Day 8 – Tuesday, June 14, 2022 – Kanab, UT to Flagstaff, AZ
We are so tired. Never do this. We saw a sign for Los Angeles and couldn’t even get excited about that. At least we are scoping out the parks, but this is getting exhausting. Matt is the consummate driver, and the kids voted against Sarah driving (geez….).
We leisurely awakened, had some sketchy continental breakfast (only fruit available: old apples) and loaded up the car for the drive. First part of the plan was to drive down to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, the less visited side, then make our way up and around and down highway 89 to Flagstaff, where we are spending two nights. There are multiple monuments and things to check out on highway 89. Wow, this plan ended up going south (haha, no pun intended).
We took off, bright eyed and bushy tailed. We made our way down highway 67, with Sarah casually scanning the “Death in Grand Canyon” book for deaths on the North Rim, reading aloud the best ones to B, her excited audience. Yesterday we realized that literally all of these landscapes kind of look alike after a while. This road was no exception. It was cooler here (OMG 68 degrees) and kind of looked like the north side of Yellowstone, with bison and such (RIP North Entrance Road of Yellowstone – KP had texted Sarah, then multiple texts about the bad storms that hit yesterday – poor Yellowstone).
We passed by the unmanned entrance booth and made our way in. Lots of cabins all clustered near the rim, and a cute little visitor center. Matt helpfully suggested Zoe obtain her junior ranger badge here too – we received the activity booklet and it was INTENSE. WTH. Pipe Springs Monument ranger badge for the win, this was too much here. This is vacation, man. Matt gently removed the book from her before she had a meltdown.
We did the Bright Angel Trail, which was quite pretty – went out to a point on the North Rim with beautiful views. It was marked “Easy” but there were quite the drops on either side. One wrong step, eesh. Of course Zoe wanted to climb up some rock formation on the trail and we were powerless to stop her. Then B and Noah followed.
We opted not to do any further hikes, and get on the road. Now this should have been a short and straightforward day of travel. Hahahaha! Not for our family. Two fires are burning (we hesitate to call them forest fires – Zoe: “not to be mean, but what is burning? There’s nothing here” – we all agreed – maybe the tumbleweed stuff is burning? sand? rock? who knows). Of course the fires are burning over the singular highway that can take us down from northern Arizona to Flagstaff.
We drove up from the North Rim to Jacob Lake, got gas, then drove over to Bitter Springs. On the way, we stopped above the Vermillion Cliffs, and made ourselves some lunch from the best cooler ever. We drove along the cliffs, mumbling about why is THAT a national monument, but some similar cliffs are not. We are turning on the American West. Many theories were thrown out. Seriously. If Devil’s Lake was out west, it would be a national park (probably mostly because of the presence of water).
We stopped at the Navajo Bridge, put into place to replace the ferry, which back in the day was operated by some guy and all his wives and 20 children. Of course, this random bridge is a National Monument. It was super cool and over the Colorado River, and you could walk out on it. Plus – restrooms and STAMPS! We greedily and unironically took our stamp for the Vermillion Cliffs as well (the cliffs we had just made fun of).
We then drove down 89 because there was no sign saying we couldn’t. We made it to near Tuba City, and then google maps construction signs didn’t SAY the rest of 89 was closed, but strongly insinuated it was and routed us on to the Navajo Reservation. Okay…
Well if that wasn’t the most desolate drive. Adding 2-3 hours to our day, and diverting us away from lots of cool monuments. There was literally nothing on the reservations, which we drove through for hours, aside from poverty – not to say that AZ is especially beautiful along the highways on non-reservations (think corralled horses in people’s yards, no one outside because it is too hot, falling apart houses), but the reservation was even more stark. We had seen no mention of COVID-19 this entire trip until the rez – then there were multiple signs that masks were required, and that “11 out of 11 pediatricians in Tuba City agree that vaccinations are a good idea”. They have 11 pediatricians in that small town?!? So then Sarah had to look up Tuba City Regional Healthcare. HOLY CRAP. 11 family docs too?!? And all with good residencies and medical schools. But this wasn’t IHS?? So many unanswered questions. Then we lost internet and thus lost interest.
Anyway, off we continued – then we could see the fires in the distance. No flames (disappointed the kids) but you could see the plumes of smoke and figure out exactly what was burning. It was national forest land and there actually were trees here. Interesting that the reservation land was nothing but sand and rocks, and then as soon as we were off the land, there were trees aplenty.
Into Flagstaff we rolled, taking numerous wrong turns (google/Apple maps, you suck) and accidentally touring the Northern Arizona University Campus, before arriving at the Hampton Inn and Suites. And we got a suite! hoot hoot! The kids and Sarah were unnecessarily excited. Then we realized we were in a business district near a bunch of crappy chain restaurants. Perfect. We hit the pool (indoors) and ate ourselves some Red Lobster and had zero regrets about it. Sarah ran into a guy in the elevator who had driven through the fires on highway 89 (Matt: “what? we could have driven all way down 89?!? #%&$#!!”) Collapsed in bed, ready to hit the South Rim tomorrow!
Miles driven: 381.9 (could have been 206 – just saying)
Random Fact of the Day: kind of like part 2 to yesterday – the Navajo follow Daylight Savings Time, so when you enter their reservation, you have to switch back the time (so like Utah (MST) time, not AZ time) but the Hopi folks on their reservation do NOT follow Daylight Savings Time, so they are similar to AZ. It was so confusing and no one’s devices all automatically switched at the same time. We are keeping the car on mountain standard time (Utah time) so we are consistent. (PS – didn’t the Senate vote to abolish Daylight Savings Time? Whatever happened with that?)
Day 9 – Wednesday, June 15, 2022 – Flagstaff, AZ
Up we all go, ready for the day at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Lots of tips we figured out and will record, as we definitely want to go back another time and spend more time here. We grabbed our continental breakfast (which made Des Moines look decent) and zoomed out on the interstate, heading west then north. It was a 90 minute drive to the park.
We figured out that the entrance town to the park was Tusayan (had multiple hotels and restaurants) and was basically 5-10 minutes down the road from the entrance. We entered the park at 9:05 am and it was already swarming with people. Pro tip: stay in this city next time we come – the shuttle runs directly into the park from here.
We parked in an enormous lot and made our way to the visitor center for restrooms and studied our park issued “pocket guide”. Remember the thing we mocked ourselves for using in Bryce Canyon? They have one for each park and this thing is great. Because we would be here “half a day” (well, a whole day, but we need time to eat, drive home, get ice cream, etc) it told us to hike the rim trail or take the shuttle to Hermit’s Rest on the west side of the canyon or drive on some scenic highway. Well, let’s try the first two.
Zoe immediately had a small breakdown upon learning that there would be a “hike” involved. I don’t think anyone considers a 2.5 mile walk on a paved surface a hike, but there was no reasoning with her. She wept and got slightly better when promised two animal friends, one from each visitor center. At some point she ate an energy gel (why Matt packed these, we now know) and then was in a GREAT mood. Turns out she ate a caffeinated one. Pro tip: caffeinated energy gels are perfect for kids. Use them.
We started at Mather Point on the Rim. It was gorgeous (and exceedingly hot, per the usual). We worked our way very slowly down the Rim Trail, hitting up a Geology museum. They had made the entire rim trail into a geologic timeline with multiple informational plaques and descriptions. We really enjoyed it, B and Z especially. We loved the views of the Canyon and the tiny zigzagging trails up the side of it, with one of the trails having mules on it.
At the end, we stopped and got some Haagan Daaz ice cream cups at a soda fountain and ate those, sweltering in the sun. We made our way to near the shuttle stop, when we approached the Bright Angel Trailhead (yes there are two of them, one on the North side and one on the South Rim). This leads down into the canyon 8-10 miles, then you can take another trail to Phantom Ranch and the water, is our understanding. Matt and the boys went down the trail a bit to explore, while Sarah and Zoe sat near the sign and watched a bighorn sheep eat parts of a tree. Pro tip: if interested in going down the trail by mule, it is advised to make reservations one year in advance (according to the sign Sarah sat next to).
After we reconvened, we waited at the shuttle bus stop. They have 4 shuttle buses routes, and the red one heads west along the rim to Hermit’s Rest at the end. The bus loads up completely at the start, and then people can get off or on any one of like 6-8 stops on the way out, or 3 stops on the way back. Pro tip: the buses operate beautifully, come by like every 10 min, and the drivers are great. The kids favorite part was us as a family sitting in the 5 seats in a row at the back of the bus; they thought that was swell.
We got out at Mohave Point to see the river and enjoy the views. We got back on and then exited at Pimo Point and walked a mile to Hermit’s Rest along the rim on a paved trail. It was just beautiful, with glimpses of the river below. And of course, scorchingly hot.
We had not brought food in our pack (it was in the giant cooler in the car) so we purchased sandwiches and wraps for all at the tiny store (all Zoe wanted was an ice cream sandwich, whatever, guess it is a sandwich) and enjoyed ourselves there (sat on rocks and used the bathroom). Then back on the shuttle bus we went to the transfer point. We then rode the blue bus back to the visitor center. It was super fast and convenient. Zoe got her requisite animals today in exchange for her enthusiasm (in the car on the way back: “Kids, did you have fun?” “YES!!!” from all three. hmm). Pro tip: bribery works.
We then drove around the giant parking lot in a vain attempt to find the remaining 4 license plates that B needed for his license plate map – we scored Mississippi AND the creme de la creme, HAWAII in the lot. No Rhode Island or Connecticut yet (Sarah swears she saw Connecticut on this trip, but B needs to have seen it to count).
We then zoomed out and made our way back to Flagstaff. Sarah read out loud from her “Death in the Grand Canyon book” – there were LOTS of deaths due to people falling over the Rim, and murders at Mohave Point. Fascinating stuff. B eats this stuff up, too. Pro tip: next time familiarize ourselves with where people had fatal accidents before we go to those places.
When we got back, we ordered food from Taverna, a Mediterranean place, for take out, and kids played in the pool, testing our limits considerably. Then some creepy old men showed up in the pool and we whisked the kids upstairs. Dinner was delicious. Matt made a run to the skeeziest Walmart ever, and was going to repack the car in the lot, but there were some weirdos in the lot picking up used cigarettes butts to smoke. Although our hotel was pretty nice, and next to the university, the clientele staying there and living around there was a bit sketch. Pro tip: eh, we would stay there again – it’s not like someone jacked our tires or ripped off our catalytic converter.
Everyone went to bed early – we are heading out at the crack of dawn for Meteor Crater and a packed day of travel and fun!
Miles driven: 172.3
Random Fact of the Day: every year, the Mule Wrangling folks at the park buy 25-35 mules from Tennessee. Apparently there’s a big supply of them there as they are used for tobacco cultivation. No one said what happens to them after their time is up at the Grand Canyon. Who knew that much tobacco cultivation was ongoing?!? That there was a mule industry? wild stuff, man.
Day 10 – Thursday, June 16, 2022 – Flagstaff, AZ to Cortez, CO
Like we knew today would be painful for driving, but having it be 101 degrees through the day just kind of makes it worse. We are writing this on June 17th and our brain is so fried we can only vaguely remember yesterday.
Okay, starting over – we rolled out of bed very early for a couple reasons – we will lose an hour kind of on the way to Colorado, due to Arizona not doing Daylight Savings Time. We are ready to be done with this entire “Arizona being different-reservations sometimes different-crossing state lines repeatedly” time confusion business. We grabbed breakfast at the hotel and met up with Matt, who got up extra early to pack the car, get ice, and avoid both the people living in the parking lot and the high contingent of (seemingly European?) smokers.
We started the day by heading east on the interstate to Meteor Crater, which is all B wanted to do on this trip. It is the best preserved meteor impact site in the world, and some enterprising person built a visitor center and got it Natural Landmark status (note: NO stamp for it – I guess that’s the difference between Natural and National). We got there basically when it opened and paid an exorbitant fee to enter. The views of the crater were pretty good – we watched a movie and went in a simulator to learn about meteors and looked at the displays. B was in heaven – he loves this stuff!
After that, we drove on to Petrified Wood National Park. Now, we were curious about this place – we previously collected petrified wood (with a permit) on BLM land north of Yellowstone at Tom Miner on the trails, and had fun – but some snarky person had reviewed it and said this NP was SO much better, so we were intrigued. After driving through the park, we can say that we all like Tom Miner better because even if the pieces were smaller, you could collect them. And the views there were AMAZING. (Actually, maybe the snarky person was referencing the petrified wood in the ND Badlands now that we think about it. Huh.)
We entered the park and they were VERY clear that you needed to be masked inside ALL buildings. Interesting. The Navajo Nation requires masking indoors and outdoors, so we have gotten used to more stringent COVID19 masking rules, but try to keep track of what we are supposed to do. We drove through part of the park, and did visit a small visitor center and did an interpretive trail in the searing heat. The wood IS amazing – very beautiful! There was a piece that weighed 44 tons – Noah was relatively disinterested until Sarah showed him a picture of Albert Einstein standing next to it, then he was interested in a photo opportunity. Ha!
We climbed in the car and went to several different stops along the road – it is set up as a driving tour and once on it, despite the two way traffic, you are trapped until you are done as there is no way out. It was okay – again, the rock was pretty, and the Painted Desert was pretty, but for being a national park? It was fine. We can see they needed to protect the wood in the park, otherwise enterprising Arizonians would carry it off and sell it. So we get it. We did purchase some wood sold in the park from outside the park, because it really is pretty! We also did get ice cream sandwiches, which were a big hit.
On we drove – got back on said interstate and hit up Gallup, New Mexico, then headed north on the reservation. FYI – didn’t see a single solar panel in Arizona. We cross the border – literally thousands of them right on the side of the highway. Sounds about right. Seriously, Arizona? We drove up to Shiprock (where one of Sarah’s friends worked for a while as a doc), admiring the rock formation with the same name. Stunning!
We then drove across BACK to Arizona, then BACK to New Mexico, trying to beat the 6:45 closing time for the Four Corners. We made it! It was seemingly still incredibly hot (100 degrees) despite it being supper time. We stood in line and took our picture, with everyone fighting about which states they wanted to stand in. It was so blindingly bright we took like 80 pictures hoping one would turn out. Then we hightailed it over to the Navajo fry bread truck set up and Noah and Sarah got some yummy treats (Noah powdered sugar, Sarah cinnamon sugar), B and Z declined, and Matt tried a frybread-Spam sandwich. No one will ever say he is not the bravest eater. He said it was fine. !!!???!
We then made out way up to Cortez, CO for just the night. We stayed in a Holiday Inn Express – the hotel had called us on our way up to Shiprock and all Matt could understand was something about our room and a maintenance problem, and then the reception cut out. Oh jesus. We ended up getting two connecting rooms due to an undisclosed “problem” with the weird bunk bed room Matt had reserved. SO much better! Kids hit the pool and then we enjoyed supper. McDonald’s for the kids, Farm Bistro for the adults – we had curried veggie wontons, stuffed mushrooms, Greek and Farm salads. It was fabulous! A little bit of Pitch Perfect and off to sleep for the night.
Miles driven: 384.5
Random Fact of the Day: did you know that Mother Teresa (who incidentally was not a super nice person if you feel like reading up on her) copyrighted her white and blue sari/robes that she wore? (this only came up because while in Petrified Wood National Park, we saw an ambulance speed by in the park with lights and siren blazing, and it was being closely followed by a large van completely filled with women dressed in these outfits, matching the speed of the ambulance – it literally was completely bizarre and entertaining, and 100% of our family agrees it was the best thing about the park we saw the entire time).