It’s Day 23 on our trek across the US, we may be operating on no sleep but we’re going to the Grand Canyon.
The Long Drive To Arizona
After a late night playing board games with family we decided to hit the road at about 2am without going to sleep. Our aim was to get to Las Vegas early. Danielle took the first shift driving while I went to sleep. Thinking she would pass another gas station, Danielle didn’t pull over to fill up in Alamogordo. In the dead of night, there wasn’t much else around.
One hour turned to two and the car was running on empty. After about an hour running on empty Danielle pulled into an empty gas station and woke me up.
We could either wait here 1-2 hours for the gas station to open up or risk driving on. I quickly googled the next gas station which was 14 miles away. We decided to risk it (praying all the way.) Thankfully we made it, but we were pretty nervous.
I got the sunrise shift. It was beautiful seeing the darkness fade from the sky and the color fill this arid, Western landscape. By mid morning we were getting pretty hungry so we found a Burger King for breakfast in Flagstaff. Flagstaff has this massive hill covered in snow. We had originally planned to keep going to Las Vegas and come back to the Grand Canyon tomorrow. Looking at the map we realised it was only an hour and a half to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. We decided to pack more into this very busy day
Grand Canyon National Park Visitor Center
We drove North from Flagstaff to the National Park, which was mostly through snow covered landscapes.
The entry fee into the National Park is $30 per vehicle. We drove on to the visitor center to have a look around.
To be honest we found the visitor center underwhelming. The people weren’t too helpful, the bathrooms were dirty and we found it hard to get the information we needed. I think it’s mainly because they are overrun with people most days.
We also hadn’t done much planning as this was a last minute decision. The visitor center did have some helpful suggestions for activities. They had different suggestions depending if you’re there for a couple of hours, half a day or a full day. We opted for the half a day.
There is plenty to do at the National Park. There are walks you can do around the rim of the Canyon which are pretty flat. They are mostly wheelchair and stroller accessible. Then there are also hikes you can do down into the Canyon which require more stamina.
We knew we wanted to do one of the hikes. Because there had been snow and ice the park ranger said we would need to buy these crampons which cost us $40 each. You can probably buy them much cheaper on Amazon if you’re more prepared than we are. We wish we had these for our hike in Cloudcroft the day before. I also wish I had hiking shoes rather than runners. To keep your toes warm, I definitely recommend the double sock (two socks on each foot) if you’re there in the colder months).
Taking In The Views At Mather Point
The other useful thing they have at the National Park is shuttle buses, so you just leave your car parked and get on the bus.
We caught the bus over to Mather Point (though we later realised we could have walked). This was our first glimpse of the Canyon and a great photo opportunity.
That said the photos really don’t capture the size, the depth of the Grand Canyon. I just stood there in awe of how simply massive this place is. I’ve been to Kings Canyon in Australia which is spectacular enough, but it’s so tiny by comparison.
We jostled around with the crowds to get good positions for photos. Strangers took photos for us and we took photos for strangers. We were mesmerized just taking in the incredible views.
Hiking to Ooh Aah Point
It was then time to head to the South Kaibab Trailhead to start our hike to Ooh Aah Point. We got off the bus, put on our crampons and started the hike down into the canyon. There really wasn’t too much snow and ice. That said, I was still grateful to have the crampons to deal with the mud, water and mule poo. Lots of mule poo!
The hike to Ooh Aah point is about 3 miles return but it seems a lot longer. It took us about 1.5 hours. When hiking into the Canyon, always remember that at some point you have to turn around and hike back up again.
There were times when I felt giddy because of the height. I found if I kept focussed on the track I was ok.
The beauty of Ooh Aah point is that you have a 360 degree view. It is photo perfect at every turn. I must admit, I clung to the rocks a bit, still nervous about the height.
I wish we had brought a drink bottle and some food, because now we had to start hiking back up. It was pretty gruelling but I just put one foot in front of the other. I managed to stop and take in the scenery from time to time. I was certainly panting by the end of it.
On the hike, you see signs that warn against altitude sickness. You’ll need to be aware of this particularly if you are hiking to the bottom of the Canyon and back in one day. You’d have to be incredibly fit to do this. We met some guys who had left a camp at the bottom at 6 am. They were only reaching us around 3pm in the afternoon. That is a massive achievement in itself.
Still, this trip made me want to come back someday. I’d like to hike down to the bottom of the Canyon, stay for a few days down there before hiking out.
Making The Most Of The Fading Light
After the hike we went back to the visitor center for a quick rest and toilet break. We then caught the bus to see the village before a quick drive out to the Hermit Road route as the light faded over the Canyon. It was here that we managed to catch a glimpse of the Colorado River at the very bottom of the Canyon.
Trying to leave the National Park was a chore. There is no phone reception so my phone GPS wasn’t really working. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any exit signs. It took a while of driving back and forth before we eventually found our way out. In hindsight, getting my bearings earlier in the day would have been helpful.
Driving From The Grand Canyon to Las Vegas
Utterly exhausted we made our way down from the Grand Canyon for the 4 hour drive to Las Vegas. If I did it again I’d definitely book a night somewhere near the Canyon so I could get up and watch the sunrise.
Driving into Las Vegas, I was impressed by the size of everything, the bright lights and the bustling activity. It felt akin to Time Square.
We were super glad to check into the Marriott’s Grand Chateau in Las Vegas. The hotel is nice and clean like other Marriott hotels. It is really close to the strip, yet family friendly so you have a place of refuge away from all the gambling and Vegas noise if you want it.
A Night In Vegas
Though we were exhausted we pushed ourselves to go in search of a late dinner. We thought we might find something at Planet Hollywood, but we ended up at Gordon Ramsay’s “Burger.”
I ordered the Mediterranean Burger with Truffle Fries and butterscotch creamy soda. The food was pretty good. Although, it definitely wasn’t the best burger I’ve ever had considering it was $19 and Ramsay talks a big game. Danielle did really enjoy the Truffle Fries though.
After eating our fill we walked back to the hotel and collapsed, completely exhausted. We had covered roughly 1400km, been through three states and seen the Grand Canyon since this morning!
Tell us about your Grand Canyon experience in the comments below.