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Road Trip to the Grand Canyon North Rim

Author: Katie Matthews
Date of Trip: July 2012

Road trip from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon North Rim – Review

My family and I arrived in Las Vegas, NV after a 6+ hour flight out of Hartford, CT. It was the middle of July, 2012. My parents, my brother and his (soon-to-be) fiancé, and myself, rented a 7-passenger van. We had traveled to Las Vegas before to see the sights and to visit my cousin and her family, but this year we would be driving to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim.

Instead of driving the entire way in one shot after the already long day of traveling, we had planned in advance to spend a night in Mesquite, Utah. This two-hour journey along Interstate 15 to Mesquite would be a significant chunk of our traveling time to the Grand Canyon, and we could get going again the following morning. Before we began the trip, we stopped at a local Wal-Mart for a large cooler and ice. We loaded up the car with a LOT of water, drinks, and snacks for the next two days. We knew that rest stops along the route might be scarce, and we are quite the snackers!

We arrived at the Eureka Hotel and Casino in the early evening. It was over 100 degrees during the day and still over 90 as the sun was setting. Being a runner, I went for a run around a local golf course, as the hotel did not have a gym with a treadmill. My family did some gambling at the connected Casino, but we mainly had an early night, as we were tired from the three-hour time difference and wanted to get an early start.

However, this is when things began to get interesting. At about 10:45PM (1:45AM and thus the middle of the night for us east-coasters) the fire alarms began going off in the hotel. Even though I was sharing the hotel room with my parents, I was somehow the only one to awake. In the hallway, the alarm was screeching. My mom, who had earplugs in to block my father’s bear-like snoring, did not even hear the sirens. I woke them up, and since I thought that the hotel was on fire and grabbed my phone to get out. In typical mother fashion, my mom began looking for a jacket so she would not have to be in public in her PJs and grabbed her purse. I thought for sure we were moments away from flames so I quickly got into the hallway to make sure my brother and his fiancé were leaving as well. Soon- we were outside the hotel. We were the only guests who appeared to have been sleeping (judging by the stares we got from the nighttime casino-goers). We soon also realized that the hotel was not on fire at all, and that the alarm had been set off by an electrical circuit malfunction. As aggravating as this was, we returned to our rooms after 15 minutes. However, about 10 minutes later the alarm began blasting again. This time, I called the front desk, that assured me that it was the same problem and not a fire. The next second the alarm stopped. 2 minutes later, it was screeching again. Then off. Then on. Then off. I wanted to bang my head against the wall for the lack of sleep and headaches we were getting. Once we realized that the alarm was only sounding on our floor, I asked the hotel staff for another room for the night. We were allowed to keep our things in the original room and finally get to sleep two floors down in what seemed to be an upgraded, more luxurious room. This room seemed to have a spa for a shower and we all elected to use that shower the next morning before check out. We ended up getting a refund for our rooms (and the rooms on the other floor) and many apologies from the hotel staff for our much disrupted night.

As we hit the road in our rental van, spirits were high again. We took turns driving as we went, stopping at rest stops here and there. At one point on the seemingly endless open road when my brother was driving, we saw a quaint looking mini-town with what looked to be a gift shop. His fiancé and I immediately yelled for him to turn the car around so we could check it out. As part of American culture, it is important to stop at all interesting roadside stops during a quality road trip. It ended up being the Virgin Trading Post/Fort Zion in Virgin, Utah. The stop had replication western town set up where you could take photos in buildings such as a bank, a saloon, and an old school house for example. They were miniature play-house structures that we posed in to take funny photos. A petting zoo with carrots to feed the animals attracts children and adults alike. I felt bad for the animals out in the 100+ degree heat, but they seemed accustomed to it and came out to greet their new food-bearing friends. The gift shop sold jewelry and trinkets, many of which were made by local Native Americans. My brother decided to pick up a knife that was hand crafted. Thinking it was a switch-blade, he pressed the button on the side to pop it open. Instead, like a shank, the blade extracted straight out, into his open palm! Blood went dripping onto the counter and onto the knife itself. He ended up buying that knife as a souvenir, and luckily we had some Band-Aids to help patch him up.

We were soon on our way again. We meant to take a straight shoot to the Grand Canyon but suddenly we took a wrong turn somewhere and were on route 9 heading to Zion National Park. We decided to embrace the unexpected detour and drive through. What a great decision that was! This beautiful park offers some of the most exquisite views of nature (for a National Parks entrance fee) that I have ever laid my eyes on. Colors like blue, purple and orange that have been developed by nature appear brightly on rocks. The road twists and turns dramatically, with no side rails – so this drive is not for the faint of heart. We continually pulled our minivan over to lookout points where we took beautiful photographs admired the views. Plaques along the way tell you how the mountain formations and colors came to be. In about an hour you are completely through the park and can continue along towards the Grand Canyon.

We continued on Route 89 into Arizona until we arrived at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. Known for a less “touristy” feel and thus, more rustic experience, the North Rim is a closer drive from Vegas and a more nature-centered and quiet experience. Luckily we had drinks and snacks in our cooler, as we went many miles without seeing any sort of rest stop. As you drive towards the Canyon, luscious forests and also those that have been burned away by a combination of controlled and natural forest fires line the road. Even when you drive in to the park entrance, you would not guess that the canyon lies just on the other side of those heavily forested areas. Once parked, we ran to the nearest cliff side spot and stared out in awe. The canyon seems to go on forever ahead of you, with the light bouncing off rocks in a different captivating way every hour.

After checking in at the Grand Lodge, we headed to our small Pioneer Cabin (booked far in advance as there are not many cabins and they sell out fast!), where all five of us would be staying. My parents had one side of the cabin with a double bed, where my brother and I shared a bunk bed, with his fiancé on the futon/bed next to us. This was a very tight squeeze. You can turn around in the shower…but just barely. With all of our suitcases out and the cooler against the only empty wall space, we had to walk single file from the front to back door. Luckily, the outdoors are too beautiful for anyone to want to stay inside for long and the cabin ended up just being a spot to sleep. Without any Internet, television, and barely any cell reception, most guests hang out during the day at the Grand Lodge or go hiking. I explored along trails leading out from around the cabin grounds. I ran right along the edge of the Canyon at points, ran where the horses and mules bring people down into the Canyon, and also through the camping section of the park along the Transept, North Kaibab, and Uncle Jim trails to name a few. My family – not experienced runners or hikers- spent the days walking along these areas and also exploring the (sometimes railed in, sometimes open) jutting rock formations out into the Canyon. At one point, my mom had to walk away, as my brother and I, too old to be told what to do, climbed up onto some precarious rock formations, testing our luck by standing inches from falling off into the Canyon. The higher altitude at the North Rim makes exercise a bit more tiresome but the views make exploring the area a must! My favorite pastime was taking a book out onto one of these high ledges and reading while continually being distracted by the landscape before me. During our four-day stay we saw sunsets and rain clouds, lightning and rainbows, and Jupiter and it’s rings (!!!) all from our little spot on the seemingly top of the world. We spent the evenings hanging by the Grand Lodge or playing Catch Phrase in our cramped quarters.

Early in the morning on the second day of our stay, we embarked on a driving tour of spots along the North Rim of the Canyon along Cape Royal Road. A map given to us at the Grand Lodge highlights look out points. We drove to the furthest one, Cape Royal, and then worked our way back. We saw sights like Angel’s Window and Point Imperial (the highest point of the rim at 8,803 feet), stopping for a picnic lunch at Roosevelt’s Point. Each of the lookout spots has walking trails and most have picnic tables and benches to rest on. We did some more amateur rock climbing up onto the tallest formations. We thought it was strange that we were one of the few families out exploring these sights, until we realized we had never moved our clocks forward an hour after staying in Utah, and had therefore hit the road before 7:00AM! At least we beat the crowds!

Because the North Rim enjoys a rustic feel, there are only a handful of dining options for visitors. We made reservations one night for the Lodge Dining Room – the only sit down restaurant on the grounds. The wait staff comes from all over the country, with their name badges stating their hometowns. They were eager to hear where we lived and welcomed us to their home away from home. The food was excellent and the deserts were very tasty as well! For breakfast you can stop in at the Coffee Saloon (the Rough Rider Saloon by night), and the Deli in the Pines is across the way offering made to order meals at lunch and dinner-time. We shared pizzas and sandwiches for most meals while we visited.

One of the best parts about visiting the North Rim of the Canyon is the park rangers. Stationed at the park throughout the tourist season, the park rangers care for the grounds and put on educational “shows” throughout the days and evenings. We viewed stars and planets through a high powered telescope, made possible due to the absolute lack of light pollution in the area, watched the rangers trace stellar constellations with laser pointers, and saw a presentation about the history of forest fires in the area.

When it was time for us to leave and head back to Las Vegas for the remainder of our vacation, though we were all excited to not share a small cabin together for any longer, but sad to leave nature behind us. It was an amazing experience, one that I would love to have again.

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