Well, I’ve fallen behind with describing travel but am trying to get back in the saddle again.
We took a short but fun road trip from Las Vegas through Arizona late May/early June 2018. Overall I enjoyed the trip but was somewhat saddened by ever increasing crowds. For this trip, my husband had a normal camera but I took a camera that had an infrared filter. My mom was kind enough to loan us her car.
Our time in Vegas is usually spent with relatives although we usually get out at least once to stretch our legs and do some hiking. This time we re-visited Floyd Lamb Park. I usually love this park- the lakes and old buildings make it an oasis in the desert. You don’t really expect to see people fishing in Las Vegas! However, we happened to be there on Memorial day and the park was being enjoyed by a lot more people than usual. However, we did escape the crowds by hiking out in the desert past the lakes. I wish we had some binoculars though to get a better look at the birds that make the wooded area there their home. This park is about 17 miles from the Strip, so isn’t really visited by tourists.
On to the road trip:
Day 1: Las Vegas to North Rim Grand Canyon. Google maps: about 264 miles, 4.5 hours. This is the furthest I have driven in some time!
A couple of months ago I was fortunate to snag a hotel room at the Grand Canyon Lodge for 1 night. As teenagers, my husband and I had been to the South Rim on family road trips, plus I heard the North Rim was less crowded. On the way we stopped at the Le Fevre Overlook along highway 89A. This gives you a view of “all the steps of the Grand Staircase“. Definitely worth a stop, there are bathrooms there if you need them too.
After another stop for lunch in Jacob Lake, we turned onto the long entrance road (67) to the North Rim. Along the drive toward the park we were blown away by how gorgeous the scenery is- meadows, aspen and pine. In late May the Aspen leaves are still coming in and many were a beautiful almost gold color (think Robert Frost’s poem Nothing Gold Can Stay). There are also some bison along the drive.
Once we arrived at the North Rim we went straight to the Lodge to admire the view. The Lodge is amazing- the main building is right on the rim and there are balconies you can sit out on and just take in the view. We did some exploring on the trails around the lodge, but with our combined unease with steep drop offs there were just some areas that we didn’t hike to.
After admiring the view from the Lodge, we decided to drive out to Point Imperial which is the highest viewpoint in the park.
Once there we were at Point Imperial we were intrigued by the way the forest in the area was recovering from the 2000 fire so we hiked about a mile and a half out and back on the Point Imperial trail. It was amazing to see how the land heals itself and to escape the people (we saw no other hikers). There were also a couple of places we could get canyon views. At one point though we did get spooked by a loud noise off the trail that we think must have been a mule deer. I feel weird saying this, but I think having this short hike to ourselves was the highlight of the day.
After our short hike, we considered driving toward Cape Royal but after so much time in the car already and the winding road that was indicated on the map just decided to skip it in favor of returning back to the lodge to check in. We just had a motel room at the lodge and although it was very basic, we were in the park! After a quick foray to the North Kaibab trailhead area to remind ourselves how hard a rim to rim hike would be, we spent the rest of the day enjoying some Arizona beers on the Lodge balcony and enjoying the views. It got very crowded as sunset approached, but we grabbed some food from the Deli at the lodge and enjoyed watching the light change during sunset. The sunset is almost behind you this time of year, but the effects are still beautiful on the canyon. If it all possible, I would recommend being there for sunset!
After sunset on the way back to our room we caught the almost full moon rising over Roaring Spring Canyon. A great end to the day.
Day 2: North Rim Grand Canyon to Page. Google maps: about 123 miles, 2.5 hours.
I didn’t plan much for this day thinking we would likely do the drive to Cape Royal at the North Rim. However, after enjoying the beautiful drive from Jacob Lake to the park the day before we decided to do some hiking in the national forest in that area. After enjoying the views from the Lodge one more time and armed with only some basic knowledge that we gained using the slow internet at the camp store, we set off. The first hiker sign we saw, we turned. We followed a gravel road up the mountain and arrived at the East Rim Viewpoint. This is technically the Saddle Mountain wilderness and I do believe the view is into something called North Canyon. The Viewpoint is actually on a segment of the Arizona trail. We hiked a bit along the trail and enjoyed the Aspen forest and views into the canyon. We also enjoyed the relative solitude compared to the national park- we only saw a handful of mountain bikers the hour we were hiking.
We continued toward Page and stopped several times to enjoy the views of the Vermilion cliffs. We had actually entered the online lottery for The Wave permits for both May and June and were unsuccessful, so that will have to hopefully happen on a future trip. Some of our stops as the highway followed the cliffs were caused by being behind a person pulling a wide trailer that was impossible to pass because they were always creeping into the other lane. Better to stop and take pictures than to be overcome with road rage!
On the way to Page we also stopped and walked across the historic Navajo Bridge that spans the Colorado river next to the newer one that cars travel across. The views from the bridge were amazing, although I did stop to take a photo for a family who claimed the teenage son was getting sick of all the rocks looking the same.
Just outside of Page we stopped at the Horseshoe bend overlook. Holy tons of people Batman! Seriously, this famous viewpoint is a hot up and down hike (both ways!) to a sheer drop off where hundreds of people speaking very loudly are all trying to get to a position on the edge of a sheer drop off to take a selfie. If you are especially lucky, there will be babies crying and construction noise (they appear to be building a safer overlook). Although my husband was patient and took several photos, for me I can only say I am grateful it was free.
In Page, we weren’t in a hurry to get to the hotel so we found Scenic drive and a overlook for the Glen Canyon Dam. It was couple of flights of “stairs” down to the best observation area and it was definitely worth the 15 minutes we spent there to get a face on view of the engineering marvel that the dam is. We decided against touring the dam as we were more interested in being outdoors.
We then headed to the Page Boy Motel to check in. Pluses of the Page Boy: swimming pool, nice refrigerator in room (a bonus for road tripping with a cooler!), walkable to restaurants, and plenty of outdoor seating/tables for chilling outside. They also have a continental breakfast but unfortunately we had to leave each morning before they started serving it at 7 am. We walked to the State 48 Tavern for dinner and very much enjoyed it (great service, fine food, large cold beers, Stanley cup hockey on the TV). We then turned in as early as possible as we had to get up very early the next morning.
Day 3: Page: Canyon tours, short hike.
My husband is really into photography so I booked us a photography tour of the local canyons. After consulting him and a friend who did the tour back in April, we booked the four canyon photography tour (Upper Antelope + 3 other lesser known canyons) with Adventurous Antelope Canyon. This tour was not cheap, and requires cameras with tripods for everyone, but in the end was well worth the cost for us. My husband came well prepared with a nice camera and tripod, I faked it with our lesser camera with the infrared filter and lesser tripod. We arrived to check in earlier than the required 6:45 am time and then waited until our 7:15 departure. Turns out we were the only ones booked on the four canyon tour so had our own guide! Our guide (Cody) had a lot of fun driving us to the different canyons (we even got a bonus fifth side canyon) and gave us photography tips as well as telling us a bit about the area. Three of the canyons we visited were exclusive for our tour company so we were totally alone in those. In the bonus side canyon we saw only 2 other people. However, Antelope Canyon is chock full of people. CHOCK FULL. The business model is to move people along as quickly as possible. But, being on a photography tour we got a full 2 minutes at prime photography locations while other non-photography tours were forced out of the area. Felt like cattle were being herded, but we were the choicest cattle that would yield the best beef. The guides would throw dust into the shafts of light to create the best possible photo opportunities. I could post a ton of photos, but don’t want to fill up my media storage or bore you to tears.
After our tour, we stopped for a late lunch (I won’t mention the place because I don’t recommend it) and then headed back to the hotel to regroup. We ended up going on a short, easy out and back hike before dinner near the Glenn Canyon Dam. The hike is called hanging gardens and ends at an outcropping of rock with a (relatively) high amount of vegetation hanging from it. Toward the end the trail forks and we accidentally went left away from the right hand turn that would have taken us to the actual hanging gardens but we did instead get some nice views of parts of the lake. We had a nice dinner of pizza at Strombolli’s and fortunately had leftovers to have for breakfast the next morning as it was a very early day.
Day 4: Page to Navajo National Monument; Navajo National Monument to Tuba City. 151 miles total driving, 2.5 hours.
I really wanted to see cliff dwellings on this trip at Canyon de Chelly. However that would have been too far to drive. So I found this “small” national monument that would still let me accomplish my goal of seeing cliff dwellings without driving so much that I wanted to pull my hair out. At Navajo National Monument there are 3 different cliff dwellings, although one (Inscription House) is closed to the public as it is very fragile and another (Keet Seel) is basically an overnight hike as it is 17 mile round trip. The third, Betatakin, is more easily accessible. From the Visitor’s Center you can take a 1.6 mile round trip out and back hike to a viewpoint of Betatakin from across the canyon. However, you must take a ranger guided hike to see the ruins up close. Check with them for the times when you are planning to go, but when we were there the guided hikes were at 8:15 or 10 am. The 8:15 hike is longer (5 miles round trip) than the 10 am hike (3 miles roundtrip). Because it is a shorter hike, the going down (about 850 feet vertical) and then going back up is steeper on the 10 am hike. The hikes are first come first served, and are limited to 25 people. We ended up having one other person on our hike with us, but he said the day before one hike was full as the other was cancelled as the rangers had training to attend. So, I would call ahead a day or two before to double check times.
Unlike other parts of Arizona, the Navajo Reservation observes daylight savings time, so the Navajo National Monument time was an hour ahead of Page time. So, the 8:15 hike would have meant an extremely early wake up call. As it was, getting there in time for the 10 am hike did mean an early wake up. The drive from Page on Google Maps routes you the last couple of miles to over what I think is a dirt road, so we ended up taking 98 all the way to 160 and then took the turn off for Navajo National Monument. We ended up getting there with plenty of time to spare for the 10 am hike. I kind of expected pit toilets and water spigots at a free national monument (they do take donations) but was surprised at how nice the facilities were at the visitor’s center and a ranger was also meticulously cleaning everything too! They have a water bottle filler as well which is important as we had a strenuous hike ahead of us. And, although I did need a light jacket when we arrived at the visitor’s center it would warm up quickly. We spent a few minutes wandering around the trails near the visitors center before the hike down to the ruin.
This hike was probably my favorite thing on the whole trip. Granted, you do have to have some basic physical fitness to do this hike, and people with bad knees should avoid it due to the steep steps. Also, you are descending into a canyon, and although there weren’t the open sheer drop offs like a few places we saw in Glacier National Park, my fear of heights did set off a few warning bells in my head on the way down, but nothing I couldn’t push through on the way down and the way back up I was fine. This hike takes the Aspen trail which covers the first 350 feet or so the vertical downhill. On the way down our ranger told us about some of the plants we encountered, and what they can be used for medicinally or what nutrients they are high in when used as a food source. The prickly pear cacti were in bloom while we were there. At the end of the Aspen trail you have a view of an ancient aspen forest which does seem quite out of place in the desert. The end of the Aspen trail is as far as you can go down into the canyon without being on one of the guided tours.
Our guide says he is concerned for the health and long-term well being of the aspens in the forest and the area is currently in a drought. The last half mile of the hike you are hiking in this forest which in addition to aspen has giant Douglas Fir trees and also oaks. Every once and a while you do see prickly pair cactus which makes for a surreal mix of plant life.
We waited a few minutes for the earlier hike to leave the ruins before approaching. Once you emerge from the forest and see the ruins it is truly an amazing sight.
Our guide told us about some of the earliest people to “rediscover” the area, and how early photographs indicate the ruin looks similar now as it did then, with some exceptions. Our guide told us about what life would have been like in when the area was occupied from 1250-1300 AD. We learned about a rock fall (a tour was actually present when it happened!) that limits the area that we could see. We did go up a side trail to get a closer view of some of the buildings that had been damaged by rockfalls, passing by the spring that was likely the occupants water source. We could also see the pictographs (paintings) of the 4 clans that lived there- Deer, Fire, Flute, and Water; and also some petroglyphs (carvings). Our guide explained that to respect the people who lived there that he did not like to say that the place was abandoned but instead to say that the people who lived there moved on.
I felt very lucky to have been able to visit such a special place, which made the trek back up out of the canyon a bit easier. Back at the visitor’s center we did do the hike out to the viewpoint on the canyon rim.
I had made a hotel reservation in Tuba City for that evening. In hindsight we could have likely pushed on to Monument Valley or even toward Flagstaff, but I hadn’t wanted to plan too much driving. We ended up getting to the hotel, Quality Inn Navajo Nation, and I was hoping they would have a pool to just relax in but they didn’t. My husband did look on Trip Advisor for things to do in Yuba City and the Navajo Museum happened to be next to our hotel. It’s a pretty small museum as the exhibits were actually put together to have at the Salt Lake City Olympics and then relocated to the present location. However, it was pretty inexpensive (I think either $4.00 or $4.50 a person) and although I’m usually not much for videos at museums, the one they showed about the Navajo creation story was very informative as the story is quite complicated involving four worlds. The rest of the museum is mostly in one room, and I really enjoyed seeing some of the weavings and reading about how much effort and skill they take to make. There is also a free Code Talkers museum at the next-door Trading Post, however it was closed by the time we we got there. We did walk through the Trading Post but decided we were collecting memories and not stuff so did not purchase anything.
Other than fast food, food choices in Tuba City are very slim, so we ended up grabbing dinner at the Hogan Restaurant which is next to our hotel. The reviews say the food is bland, which I’m going to have to agree with, but at least they have a salad bar too. The Navajo Nation is dry, so no beer or wine with dinner. We got back to the hotel pretty early so I racked up a couple of losses playing cards with my husband.
Day 5: Tuba City to Williams (about 115 miles, 2 hours), plus approximately 40 miles to see Wupatki National Monument, Sunset Crater National Monument, and Walnut Canyon National Monument.
The hotel included breakfast at the Hogan Restaurant, so after that we got back on the road. There had been a bad accident on route 89 (this is mostly one lane each way) but crews were on hand to assist and to direct traffic. A lot of the driving we did was on 2 lane roads which did test my patience when it came to dealing with slower traffic (think 3 RVs in a caravan!).
The sightseeing plan for the day was to see the National Monuments in the area. Wupatki and Sunset Crater are connected via a 34 mile loop road and once entrance fee is good at both. Wupatki is very interesting and accessible as several Pueblo dwellings are all pretty short walks from the road, and you can even walk through some of them. The views of the San Francisco Peaks are also amazing. The largest of the ruins is behind the visitors center and accessible via a short trail. This park was not very crowded.
Sunset Crater is on the same loop road, but as the name indicates is quite different in appearance. In the national forest adjacent to the monument four wheeling on the volcanic slopes appears to be a very popular activity. As for the monument itself, you can’t hike on the actual Sunset crater, but there is a parking area with a nice viewpoint and also hikes adjacent to it that skirt a really cool lava flow. We ended up hiking the Lenox Crater trail. From where we parked it was about a 1.5 mile round trip hike, but there is a pretty steep uphill. At the top you do get good views of the San Francisco peaks and see how vegetation recovers after volcanic eruptions. The flat part where you start/end skirts the Bonito lava flow and if you didn’t know any better you could imagine that you were on the Big Island of Hawaii. I enjoyed this hike and it took far shorter time than was listed in the park newspaper.
Since it was early enough in the day, after grabbing a fast food lunch in Flagstaff we decided to go to Walnut Canyon. This is a National Monument where you pay per person instead of per car. At the beginning of the trip we had decided against an America the Beautiful pass because we don’t have any National Parks near us at home that we are likely to go to the rest of the year. I think with this per person charge we were at 70$ for all our parks where the pass would have been 80$. Fees went up in the middle of our trip (June 1) at some locations.
Anyway, back to describing Walnut canyon. The ruins there are tucked along the cliffs. There is a pretty steep trail called the Island Trail that takes you down to walk around some of the ruins. I think there have been restoration efforts for many of them. I did that hike, but my husband’s knee was bugging him so he walked along the trail at the rim of the canyon. I only took a few pictures while on the Island trail. You can also see some of the ruins in the canyon from the visitor’s center so even if the Island Trail is too much for you, you can still have views of what the monument is famous for. I think we were there all total about 45 minutes, but I did think it was a worthy stop.
From Walnut Canyon we headed toward Williams and encountered our first major road construction along the interstate. It ended up not being too bad and we got to Williams a bit earlier than I thought. That was fine though as our room was ready and I had planned on us going to a brewpub as we love to try local beer when traveling. Williams is a kitschy town along Route 66 and also the home of the Grand Canyon Railway. Keep that in mind if you decide to stay there as the first train of the day (and first train whistle) is before 7 am. After doing some quick research we found out that there were actually 2 breweries in town, so we headed out to the first one which was just a block from our hotel- Historic Brewing Co. Barrel+Bottle. This place gets high marks for its outdoor seating. They also have wine (and a wine tasting room) but we didn’t try any. The beer was tasty too- many more exotic, craft brewery-type selections. We then headed over to Grand Canyon Brewing. They had more beers on tap, and many were what I think of as more traditional styles, and hockey was again on the TV. Not a bad end to the last true day of vacation.
Day 6: Straight back to my mom’s house in Las Vegas. Google maps: 232 miles, 3 hours 40 minutes.
Breakfast was included at our hotel. So, other than stopping for gas in Kingman, our only other stop was at a lookout about 8 miles from the Hoover Dam to briefly stretch our legs. We could have stopped at the Hoover Dam, but are in Vegas enough that we will put that off for a future visit where we can combine it with other things in the Boulder City area (like hiking!). If you are driving route 93 from Kingman up to Hoover Dam, definitely get gas in Kingman. The gas stations out in the middle of the desert have pretty inflated prices.
All in all, I really enjoyed our trip. I think the only day I would have changed would have been trying to fit in additional things on our day at Navajo National Monument. It ended up being a short day sightseeing wise, but I think my husband appreciated some downtime. I also learned that if I ever want to do the rim to rim Grand Canyon hike, I need to start training now!