Wednesday, September 7, 2016

USA 2015 - Day 11 & 12: Grand Canyon

Okay, so I had a loooong break from blogging about our USA Road Trip. I promise to finish the remaining half as soon as I can and share with you the rest of our holiday stories before the end of the third quarter (before year end exams of my boys begin). Please bear with me. Now let me pick up where I left off with Days 11 & 12 - our trip to the Grand Canyon.

It's like trying to describe what you feel when you're standing on the rim of Grand Canyon or remembering your first love or the birth of your child. You have to be there to really know what it's like.Jack Schmitt

This was exactly what was going on in my mind and what I felt as I stood (or sat) there surrounded by one of the Seven Wonders of the World. I've seen hundreds if not thousands of amazingly breathtaking photos of the Grand Canyon from the North, South and West Rims as well as the photos taken by my husband from his first visit at the Grand Canyon back in the Fall of 2004. They are just canyons, I said, but then something pulled me into the view and I took a second, third, fourth look and I'm hooked! There's just something about the Grand Canyon.

It was an indescribable experience. The Grand Canyon is almost all-encompassing, rich in history as well as in flora and fauna, geographically significant with exposed layers of well preserved ancient rocks on its walls, geologically controversial with its age estimated to be either 5-6 millions years or 70 millions years, and rich in tourism with a variety of activities to do and places of interests to see. This is a place for nature lovers, for hikers, for history/geology/geography/biology buffs, for families, for adventure-seekers, for young and old, for avid nature photographers. Anyone will have a thing or two (or even more) to love about Grand Canyon that will keep them coming back for more - to revisit, rediscover and explore what has been unexplored.

I can safely say that it was planning our Grand Canyon itinerary that took most of my time while preparing for this trip. I had to choose from three locations - West Rim (where the Grand Canyon Skywalk is and where aerial tours have option to land somewhere in the canyon), South Rim (most visited location in the Grand Canyon and is open year round) and North Rim (open from May to October, this side of the Grand Canyon is visited only by about 10% of all visitors to the Canyon). I consulted the popular travel guidebooks Lonely Planet and Eyewitness but I found Moon (my newly-discovered travel guidebook) to be more useful because it was more comprehensive. We wanted to experience walking on the glass bridge suspended over 4,000 feet above the river bed beyond the canyon walls. We also thought about taking a helicopter tour and found one that had an option to land somewhere in the canyon. Unfortunately, based on my readings, having to experience these at the Grand Canyon West Rim meant sacrificing the more iconic, colorful and vast views at the South Rim. After several redrafts of our full trip itinerary and looking at our options, we decided to go for the South Rim as most of the view points we've read about which would give us better, if not the best, views of the canyon were in this area.

We booked a 2-night stay at The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon mainly because of its proximity to the Grand Canyon itself. It's about 7 miles away from the visitor center which was easily a 10-15 minute drive (depending on traffic conditions). Added bonus was the great deal we got it for which was less than USD250 for a Queen Room with 2 queen beds, free parking and free internet for two nights! When we arrived there the night of Day 10, we were delighted to see a beautifully decorated hotel (newly renovated, too!) exuding festive Christmas ambiance.We could smell Christmas in the air. We knew we were going to love it there and even though we had just arrived, we told ourselves that when we come back this is where we will be staying again.

What lovely Christmas decors! 
We actually thought of having these photos in our Christmas cards for this year.

As we only had one full day and the morning after allocated to Grand Canyon (yeah, I know, one day is really not enough but we are always hoping for a next time), the plan was to drive early morning to watch sunrise and then walk around the rest of the day. We woke up early the morning of Day 11, even though we stayed up until past 11 the night before, and drove up to the Grand Canyon. There were several good locations to watch the sunrise from and we chose MATHER POINT which was the most popular viewpoint in the park. According to my research, sunrise was at 7:18am so we made sure we were there by 7am to beat the crowd for the best spot.
(source of sunrise time:

It was freezing cold that morning but thankfully the car didn't have too much ice build up overnight. We left the hotel and drove past the South Entrance gate with no traffic nor long queue - the advantage of arriving at the park quite early. We headed straight to Mather Point and were surprised to find an almost empty parking lot. We were able to park as close to the walking trail as we could. Less walking distance, the better.

While walking from the parking lot to the viewpoint, we noticed white specks falling from the sky. It was snowing! Although we wanted to experience snowfall yet again, we hoped for brighter skies to welcome the sunrise. Snowfall was a treat for the boys but we were worried that the sunrise would not be as spectacular because of the weather.

We made it to the viewing deck with only a few people starting to crowd the area. Some were completely covered (like us) because of the cold while others seemed oblivious of the weather and were wearing just pants and shirt. Then there were others who we thought may have camped out because they carried blankets which they used to cover themselves. We looked for what we thought was the perfect spot and stood there waiting for the sun to come out. Below were some of the photos we took in anticipation of the beautiful sunrise under the snowfall.
a tint of orange over the horizon hinted on the impending daybreak
there we were patiently waiting as the sun slowly rose
There it was not the big, bright circle of gold we were hoping to see but still as captivating as it slowly reveals ths surrounding beauty of the natural landscape... 
Caught on film was Ira's catching of snowflake with his tongue!
... and finally, the sun was out.
Although the "perfect" sunrise we were hoping to see (you know, the circular shape with rays fanned out), we were delighted to be able to slowly watch as the colors of the Grand Canyon came to life. 
what was surrounding dark space when we arrived became colorful, boundless canyons
we moved around to get different angles of the surrounding landscape and walked up to this sitting area in a theater-like set up. The boulders were icy from the freezing cold of the night before but, with proper caution, it was playground for Ira.
Here we were, all beaming - thankful for the sunshine which meant good weather for the rest of the day and for the heat it brought to warm our bodies. Waking up early in the morning and braving the cold as we drove into the park and walked to the viewing area to be among the first ones to see the Grand Canyon that morning was worth it. 
exchanging partners and changing angles

Looking out into this landscape first thing in the morning just takes one's breath away. It's overwhelming. It's awe-inspiring. It made me think of the complexity of the geological processes that happened over some millions of years ago that produced such wonderful natural landscape.

one of the last few photos we took before we headed back to the hotel to meet with the others
looking... contemplating... this is just a part of the great big world we live in
After several photos taken, we went back to the hotel to meet with my cousin and her family for breakfast. Then we drove back to the park, this time we encountered more traffic and a short line of vehicles at the entrance. Visitors were coming in and they were coming in droves! Most of the visitors, like us, stormed the visitor center first - to get an overview from the exhibits there as well as to get more information from the rangers or visitor center attendants. 

We took a copy of The Guide: Autumn and decided to take the shuttle to get to the various viewpoints on our list. There are 4 free shuttle services to choose from (photos courtesy of The Guide: Autumn):

1. Blue Shuttle (Village Route) takes visitors around the village where they can explore the Grand Canyon Village National Historic Landmark District. It connects the Visitor Center to lodges, campgrounds and other facilities, and takes about 50 minutes for a roundtrip. 

2. Orange Shuttle (Kaibab/Rim Route), also a 50-minute loop, provides access to South Kaibab Trailhead. The Kaibab and Rim Route provides walking and cycling opportunities via the Rim and Greenway trails. This shuttle service is the fastest way to get to the canyon views from the Visitor Center.

3. Red Shuttle (Hermits Rest Route) takes visitors to outstanding scenic views along the historic road.

4. Hikers' Express Bus serves the South Kaibab Trailhead. It starts at Bright Angel Lodge, stops at Backcountry Information Center, Grand Canyon Visitor Center and South Kaibab Trailhead. The bus leaves Bright Angel Lodge at:
  • 5am, 6am and 7am in September
  • 6am, 7am and 8am in October
  • 7am, 8am and 9am in November

Please refer to this link for updated shuttle bus schedules before making your trip to the Grand Canyon.

  • Visitors should be at the bus stops 30 minutes before sunset.
  • Always check weather conditions if you want to go hiking or cycling along the Rim.
We decided to go for the Red Shuttle Bus service not because it's my favorite color but because most of the view points we wanted to visit (given our limited time) were in the Hermits Rest Route. Before our trip, I've read that Hermits Road, an 11-km scenic route up to Hermit's Rest, was closed to private vehicles up to the end of November, so taking the shuttle was our best option.

We hopped on and off the shuttle bus and walked for some parts of the route as we stopped by most of the viewpoints - that's 4 adults, 3 teenagers, 4 young boys and a little baby girl in tow.

We walked along some segments of the Rim Trail which is an easy 12-mile trail along the Rim of the canyon. This includes the 1.3 mile timeline trail from Yavapai Geology Museum into the Grand Canyon Village. Every meter in this trail represents a million years in the history of the earth.
here's passing by one of the markers along the Trail of Time
and here's passing by 500 million years of history after the last marker
The trail also offers good views of the Bright Angel Trail, that is if you have the guts to look down from where you are standing. If you're brave enough, you can walk to the edge of any protruding rock formation (as allowed) and be rewarded with the view of the zigzagging route of the Bright Angel Trail. 

From the Trailview Overlook you can walk 0.7 miles to Maricopa Point for the first sweeping views of the western Grand Canyon. Walk another 0.5 miles and you're off to Powell Point. There is the Powell Memorial commemorating the trips down the Colorado River in 18++ and 1871-72. A little further down the trail at 0.8 miles is Hopi Point. This viewpoint is a popular viewpoint for both sunrise and sunset because of its wide vista. Walk along the edge of the canyon which is like a balcony overlooking breathtaking views of the canyon. Next stop is Mohave Point, 1.1 miles away, is not only another location for stunning sunrise and sunset but also to catch a glimpse of the Colorado River. If you're in for sheer cliff plunges, the Abyss is the place to be. It provides an almost vertical view down the canyon. For best views of the Colorado River you have to get to Pima Point before making your way to Hermit's Rest which is at the end of Hermit Road.

Wherever you are along this route, wherever you stop, you are guaranteed stunning vistas. So if you are actually into hiking/walking for long distances, I suggest to take that long walk along the Hermit Route, or even longer, and take your time to appreciate nature and snap photos. During our visit, the weather was just right. It was not too hot so we were able to walk for some distance.

Here were some of the photos taken during our trip to Grand Canyon:

father and son in one of the first walking stops we made along the way
overlooking part of the Grand Canyon

only the brave can make this shot,
Dangerous as it may seem, we made sure the boys were safe when we took photos of them along the canyon.

almost at the edge for another father and son shot

it's family photo time! And this was just at one location at the beginning of the trail!
my cousin-in-law and his boys
just the 3 of us because Ira decided to walk ahead of the pack
great weather for outdoor activities.
Great views of the canyon and beyond.
never-ending view of the canyons is just mesmerizing
dwarfed by the surrounding landscape
kung fu fighting in the canyons
photo of the photographer in action
and it goes on and on and on

one of my favorite photos of the two of them

We arrived at Hermit's Rest and rang the bell. We made it! Thanks to our legs and the shuttle bus service.

Walking down the road from Hermit's Rest is a shop to buy some souvenirs and some food and drinks.

We wanted to capture the sunset in at least one of the viewpoints along the way as planned but we saw clouds lurking and had a bad feeling the sun was not going to give us a good show as it set. We were proven right as we looked out the window while riding the shuttle bus on the way back to the Visitor Center. The clouds grew darker and set a gloomy atmosphere. No photograph worthy sunset for that day. Our only consolation was that the shuttle bus driver had some jokes up his sleeves and we were entertained as we were whisked further away from the scenic Hermit Road. 

I felt quite sad leaving Grand Canyon behind as the night drew on. Time was not enough. We wanted to see more, explore more, take more pictures. I guess that means we have to go back some other time. In summer maybe? Or another fall? It will have to wait for now.

The following morning we found our car with a layer of ice which accumulated overnight. Since it was the first time this happened to us, I went to the reception to ask for an expert's opinion. I was given a complimentary hotel key card to scrape the ice off the windshield. Problem solved!

had to have this picture taken as a remembrance of our first scraping-ice-on-windshield experience.
It was fun!
That was our last day at the Grand Canyon, our last chance to view this natural wonder before we drove north to another one of Mother Nature's creations. We passed by Dessert View drive to bid farewell to the canyons and have another feel of early morning chilly atmosphere. That morning was colder than the morning before.
Colorado River taken from the Dessert View Tower viewpoint
the tower itself and that glorious morning
The boys were left in the car as Mark and I walked to the tower. We were fighting the freezing cold as we walked past frozen plants and icy walkways. We took a few photos, inhaled the fresh scent of the morning and walked back to the card for another long day ahead.

So that was our experience at the Grand Canyon. 

Let me end this segment of my blog by sharing with you some of our photos at the hotel lobby taken the day before. Kelvin was all too excited to see the grand piano and granted one or two songs for the road.
feeling like John Legend
the artist and his number 1 fan
our family photo
2 families conquered the Grand Canyon... till we meet again.
Happy Thanksgiving!

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