Solo Road Trip: Part VI – Grand Canyon

In case you missed previous posts:

Day 6:

I woke up feeling refreshed after just my second night in a conditioned room and real bed in nearly a week. I spent the night just across the Utah-Arizona border in Page, AZ and while I was getting around I wanted to see if there was anything nearby that I couldn’t miss out on while I was there. I happened across Antelope Canyon during my search of local attractions. Chances are that you’ve seen photos from Antelope Canyon, whether it’s been on a text book or as a default computer background. Anyway, Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon located on Navajo lands. There are two separate slot canyons there, Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon (real original, right?) the Navajo names for the canyons are a little more interesting. Upper Antelope Canyon is called Tsé bighánílíní, “the place where water runs through rocks” by the Navajo whereas the lower canyon is Hazdistazí, or “spiral rock arches”. The upper canyon is the more popular of the two as access is at ground level and beams of light find their way through the canyon to the ground floor making for some amazing photos.

The canyons are on tribal lands, therefore you cannot just go visit them. You have to book a tour through one of several tour companies., some of which are owned/operated by the Navajo Indians, others are through private tour companies granted access by the Navajo tribe. Unfortunately for me these tours book well in advance and I wasn’t able to find a time that would work with my tight schedule. So if you’re going to be in the area and are interested, make sure to book in advance. Here’s a photo from the Upper Antelope Canyon in case you were still wondering what this place looked like:

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Upper Antelope Canyon – One experience I regret missing out on.

So after moving on from missing out on Antelope Canyon I set off from Page, AZ to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, a two hour drive, nothing compared to what I had been doing in days past. The only rim that I visited was South Rim, but I’d like to cover all of them so you can see the differences.

So there are four rims of the Grand Canyon, East, West, North, and South Rims. The East and West Rims are lesser known and lesser visited of the four Grand Canyon rims. The next section is more informational and less about my experiences as the only rim I visited was the South Rim.

RIMS OF THE GRAND CANYON

West Rim:

A quick note in case you’re interested in the West Rim, it is located on the Hualapai Indian Tribal Lands and is NOT a part of Grand Canyon National Park, therefore separate fees apply when visiting and the National Park Pass (like the one I bought at Arches National Park) won’t be accepted for entry. Even so, the West Rim attracts nearly 700,000 visitors each year, a number that has been growing since the construction of the Skywalk, a cantilevered glass walkway that projects over the canyon. The West Rim is the easiest to get to from Las Vegas, hence it receives about 1/8th of the total visitors to the Grand Canyon each year.

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The Skywalk at Grand Canyon West Rim

East Rim:

The East Rim is the least traveled to rim of the Grand Canyon with less than 200,000 each year, mostly because it’s the most difficult to get to from the major airports in the area. Also, there’s not much much to the East Rim that is too unique, outside of Horseshoe Bend. It’s the only place to get your photo with the Colorado River at any place in the Grand Canyon unless you hike well into the Canyon from the North or South Rim.

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Horseshoe Bend – Page, AZ

I actually passed the parking lot for Horseshoe Bend on my drive from Page to the South Rim, it’s located just south of Page, AZ right of State Highway 89. While I wish I had stopped and seen it, it’s a very similar land form to that at Dead Horse State Park in Moab, UT. These land forms are formed due to a cycle of erosion and deposition. First, the outside of the bend, where the water flows fastest, is worn away. This eroded rock and sediment is then deposited by the slower- flowing water inside of the bend.

North Rim:

The North Rim receives about 1/10th of the visitors (around 400,000 each year) of the South Rim. The North Rim is also 1,000′ higher in elevation (8000′) than the South Rim (7000′) so it’s much cooler and also has a much shorter visiting season. The lodge and the amenities in the area had just closed for the season when I was coming through in late October and it doesn’t open up until mid-May. There is more foliage at the North Rim than any other place in the Grand Canyon and the colors in mid-September can be breathtaking. While the South Rim has nearly two dozen view points, the North Rim has only 3, however, many people who visit both say that the North Rim is the nicer of the two due to it’s calmness and quiet nature. While the South Rim is about seeing the depth of Grand Canyon, the North Rim is much more about the width of the canyon.

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View from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

South Rim:

The South Rim is the most popular location for visitors, with about 80% of the Grand Canyon’s total visitors, if you see someone post a photo from the Grand Canyon, chances are it was from the South Rim location. The South Rim boasts two dozen viewpoints and the amenities of a small town. It has a bank, walk-in clinic, grocery store, several campgrounds, lodges, restaurants, etc. Shuttles run all through the area with three separate lines – blue, red, and green – to get you around. The main line is blue, which is what takes you around the “Village” where all the amenities are. The red and green lines run to either side of the village and take you out to hiking and observation areas.

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Grand Canyon – South Rim – Map

If it’s your first time visiting the Grand Canyon, your first stop should be to the South Rim. It’s very touristy, but it gives you the best overall perspective of the Grand Canyon scale in both width (an average of 10 miles across) and depth (an average depth of 1 mile).

BACK TO MY STORY

Anyway, because I couldn’t find an Antelope Canyon tour that worked for me I set off for the Grand Canyon’s south rim which was yet another 2 and a half hour drive. I came in from the east, where you come across Desert View watchtower, visitor center, and campground.

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It’s a 25 mile (40 minute drive) from the east entrance of the Grand Canyon and Desert View Watchtower to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center and Village. Along the way you have several observation points to pull off and take photos from, including the highest vista from the south rim, Navajo Point. Navajo Point is actually the first observation area I came across after leaving Desert View Watchtower. After Navajo Point you come across, Lipan Point, Moran Point, Grandview Point, and Pipe Creek Vista before you enter the main part of the park.

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View of the Grand Canyon from Lipan Point

Parking was a struggle, it was mid morning and the parking lots were already pretty full, I parked in an area that wasn’t exactly designated for parking, off of one of the main parking lots where some bikers had parked their Harleys. Anyway, I headed up to the Visitor’s Center, watched a film and spent some time meandering through the exhibits. After that I jumped on a red line shuttle toward Hermit’s Rest, the furthest western shuttle point of the park.  It was already Thursday afternoon and I had to be back at work on Monday. I had nearly 23 hours of driving to do the next two and a half days so I would have at least one full day, Sunday, to recover before going back to work. Unfortunately that meant cutting my Grand Canyon trip a little shorter than I’d have liked. You could easily spend days here hiking and not see everything. Next time I go I want to hike from the North Rim to the South Rim. To do so you take the North Kaibab Trail (8,241 ft – 14.3 miles – mostly a descent) and the Bright Angel Trail (mostly an ascent – 9.6 miles – 6,850 ft) for a total hike of about 26 miles. They suggest breaking it up into a two day trip where you set up camp overnight in the bottom of the canyon, but I digress.

So my time at the Grand Canyon was somewhat limited, but I knew I still wanted to hike along the rim for a few miles. I decided to get off of the shuttle at The Abyss and hike back about 3.5 miles to the Village. The hiking path around the rim was pretty well marked, but it was pretty rough at points, nothing like the asphalt paths around the village observation points. I appreciated hiking around the rim much more than the areas around the village, mostly because I came across few others as it wasn’t the tourist trap like the village was. After returning to the village from my hike I was beat. I stopped into the lodge for a much needed  meal and a beer. After stuffing myself with a burger and sweet potato fries I took the shuttle back to the parking lots and made my way back to the Jeep. I took the south exit out of the park and was officially on my way home.

I thought I knew my geography pretty well, however, I did not realize at what elevation most of northern Arizona was at. I pictured all of Arizona as flat, hot desert. The northern portion, while desolate at spots, is at an elevation higher than Denver most everywhere. When driving between the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff, AZ you come across the Kaibab National Forest. I did not feel like I was in Arizona, I was driving through high elevations with tall, gorgeous evergreens on either side. Free first come – first serve camping spots littered the sides of the road.

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Hard to believe this is in Northern Arizona

6 hours after leaving the Grand Canyon I arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico for the night, yet again spending the night in the parking lot of a truck stop.

Next Post: Solo Road Trip: Part VII – Return Trip & Conclusions

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