Road Trip to the Grand Canyon

Itinerary: May 12-20, 2012

May 12: Drive to Estes Park, CO

May 13: Visit Rocky Mountain National Park & Denver

May 14-15: Visit Arches, Canyonlands, Dead Horse & Moab, UT

May 16: Visit Natural Bridges, Monument Valley, & Page, AZ

May 17: Visit Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

May 18: Visit Scottsdale, AZ

May 19: Visit Sedona, AZ

May 20: Climb Mt. Humphreys & head to the Grand Canyon

It’s time! I’ve been waiting awhile for this day to come, but dad and I are finally heading out West. With a lot of driving ahead of us, we got an early start- by 5AM we were backing out the driveway. I felt bad that mom couldn’t come with, especially since tomorrow is Mother’s Day, but it was a good opportunity for me and dad to have some necessary bonding time. And trust me, we got our fair share… today we would be stuck in the car for over 14 hours.

Rocky Mountain OystersOur diligence paid off and we made it all the way to Estes Park, Colorado, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. Despite dad feeling “out of it” (a combination of elevation, sleepiness, and stress from driving), we headed downtown to find some Rocky Mountain Oysters. Wapiti Bar & Grill was a huge success. Not only did it have the desired Moose testicles (at least that’s what they are claimed to be), but also an interesting bartender and a fellow patron who was a Park Ranger. It was a fun first night.

Rocky Mountain National Park

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The next morning we headed into Rocky Mountain National Park, something neither of us had ever seen. The mountains were jaw-dropping. A park road winded its way up one set of mountains, which provided some spectacular views of the area. The moraine we were just in seemed so far away from above 10,000 feet. A hike up Deer Mountain took us again above 10,000 feet, this time under our own power.

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The elevation made the hike a lot tougher than it would have been otherwise, but we both made it. More spectacular views from up top made all the effort worthwhile. Down below again we found a herd of elk. We didn’t stay long though because it started to downpour.

Denver, Colorado

The turn in weather forced us to move on to our next destination: downtown Denver. The pedestrian mall at 16th street was pretty cool. I realized right away that this town enjoys being outside… everything from pianos to chessboards were permanent outdoor features for anyone to enjoy. The abundance of bums made me re-think whether that is such a positive thing. Just outside of Denver, we stopped at the Red Rocks Amphitheater. I really need to see a concert here. For now, a walk through its spectacular red rocks was just what we needed. We pushed on through the Rockies which made for a pretty nerve-racking drive. A decent hotel in Glenwood Springs and another night out at a bar was just what the doctor recommended.

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One year later and Moab is still the same exuberant, adventure capital of Utah.

En route, we stopped at the Castle Creek Winery/Red Cliffs Resort where we had lunch during our whitewater rafting trip last year. Dad bought a few bottles of wine for home and enjoyed the museum about all the movies that were filmed in the area. He even gave “The Duke” some bunny ears.

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Arches National Park

 

After a quick visit to the giant sand mound across the street, it was onto Arches National Park. Though dad said after awhile all the arches look the same, I just can’t get enough of this place. We visited the usuals: Delicate Arch, Double Arch, Balanced Rock as well as saw some new ones. I finally got to see Landscape Arch firsthand; it was a lot wider and higher than I expected. Devil’s Garden was a great place for scrambling up the big sandstone fins that seem to be everywhere. For dinner we had a nice little cookout at a park along the river. If there wouldn’t have been so many damn ants it would have been even nicer.

Dead Horse Point State Park

Day number two in Moab involved trips to Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands National Park. Both are similar in that they provide unbelievable views of the canyons and sandstone formations that the Colorado and Green Rivers have carved out. It’s hard to imagine, but in the 1970’s miners scoured this rough landscape for uranium deposits.

Panorama Dead Horse

In very few cases did they find enough to make extraction worthwhile. After another long day of small hiking excursion, we rejuvenated with a nice dinner at Zax, a fun restaurant in downtown Moab. Before the night was up we also made one last run to Arches to watch the sunset… beautiful as always.

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Natural Bridges National Monument

We left Moab today, but we weren’t done with Utah yet. Natural Bridges National Monument was on our list for the day. Officially the first national monument of the state, Natural Bridges is a much smaller, condensed version of Arches. Its main features are similar, natural arch formations within sandstone, but have one major difference. The features in this park are considered natural “bridges”, meaning they were created by a current or former streams/moving body of water. We visited all three and particularly enjoyed the final one where we did some further exploration.

Monument Valley

Foregoing a highway that warned of over 3 miles of gravel switchbacks, we took the longer route back to Highway 191 and then continued south. Near the Utah/Arizona border we officially entered Navajo territory. Just before the Arizona state line we drove through one of the most iconic images of the American Southwest: Monument Valley!

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We stopped only briefly to take a few pictures, but I could appreciate instantly that this place was special. Hollywood has made it one of the most recognizable places in the country (it’s appeared in over 30 movies). Déjà vu moments aside, the landscape is breathtaking… the buttes form some really unique formations.

Glen Canyon Dam

The Navajo reservation was a bit depressing after this; the land is so bare and there is so little of anything. It was a great relief to reach Page, AZ and see a decent sized city again. Something I was even more excited about here was Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Consisting of Lake Powell and its surrounding landscape, this is a very popular spot to partake in all sorts of water recreational activities. In my case, I wanted to go kayaking. Unfortunately this could not be done, but we still enjoyed the area by doing a little hiking and, in my case, swimming. Then we went into town to secure another night at a Super 8 before getting some grub at The Dam Bar & Grille. We watched basketball and MMA fighting while enjoying the wonderful food, service, and ambiance of a unique place (its theme was the Glen Canyon Dam). Dad couldn’t resist getting some souvenirs either!

A short hike in Glen Canyon Recreational Area was a good way to wake up this morning. Just like Rocky Mountain National Park, this is a place I could spend some serious time in. We took an 8:30AM tour of the dam, where we got an inside look into this enormous piece of infrastructure. The 8 generators we saw on the lower levels produce a huge amount of electricity, but still the most important job this dam does is control the water levels of its consumers’ downstream. It was a great tour of an incredible structure. Just south of here was a postcard worthy view of the Colorado River known as Horseshoe Bend. Here the river meanders in a loop that almost cuts back into itself, leaving a sliver of a sandstone plateau over 200 feet above. It was a wonderful view. A detour to Winslow dragged out our driving time to the Greater Phoenix Area. We skipped the meteor crater due to crazy entrance fees and the town itself had nothing other than a few Route 66 mementos. Tired of driving, we headed straight for Uncle Steve’s place in Scottsdale. The way took us through the mountainous zone of Central Arizona which was pretty fun to drive. Fires off in the distance left the air hazy and full of smoke. Steve greeted us with some great burgers. Stuffed and bloated, the night was spent relaxing on the couch watching T.V. on his big screen.

Red Rocks of Sedona

Before dad’s flight, we had some time to take a walk in a nearby park. A bar-fitness routine composed of stations set up all over the park was a neat idea I had never seen before. Each station had simple, yet effective, fitness activities to complete a suggested amount of times. Then it was time to say our goodbyes and we were on our way. It felt weird to be on my own, after being with my dad for so long, but I was headed for a few final adventures before I arrived at my summer home. My first stop was at Montezuma Castle National Monument just before the turnoff for Sedona. A cliff dwelling that was seemingly unattainable, it was at least 30 feet up a straight cliff face, was the highlight. From here I headed into the red rock area of Sedona, the day hike capital of Arizona. I headed out on two hikes on the trails that littered this area. The one to Bell Rock was especially cool.

Since I couldn’t find a camping spot in the area I pushed on to Flagstaff and lay my sleeping bag down for the night at a place just within the city limits. I woke up freezing cold and though it was only 5AM, got back in the car and drove to the Arizona Snowbowl, a popular place for winter activities. When the snow’s all gone it seemingly is still popular due to several hiking trails that take you up into the peaks of the San Francisco Mountains. I chose to climb Mount Humphreys. At 12,633 feet, this is the highest point in the state. It was a hell of a hike… the trail climbed 3,500 feet in just under 5 miles!!! Needless to say, I completed it and was rewarded with some wonderful views. Dead tired by the time I returned, I decided to drive straight to the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a camping spot inside the park, so I moved on to Ten-X campground about 10 miles south. I returned to the park shortly before sunset to witness the annual solar eclipse. It was great to finally be here!!! I sat at the rim until after dark conversing with a friendly girl from Brazil, before returning to my campsite.

My trip to get here was officially over, but my summer had just begun!!!

Written by Jake G

I’m a 26 year old who loves to hike, bike, backpack, and explore the outdoors. I’m a Midwesterner who currently resides in sunny Arizona. I hope to inspire others with my adventures and maybe give some advice for your future vacations. Follow me as I travel around the country and...
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