Continental US

Labor’s Day Weekend Trip: Grand Canyon National Park

Saturday, August 30, 2014

I know it might sound crazy….a long weekend trip to the Grand Canyon National Park…well not exactly for the full long weekend as I also make trips to Page and Sedona! First I can honestly tell you that a long weekend trip to the Grand Canyon National Park will not be enough time to explore this amazing landscape so do not attempt this unless you absolutely have only 3 days!!! How I came about this? I opened an US Airways credit card early this year since I found out that I had 10K expired miles and in order to resurrect them, I need to either pay a fee or open a credit card. The US Airways credit card came with two $99 companion tickets with the purchase of a full priced ticket. I checking the expiration date on those certificates and shocked I must booked the flight by October and travel by December…I thought I had one full year which will be expiring early 2015…NOT! I didn’t want to waste it and so I looked at my already fully booked vacation schedule: no more vacation days but there are two long weekends – Labor’s Day and Thanksgiving. The certificates have blackout dates for Thanksgiving so my only option was Labor’s Day weekend. As you all know long weekend travel = at least twice as much the price which won’t justify the $99 but I found the only reason priced ticket to Phoenix. With two $99 plus tax tickets, three of us averaged about $247 per person round trip from Boston, I’ll take that price for Labor’s Day travel!

Phoenix….Grand Canyon National Park came to my mind! Originally, I planned to stay the whole weekend at the national park until I saw photos of the Antelope Canyons in Page, Arizona! I will talk about why it changed my mind at later post about Page. I tweeted our itinerary to:

Friday, August 28th, last flight out to Phoenix arriving at 9:30 pm

Saturday, August 29th, drive to Grand Canyon National Park, stay there 1 night

Sunday, August 30th, drive to Page, Arizona, stay there 1 night

Monday, September 1st, drive back stopping at Sedona, red eye flight back at 11:30 pm

I booked the trip on July 29th (pretty late for Labor’s Day travel). I got a very good deal on car rental though 3 days for $61.97! Also, I was extremely lucky to even get a room inside the Grand Canyon Village – Thunderbird! Usually, people booked at least 3 months in advanced and when I checked the website http://www.grandcanyonlodges.com/, it was completely booked!!! However, I was very persistent on calling the number: 1-888-297-2757 to see if any cancellation! At first, I was able to get a room in Maswik Lodge (1/4 mile from the rim) and I kept trying because I wanted to be staying on the rim! Luckily and finally, I got a room at Thunderbird Lodge!

Driving from Phoenix to the South Rim Grand Canyon National Park was roughly around 4 hours, my husband did the driving the whole trip, thanks hubby! We left Phoenix by 7 am, there wasn’t any traffic getting out and the 175 miles on I-17 was interesting enough to kept me awake for most of the ride 🙂 This was our first time driving out on the western part of the US, endless straight highways with speed limit of 75 (we only have up to 65 in Massachusetts)! I warned my husband not to drive over the speed limit as I read there are many cops looking for Grand Canyon visitors! But everyone was driving over 85 haha he had no choice but to keep up with the speed 🙂

It was blue sky with white clouds too, perfect weather! What was different was I always pictured Arizona as a desert but it was pretty green!

Once we reached AZ-64, everyone on that road were heading to Grand Canyon! After 3.5 hours drive, we finally saw the Grand Canyon National Park sign, I was getting excited! We stopped by the gas station to fill our half empty tank (I heard gas more expensive near the park)! The road into the park was a long one and I was constantly watching for the famous canyon but all I saw were trees which look nothing like the Grand Canyon from pictures!

Traffic slowed down at the pay booth, our lane took at least 10 minutes to get through the gate! It was $25 per car valid for 7 days into the park, they preferred credit/debit cards!

Once we got through the gate, it was still a long way to the village. All suddenly traffic slowed again and we were wondered why! Here it was why:

An Elk was spotted so people slowed down to snap a photo! Our weekend trip into the wild nature has started!

We followed the sign to Grand Canyon Village, passed the visitor’s center and as we turned into the village, we got a two seconds view of the Great Canyon, OMG, there it is! Even though I have seen it hundreds of times from online photos, it really gave me a shock on my first sight! We drove to Thunderbird but the parking lot was full so we continued onto Bright Angel where we need to check in but it was full there too! Hubby dropped me off to check in but check in starts at 12 pm but I asked and the lady said we could park any parking spot inside the village. We made a loop back to Kachina and there was a spot in between Kachina and Thunderbird. We parked there till the next day we depart the park!

It was almost 11 am when we parked the car and we decided to walk to Arizona Room (in Bright Angel) for lunch, as soon as we walk out to the rim, the breathtaking landscape of the Grand Canyon stopped us!

At that moment, we completely forgot about our hunger LOL and started to take photos!

On the tip of that rock was a complete drop so be careful not to be too close out! My hubby and brother were scared LOL, hey wasn’t I the one who is afraid of height?

Another not too scary edge since there’s another rock underneath it where my brother had the photo:

We were only few steps away from the Arizona Room but few steps took us hum….10 minutes? We finally got there and they open at 11:30 am which still have another 10 minutes! We immediately walk back to get more photos!

I couldn’t even describe how amazing it was. All I can conclude is this: no matter how many online photos you see of the Grand Canyon, being there will blow off your mind, it’s definitely a once in a lifetime experience!!!

We walked back to Arizona Room to eat, check-in, and then explore, can’t wait to start! Arizona Room was nicer than I thought, no wonder many people recommended it!

I gave a warning to my husband on the quality of the food inside the park based on many reviews I read, so he can lower his expectation. However, it turned out not so bad at all! We ordered the soup of the day which as a spicy minestrone soup.

I ordered a pulled pork sandwich, it was decent, at least not dry and tasteless:

Hubby ordered the trio, the chicken was way too dry!

Brother ordered a burger, he said it was good! Total for the lunch $35.18 for three of us excluding tips, not bad for right on the Grand Canyon!

After lunch, we walked in Bright Angel to check in, yay room is ready but not on the 2nd floor since it’s still early. We decided it was okay regardless of 1st floor or 2nd floor Canyon view room since we were there for one night only and we won’t be staying in the room for a long period of time anyways. Here was our room, it was surprisingly nice, not the “motel” or “dorm” like!

The bathroom:

There were full sized soap, lotion, body wash, shampoo, and conditioner!

The exterior of Thunderbird Lodge:

See the reflections on the window? It’s the Grand Canyon!! By the time we got out of the room, it was 1 pm so we only have 6 hours before sunset at 6:50 something. We took the Hermit Road route which only accessible by shuttle bus during the summer months. As we walked toward the start of the Hermit Road to take the shuttle, we stopped here and there for photos! I took this picture when waiting for my husband to finish taking his video and right along the wall, another couple was sitting there with the backpack open. The squirrel smelled food and he came right up to trying to reach the backpack LOL. The squirrel was literally 2 feet away from me when I took this photo!

Our turn for a photo 🙂

Weather was perfect, around 80’s up at 7000 ft elevation with a little bit wind breeze, I couldn’t have asked for more! We really stopped at every three steps to take a photo, each angle is amazing!

Lookout Studio:

We walked into the Lookout Studio gift shop and there the lookout has another view of the canyon:

We said we better not stopping anymore, need to get to Hermit Road route first LOL! Right before the Hermit Road route where the Bright Angel Trail starts, there is a water filling station. We filled up 4 bottles of water for 3 of us, we wished we bought more water bottles!!! The next water filling station is on the end of the shuttle route – Hermits Rest. I recommended bringing at least two water bottles per person for this shuttle route! There was a long line waiting for the bus, we waited for 3 buses before we can get in; they limited each bus to carry 40 is people. First stop: Trailview Overlook. It was recommended by the bus driver as one of the best viewing point. We got off the bus and walked toward the lookout:

From the Trailview Lookout point, we could see the lodges of the South Rim and the Bright Angel trail going down to the bottom of the canyon. We said there’s no way we will ever attempt to walk down there! It’s posted everywhere to not to attempt to make it back up in one day!

Due to the 7000 ft elevation, the bottom must be burning hot so water is extremely important!

There’s no rail whatsoever on the edge of those rocks so do not get too close!

We walked back to the shuttle bus station and waited for the bus to get to the next stop. Each stop, we never have to wait for more than 10 minutes for the next bus, very convenient!

Next stop: Maricopa Point. Bus driver said this has the best panoramic view of the Grand Canyon!

Have to take some panoramas!!!

Powell Point: this stop is served by two directions (the shuttle going back to the village) so double check the direction of the bus stop. Going to Hermits Rest is West while heading back to the village is East!

There are another level of rocks down there so it’s pretty safe to sit where we were 🙂

My brother took this picture haha!

Hopi Point: there’s the Colorado River!

Picture of the shuttle bus:

Mohave Point:

The Abyss:

Monument Creek Vista: nice panoramic view here!

Pima Point wasn’t much to see.

Finally Hermits Rest!!!

After we took this picture, we ran to the water filling station to refill our 4 bottles of water, we were completely ran out of water LOL! There’s also restroom facility here as well! By the time we finished with 9 stops, it was already 5 pm so it took us 3+ hours to visit all. We spent the most time in the first three stops and the last two we were pretty fast since we ran out of water hehe! It was pretty dry up here so I constantly reminded us to drink water!

On the way back to the village, the bus driver announced the sunset time and best viewing points for sunset: Hopi Point in Hermit Road or Yaki Point (the orange route). We figured we would have enough time to get to Yaki Point by sunset so off we go! Once we get off the Hermit Road shuttle back to the village, we ran back to Thunderbird to grab extra batteries and ran back out to Bright Angel lodge bus stop to catch the blue village route to Grand Canyon Visitor Center. One thing we forgot was our jackets yikes!

We got off at Grand Canyon Visitor Center and then switched to the Orange Route to get to Yaki Point. The shuttle bus routes can be found here: http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/shuttle-buses.htm

Right off the bus station, we walked pretty fast to get an open spot to station ourselves for the sunset view! We found one! Watching the sunset at Grand Canyon has a different strategy, you are not really watching the sun as it sets but instead the canyon for changing colors! So don’t go get a spot to see the sun, instead, get a spot where the sun light hits!

 

Camera: set, Go Pro: set, waiting for the sun to set!

The turning colors of sunset! It was quite an experience to see how the colors change in just half an hour before and after sunsets!

There were clouds covering the horizon so the sun light wasn’t direct to give the golden color but at least it has some clouds to add to the drama 🙂

Right after sunset, there was a significant decrease in temperature, we missed our jackets!! We walked back to the bus station and it was already starting to fill up with people and many more rushing in. Advise: head back right after sunset, don’t wait, because the line will be long and bus only takes up to 40+ people per time then have to wait for the next one in 15 minutes!

Walking back to the bus stop, I saw people who picked the spot facing the sun still photographing the sun. The silhouette looked cool with them holding up their cameras, don’t you think?

We just didn’t make it into the first bus arrived so we waited another 15 minutes for the next. It was very cold then, ahhhhh, I felt bad for those who have to wait for another 2 more buses! It was already very dark out, we got back to the visitor’s center and change another bus back to the village. We walked to the Arizona Room for dinner but it was full so we had to wait for like 30-45 minutes! Thankfully, they gave us a buzzer and we left our room phone number so they can call us if the buzzer is out of range! We went back to our room to wait!

They called in around 40 minutes and we walked back to restaurant, it was pretty close to Thunderbird! Silly us we were so hungry that we walked out immediately after the call, we forgot the buzzer haha! My brother went back to get it 🙂 The dinner menu was similar to the lunch but some new items and cost more. Soup of the day was the meatball soup which it used the same soup base as the one we had at lunch.

I ordered the burger that my brother had at lunch since he said it was good.

Hubby ordered the steak and shrimp, they were surprisingly delicious!

Brother ordered the half rack ribs:

Forgot to mention, their breads were very good! Dinner total was $61.99 excluding tips. We thought it was reasonable! I thought it was way better and more reasonably priced than Disney!

What a long day but totally worth every minute of it! Grand Canyon – such an amazing landscape, even if I have half a day, I wouldn’t hesitate to make this trip again…of course more time would be even better! We only had time to get to Yaki Point so if I have more time at the park, I would visit every stop along the orange route like Mather Point and also take a short hike of the South Kaibab Trail to Ooh-Aah-Point. Good night Grand Canyon!

5 thoughts on “Labor’s Day Weekend Trip: Grand Canyon National Park

  1. Don’t be so quick to write off the hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. As a photographer, you’d love seeing the light on the canyon walls from that perspective in the early morning. It is a tough climb out, but doable. I have done it as a 2 day trip spending the night at Phantom Ranch, and I have also done it as a 1-day roundtrip (they say not to do it but if you are in good shape and leave early, it is doable). Both were very enjoyable experiences. After burning all those calories, then you drive to Las Vegas and eat a buffet! LOL. I’m 50+ years old, so if I can do it, you young people can!

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