So I was lounging around Tuesday morning doing my usual routine of coffee, internet and watching the birds. About 8:30 I get a message from Sandee, “I’m two hours east of Flagstaff.” My reply, “I’m three hours south of Flagstaff.” Oh Boy! A surprise visitor and a road trip, plus a visit to the South Rim. How fast can I pack?
It took 1 1/2 hours to dress, pack the camper and fuel up plus 2 1/2 hours to get to Flagstaff where we met at the mall and then enjoyed lunch at La Fondas before deciding to camp in the Kaibab National Forest just out of town. We sat outside until the sun dropped below the tall pines and the temperature immediately dropped also. Then inside the camper chatted away until after 11 even though we know it’s time for bed.
In the morning, shivering over coffee at 30F (-1C), we compared schedules. Sandee was headed to a Sunday race in San Francisco. I had no plans for my birthday the next day. When I told Sandee we’re only an hour from Grand Canyon she said let’s go. We hoped to get sites at Trailer Village in the park where I could plug in for heat.
Oh boy, another Grand Canyon birthday! I hope you’re not tired of hearing about my celebrations because they’re not over yet. In fact please feel free to blame Yogi/Alan for all this birthday celebrating as this year he’s partying for 121 days. I’m only going for 61 days for the years I’ve been alive. But I will try to limit this post to two glorious days at the Grand Canyon.
I figured it would be easy to get a campsite this time of year. We entered the park in separate vehicles and I was waved through with my Grand Canyon employee sticker so I stopped at the second pay station to wait for Sandee buying a park pass and talked to Ranger Scott who informed me, “It’s Spring Break.” Yikes!!!! The campgrounds were full so I left my truck at Market Plaza and we took Sandee’s vehicle to the visitor center at Mather Point.
We mostly avoided the worst of the crowds by walking part of the rim trail. I love how the Park Service has put samples of the rocky layers of the canyon along the trail. And of course I went into Park Ranger mode and shared the geologic story of the canyon along the way. After almost two miles we cut off to Shrine of the Ages to catch a shuttle into the historic district where we had lunch at El Tovar. Then shuttled back to Sandee’s rig and picked up my truck to head for the forest to camp for the night.
Only about 20 miles south of the park, and a few miles beyond the town of Tusayan, the Kaibab National Forest has options for free camping which I’m sure are packed in the summer. Yet we saw very few neighbors. Early to bed for Sandee, not accustomed to the 7000 feet (2133 m), guess I wore her out. She assured me we got in over our 10,000 steps, for anybody that’s counting. She leaves in the morning just before I woke up and continues on to her next adventure with a stop in Bakersfield along the way. Having lived there for 9 months in another life I don’t understand the attraction until she mentions her fascination with Buck Owens.
So, it’s my birthday and I’m 20 minutes from the South Rim of Grand Canyon. Of course I return to the park. Oops, I wasn’t going to mention that again.
Once again I parked at the Market Plaza lot which is nice and big for many RVs then hopped on the shuttle to the historic district. Imagine arriving by train to the Grand Canyon, an option since 1901. Well you can, but only on special occasions by the old steam locomotives like No. 29 which is now semi-retired and parked near the train depot. Other trains run twice daily from Williams and back.
After visiting a friend I hopped back on the shuttle, got my truck and headed 25 miles (41 k) east to the Desert View Watchtower trying to stop at overlooks along the way. But unfortunately there isn’t always parking available. One of the reasons I don’t like the South Rim is the crowds. But one of the reasons I do like the South Rim is all the possible views of the Colorado River. Of course there’s no bad views.
The Desert View Watchtower is one of several outstanding architectural designs by Mary Colter on the South Rim made to look like a Native Puebloan tower and completed in 1932. I am typically looking 6-8 miles cross canyon from the North Rim Cape Royal overlook to see the tiny bump of the tower on the horizon.
Inside the tower bold murals by Hopi Fred Kabotie decorate the walls along with petroglyph-like decorations by Fred Greer.
Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the semi-cloudy and probably colorful sunset views as I needed to return to the forest outside the park once again to camp and I don’t like to drive in the dark.
·Before visiting any of the over 400 National Park sites do your homework and visit their website. Camping, lodging and backcountry use in many parks may require reservations or permits far in advance.
·Weather patterns can be difficult to predict, especially at high elevation. Expect extremes from day through night and be able to dress accordingly.
·Shuttle service on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park is efficient and reduces vehicle congestion on the roads, overlooks and parking lots. Vehicles can even be parked in the town of Tusayan, just south of the park, where shuttle service is also provided. Note the shuttle does not go to Desert View Watchtower.
·Don’t over plan but do be prepared and have fun.