One of the things I was REALLY looking forward to on our road trip across the U.S. was going to the Grand Canyon. Jeff and I have never been, and it was absolutely a bucket-list item for me. Well, Jeff’s (fortunately) brief bout of atrial fibrillation while we were in the Colorado National Monument temporarily derailed our plans. We discussed going to the Grand Canyon as we drove back east, but hotels at the park filled up literally a year in advance, so a March visit wasn’t going to be an option. However, we were able to snag a reservation for two nights at the end of February at one of the cabins at the Bright Angel Lodge. In the end, I think it worked out better than if we had gone in October as originally planned, or even March.
I’ll admit to having second thoughts the night before we left our AirBnB in Palm Springs. We were going to get up before sunrise, and we were looking at at 450 mile drive. But we decided to seize the day and dragged ourselves out of bed when the alarm went off. We were greeted with a pink mountain view from the sunrise as we left the rental, and after a quick stop at Swiss Donut to fortify ourselves for the trip, we hit the road.
The road conditions on I-40 as we neared Flagstaff were appalling. We’ve never experienced roads that bad anywhere – even in New England during the winter. I’m talking craters the fell like the size of a VW Beetle. A quick Google search confirmed that we weren’t imagining it. I found this picture online, and although it’s from 2017, this is how it looked in stretches along the way. Anyone who claims an infrastructure bill isn’t needed should take a drive along I-40 in Arizona:
After dodging and swerving our way along the interstate, Jeff and I looked at each other and said, “I sure. hope this is worth it.” It was.
Our cabin was a stone’s throw from the edge of the Canyon so after getting our key we brought our duffel bags to our room. We hadn’t yet seen the Canyon yet, and Jeff made me laugh when he said, “Don’t peek!” We dropped off our bags and made the short walk to the rim so we could see it together at the same time. Wow!
Pre-covid, the Grand Canyon was the second most visited National Park with around 6,000,000 visitors annually. During the prime tourist season, the place is absolutely jammed. But February is the least popular month to visit with around 1/3 of the number of visitors compared to October (when we originally planned to go). And we absolutely reaped the benefit.
Although we prefer not to be this close to snow, seeing it in the Canyon was a treat:
It was chilly with highs in the upper 40’s, but the sun was strong so we were comfortable with our cold weather clothes. Hiking was off the table with an elevation of 7,100 feet, but we were able to fully enjoy both of the rim roads (Desert View and Hermit), pulling over at all of the viewpoints. In fact, unbeknownst to us, Hermit Road is closed to all vehicles except for the visitor buses from March 1 – November 30th. When was our primary day to sightsee? February 28th. Perfect! The lack of crowds meant that we even had some of the viewpoints to ourselves for a while, which is simply unheard of as the main tourist season kicks in. Our delayed trip truly worked out for the best.
I loved the huge mesa in the distance:
Meet Hank. My best friend, Lyn, is crocheting these bears and I had to have one. He appeals to the kid in me, and I think we all could use that occasionally. You’ll be seeing him from time to time as we travel. Yes, Jeff is very patient:
Overall, I would say that a two night stay is perfect if you just want to see the views and aren’t planning to hike. The first night is your arrival day, the second night gives you the whole day to sightsee, and then you leave. Jeff said that the Grand Canyon was one of those places where the word “epic”, typically overused, is actually appropriate. The scale is almost unimaginable. At one point we thought we saw a bird flying in the canyon, only to discover that it was actually a helicopter!
That being said, I think we both preferred some of the other parks we’ve been to a bit more, like Colorado National Monument or Rocky Mountain National Park. Their slightly smaller scale made them feel a bit more accessible, if that makes sense. Regardless, we’re both glad that we made the effort to see it. At the risk of stating the obvious, the views are amazing.