The best laid plans of men – is that the saying?
The plan was to be up by 5 a.m., have breakfast at 6 a.m. at the hotel, and be on the road by 6:30 a.m. to head to the Grand Canyon. As usual, we got on the road by about 7:30 – only an hour later. We got some gas at Costco (already getting use out of my new Costco membership), and hit the Phoenix freeways. Thankfully we could drive in the HOV-2 lane and bypass the heavy rush hour traffic in Phoenix.
As we headed out of Phoenix, the cactus turned into burning bushes as the mountains grew larger. Here’s the view from the rest area:
We don’t have rest stops like those back east. The bestcase scenario is a clean bathroom and good vending machines.
Leaving the rest area, I just felt like pinching myself. Could we really be headed to the Grand Canyon today as a family? I’ve dreamed about making it to the Grand Canyon and today would be my first visit. I silently thanked the Lord for His goodness to our family.
Once we got on the road, we started playing a medley of Aaron Cole music. My favorite song of his (that actually played over and over again because we lost cell signal for Spotify) is One More Day.
In it, Aaron is thanking God for the day and for His love. My sentiments exactly.
As we got close to Flagstaff, we saw signs for a very familiar road – I-40. We could travel that road all the way back home to North Carolina – but not today.
As we traveled north, the burning bushes had now turned into large evergreen trees and the 83 degrees that would later heat up to 110 in Phoenix had dropped to a pleasant 72.
On our drive, my husband and I listened to a podcast from a Grand Canyon ranger about the 10 Hiking Essentials in the Grand Canyon. https://www.nps.gov/grca/learn/photosmultimedia/hike_smart-02.htm
There were of course the obvious essentials – water, an electrolyte fluid, a source of light – but here’s the one that surprised me – junk food. Yes! The ranger said to bring in chips and cookies. And my husband had to tell our boys after they woke up!? Ugh! They don’t need another reason to eat junk food.
At the Flagstaff Safeway, we bought sandwich supplies, a large Gatorade for each person, chips, Ritz crackers, more ice, and two gallon containers of water. Oh, we also got a bag of M&Ms to refill our trail mix. Do people in your family fish out the M&Ms too?
A very nice lady checked us out at Safeway and told us that she had moved with her family as a child, along with four other young siblings, to Arizona in 1968. She had never been to the Grand Canyon! She said that she loved Flagstaff – “it was poverty with a view.” Hmmm…?
That comment was especially interesting since we had already (while we shopped) sent Emma Grace and Nate to give a blessing bag to a homeless lady at the edge of the Safeway parking lot. Jimmy’s instructions were for them to introduce themselves, give her the blessing bag, ask how they could pray for her, and finish with prayer.
Apparently, the homeless woman wanted money to “get out of the country.” That was her prayer. She didn’t really seem interested in prayer but they prayed for her anyway. The kids said she didn’t make much sense. Sad. But at least they (more Emma Grace) stepped out of her comfort zone to minister to someone. This is where our kids’ experience on our three different missions trips has born much fruit. Shout out to Big Creek Missions in Bear Branch, Kentucky – https://www.bigcreekmissions.com/
As we got on 64 North heading to The Grand Canyon, the troops were getting restless. Dad to the rescue!
He wanted them to look out the window for wildlife. He was willing to give $5 for moose, mooses, moosuses (what is the plural?), $1 for elk, and $1 for any other live and wild animal – except everyday birds. We had to clarify the “live” part – roadkill didn’t count.
As soon as the game started, so did the yelling!
Every kid was claiming that they saw something worthy of a monetary prize.
Luke was convinced that he saw a hawk on a roadside fence.
As we got closer, we confirmed that it was a…black trash bag.
Everyone had to plead their case. Emma Grace said, “Do you realize you guys have the advantage up there (in the front seat)?”
Hello…we’re not playing. We’re giving the money out.
Nate was the first to cash in – he got a dollar for a hawk he saw.
Emma Grace saw a mailbox in the shape of deer head. She got a nickel for that.
Nate cashed in again -$3 for white-tailed deer.
Isn’t this much better than looking at an IPad?
Nate – “I thought a deer was $4.”
Dad – “The stock market changes all the time.”
He added to the rules – he’d give $100 for a giraffe – 25 cents for an artificial giraffe.
“What if I see a hobbit?”, we heard from the backseat.
Dad – “We’d get his autograph.”
These are the types of conversations you have on the open road.
We finally pulled into The Grand Canyon around 2 p.m. We showed them our V.I.P pass (our 4th grade pass) and got in without paying the $35 per car rate.
As soon as we entered the park, we saw it:
It really slowed down the travel in and out of the park. Plus, we had to drive our new-to-us van over the loose, newly laid asphalt. I guess road construction is never convenient.
We continued on 64 East to the 1st point where we could get a view of the Canyon – Pipe Creek Vista.
The first time you look over the edge into The Grand Canyon, it takes your breath away. How could something this magnificent and this expansive exist – especially in the United States?
For the reminder of our time in The Grand Canyon, I couldn’t stop taking pictures. By the end of our Grand Canyon visit, I had taken over 400 pictures in less than 24 hours. But of course, pictures don’t do it justice. It’s something that you have to see in person to get a feel for the true grandeur of the canyon.
As we left our first stop, we traveled farther east looking for Yaki Point – another recommended picture spot. Let’s just say I’m not a fan of the map that they give you when you get to the Park. I consider myself a pretty good map reader (thanks Dad!) but this one just totally threw me off. All that to say, we missed the turn for Yaki point and kept driving. When we realized that we’d gone too far, we turned around. But even our little detour brought with it a special gift, our first sighting of an elk.
We saw two female elk (called cows) who were very close to the road. We turned off to get a better view and we would learn quickly that elk (at least Grand Canyon elk) are not alarmed by humans. We even got a video of the elk where the smaller one seems to give the “What’s Up” nod at Luke at the end of our video.
Our next stop would be hiking the Grand Canyon. After consulting my handy National Parks book (Your Guide to the National Parks 2nd edition by Michael Joseph Oswald), we decided to hike down the South Kaibab trail. The book said that it was a little more challenging that the Bright Angel trail. We planned to hike to the two mile turn around point and then head back up the canyon. How hard could it be?
For some reason, I had this Polyanna idea that hiking down into the Canyon would be like walking “over the river and through the woods” while stopping occasionally to capture a scenic view. Boy, was I wrong!
I already noticed that each time I got close to the edge and got a glimpse of the Canyon, my heartrate would increase. I also got that little butterfly feeling in my stomach – especially as I thought about my family being so close to the edge. So when I saw the beginning of the South Kaibab trail, my vital signs had to be spiking. Were we really going to hike down this trail?
Let’s just say that the original plan changed quickly – especially when my son, Nate, was holding onto every rock as he descended.
Jimmy stayed back with Nate because they both shared a fear of heights. They could encourage each other. My job was to keep Seth, our 10 year old, next to me. That was harder than I thought. He kept wandering ahead and I had to keep pulling him back. At one point, I had to grab his hand to keep him with me. Emma Grace and Luke just trudged on down the trail.
We passed some people on the way down but it certainly wasn’t crowded. What was most abundant was mule doo-doo and “attack” squirrels. The mule doo-doo wasn’t that difficult to navigate around but the squirrels were a different story. On the bus ride to our trail, we overhead another visitor say that the second most common injury at the canyon is squirrel bites. We just laughed it off. Little did we know how true it would be.
As we descended on the trail, we saw a cute chipmunk and then a few squirrels. They didn’t bother us at all – until we got out some food.
As soon as we sat down to take a break, eat and drink, the squirrels began to circle us. They got closer and closer until one actually lunged towards Nate and let out a loud shriek. Nate shrieked too.
We knew we were bigger than the squirrels but they were a little unsettling. We put our food away and continued hiking the trail.
But guess what, the squirrels followed. They seemed to come out of the woodwork everywhere we went.
They were stalking us.
We quickly decided that our goal was to make it to Ooh-Aah point – a spot on the South Kaibab trail where you could see around the canyon and get a very wide view from east to west. We (me, Emma Grace, Luke, and Seth) made it there – but not without sweating profusely, keeping our eye on every squirrel in sight, and maintaining a safe distance from the edge. Jimmy and Nate decided to stop halfway to Ooh-Aah point and wait for us to hike back up to them.
Doesn’t this guy look so sweet?
Don’t believe it!
We did survive the squirrels and the steep ascent to make it back to the top.
Leaving the trail, Nate said, “I hope that the squirrels are nicer at the next park.”
We had dinner at the Market plaza where the kids ordered a $4.50 Buffalo Chicken flatbread. It was full of chicken but also full of very spicy buffalo sauce. We got chocolate ice cream cones to cool their mouths down.
Then it was on to find a spot to take pictures of the canyon at sunset. We were running late of course. Another visitor had recommended Hermit’s Rest for sunset. We had to get on two different park shuttles to get to this spot. The driver told us that it would be close. We broke into our best late-to-a-flight run trying to get to each bus stop as quickly as possible. On the 2nd bus, the driver told us that we wouldn’t make it in time to see sunset at Hermit’s Rest but we’d go as far as Hopi Point. We got some great pictures of The Grand Canyon with the Colorado River running through it.
We even got some fun silhouettes of the kids as they jumped off the (small) wall in front of the canyon.
The shuttle drivers were very friendly and helpful. Thankfully, the driver that dropped us off for sunset pictures told us she wouldn’t leave us there. She’d be back to take us to our hotel.
This was one of our splurge nights – staying at the Yavapai Lodge in the park. It was not any nicer than the other hotels we’d stayed in but the fact that we didn’t have to drive a long way after a tiring day was well worth it.
The only problem was the name – my husband is notorious for making up names that seem close to the real thing – Yauponi, Yavaponi, Mabopane. Whatever it was called, it was perfect for our stay in The Grand Canyon.
The view of the Canyon reminded me how amazing God is – His works are beyond imagination and beyond description. Thank you Lord for bringing us to The Grand Canyon today to experience your beautiful creation and to glorify your Name.