2014 Grand Canyon - North and South Rims

Road Scholar 2804

Why this trip? It's mostly for the North Rim. I've been to the South Rim a few times, but only to the North Rim once, briefly, several years ago and remember that it is VERY nice. Although there are only 4 nights actually at the Canyon, it should be enough. Travel plans include a Cosmos trip: "American Circle West" in 2016 with a short "half-day" visit.

Experience the Grand Canyon from both the South and North rims. See the best of both rims and the beginning of the Canyon at Lees Ferry on the Colorado River. Gaze into the mile-deep canyon at multi-hued, 2 billion-year-old rocks that preserve ancient landscapes and life forms. Discover the canyon's complex tableau of forests, streams, waterfalls and deserts. Hear stories of human settlement - ancient and modern - as amazing as the land itself.


Day 1, Sunday, May 18: Arrival / Dis-Orientation
I'll take the StuporShuttle about 9:30 (it even arrived early) then fly to Phoenix and take the hotel shuttle to the hotel. Wednesday (14th) forecast for Phoenix on Sunday: 104; for Monday, 102. It's out of the frying pan (Houston) into the fire (Phoenix).

United UA 217Houston - Phoenix12:30P - 1:050P2:35

On arrival take the complimentary hotel shuttle. On site Northern Arizona University Road Scholar program registration is from 4:30 - 5:15 PM in the hotel meeting room. Enjoy a very nice Buffet Dinner at the Hilton Garden Inn. Our group leader, Matt Turner, does the introductions and a disorientation session in the hotel meeting room following dinner. Lodging: Hilton Garden Inn Phoenix Airport North (D)

Day 2, Monday, May 19: Flagstaff / Grand Canyon NP
After breakfast, we depart about 8 for Flagstaff en route to the Grand Canyon. Surprise - although the coach is loaded to max capacity, it is nice and there is very good leg/knee room. Excellent! Watch the very interesting change of life zones and scenery as we move from the Sonora Desert to the high Colorado Plateau. We have a quick stop in Flagstaff at Northern Arizona University and meet the NAU/Road Scholar programs head.

Then we travel past the San Francisco Peaks Volcanic Field and the site of Arizona's highest point, Humphreys Peak, elev. 12,633 feet. Regional geography and natural history commentary is provided on the bus by our naturalist guide. We have an excellent lunch in Tusayan just outside Grand Canyon National Park. After lunch we finally arrive at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and after straightening out some kind of records foul-up at the Park entrance, head on to the brink of the canyon.

We stop to have an introduction and overview of the canyon at three selected viewpoints, with additional time to take in the grandeur and immensity of this natural wonder though some of the planned stops were so overcrowded that we couldn't find a place to park the bus - it is "high season" in the Park. Also at one of the planned stops, there were new rules restricting the length of vehicles and the coach was definitely too long. Although the sky is clear, there is so much haze that I doubt that pictures will "come out" so I didn't take many. Maswik Lodge check-in is at 5 PM. We are in the individual cabins rather than the hotel lodge. The aren't as "rustic" as those on the North Rim, but they are nice. However, I had to change rooms to one of the Lodge rooms - my cabin was infested with lots of bugs in the toilet area and spraying bug spray didn't stop them. The new room is nicer - more like a normal "blah" hotel room - but it is not nearly as convenient to get to the restaurant, the bus, or the Park shuttle. At least they did find another room rather than my having to worry about bugs all night. I wasn't going to stay in that cabin for two nights.

Dinner is at our leisure at the Maswik Lodge Cafe - this one is on our own. The selection is varied and decent though not spectacular. After dinner, some of us take the shuttle to the McKee Amphitheater for an optional National Park Service ranger presentation. Tonight it is on astronomy. All topics relate to Grand Canyon themes. It is a nice trip so far (except for the bugs) but I am feeling that 7500' elevation. The only bad thing so far - there is NO INTERNET at either lodge. Lodging: South Rim (Maswik) Lodge (2 nights) (BL)

WEATHER FORECAST, Sunday 18th - Friday 23rd
South Rim80/4176/3870/3367/3271/3571/41
North Rim - 70/4064/3560/3564/3765/43

It turns out that this is wrong - not surprising. It is cooler today than forecast and the updated forecast for the north rim is 8-10 degrees cooler - down to the low 30s at night.

Day 3, Tuesday, May 20: Grand Canyon NP - South Rim
After breakfast at the lodge's dining facility (we have "coupons" for two breakfasts and a lunch and dinner), we group depart for the Grand Canyon airport for an INCLUDED narrated scenic (fixed wing aircraft) flight over the canyon. The many hued spires, buttes and temples and the Colorado River are spread out below in dramatic fashion. The flight makes a broad loop that includes a swing past the forested North Rim. Note: Today's one hour scenic flight over the Grand Canyon employs a dual engine "Vistaliner" aircraft. The aircraft can comfortably carry 19 passengers.

Update: this morning I checked my trips list - counting two early '50s family trips, this is my 9th visit to the Grand Canyon and I've done both a small plane and helicopter (preferred) scenic flight. So, since NAU miscounted and there aren't enough seats for everyone (2 19-passenger planes doesn't take care of 39 cattle plus our tour leader), I "passed" on the flight and let someone else have my seat. Comments after the flight: we see much more just from the canyon rim walks than from the plane. It was reportedly also a very bouncy flight in the small plane due to high winds with frequent gusts 65 - 75 mph. They also "short-changed" the passengers: the flight was only 40 minutes instead of 1 - 1 hours. It is probably good that I decided to skip this one.

Instead I trudged along the canyon rim walk seeing the famous Grand Canyon Village landmarks, and going into many of them, including the Kolb Brothers Photo Studio and the buildings of Fred Harvey designer Mary Jane Colter - including the Bright Angel Lodge, Lookout Studio and the Hopi House. Also visit the El Tovar Hotel, one of the great lodges in the National Park system. I got as far as the Hopi House on this nice walk, then took the Park Shuttle back to Maswik. This walk turns out to be the highlight of the day.

We have lunch at noon (using one of those coupons) with a tentative group gathering to get reorganized, then the afternoon is free to explore the South Rim and environs unless we want to go along with Matt for an optional walk/hike down part of the Bright Angel Trail (not for me). Along with the park "Guide" newspaper and map, and a "free time options" handout, we can choose from a variety of activities and viewpoints. The historic Grand Canyon Village, Hermit's Rest West Rim shuttle, Yavapai Point, and rim walks are all popular activities. We may use the free park shuttle to access various points on the South Rim. This afternoon the Rangers present an excellent program on the California Condors as well as Bald- and Golden-Eagles and other large birds of the area. At least it sounded very good when we heard part of it on our walk yesterday. But the wind was so high, quite often howling through the trees and around things, and the area where the talk was held is so exposed, that I had to give up and go back to the room until dinner. *#$&#*&!!!!

After dinner, at 6:25, we have the option to take the coach to Mather Point for a Grand Canyon sunset! The winds are calming a bit but still very windy. Sunset is about 7:30. Mather Point offers late evening shadows and light in the canyon and sweeping rim views but with my luck lately, I doubt that I will get any decent photos and what we did get to see was very disappointing - very over-rated, at least for what we saw tonight. (BLD)

The temperature is much cooler tonight. The rooms, as well as the cabins, stay quite warm. But I was still running the fan all night, and didn't even need to use a sheet for cover.

Day 4, Wednesday, May 21: Grand Canyon East Rim / Marble Canyon / Lee's Ferry / North Rim Lodge / Kaibab Plateau and Grand Canyon North Rim
We have another barely lukewarm breakfast at the lodge. Then we have to have our bags out to the bus and be board by 8:15 to begin a day filled with surreal landscapes and other worldly views en route to the North Rim. We begin along the Grand Canyon's "East Rim". The first stop is at the Desert View overlook. Desert View has the best views of the Colorado River, and is the location of the famous Mary Jane Colter's Watchtower. After exiting the park we enter the western edge of the Navajo Reservation and travel through the Painted Desert (no, not the large famous nationally known one). We cross the Colorado River at Marble Canyon. We cross the Colorado River at Marble Canyon. All through the morning (and continuing into the afternoon) we have frequent sights of massive smoke clouds from the very large Oak Creek Canyon Fire.

Lunch is at a small "restaurant" in Marble Canyon at the base of the towering Vermilion Cliffs. It is just across the highway from the Marble Canyon "International Airport;" "International" since Mexico is in range of even the three single-engine planes parked there. It is a "Make-your-own sandwich bar", with choices of meats, cheeses, salad and condiments. It is a "restaurant" by courtesy only - actually just a medium sized room attached to a Chevron station while the original one, which burned down last year, is being rebuilt. The food is good though.

After lunch, we travel to historic Lee's Ferry and the banks of the Colorado River where we can watch the rigging of boats preparing to go through the Grand Canyon, then Matt talks about issues of western water issues. We make a quick stop at Jacobs Lake Inn where I find a neat Road-Runner carving. We were to have stopped at the Navajo Bridge with a great view of the river, but there was no space to park the bus. We will make another try for this on Friday.

Continue along the base of the Vermilion Cliffs and rise onto the cool, verdant Kaibab Plateau, with its spruce, fir and aspen forest. Along the way we see two elk and several small herds of Mule Deer. All through the day I would have liked to try for pictures from the bus but the window was so dirty that that was impossible - hard even to see through it even fairly clearly. The sign at the entrance gate to the park says that the elevation there is 8847'. Arrive and check in at the North Rim Lodge in the late afternoon.

Dinner is in the dining room of North Rim. Entree choices include Salmon or Not-So-Prime Rib. The Grand Canyon Lodge sits right on the rim of the canyon and it is an easy walk from the cabins - except for the effects of an 8500-8800 feet elevation. After dinner, there is an optional National Park Service ranger presentation in the lodge auditorium. Topics are Grand Canyon related and change nightly. Unfortunately the Lodge fouled up our scheduled dinner time and changed it from 6PM to 7:30 so we don't have a chance to hear the talk after all. Lodging: North Rim Lodge (2 nights) (BLD)

Accommodations: The Frontier Cabins on the North Rim are historic log cabins built in the 1930s. They enhance the rustic ambiance of the North Rim. The cabins are much smaller and more "cozy" than modern day lodgings. The room is nice enough but with limited controls on the heat, and very limited electrical outlets - I'll have to do some swapping around. The only bad thing is that there is no sound-proofing / noise control between rooms so I get lots of noise from the next room in the duplex cabin.

North Rim weather forecast: Highs in the 60s, lows in the lower 30s. Much cooler than the south rim.

Day 5, Thursday, May 22: North Rim Viewpoints and Activities
Watch the sunrise over the Grand Canyon if you like. After breakfast, the group is offered a "Nature Walk" at 8:30 or there are other optional activities. We were supposed to depart mid-morning at 10:30 for Point Imperial, the highest viewpoint in the park at 8803 feet. However the Lodge dining branch fouled up again and our box lunches were not ready. After waiting for over a half-hour they still weren't ready so we left, hoping that they would eventually be delivered to us at the Point. On a good day, this Grand Canyon view taxes the capabilities of our camera to capture it all. But today it should be named Point Ultra Haze. Part of the problem is that there continues to be lots of smoke from the Oak Creek Canyon fire. It is almost impossible to even see much of anything, much less take any pictures. Our picnic lunch eventually arrives, including a dry, stale, deli-style sandwich (often the sacks were mislabeled so it was "pot luck" as to what we actually got), chips, cookie, and warm Gatorade.

Since there isn't much of anything (if that) to see, we head back to the North Rim Lodge right after eating. An optional hike down North Kaibab Trail was to be offered but was cancelled since Matt has an extremely sore back. We can enjoy free time on the North Rim. Park Ranger programs are available in the afternoon. While waiting for dinner (5PM) the smoke plume from Oak Creek Canyon is so dense that it is hard to see anything even from the outdoor viewpoint. Dinner was supposed to be at 6:15 but the Dining Room staff fouled up again (3rd time) and scheduled us at 5:15 so I had to miss one of the Ranger presentations I particularly wanted to hear at 4:30. After dinner (better tonight than last night) there is an optional National Park Service ranger presentation in the lodge auditorium but there is a nice one at 8 on Indigenous Peoples. (BLD)

Day 6, Friday, May 23: Depart Grand Canyon / Cameron Trading Post / Phoenix
Enjoy a buffet breakfast at the Lodge. Then it is thunder, lightning, snow and (small) hail as we load up the bus. After breakfast, depart Grand Canyon with the weather continuing in a wintry mix alternating with just rain. Several times we pass areas heavily coated with small hail from the storm that keeps pestering us as we re-trace our steps with a stop at the historic Navajo Bridge. No, it is NOT the overhanging balcony-type viewpoint, just an old bridge. During our stop we are able to take a walk across this now pedestrian bridge being careful not to be blown over the rail due to the very high winds, and marvel at the 500' chasm below and the muddy waters of the Colorado. There are a couple of 12-person river rafts transiting the area and we also see young condor perched on one of the bridge supports. We do see several small herds of deer, probably many of the same ones we saw on the way to the North Rim. Continue to the over-rated historic 1916 Cameron Trading Post. Native American arts and crafts are available at Cameron Trading Post but the actual Navajo produced ones are extremely high priced. The rest are mass produced trinkets and a bunch of junk.

Lunch is at the Cameron Trading Post. In addition to standard lunch menu selections we offer up and introduce you to the infamous "Navajo Taco" - a light thick, heavy, fry bread loaded with traditional taco toppings. It's a quite an experience! I couldn't eat the whole thing at Maswik. Instead my lunch was a cheeseburger. I passed on the Navajo Taco after trying one a couple of days ago at the Maswik Lodge on the south rim. After lunch we make the long drive first to Flagstaff, passing through the Verde Valley, Cordes Junction then on to our Phoenix hotel. We arrived at 5PM, a couple of hours later than originally announced.

We have a buffet dinner (same menu as last Sunday and the best meal(s) of the trip) at the Hilton Garden Inn, followed by a program wrap-up session. Reservation for airport shuttle made for tomorrow at 11AM. (BLD)

Day 7, Saturday, May 24: Program Conclusion / Depart
Departures are after breakfast. I booked the airport shuttle for 11AM so there won't be any problem getting to the airport on time. I give a special commendation to Phoenix United Gate Agent Maria who found me a different seat from having to share a row with a family whose young child was almost constantly either screaming and/or spitting. Many, many thanks to Maria. The ride would have been really horrible otherwise. (B)

United UA 349Phoenix - Houston1:30P - 6:02P2:32

I made it home at 7:15. It was a nice trip except for the thick haze from both rims, smoke from the Oak Creek fire at the north rim, and a definite reaction to the 8599-8800 feet elevation on the south rim. Still a good trip, however. I just didn't get to see as much (clearly) as I would have liked and took very few pictures. The North Rim was, for me, the highlight of the trip. (B)

Selected pictures
Click to enlarge

South Rim Lodge, Grand Canyon (2 nights) S. Rim Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon Village, AZ 86023 phone: 928-638-2631. The South Rim lodge (Maswik or Yavapai) was built within a quarter mile of the S. Rim. The lodge is convenient to all the shops, museums and restaurants within Grand Canyon Village. Free shuttle buses stop at the lodge. NO INTERNET in the rooms - only in a couple of inconvenient places.

North Rim Lodge, Grand Canyon (2 nights) North Rim, Grand Canyon, AZ 86052 phone: 928-638-2611 The only lodging available on the North Rim, this old lodge of rough hewn logs and rocks is chiseled into the limestone of the rim itself, offering broad views of the Grand Canyon, Bright Angel Canyon, the South Rim, and the San Francisco Peaks nearly 100 miles south. Rooms are in nearby cabins on the same grounds, within walking distance of the lodge. These historic cabins are both rustic and romantic. Room amenities: Step into the past in these quaint rustic historic cabins that have basic necessities including electricity, hot and cold running water, shower, heat, telephone and screened windows that open to let in fresh mountain air. Facility amenities: Grand Canyon Lodge Dining Room has magnificent views of the Grand Canyon through its huge picture windows. NO INTERNET in the rooms, only in the lobby of the General Store.