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El Tovar

Grand Canyon Trip: Part Three

Today started out fairly early, as did all of our days on the Canyon. We were told that Spring Break on the South Rim was about as busy as it ever gets and that they can have up to 50,000 people per day there, and there are less than 1000 rooms available. I can’t imagine there’s more than a couple hundred campsites, so, I’m sure a large percentage of visitors are Griswolds.

It’s worth it to get up and out early at the Canyon, mostly to miss the crowds, but also to escape the heat of the day (which wasn’t really a problem this time of year). We were very grateful to miss the crowds and get out as the sun was rising and see things many people miss. When you stay in one of the rim lodges, they deliver the daily USA Today to the door of each room. It’s somewhat interesting to see how late into the morning some papers are still in the hallway in front of the door. I’m somewhat of a night owl usually, but on this type of vacation, it’s worth it to get up early.

Grand Canyon from the South Rim

Grand Canyon from the South Rim

With our down coats and mittens on, we headed down to the shuttle bus, which is about the only way to get out to Hermit’s Rest and the stops along the way by vehicle. We made a couple short stops on the way out, but decided that it would be easier to get out to the end early and then casually make our way back and this was definitely a good decision.

Hermit’s Rest is a nice place to stop, rest, enjoy a cup of coffee, and hang out and enjoy the view for a while. I decided this was a house that I could live in if the opportunity ever arises (I won’t hold my breath).

It was somewhat windy out there and with it being a little chilly, the kids weren’t all that interested in hiking a lot. But, Lynn and I were. So, we sent the kids back on the shuttle bus with the grandparents and Lynn and I kept going. Beyond Hermit’s Rest lies the Hermit Trail which leads down into the canyon on a much less used trail than say, the Bright Angel trail. It’s a really beautiful trail and it’s not to miss if you can help it. It starts out a bit rocky, but then quickly drops off the edge and get’s less rocky and, fortunately, less windy! We didn’t have a lot of time, so we only went down a mile or a little more, but only saw a few people and were treated to some pretty great views, ricks and trail engineering as you’ll see in the slideshow below.

After a snack on a nice overlook, we had to turn around and head back up as we couldn’t count on being away for too long. We hiked back up, our legs remembering the happiness that comes from being on a trail, yet sad that it was a short hike today.

Back up at the top, we hopped on the crowded shuttle as close to a door as we could be since we knew we wanted to get off somewhere and it was crowded and only gonna get more crowded. We rode in silence most of the way, listening to the other conversations that seemed fairly pointless while in this amazing place and fighting the sleepys caused by the sudden stop in activity and the hot bus. We didn’t want to ride it back the entire way so at Hopi Point, we hopped off and cruised the rim trail for the last couple miles back to the rim and the kiddos.

I wasn’t sure what I’d think about the shuttle bus, but ultimately decided that it’s a good thing. There’s just no place for all the cars out there and this seems to be a working solution to get out there. Of course, you can walk or ride a bike and they do make exceptions for the handicapped so all in all, I think it’s a good part of the park management plan.

Dinner that night was at the Bright Angel Lodge which I would only recommend if there was nothing else. It wasn’t very good. The service was poor, the food was sub-par and it was too expensive. It’s hard to believe that this restaurant is run by the same company as the Arizona Room and the El Tovar. Xanterra really needs to do something to bring the quality up here.

In Part Four, we head the other way to Desert View and the Watchtower.

Grand Canyon Trip: Part Two

I think in my whole life I’d been on a train twice. Once was a ride years ago from St. Louis to Chicago and once was on a Polar Express ride a few years ago in Durango. I wasn’t exactly prepared for the Grand Canyon Express from Williams, AZ to Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon Rail Company runs a daily train to and from the Grand Canyon. They also have a hotel, restaurant and Wild West Show. I would definitely recommend doing the whole shebang. The hotel was super comfortable and very nice, the breakfast buffet was really good and the food was good in the old town along historical Route 66 (I had an organic, grass-fed burger at a nice Italian place in town that was quite tasty!). And they also have a pool which the kids love!

Grand Canyon Railroad car

Grand Canyon Railroad car

The Wild West Show is set to begin every morning before the train departs. In reality, I think it’s designed to get all the passengers to the train on time as it’s right next to the platform, but that was ok, because it was pretty good. We got there early and had a fun time talking to the actors, taking pictures with them and listening to them joke with the audience as the stands filled up. Then I was lucky enough to have them select me to be their stooge for the performance which was about me cheating at poker and them trying to blame me to the sheriff for shooting one of them.

Being the youngest of 3 in a somewhat sarcastic family, fought me many things, one of the most important is to be able to laugh at myself. I also had some theatre classes in high school by a fantastic teacher named Joan Bedinger, and one of the most important things I ever learned from her was to never be afraid to fall flat on my face. Done it many times now and I’m sure I will many, many more times and it’s allowed me to do things I never would have. So, when the “Outlaws” selected me and told me to grab the purse belonging to the woman next to me (whom I didn’t know), I grabbed it and slung it over my shoulder like I owned it. Then, of course, I helped them get lots of laughs at my expense and had a grand time. They even posed for a picture with me during the show.

With the show over and some more chatting on the platform with the family and with some of the actors, we boarded the train! It’s a 2 hour and 15 minute ride to the south rim and there’s entertainment, corny cow jokes, a fiddler, and snacks along the way, not to mention beautiful scenery. We enjoyed the ride, yet were excited to get to our destination.

The current view of the Grand Canyon is always the best! There’s always something to look at, and it’s usually pretty magnificent. Today was no exception. After a quick lunch in the Arizona Room (Ask to have Mark from Hawaii be your server. He took great care of us and, more importantly, great care of the kids!) we ventured back out to check in and move luggage to our room overlooking the canyon in the Thunderbird Lodge. Then walked along the rim for a while. We started to venture down the Bright Angel trail about 20 minutes, but the kids weren’t quite ready and my fairly worn out 4-year-old Patagonia flip-flops wouldn’t keep me going too long. We promised we would do more of the Bright Angel this trip (which we did later).

Hopi House Chimney Pot

Lynn’s family is connected to the Grand Canyon and had relatives that lived in the hopi House many years ago, so we got a special tour of the Hopi House and got to see the 3rd floor apartment, some of the roof and amazing rock work and some hidden Fred Kaboti paintings in the back stairwell. I’m an explorer at heart and love going places that most people don’t get to go, so this was right up my alley. Wherever we go, I have a need to get off the trail to bushwhack and explore whenever possible. I always have and this was a great treat!

Then, an amazing dinner at the El Tovar and planning for the next day. Going to Hermit’s Rest.

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