Glimpsing the Grand Canyon

Our visit to the Grand Canyon was not unlike the Griswolds’.

We had never been to the Grand Canyon and always wanted to go — but our dream is to raft the river, hike rim to rim and camp for days. Alas, that was not meant to be. A variety of circumstances — including Kyle’s young age, Morgan’s broken toe and the park’s dog-unfriendly regulations — meant we settled for a drive-by visit. Here’s how we did the Grand Canyon in about five hours:

The Watchtower

The Watchtower

We drove to the South Rim entrance and spent a half hour or so at Desert View, the first visitor’s center. Here, we marveled at the architecture and Hopi paintings in the 70-foot-high round Watchtower almost as much as we oohed and ahhed over our first glimpse of the canyon. The Watchtower was built of stone in 1932 and designed as a replica of a prehistoric Indian tower. We loved climbing the stairs to the top and peering out its windows.

The kids peer down from The Watchtower at the Desert View visitor center. We loved climbing to the top and studying the Hopi art.

The kids peer down from The Watchtower at the Desert View visitor center. We loved climbing to the top and studying the Hopi art.

Then we hopped back in the car and proceeded to make stops at pullouts along the road, during which Colly and Kyle would scuttle off on a footpath precariously close to the cliff’s edge. Those few forays on barely marked paths were the most awe-inspiring and gave us all a better appreciation for the canyon’s massive scale and beauty. Having visited the spectacular Black Canyon in Gunnison a few days prior, we were able to compare and contrast the two canyons’ formation and geology in a way that gave the kids a science lesson no textbook could rival.

Kyle and Colly survey the canyon from a roadside stop. The stated the obvious -- "It's so big" -- and the not-so-obvious: "It looks fake."

Kyle and Colly survey the canyon from a roadside stop. The stated the obvious -- "It's so big" -- and the not-so-obvious: "It looks fake."

We encountered a wall of traffic and tourists around the main South Rim visitor center at the Mather Point area — “This sucks!” we all said in unison — and so we didn’t even attempt to find parking; instead, we headed to the Bright Angel trailhead and lodge, near the famous El Tovar hotel (which is pictured in the video clip above when the Griswolds drive away). Again, we found ourselves in a big parking lot clogged with buses, but we tried to make the best of it. Colly, Kyle and Morgan headed down the Bright Angel trail for a short out-and-back hike while I stayed up on the paved rim trail with most of the tourists and Teddy (dogs are not allowed on any of the real trails). It was great to see the kids dazzled by the surroundings, but I felt pangs of regret as I looked at the trails below and yearned to run them and descend into the canyon. Leaning against the railing of the South Rim’s paved path, the Grand Canyon stretched out like a scene from an airplane window — beautiful, but distant and untouchable. Someday, I vowed, we’ll come back and do it right.

By then, the sun quite low in the sky. Morgan and I wanted to stay through sunset, but the kids were hungry and asking about dinner. The restaurants near our motel outside the park boundaries were limited to fast food and a steakhouse called Yippee-Ei-O. I researched the dining options inside the park and realized we should have made reservations weeks ago. Surveying the hordes headed toward a cocktail lounge at Bright Angel Lodge, I figured our situation was hopeless — we’d never get a table.

Our watches said it was 5:30, so we agreed to try to eat early and then take a sunset stroll afterward. We headed to Bright Angel Lodge’s cheaper, more casual restaurant and to our surprise found it virtually empty. We ordered fajitas and beer and enjoyed a thoroughly satisfying meal while the tables around us filled up and a line grew out the door. (“Ah, we beat the rush!” we congratulated ourselves.)

Morgan and Teddy after dinner on the canyon's South Rim.

Morgan and Teddy after dinner on the canyon's South Rim.

Overlooking the canyon from our table as the sunset glow began to burnish the cliffs, Morgan and I enjoyed a second beer while the kids and Teddy romped around on the lawn in front of the restaurant. Not a bad way to wrap up our quickie tour, to be sure.

It wasn’t until the next day that we realized we had crossed a time zone and gained an hour. That explains why the restaurant was almost empty — we had gone there at around 4:40 p.m. Happily, being stupid and unprepared worked out in the end.

(View the slideshow of Morgan’s landscapes — much better than my snapshots!)

The Griswold shot at the South Rim.

The Griswold shot at the South Rim.

It was a short visit, but it was worth it!

It was a short visit, but it was worth it!

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3 Comments

  1. David, September 30, 2009:

    Sarah,

    So glad you guys finally made it out there! But you’re right, you need to get back and spend a few nights below the rim. Maybe we should plan on something for your return (let me know, and I;ll put in for a permit now!). Hope the trip back to L.A. is/has been safe and fun. How was the flea-bag motel you guys booked?

    Love to all,

    –David

    P.S. Finn and Seamus miss the Tedster!

  2. Cheryl, September 30, 2009:

    Loved the slideshow! Looks like you guys hit some beautiful weather…you can always make a trip back.I’m looking forward to the first shots of Argentina!! Smith family world tour style..lol

  3. Sarah, October 4, 2009:

    I love following your travels, and it’s wonderful you’ve connected with others, too. Enjoyed reading about Bode as well. You definitely need more time at the Grand Canyon, there is so much ‘below the rim’…can’t wait for the updates from Argentina! xoxo Sayso

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