A spontaneous mid-November 3 day trip, for my 25th birthday, to the Grand Canyon led us on a wonderful and unexpected adventure! From motels & camping in hailstorms to Vegas & local state parks, it was an eventful journey, to say the least.
From San Diego, we drove via the southern route to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon. While coming back home, we beat the vacation-end blues by driving via Las Vegas and Hoover Dam. Note to self: always make a loop on road trips if possible, it makes an otherwise uneventful drive through the desert fresh and keeps your eyes peeled for new sights! Also stops you from driving with your eyes closed…
The best thing about road tripping is, despite long periods of driving, you have the comfort of your own car (pile of pillows please) and you can make stops at locations along the way that you likely wouldn’t normally make a special trip for. One of my favorite things about road tripping is having a chance to use that time to catch up on new music or podcasts or even water-coloring. (See the portable tools I use here). I personally can’t read books, though I would love to since I get car sick.
Painted Rock Petroglyph Site is along the way if you’re coming from the southern route. A collection of over 800 carvings and drawings on basalt boulders by prehistoric dwellers.
It’s relatively small with an honor system for the $2 park fee but taking in the desolate location in the desert landscape, with all the saguaro cacti along the way, and imagining our prehistoric ancestors carve drawings of animals and people onto these rocks is pretty cool and worth maintaining. It’s honestly underwhelming in appearance, but amazing in context.
We continued our drive to Flagstaff, planning to crash there as it’s the main city near the 64 that leads to the Grand Canyon if you are exploring the South Rim. It’s along the Historic Route 66 but arriving at night, we didn’t see anything too intriguing in the sleepy road trip-stopover town. After a night in a Flagstaff Inn, we drove into the Grand Canyon village early morning and began the hike for the Bright Angel’s trail. If you have faith in your hiking abilities and don’t feel like you will need that long… you will. So START EARLY.
And even if you REALLY are confident, if nothing, go early as possible for the beautiful vistas that the morning light tickles out of the canyon; a photographer’s delight.
Spent a good amount of the beginning of the hike stopping often to take irresistible shots of the spectacular canyon. With only 1 day to hike back up and camp at the Mather campgrounds, we only hiked down to Plateau Point. This journey is nonetheless a whopping 12mi roundtrip with an overall elevation drop of 2968ft (Remember you will be hiking the second half entirely uphill. Obviously…).
Being lazy about working out, but lucky enough to be young, I was able to conquer the trail. However, I desperately wish I had prepared for the hike with a few mild hikes even. I’d be lying if I didn’t mention I was ready to give up on the way back if not for my partner. My legs were jello and the downhill first half had definitely strained my ankles and calves, causing me to inadvertently put pressure on different parts of my body. TLDR: get a tad in shape before going.
In the morning, the trail is frequented by mule tour groups that cheerfully wave past you. Not only does this remind you that you are stuck hiking this on foot, but the mules also shit anywhere AND everywhere. Keeps you awake I suppose…
Some options for various hiking levels:
- the family groups generally went to the 1st and 2nd tunnels, took some photos with the backdrop and headed back, likely to check out rim walk or drive to other sides of the canyon. If I had more time I would definitely drive over 2.5hrs to Horseshoe Bend.
- If your group is capable of mild physical activity issues the best spot would be up until the 1.5mi rest stop.
- After this, there are rest stops at 2mi, 3mi, and 4.5mi with the trail ending at a gorgeous view at Plateau Point at 6mi.
At 4.5mi, the lush Indian Garden campground has public restrooms and is a complete change of atmosphere from the dry, layered sandstone and gravel just prior. You are deep in the canyon (even though it’s technically only halfway down, crazy!) where there is a good amount of water flow and tons of shade! The weather is quite different as it’s cooler on a hot day but warmer on a windy day, shielded by canyon walls on both sides. Look out for cute mule deer 🙂 I found myself wondering about their huge size and grey color whether these were just white-tailed deer that just change color. NOPE, they are a different type of deer generally found in the Rockies.
The Indian garden area, as well as the plateau, was previously inhabited by Havasupai Native Americans who lived there until Teddy Roosevelt kicked them out for the National Park Service. They used the upper portion of the trail for access to water and later the trail was extended to join the Colorado River. After many legal battles, the tribe has received a small portion of the land back which has become a popular tourist destination in itself. Hopefully, I get to go soon to see the Havasupai and Mooney falls located inside canyons on the South Rim (hiking on Havasupai land needs tour group registration or prior booking of permits).