Today I’ll pick up from Tuesday’s post to continue my 11 day road trip around Utah and Arizona…
Day 3 – The Grand Canyon
Today is all about the hiking. Yesterday’s brief encounter with the canyon will have you chomping at the bit to explore the canyon at every view, angle and depth possible. If you are going to stick to my recommended itinerary then I would opt for the South Kaibab trail, which will get you the most spectacular (and unobstructed views) for a short hike. Opting for this one will also give you some time to try out other shorter trails such as Coconino Saddle. Or you can check out some more viewpoints along the Rim Trail. Otherwise you could try out longer day hikes such as the Hermit Trail.
If you are able to stay a day longer then I would highly recommend opting for the Bright Angel Trail which will take you down to the Colorado River. Want to spend the night in the canyon? This trail will lead right to the Bright Angel campground where you can set up camp for night. I should warn you, please do not attempt hiking the Bright Angel Trail all the way to the Colorado River and back in a day. It is not recommended and I get the impression from all the signage that the park rangers are starting to get more than a little peeved at having to execute regular rescues for tired hikers. Just remember this simple rule – for every step you take down the canyon is another step you’ll have to make back up it!
And while I’m on the subject of safety, please walk down the canyon prepared. Be sure to wear adequate footwear for the hike (such as hiking boots) and carry plenty of food and water. The sun is scorching in the summer so wear sunscreen. In fact, I’d highly recommend not visiting the canyon in the summer. Not only will you avoid the hefty crowds but the temperature will be much cooler and will not limit your ability to explore the canyon. I went in March and I think that is a great time of year to go.
Day 4 – The Grand Canyon to Bluff/Blanding via Monument Valley
Today will require a fair amount of driving again but there are plenty of highlights. In the morning start making your way east along the South Rim, stopping at the various viewpoints along the way. I actually think the viewpoints further east of the main site are a lot better than those on the Rim Trail. They provide unobstructed views that allow you to gaze further down the canyon and give you a much better impression of the it’s epic scale. The undoubted highlight though will be at your final viewpoint: the Colter’s stone tower. As “above the rim” views go, this was my favourite. You’ll just want to sit there forever and marvel at just how magnificent the Grand Canyon is. You’ll also be aware that this is your final Grand Canyon viewpoint. You’ll find yourself not wanting to leave, knowing that once you finally do make the decision to get up and walk away, you’ll be turning your back on one of Mother Earth’s most spectacular creations. But please don’t dwell on it too much. Your onward journey will take you to so many more places of epic beauty.
Not long after you drive out of the national park (east along Highway 64) you’ll come across a gaping chasm in the ground. Anywhere else in the world and it would be a huge tourist draw. But it wasn’t even worth a mention on the Arizona map in my Lonely Planet guide. And that will be characteristic of the next few days. From here on the landscapes through your windscreen will be a stunning picture of jagged red-rock formations and wide chams that form a true feast for the eyes.
But the most awesome of these of formations is saved for Monument Valley – the iconic background to many a John Wayne Western. The Monument Valley park is not a national park as such (it is owned and managed by the Navajo tribe) but it packs as good a punch as anything you’ll see on this trip in the epic beauty stakes. You can take a guided tour or drive the park’s looped trail. It will take you about 90 minutes to make the drive and every minute will feel like you’re back in time, exploring the real wild, wild west.
From the Monument Valley tribal park make your way to your lodgings for the night. Kayenta is the biggest town nearby but, if you want to save going back on yourself, head north up to either Bluff or Blanding.