not exactly a day hike.
We ended up going maybe half a mile down before we wanted to go back up because the trail was extremely icy and slippery at times.
And with the cliffs, there was no way we wanted to go down further. Though, it was fun to realize that the onesies were actually perfect to hike in! They were flexible, warm, and airy which was perfect for exercising on a chilly day.
Next, we stopped at Kolb Studio – the former studio of two famous brother photographers and pioneers who were among the first (white) residents of the canyon. They filmed some of the first footage of the Grand Canyon, sharing their discoveries with the world.
After that we left the Grand Canyon Village, east down highway 64, which follows the canyon for about 20 miles until the Desert View Watchtower.
Along the way, we stopped at a few of the lookout points, which actually seemed to get better and better.
As you go farther east, it’s actually easier to see the bottom, and as the end of the day nears, the golden hour light cast magnificent shadows on the canyon.
We stopped at Grandview Point, Moran Point, and then my personal favorite Lipan Point.
And finally we stopped at Desert View Watchtower, the farthest east the road goes on the South Rim. Though it has the appearance of being an old, Native American structure, the Desert Tower is in fact a newer building modeled on Native American ruins.
Pro Tip: the tower closes at 4:30pm, so make sure to arrive before then! We didn’t know it closed so early so when we got there around 5pm, it was too late to go up the tower.
After that, we headed towards the next destination on our trip – Page, AZ – which was 2 hours away. On the way we stopped at a lookout point over the Little Colorado River Gorge, a smaller but still magnificent chasm.
Fun fact: at this point in the trip, we were entering Navajo Nation, which is bigger than West Virginia, and includes parts of Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. It’s the largest Native American territory in the US.
By nightfall we arrived in Page, and found a beautiful camping spot in the desert hills behind the Lake Powell Dam. We cooked dinner – pasta with beef marinara sauce – eating inside our car, then gazed at the incredibly clear stars before heading to bed!
The next day we ventured off into Page and saw Utah, Lake Powell, Antelope Canyon and more!
And we’ll tell you all about it next week!
To be continued…