Grammi and I went to the south rim of the Grand Canyon with our daughter Jessica and her husband back in March of 2016. It was the first and only time either of us has been to that incredible natural attraction. It is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and indeed a spectacular site to see. It is among the top tourist attraction in the United States, attracting over 5 million visitors per year. So why would we want to return to that same place again when there is so many other places we have yet to see and explore?
Well first of all, it was close to where were were staying in Verde Valley, less than 150 miles away, we felt it was just too close to pass up. We would of liked to have gone to the north rim but that was a five or six hour drive pulling the camper and it would put us further away from our next destination. Secondly, now that the park has reopened after being closed for COVID-19, we were hearing there were record low attendance for this time of year. The thought of entering the main gate without the hassle of waiting in a line of traffic or potentially having a popular overlook all to ourself appealed to us. Thirdly, the prospect of cooler temperatures. After days of uncomfortable Arizona summer heat, we were ready for some relief. Finally, there was something unfinished on my bucket list. Something I didn’t do the first time we were there. Something that I told myself that if I ever returned I wanted to do. But more on that later.
We did get the cooler weather we were looking for. Overnight temperatures dropped into the 30’s with the coldest morning being 34 degrees prompting me to turn the heater on to get the chill out of the camper. Otherwise I doubt if grammi would of gotten out of bed. The weather was refreshing giving me a renewed vigor. I loved it!
The campgrounds inside the national park were open but only to those with prior reservations made before the COVID-19 closures. They were not accepting new reservations at this time. So we booked a site at a U.S. Forest Service campground just five miles from the Grand Canyon National Park’s main gate on Highway 64. We were at site 49 in the Ten-X campground. There were no hookups. That means no electric, no water or no sewer. There wasn’t even a water fill or dump station. We brought enough water with us for our four night stay and we were careful to conserved our batteries. We managed without any difficulty or inconvenience. Sadly there was a fire ban in effect due to extremely dry conditions. We missed having a campfire to sit around during the cool evenings.
There are a lot of elk in and around the national park. On our first night, while we were sitting outside the camper, a couple of bulls walked past. They were probably a hundred yards away in the pines but there was no mistaking those huge antlers. We saw several elk during our four days.
Every day we went into the park to see the sites. They are charging the normal entrance fee. Rangers wearing mask weren’t actually collecting the fee by handling the money, but they were checking for passes or giving instructions on how to operate the self-service ticket machines. With our America the Beautiful Senior Parks Pass we could enter at no charge.
We drove from one end of the park to the other stopping at most all the observation points. There’s a different view from each vantage point. We did find some that we had to ourself. The views are incredible. A photo does not do it justice. It’s just too immense. It is one of those things that you have to see for yourself. In fact, I think it’s a challenge for most amateur photographers to capture a really good photograph of the Grand Canyon and I am definitely an amateur when it comes to photography. However that didn’t deter me from trying. I took many with the hope that maybe a few would turn out to be good.
During our trips into the park, we took hikes along the Rim Trail. We would carry a backpack with a picnic lunch for when we found that perfect spot. Pausing to stare down into the canyon while looking at the many details is something I think many visitors don’t take the time to do. Like Clark Griswold from National Lampoon’s Vacation, too many seem to be in a hurry. The canyon is over a mile deep. At some locations you can see the whitewater of the Colorado River flow over the rocks. There is a web of trails below and if you look carefully you can see tiny people walking along. There are patches of green where vegetation flourishes in a otherwise barren canyon. The exposed layers that were cut into the canyon walls represents billions of years and reminds me of pages of a book. Each layer from a different time and with its own story. Like looking up into the stars, looking down into the canyon causes one to feel infinitesimal and to ponder the beginning of time. If you ever visit the Grand Canyon, I encourage you to take time to sit near the rim and gaze down and try…just try to take it all in.
We explored the Grand Canyon Village walking around the shops. I think we did this on our first visit here but I’ll be damn if I can remember. I’m reminded of the quote from Yogi Berra, “It’s like deja vu all over again”.
All of our walks and hikes were along the rim, however we did walk past Bright Angel trailhead. This is a popular trail descending all the way down to the Colorado River. Our daughter Shanna did this hike down a few years ago spending the night by the river before ascending the next day. Grammi and I walked down Bright Angel Trail just a little ways to see what it looked like but as they like to say around here “what goes down must come up”. So we didn’t venture too far.
One evening we sat on a ledge waiting for the sun to set. We did a little research to find where a good vantage point would be for a sunset over the canyon. The smoke from a wildfire on the north rim, causing the closure and evacuation of that side (glad we didn’t go there now), hung in the canyon. We had envisioned a glorious sunset over the Grand Canyon but we were less than impressed. Other than the smoke, it was a cloudless evening. The reflective light that should of illuminated an orange and red highlight on the canyon walls was obscured by the hazy conditions. But despite our disappointment, watching a sunset at the Grand Canyon is still a special event. One that hundreds of people come to witness every night. We felt blessed to be part of it.
Now about that bucket list item I mentioned earlier. The thing I loved the most about returning to the Grand Canyon was that we took a helicopter ride over the canyon. I’ve always wanted to do it. I don’t remember why we didn’t do it last time but I wasn’t going to miss out again. Let me tell you, it was amazing! It was everything I had hoped it would be and then some.
We started by reading the online reviews of each of the local helicopter tour companies. Then one morning we drove to the Grand Canyon Nation Airport in Tusayan and visited two of the tour company’s facilities. Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopter Tours was our choice so we booked the flight for 1:00 PM that same day.
We were instructed to arrive 30 minutes prior to our scheduled takeoff to watch a short ten minute safety video and to meet the pilot. Then we boarded an EcoStar EC130.
Grammi and I had the best seats as we sat in front with the pilot. We shared the flight with another family of four. Due to COVID-19 everyone was required to where a face mask during the flight.
Up, up and away! Before we knew it we were cruising above the tops of the pine trees of the Kaibab National Forest. The chuff chuff chuff sound of the rotor blades pulsated through the air. Then that moment when we crossed over the rim and the floor dropped from under us giving us a breathtaking birds-eye view of an immense canyon below. A collective oohs and ahhs was heard from everyone onboard. We crossed over some of the deepest and widest parts of the canyon. A wave of emotion engulf our inner being. It was surreal.
The pilot pointed out a variety of features as we flew along. The remarkable contrast of the confluence of an algae green Colorado River and the turquoise blue Little Colorado River (why the muddy red Colorado River looked green I don’t know). Then a fault line where the layers where pushed up at a near perpendicular angle. There was a rock formation that looked like a battleship. We flew to the north rim where we saw a herd of bison grazing in a clearing. We also saw the beginnings of the fire that I mentioned that would eventually cause the evacuation of the north rim. Heading back across the canyon we flew over the Tail of the Dragon. It was a forty-five minute ride that kept my head turning from side-to-side.
We landed safely back at the airport. I was sad it was over and was ready to go again but at $300 per person, once was all I was going to splurged for. It was well worth the cost in my opinion though. A once in a lifetime adventure. An experience I will never forget. I am glad we came back to the Grand Canyon.
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Until next time…Happy days and safe travels.