May 01, 2012

A visit to the Grand Canyon National Park

We said our goodbyes to Humphrey’s peak and headed to the South Rim at the Grand Canyon National Park. On our way in we stopped in the only town between Flagstaff and the park, Tusayan. Tusayan is not even really a town, just a collection of hotels and fast food restaurants just 5 miles outside the park entrance that catch all the tourists that are looking for the comforts of home. We stopped at a McDonalds for a quick treat, and saw 20 brand new Harley's parked outside, all the exact same body style. When we went inside, we saw the bikers, and they were all wearing matching jackets. I asked one of them where they were from. Turns out they are Harley enthusiasts from Marseilles, France that flew into Los Angeles, rented the Harleys, and are now on a 12 day driving trip around the SouthWest. They were going to the Grand Canyon, then onto Moab, Grand Staircase National Monument, Bryce National Park, and ending their trip in Las Vegas. Too cool!

Marseilles Chapter in the US! 
We pulled in just after lunch and headed straight to the Mather Campground. Turns out we were right to hurry, because the park was experiencing an unexpected influx of visitors and there were only 6 RV spots left in the park…out of over 300! After parking and a quick lunch, we pulled out the bikes and hit the greenbelt trail. The whole Grand Canyon Village is well connected with sidewalks and greenbelts. There are also free shuttles that come every 10 minutes that can take you most places in the Village.

Biking the Rim trail
The greenbelt trail joins with the Rim trail, and you get to bike on a paved trail that goes right along the rim of the canyon. This offers spectacular views, and serves as a great introduction to the park. We biked to Yaki Point, the east most extremity of the Village, and then biked back to the Mather overlook. This is the most popular overlook in the park as it’s the first one most visitors see after crossing the entrance gate.

Grand Canyon view
Here is a video I show of the view over Grand Canyon:

We overheard a ranger talking about viewing sunset at several key spots, and decided to give it a go. The most popular sunset viewing spot in the Village is at Hopi Point. The point juts out just enough so that you get a great view both east and west. It was a bit of a surprise to see a huge line of people waiting for the shuttle bus to take us to Hopi Point, but then again, it is Grand Canyon. Speaking of which, there are so many international visitors here! English seems to be the minority spoken language, it’s really pretty neat to be at such an international destination.

Sunset viewing at Hopi Point
Sunset in the Grand Canyon
After watching the shadows descend over the canyon, we caught the shuttle back and went to sleep early. We had decided to do the Bright Angel trail in the morning.

The Bright Angel trail is one of the popular trails in the Village. Basically, you start at the top, and hike into the canyon. There are several options available on hike distance and descent, with rest areas at mile 1.5, 3 and 4.6. There is also an option to continue further and camp by the Colorado River at the very bottom of the canyon, but you have to get backcountry permits for that. You hike out the West end of the canyon on SouthKaibab trail, making it a 17 mile hike, with elevation drops and gains of 5,000 feet.

The view from the top of Bright Angel trail
We chose to hike down to the 4.6 mile turn around at Indian Gardens. That elevation drop and gain would be just over 3,000 feet. The trail is packed gravel, all steep switchbacks, about 6 feet wide in most places, and has a drop-off cliffs on one side and the canyon wall on the other. We hiked down to the river in just over 2 hours, took a 30 minute lunch break and then hiked back up the canyon in 2 hours (quicker on the way back up...must have been that second wind).

One of the views from the bottom
On the way up we encountered several mule parties, where mules were trekking fill dirt from the bottom of the canyon for trail maintenance. We also encountered several parties with folks who were completely unprepared for the strenuousness of the hike. Several folks had to be escorted out of the canyon with rangers, and required food and salty snacks from other hikers to make it. I was glad I had my own hydration pack!

Almost back to the top!
Tonight we met these folks at our campground. We walked up to talk to them while we were walking our dogs. We noticed that they had Belgian tags on their Mercedes RV. Turns out, five years ago they shipped that RV from Belgium to Argentina with hopes of going on a 6 week tour. They liked it so much, they haven't stopped traveling yet. Over the years they have traveled around South America, of which they spoke very highly, and around the US. Every once in a while they go  back to Belgium for weeks at a time to visit. How neat is that?

Tomorrow we hit the road once more for Zion National Park!

To see more pictures of the Grand Canyon, go here.

Happy Canyon Hiking,


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