Despite a promise to myself to tone it down on the travelling in 2017, I had the opportunity to visit Las Vegas and could not take it without visiting the Grand Canyon. I decided to extend my work trip for several days from March 6-11, 2017 and make the road trip to the Canyon.
My car rental ended up costing approximately $300USD for 4 days (including all of the fees and taxes. Not to mention, despite turing 25 in two months, I was charged an extra $130USD for the underage usage fee). I was lucky enough to be upgraded for free from a Chevy Spark to a Kia Soul and a full tank costed about $25USD (or 2.3-2.6 cents/L). Once I received my upgraded rental, I set off around 11AM using the Maps.Me app to navigate around the state. This app is great because it allows you to pre-download the maps for use without wifi when you're on the road. The one thing is that the estimated arrival time is highly over-estimated so it's better to run the address through Google Maps for a better idea of how long you it will actually take you.
The drive from Las Vegas to the South Rim Grand Canyon took approximately 5hrs. I only made one stop for an iced coffee along the way, but for the most part, the drive was very smooth, and roads weren't too busy. Mind you, this is the up-hill drive from Vegas so be prepared to burn through most of your gas.
After the long drive, I arrived to the Grand Canyon Xanterra Maswik Lodge. There is a small town about a 20 minute drive from the canyon with potentially cheaper hotels and restaurants. I wasn't sure how much time I was going to spend at the canyon, so I opted to stay in the National Park itself at a rate of $90-$100/night. This was one of the cheaper options within the Park. It's even cheaper if you can book months ahead of time to stay at the Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon (only accessed by foot) or if you just camp in the National Park. If you're tight on cash, I would recommend staying outside the Park. I also would not recommend camping at this time of year as it can drop below zero (C) overnight and to the early morning (unless if you're prepared). It does tend to warm up to about 15 degrees (C) and as the week passed, it became much warmer, but still no warmer than 18.
Alas, I made it just in time to settle in my room and make it to the rim for sunset (at approximately 6:27pm). After switching rooms from the South Lodge to the North Lodge for internet access, I raced out (the 5 minute walk) to the edge of the canyon, took the red shuttle bus and made it to Hopi Peak to view the sunset. This is known to be one of the best sunset spots since it is one of the furthest lookout points into the canyon. As soon as the sunset, the winter chill took over and within minutes, tourists were already piling on the bus to head back to their lodges.
The Maswik Lodge had less than charming accommodation for its price. There was a chalet style common area for check-in with a gift shop and communal dining area. The food was also less than charming, and slightly over priced (~$10-$15USD per meal) but was conveniently close. After my sunset adventure, I explored the gift shop and met Caro, Kelly and Geoffrey. They were on their own adventure camping by the canyon. I had found some new friends to explore Antelope Canyon with the following day!
Off again on the road at 9AM, we set off to Antelope Canyon. Stopped on the way in Cameron (one of the Navajo trading posts) for some delicious Navajo Taco (basically fried bread with chili, lettuce and cheese on top). The drive to Antelope Canyon was approximately 2.5hrs from the South Rim. In order to see the infamous canyon, you must book with a tour group. Due to the lower season, we didn't need to book ahead, but it may be worth looking into ahead of time during peak season. We booked with Ken's tours. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and took his time with us through the canyon. Antelope Canyon is made up of an upper and lower entrance. We heard that the upper one tends to be busier, more expensive, and much shorter in length, so we decided to visit the lower canyon. Entrance costs were approximately $25USD per person. This trip was completely worth the drive. Every photo seems surreal and our tour guide was great with helping to take photos for us at the best angles.
On our way back, we stopped in at Horseshoe Bend. About a 15 minute hike to the edge from the parking lot, we came to a busy spot with tourists everywhere. I can't imagine how busy it will be during high season. Be careful because there are no guard rails to keep people from falling down into the Colorado River!
It was time to head back to the lodge. Back at Cameron, I parted ways with my new friends and took some time to relax in the chalet. The next morning, I reluctantly woke up early yet again to do more driving. I had promised my cousins I would visit them in Phoenix and some colleagues at the OdySea Aquarium in Scottsdale. The drive was another 3.5hours. OdySea Aquarium is a large with lots of great displays - a highly recommended place to visit if you're visiting that area. Suburbia Phoenix seems quiet and quaint. Downtown Phoenix is filled with a much younger demographic - with the University being nearby.
After losing yet another day to driving, I zipped back to the canyon early in the morning to make it as early as possible for my last chance to hike. I arrived around 9AM and was finally able to make it on the trail by 10AM. I decided to take the South Kaibob trail (4.4 miles) down to the canyon and was hoping I would have enough time in the day to make it back up the Bright Angel Trail (13 miles). Though it was highly recommended not to hike to the bottom and back in one day, I figured that I am relatively fit and could make it. I packed my 2L CamelBak bladder and a spare water bottle, lots of Cliff bars, a sandwich and some fruit and headed on the Blue shuttle bus, transferred to the Orange line and finally made it to the beginning of the trail. Trying to make up for lost time, I dashed down the 4.4mile trail in 2 hours. It seemed much easier to hop on the mounds created by the mules stomping on the dirt. The hike was chilly to start, being shaded, but quickly warmed up once I was no longer under cover. I stopped at the Turning Point and decided that I wasn't familiar enough with the Bright Angel Trail to attempt going back up before it got dark. So airing on the side of caution, I turned back and went back up the way I came. This steep incline hike was one of the most mentally and physically challenging experiences I've had in a long time. It is advised that people be cautious because there are no "beginner" trails at the canyon due to the steep incline. I was happy to see a good handful of older folks taking on the brutal trail. They recommend to calculate double the time it took to go down to come back up. I made it back in 3 hours. It seemed that I wouldn't, but after several breaks and switch-back after switch-back I slowly made it. Instant fatigue in my legs set in after the hike so I was happy to take it easy that night. The views were absolutely worth it and I got a sense of the canyon that I never would have if I hadn't done it. Unfortunately, half way on the shuttle to the trail, I realized I forgot my DSLR and missed the opportunity for some great panoramas, but time was of the essence when you're hiking down a canyon!
All in all, the Grand Canyon is as spectacular as they all say. Probably even under-rated until you actually go there yourself to see the vastness of the amazing rock formations. I highly recommend making the trip to see Antelope Canyon, especially if you'll be going in the off-peak season. High season may be another story...
I've added a list of things that I packed for my trip for this time of year, as I wasn't completely sure of what the weather would be like. I was told that the winters get very cold. I was lucky enough to arrive right at the shoulder season where the temperatures were rising with each day:
- Thermal long sleeve shirt
- Loose fitting t-shirt
- Workout tank
- Long leggings
- Capri leggings
- Running shoes
- Zip up hoodie
- Lightweight rain shell
- CamelBak bladder and backpack
- Baseball cap
- Lightweight hiking pants
- Sports bra
So that was my experience with the Grand Canyon. Feel free to drop an email in the Contact section for some feedback or questions!