I have had a few people tell me about their slightly underwhelming experience of the Grand Canyon and how crazy busy it is with tourists. It made me a little nervous that I was going to be driving the 11 hour trip from Boulder and then hit arid desert and see a great hole in the ground and then hang around a dusty campsite for 2 days with bored kids surrounded by tourists. Thankfully, our experience was nothing like that at all and the Grand Canyon was simply spectacular!
Our drive there started straight after school finished for the Summer holidays. We got the three younger kids from elementary school then drove around to the middle school to pick up Levi just as a huge thunderstorm commenced. We then drove for the next hour, very slowly, through a wild storm and flash flooding and wondered if we should hold off our trip until the next day. But soon the skies cleared as we drove up into the mountains past all the big ski resorts, Vail, Aspen etc where there was still snow but the ski lifts were abandoned for the season. Then the road winds down and curves with the fast flowing river. Colorado is simply stunning.
Once we hit the Utah border right on sunset the landscape changed dramatically. We followed the Colorado River through the canyons and gullies. It was arid for the most part with incredible sandstone sculptures that have been shaped from wind and rain over time. Some of the mountains and rocks look like fabric has been drapped over them because of the soft, gathered curves. Other parts of Utah were lush and green with grazing cattle and cultivated land.
The following day we stopped for lunch at The Three Bears Cottage Creamery in Kanab, Utah. It was a friendly spot to get some great sandwiches to fuel us and then we got a massive ice-cream sundae to share for dessert called The Big Bad Wolf. Well it was worth every cent to see the kids faces!
As we hit the Arizona border we noticed the landscape change again. The ground was thick with low lying shrubs which reminded me of coastal areas. As we started to ascend into the National Park the landscape turned into forest. Thick forest and large, green meadows. We drove past a lone bison standing out in the middle of one of the meadows having a drink from a stream. Several mule deers pranced across the road in front of us and bounded into the Aspen trees. It was stunning and I half expected the birds to break into song like in a Disney movie.
As we were coming from Colorado we decided to camp at the North Rim and in hindsight I realise that all the underwhelming experiences I had been told about were from people visiting the South Rim – which is so much more popular. Our experience at the North Rim was amazing. Firstly, the campsite was right on the rim. I would not go here with toddlers who like to wander! I could not believe the location – simply amazing. We were camped in a forest of Ponderosa Pines and the first thing that struck us was how beautiful the smell of the forest was. The campsites were well spaced and so peaceful.
We set up our tent and went for a hike only to discover the canyon was less than 100 meters from our tent! We thought we would have had to hike a fair way to get the canyon but it was all right there and it was breathtaking. We hiked for a couple of hours around the rim. We grabbed some drinks from the camp store and found a spot on the rim to watch the sun go down.
The next day we got up early and took a mule ride along the rim which was so much fun. It was our first encounter with a mule and we loved them. Kids had to be 10 years and older in order to ride down into the canyon so we were restricted to just riding around the top of the North rim but it was a brilliant outlook.
The kids spent the rest of the day completing the Junior Ranger activities, attending a talk about the Californian Condor and then being sworn in as Junior Ranges. They loved it! Joel took the cover off the tent so we could have an afternoon rest looking up into the pines. We could hear the kids chattering away outside at the picnic table, the breeze blowing through the trees, a woodpecker pecking away and see the Kaibab squirrels scuttling up the trees. Gorgeous. Later that afternoon we drove around to Bright Angel Point for the most spectacular outlook I have ever seen. There was nobody there when we arrived and we settled in at a picnic table with an incredible view. I had cooked some spicy beans before we left and we made bean burritos and warmed them on the portable stove on the griddle plate. Such a simple, delicious dinner with views galore. We packed up and went and sat on the rocks to watch the most glorious sunset. One of the rangers had told us about the place and said it is where you see the best sunset in all of the United States and I think he was right. Even the 40 minute drive to the point was breathtaking.
We followed the Colorado River for most of the drive back home. We stopped again at Kanab for lunch and Joel insisted on stopping in at an op shop where the kids got some notepaper and they wrote about their highlights of the trip, wrote poems and drew pictures in the car. I found a great book on bread making and Joel got his usual stash of vinyl records to add to his collection. It was pretty hot weather driving home and the river looked so tempting. We had heard though that it is so cold that it is advisable not to swim in but after many hours of driving the temptation got too much and we pulled over to just wade our feet in. It was cold but it was just what we needed to keep us going on the long drive back home. Kids eventualy fell asleep and we just finished listening the the final chapter of the audio book The Adventure of Tom Sawyer as we pulled into our street late last night.
America has so much breathtaking landscape. We loved our little road trip and loved our time in the Grand Canyon. It was so peaceful and beautiful and exceeded all our expectations. Stunning landscape, mule rides, massive ice-cream sundaes, sundowners overlooking the canyon and lots of happy family memories. But the sight of the Rocky Mountains was the most exciting as we knew we were almost home!