I am ashamed to say that for all the years I’ve been living in America, I have never visited the Grand Canyon. In my defense, there were several attempts, but for one reason or another, it never happened until recently.
For finally visiting this magnificent part of the world, I should thank a dear childhood friend from Brazil for whom I helped plan a trip to the Southwest USA. Invited by her to join this adventure, I couldn’t postpone it any longer.
The Grand Canyon, located in the Northwest corner of Arizona, is one of the most fascinating geologic formations I have ever set my eyes on. No matter how many pictures and videos I have seen, they didn’t reduce my astonishment when I looked at the vastness and beauty of the valleys and plateaus for the first time. Formed over 17 million years through constant erosion by wind and rain, the canyon is 277 miles long and spans up to 18 miles at its widest point. Although the depth of the canyon varies from place to place, its deepest point is more than a mile down. I was thrilled!
Apart from feeling like a tiny speck in this massive stretch of gorges, ridges, and colorful layers of rock formations, the tranquility floating on the breeze from the immense canyon was overpowering.
By far, the best way to see the Grand Canyon is by road trip. After my friend and I had met and enjoyed a Las Vegas trip for non-gamblers, we got on the road. With Brazilian music on the radio, snacks at the ready, and a never-ending chat, our plan was to drive 225 miles to Williams, Arizona, where we would be staying.
Grand Canyon Skywalk
We had no agenda, other than to get to the hotel. That said, we changed our route between Las Vegas and the South Rim with an 80-mile detour (each way) to the Grand Canyon West, where the Skywalk is located. We wanted to see that.
Would I do that again? No, but let me explain why.
First, it is overpriced. Because it is not possible to get admission only for the Skywalk, we bought a package at the rate of $82.50 per person, which included a hop-on hop-off shuttle from the Visitor Center to Eagle Point, Guano Point, Hualapai Ranch, and the glass floor that hangs over the Grand Canyon, aka the Skywalk, a cantilever bridge with a glass walkway.
Upon arrival, we were asked to place all of our belongings in a locker; to include cell phones, cameras, and bags. The situation left us with two options: no photos at all, or to spend an extra $65 for a photo package. Although upset with this turn of events, we chose the second option and split the cost of the package.
Finally, although the views of the canyon from the glass walkway and viewpoints were beautiful, I found them no more impressive than the stunning views of the South Rim that we would see the next day.
Staying in Williams
A flashback to the planning phase of this trip, four months prior to our travel dates, I tried unsuccessfully to make an online hotel reservation to stay at the Bright Angel Lodge. Hoping for better luck, I called the hotel directly. To my surprise, I was informed that all hotels inside the park were fully booked, and booking should be made 10 to 12 months in advance during peak travel season. Oh well!
Knowing several towns are located not far the park, we picked Williams, which is 60 miles away. Other options are Tusayan, 7 miles and Flagstaff, 80 miles. A one-hour drive to and from the Grand Canyon National Park didn’t seem unreasonable at all.
Williams, located along historic Route 66, has an appeal of its own with historic buildings, old-fashioned cars, and all kinds of antiques and collectibles that made us feel like we were back in the early 1900s. When strolling through the streets and looking at light poles, signs, and everything else surrounding us, I felt like the past was protected from all modern life. Impressive!
There is also an option to take a scenic train ride through the forests from Williams to the Grand Canyon.
Day 1: Grand Canyon South Rim
On our first day we had a late start. After paying a $30 per vehicle fee at the Grand Canyon National Park entrance which is good for seven days, we parked in one of the parking lots near the Grand Canyon Visitor Center.
Either hiking or taking advantage of the free hop-on hop-off shuttles that move between viewpoints and trails every 10-15 minutes, we moved along the rim from Mather’s Point to Bright Angel Lodge. During the rides, the friendly and knowledgeable drivers not only told us about the best overlooks, but also filled us in on facts about the park. While hiking, we were amazed by the scale, shapes, and colors of the Grand Canyon. Neither pictures, videos, nor words do justice to the scenery. Nonetheless, it didn’t stop me from taking lots of photos!
In the middle of the afternoon we were near the Bright Angel Lodge. Craving a real meal, we sat down in the Harvey House Café for a late lunch. Although the early crowd was gone, the café, located in the lodge, was still busy. While the food wasn’t ideal, we were pleased to sit, have a cold drink, and relax.
Although our stamina was recharged, we had hiked enough for the day. We chose to check out a couple of gift shops, including the Lookout Studio, and the Hopi House which is shaped like a Hopi pueblo. We also enjoyed the views. Oh, the views! Before sunset, we got a spot on the retaining wall and sat down to wait. Slowly the air cooled, the clouds and sky changed hues, first to orange, then red as the sun slipped behind the valleys and peaks like an exquisite piece of moving art. A beautiful day was over!
Day 2: Grand Canyon South Rim
On day two we wanted to see the dawn over the canyon. We bundled up, picked up a cup of coffee to carry out, and got on the road. Right after we arrived at Mother’s Point, the sun rose and hit the top of the rock formations. Side by side with other travelers, we gazed as sunlight traveled down the carved walls and towering spires, until it gradually illuminated the canyon below. For a moment I felt paralyzed by this spectacular beauty.
As expected, the South Rim was crowded, but it was easy to move away from the busy areas and find a quiet spot along one of the rim’s trails. Later we explored the other side of the rim. One of my most pleasant memories was sitting on the edge of the canyon on Hermits Rest Route, closing my eyes, feeling the warm September air touching my skin, and enjoying quiet, inner peace. From time to time I’d hear voices behind me, but I remained still in a sanctuary where I enjoyed my momentary solitude.
The highly praised Bright Angel Trail is more than 6 miles long, and experts advise that hiking to the river and back another 6 miles in the same day is not a good idea. Surely, it requires a lot of planning. We still wanted to see part of the trail so starting west of the Bright Angel Lodge, we hiked one mile down. Surrounded by incredible drops and beautiful views all along the way, we didn’t want to stop. However, considering that the way up is always more difficult, and with dusk approaching, we reluctantly turned around.
Near Lookout Studio, sitting on a retaining wall again, we stared in amazement at another beautiful sunset.
Note: For day hikes information click here.