Christmas at the Grand Canyon

Maybe you noticed we were a little quite over Christmas, well other than taking time with each other we were well out of reception and Wi-Fi at the Grand Canyon. 2018 was a busy year for us and we figured we would unplug and do a little adventure this year so we started planning our road trip to a big hole in the ground. Well talk about an adventure we didn’t get out of town until Sunday (a day late) after the word I needed my brakes replaced, so Merry Christmas Steph my gift to you this year is the gift of stopping the truck.

On the sliding scale of life not that big of a deal our mechanics did a great job and we were off in the afternoon. We left Ramona CA for our eight hour almost 500 mile drive ready for our first stop, Laughlin Nevada. I enjoy miserable powering through a road trip as the next guy but we figured breaking up the trip might be a wise idea. Besides experience has taught me you don’t want to be tired trying to find a campsite in the dark, so we opted to stay at Harrah’s, not too expensive and actually a really nice room. Laughlin seemed like a ghost town but we were happy to get a place to crash for the night and get on the road the next day.  

I will say this while you don’t notice it at the state line as you inter Arizona it becomes more and more obvious how much cheaper gas is there than in California. This is one of those important things you notice on a road trip especially when you are feeding a truck. I will take this time to say that the winter is desert season and with gas almost a dollar cheaper than California why not take this time of year to visit out of state? Yes I love Yosemite but for around the same distance you can get to the Grand Canyon and save some money, just saying.  So we have a tank full of cheap gas and we are heading to the Canyon… 

Well another little thing we had to consider was that whole government shut down thing going on.  Now this isn’t our  first time visiting the National Parks during a shut down and we have enjoyed ourselves in the past even though there where some unanswered questions (on account of the websites being down) so we also filled a gas can, brought trash bags to pack it out and were ready to be self-sustaining. So imagine my surprise as we are cruising down the highway and the lit signs are reading that the Grand Canyon is open, kinda cool.  I actually really enjoyed the drive as you gain elevation you get a real appreciation for the beauty and diversity of the Arizona desert.

We took one last stop at Williams Arizona before entering the unknown during the great shut down on Christmas Eve…  As we approached the front entrance we noticed a lot of traffic, and pulled over to get our obligatory park sign pic before going in and we watched car after car pass us. I will say this that park in the winter is busy even in spite of the shut down and maybe because you dint have to pay ($35) more people were taking advantage of this opportunity. As we drove in aside from the traffic we were greeting by some elk in to woods doing what elk do, which was pretty cool. Like most major National Parks the Grand Canyon is well maintained and laid out. Navigating to our campsite (first come first serve) at Mather camp was pretty easy. Now for winter/shutdown a lot of the campsite was closed and only a couple loops where available. Lucky for us we got a good spot because the camp ground was pretty packed. I was surprised both because of the holiday and the fact it was freezing.

After setting up camp we decided to get the lay of the land and went for a walk. As it turns out the market was not far away so we cruised ove3r to see what we could see.  So what I was expecting was everything to be closed what was actually going on is the market was open business as usual. We ended up talking to a very helpful gentleman behind the counter after we bought a map and he explained that all of the concessionaries and volunteer run aspects of the park stayed open and well as limited park assets like the busses. It turns out the State of Arizona kicked ion some cash to help keep stuff like the busses and trash service going as well as campsites, which I was very thankful for because while I am willing to “pack it in and pack it out” I also appreciate open restrooms.

After grabbing our map we headed down the trail to the village area, pretty cool place you come out of the woods and see the old rail way station then up the hill the El Tovar hotel, and you can imagine what it was like to step of a train at the turn of the last century. It is an amazing area and you are in for a lot more as you climb the hill, this is our first peek of the Grand Canyon. It is a pretty overwhelming site and truly an amazing natural wonder. We took our time taking in the view before the next crucial step in our day dinner. While we  camp often and enjoy camp cooking when we are on these trips we like to take advantage of the restaurants and most importantly not having the need to do dishes, so we took off to dinner at the lodge before taking advantage of the bus line that is amazing.

So speaking of busses, there is a full free bus system in the park that will get you almost anywhere you want to go and are great when you are tired and cold and ready to go to bed. Jumping on the blue line buss from the cold was a great way to warm up before walking up the hill to go to bed.

Christmas day we took our time waking up and meandered over to the marked for some breakfast and caffeine. After warming up we jumped on the blue to the green lines to head up to Yaki point and then down the hill to conquer the South Rim Trail, a fourteen mile trail that snakes along the south rim offering great views. Now there are tons of great trails and opportunities to go down into the canyon like the Kiabob Trail or Angels Landing, but based on the length of our trip and the weather we decided to keep it on the rim. One of the great arts about the South Rim Trail is it is paved for almost two thirds of it and has minimal gain and loss so it is relatively flat by our standards. What I think is great about this is the whole family can enjoy it since the road is also close so you can get on the bus if you get tired and that the trail is easy for anyone with limited mobility for the paved parts.

The park was really busy like I said before but I can say it enough, it was busy ha-ha. This is one of the main advantages to taking the bus and hiking the South Rim.  We didn’t have to stress about traffic and parking and the areas between the pull outs where peaceful and had some views no one else gets to see. As we got close to the village (lodges and restaurants) it got noticeably busier and we just kind of tried to power thought the crowds. Past the village the trail starts to get a lot narrower and steeper (probably 150 feet of gain) as you climb up the ridge. If you don’t like heights this might be the part we lose you.  The views are awesome though and we were treated to a snow storm and it was a lot of fun walking through the flurries and seeing it build up. So it was a little cold and windy un the exposed rim of the Grand Canyon but we were having fun, we were also glad we didn’t decide to do Angels Landing.

West of the village it gets real quite on the trail especially as the paved tail gives way to a very well maintained path. It was so deserted we only saw one set of foot prints as we walked along the freshly snow covered path. As the storm receded the views were amazing as the clouds opens to let in sunlight and contrasted with the rocks. But for the entire beauty one thing I didn’t notice was the bus.

Remember how I told you this trail was fourteen miles long and we were taking the bus everywhere, well at around mile twelve my lovely bride pointed out that while plenty of cars where passing us we had not seen a bus for the red line, she was correct because as I had failed to check that particular bus does not run in the winter. Well here we are at mile twelve, upon careful consideration and much deliberating it was decided that a fourteen mile day and not completing the trail was far better than completing the trail and having a twenty one mile day. I will also add it is getting late and we had not eaten since breakfast so we merrily skipped back to the village where warm food and cold beer awaited us. I had hot wings and Coors light for Christmas dinner, it was amazing.

After our dinner, we luckily caught the last blue line bus back to camp and crawl into our sleeping bags. Christmas night was cold like really cold water frozen solid cold and dry so at least we were not under a blanket of snow before our next leg of the adventure. We packed up quickly and shuffled off North past the North Rim (which is closed in the winter) and into Southern Utah and Zion. But that is a story for another blog.  

Our trip to the Grand Canyon over the Christmas break and during a government shutdown was pretty epic and it really could not have happened without the hard work of the park employees, volunteers and locals that worked really hard to make this happen for us and so many others. Even if you skimmed over this hopefully you are at least reading the end and know that we want to extend a big heart felt thank you to everyone who works so hard to keep parks like these going!

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