As the National Park Service celebrates 100 years of preserving the natural wonders of our beautiful country, two of our employees tell their stories of recent visits to national parks. Jennifer planned for two years and traveled with her family spending 9-days exploring the Yellowstone area, while Kristin traveled to the Grand Canyon on a last minute trip with a friend. You can read Jennifer’s story here. Below is Kristin’s story…
The Grand Canyon
The following post is written by Kristin from the Boscov’s Travel Marketing Department. Kristin traveled to Red Rock and the Grand Canyon in September 2016.
I had the opportunity to travel to Europe in my youth, but for the past few years I traveled locally with weekend trips in the tri-state area or trips to the Jersey shore. I joined Boscov’s Travel a year ago, and since then, working at a travel agency has opened my eyes to the immense opportunities for travel!
Adventure travel wasn’t a term with which I was familiar, but learning about it over the past year made me eager to pursue my own adventure travel. When I learned that the National Park Service was celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016, I knew I was due to explore our beautiful country. In August, I asked my college friend if she wanted to go west a month later.
Boscov’s Travel offers Journey West Tours, excursions guided by a western tour guide which explore the beauty of the west and Alaska. I loved the itinerary of the Southern National Parks tour which included tours of Arches, Canyonlands, Grand Canyon and more, but because of time constraints we were unable to go on this tour. With three full days in Arizona, we decided that the Grand Canyon was our ultimate destination.
I worked with Michael from our East location to coordinate the flights and hotels. I wanted to hear his recommendations of what to do, where to go (and what to avoid). Because we were doing a last minute trip, some of the accommodations were limited but he worked with me to get me the best deals on the days we wanted.
We flew into Phoenix on Wednesday evening, rested at the Sheraton Four Points North, then ventured to Sedona early the next day. Because the Grand Canyon is about 3.5 hours from Phoenix, we wanted to break up the trip and thought a hike at Red Rock was the best idea.
Having never been to Arizona, the state’s geography was in sharp contrast to that of Pennsylvania. One minute you’re driving on a barren, sandy flat plain and the next you’re cruising down a canyon and beautiful natural rock formations are visible in every direction.
The town of Sedona is a sweet little town worth a visit. There are options for seeing the Red Rocks, the most popular being the guided Pink Jeep Tours. We decided to venture on a hike instead. After researching the top 10 Red Rock hiking trails and taking the advice from a seat mate on the plane, we settled on the West Fork trail. About 6-miles round trip, the trail is relatively easy and navigates through forest, rock formations and creeks. We finished the trail in about 3.5 hours and headed to dinner. As a pescatarian (half committed vegetarian who eats fish) I was pleased to see that everywhere we went, there were lots of options for vegetarians and vegans – tempeh, tofu and TVP were present on almost every menu.
We headed to Williams, AZ for the evening and stayed at the Ramada. Williams is one of the closest towns to the Grand Canyon, though still about an hour from the park system. The town is quite tiny, but historic Route 66 runs right through the heart of it.
On Friday, we made our way to the southern rim of the Grand Canyon. We were in early enough that we avoided crowds at the entrance. If you travel on a weekend or during the summer when school’s out, expect to wait.
Upon entering the Grand Canyon Village, we were treated to a breathtaking site. This place is absolutely worth a visit and was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. We took our gratuitous canyon shots and headed to the trailhead.
We were very fortunate and had reserved a very last minute reservation at Phantom Ranch, the only lodge within the depths of the canyon. If I were to do this again, I would give myself more planning time. We lucked out with the reservations within the canyon but others may not be so lucky. Only 1% of the canyon’s 5 million annual visitors stay below the rim overnight, so they recommend planning at least a year out. Only accessible by river, foot or mule, the ranch site was home to Indigenous people a millennia ago. More recently, Theodore Roosevelt (subsequent President who established the National Park System in 1916) stayed there on a hunting trip.
Before heading down, we spoke to a ranger about our plan to hike down South Kaibob trail and hike up Bright Angel trail the following day. Because we were getting our start around 11AM, he recommended that we head down Bright Angel. In the heat of the day, the water stops along the trail and the shaded areas were a welcomed site. We headed down the 9.9 miles to Phantom Ranch. During our 5 hour hike down, we took in some of the most beautiful views of the canyon. My best tip for hiking the canyon is preparation! We saw multiple people who were ill-prepared for the hike. Our worn-in hiking boots were much better than the sneakers, Toms and flip flops we passed on the trail. Salty snacks and drinking plenty of water are key. It is basically an inverted mountain, so doing some quality training hikes prior to a visit is in your best interest.
The Colorado River was a welcome sight and a walk across the bridge and final flat mile brought us to Phantom Ranch. Accommodations include cabins and male and female dormitories. Though small, the 5-bunk dormitories offered heated showers and a restroom. They supply towels and bedding, so within the canyon it’s considered glamping.
The steak, beef stew and vegetarian dinner options are served family styled as you get to know your fellow hikers. Complimented by salad, cornbread and chocolate cake, the meal was not fine dining but one of the best of the trip knowing that it was delivered by mule. The mess room closed after dinner and opened an hour later for games and happy hour where you can enjoy a beer named in honor of the Bright Angel Trail. If you visit, be sure to send postcards that will be delivered to friends and family by mule!
Wake up call was 4:30AM and we started up South Kaibob trail which was lit by the Harvest Moon. There were a handful of hikers who passed us on the way down and indicated that they started after midnight. Going up this trail is not for the faint of heart – it is quite steep, offers no water and has very few flat spots for rest. After 5.5 hours and with a great sense of accomplishment, we finally conquered the canyon.
With photos and memories in hand, we headed back to Phoenix and flew out the next day.
The trip was spectacular. I highly recommend it whether you have a week or only a few days like we had. I discovered my love of adventure travel and can’t wait to plan my next trip.
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