The Grand Canyon is an amazing place where nearly everyone feels humbled by the sheer size, the sheer depth, and the sheer power that created this massive canyon over time. The layers, the colors, the flora and fauna, the extremes all make this place what it is. Our drive in was one of the most remarkable, and we were treated, after a pretty rough day on the road, to an amazing sunset that just seemed to welcome us into the park. I might have been reading into it, but I am pretty sure it was trying to put me at ease and let me know everything was going to be ok. Or maybe it was just a typical southwestern sunset at the end of the day. I will never really know, but it was beautiful.
We pulled into our campsite at Mather Campground pretty late due to some circumstances outside of our control. Because of those circumstances, and repairs we needed to have, our exploration days became limited, but here is what we did achieve.
The first day we headed to the visitors center to have a look around, pick up the Jr. Ranger packets and to figure out what our plans were for the rest of our time at the Grand Canyon. We then spent the rest of the day recouping, doing some housekeeping, and stopping in to the grocery store for some odds and ends and ice cream. The grocery store at the Grand Canyon is one of the best I have ever seen at a National Park. Their food section is actually very slightly larger than the souvenir section, which was shocking. The food was also really nice stuff and we didn’t find it to be super expensive (compared with what we pay at home).
We spent the following day in Flagstaff trying to squash “The Lord of the Flies” attitudes out of the kids. A lot of nature and leniency by mom sometimes has them forgetting how to behave in public. We had the necessary repairs made, enjoyed a quick shopping trip at a brand new REI replacing shoes that had given up the ghost, stopped for a tasty lunch, and then hit another nice grocery store with things we like to eat and weren’t available at the Grand Canyon store. This was the day that fixed a lot of things and we could all take a deep breath.
After a deep breath and a good sleep we were off adventuring! We read in the park newspaper that they loan out Family Discovery Packs, so we headed straight for the Visitor’s Center to check one out. The pack comes stocked with plant books to identify the various flora, magnifying glasses, binoculars and all of the other tools needed to complete the required sections in the books. Some national parks have these packs and younger kids would have no trouble with them. This pack was far more extensive, and even though our 6.5 year old did pretty well with it, it was very challenging for him. I would say this would be best for kids no younger than 6, and I would probably a safe starting age would be 8 and up. The 9 year old got far more out of it. The coolest part is the kids earn a special certificate which allows them to buy a special patch for $2.00 showing they did extra work. It is a great program and is outside of their Jr. Ranger packets, which they will also earn their special badges.
While working on both programs we took off for a mile hike along the rim, and then down the South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Aah Point. While this trail is not a long hike (it is 1.8 miles round trip), there is a quite an elevation gain and loss, and people with a fear of nights might have a little trouble with it. The vistas are stunning but wide open with no rail or catch and it can be hard for some folks to overcome.
Just as we got to Ooh Aah Point we came across the NPS Grand Canyon Trail Maintenance team doing trail repair work. This group of folks were working really hard despite the heat, but we watched in awe as they kept it up. For the kids, it brought home the fact, that these trails don’t make themselves and it takes a lot of hard work to keep us safe. It also humbled us because we really couldn’t complain about being hot on a 2 mile hike in our shorts and t-shirts. These folks are working in wool and polyester, big boots, giant backpacks and I hear their hats don’t really breathe either. We kept all of that in mind on our way up again.
While you are hiking here, make sure you take extra water with you. There are water bottle filling stations all over the park, and we made use of the ones at the trail heads and lodges – making sure they were full at the start of the hike and refilling when we finished. It is hot, you are at alititude, and exhaustion and dehydration can really get you quick. Make sure you also bring sunscreen and hats for protection as well. Have a look at the “Hike Smart” tips on the Grand Canyon website for your best experience.
After our hike we headed over to the El Tovar Hotel area for a Jr. Ranger talk called “Critter Chat”. The Ranger was the retired principal of the Grand Canyon School (for the kids of the rangers) and he was amazing! He sang a book to the kids (having memorized it and making up the tune) and even I was hopelessly captivated as he told us why the squirrels at the Grand Canyon are so amazing (and why we really should never feed them). This was probably my favorite ranger talk of the trip! After the ranger talk the 30-40 kids there all went through the ceremony to get their badges and we investigated where the best place for ice cream was (just down the walk 2 buildings!).
We also were able to enjoy part of a performance by a group of Native-American dancers and had a look around Hopi House, which displays and sells Native-American art. Hopi House, as well as several other features and buildings in the park were designed by Mary Colter.
Again, with the Grand Canyon as with other parks we visited on this trip, we barely scratched the surface of what the place has to offer. It gave us a good taste of what we will want to do when we come back for a visit in the future!