The Grand Canyon was a bit of an overwhelming experience. It is breathtaking and beautiful and at the same time a slightly terrifying place to take small children. It's also the largest National Park we have visited so far and offers a dizzying array of tours and activities for it's many visitors. With hiking trails, mule, horse or donkey tours, Jeep rides into the canyon, and plane and helicopter tours of the canyon the possibilities are pretty much endless. We had two and a half days to explore and decided to keep it simple, and cheap, and do a lot of hiking.
We entered the park from the east, at the Desert view visitors center and got our first view of the canyon. Spectacular!
Next we climbed the historic watchtower to get an even better view. A round tower constructed in the 1930's and made to look like an ancient puebloan watchtower, it has an observation deck and a winding staircase that takes you to the top for the ultimate view.
It was about a half hour drive along the south rim and out the south exit to our camp site, which was thankfully only a short walk from a shuttle bus stop. We were able to park the King and let it rest, as well as give the husband a break from some really white knuckle mountain driving and ride the free shuttle from Tusayan Arizona into the park each day. We spent the first day hiking along the rim trail for several miles, taking in the scenic vistas and visiting the Yavapai Geology Museum. The rim trail is a wide, well paved path that follows along the rim of the canyon, and there are a few places where there is a small wall or fence, but most of it is wide open, so the little dude was made to hold a hand...the whole day. It was a beautiful hike and I snapped several pictures along the way.
I took the boys favorite picture along the rim, at one of the sections without a rail. The view was beautiful so they sat down and just soaked it in for a bit!
Clearly, they love this picture because it looks like they are sitting right on the edge and dangling their feet over the side of the canyon. Now, I know my mom and dad are probably freaking out right about now, and I can hear my next phone call home as I type this. So, mom and dad, this picture is for you!
See, they're not really sitting right on the edge. So relax, I promise, we didn't even come close to loosing one of them over the edge!
The one thing that struck me most on our first full day at Grand Canyon was the silence. Living so close to Niagara Falls, a place I've visited hundreds of times, one of the things that sticks with you is the sound, the noise and the fury of all that rushing water. The Grand Canyon, on the other hand, is almost silent. No songbirds chirping or people shouting. Even my own kids were pretty quiet, speechless actually as they took it all in. And then we saw the coolest thing. 5 California Condors, soaring in the thermal currents coming up from the bottom of the canyon. We must have stood there watching them for an hour or more. The middle child is our resident wildlife photographer and he captured some great pictures of these huge birds.
The next day we decided we were ready for a bit more adventure and wanted to hike a ways into the canyon. There are several trails that go all the way to the bottom, but the Bright Angel Trail has some water stops, ranger stations and places to turn around without hiking all the way down. We started off, planning on going three miles round trip, six if we got down there and still felt pretty good. We made it to the first water stop when it began to thunder and lightening, so turn around we did and headed out. Only 3 miles for us. The climb down wasn't bad and it was beautiful, but that hike back out was tough.
Finally, a word of thanks and praise to the Park Rangers we have met in each of the parks we have visited so far. The rangers give talks, programs and tours throughout the day at each park. They are all free and have all been excellent! Most National Parks also have a Junior Ranger Program that the little dude has been participating in along the way. You pick up a book at the visitors center, then your child has to complete 3-4 activities, pick up some litter along the way and attend a ranger program during your stay. They have all been excellent, but I think the best one so far was at the Grand Canyon. The ranger taught us about many of the artifacts that have been found in the park, then took the kids on an “archeological dig” to see what they could learn about the first people who lived in the canyon. It was fascinating and the little dude was right into it!
At the end of the day you take the book, signed by the ranger, back to the visitors center and are “officially sworn in” as you take the pledge to protect the National Parks and be a friend to nature. It's all very official, and the kids earn a junior park ranger badge at each park. The little dude should have quite a collection of badges by the end of our trip!