The first time I’ve visited the Grand Canyon was in 2015, on a road trip, moving from Philadelphia to San Francisco. It was me, my mother, and Roxy. The second I saw that beautiful and majestic piece of geological formation, I could not contain my emotions and started crying. Over 3 years later, I was so happy I had a chance to go back, and this time with Frank!
On Christmas morning, we started driving toward our next destination around 4:30 am – after pouring rain woke us at 4am and we had to pack it all up! The Grand Canyon was our next stop, but I had a particular route in mind to get us there.
I really wanted to drive through the Mojave National Preserve, but we were short on time, so the compromise was to drive around the area. Even though we didn’t get the full experience, I just couldn’t get enough of the beautiful views I was getting from the driver’s seat.
After driving for about 8 hours, we finally got to the Grand Canyon! Being Frank’s first time there, we drove straight to the park and headed to Mather point. It was very crowded (it is the most accessible viewpoint in the park, right by the Visitor Center), but as we started walking closer to the edge of the canyon, the most magical thing happened: it started snowing!
At this point in our trip we started realizing how seriously the government shutdown was affecting the parks. All campsites were closed, except for one loop of Mather campground, entrance and campground fees were not being collected, the Visitor Center was closed, and shuttles were running on a limited schedule. Below was their official statement:
“Important Notice to Park Visitors
Due to the government shutdown, the National Parks Service (NPS) is unable to fully staff Grand Canyon National Park today. You are welcome to enter the park, but are advised to use extreme caution during your visit since significantly fewer NPS rangers will be available to assist you or to respond to an emergency.
We are happy to inform you that our business partners in the park have agreed to remain open and can provide you with food, beverage, lodging, retail items, and other services. Through generous donations from the State of Arizona, Arizona State Parks and Trails, and the Arizona Office of tourism we are able to provide some visitor services as trash removal, restroom cleaning, and snow plowing.
Our surrounding communities including Cameron, Tusayan, Williams, and Flagstaff are wonderful places to visit. We encourage you to complete your travels safely, visit our neighboring communities, and we look forward to your next visit.”
Despite the closures, we decided to try to find a campsite at Mather Campground. Our hopes of getting a spot there were not too high, but it turned out the campsite was relatively empty and we were able to set up camp with no problems.
In over 6 years of our relationship, we have spent Christmas in all different parts of the world. But this was the first time we spent it off the grid, camping, and we wanted to make sure that it was special: put on our camping playlist, got extra cold champagne (it helped that it was 18 degrees), and had a delicious meal made over the campfire. If you ask me, that’s was pretty special Christmas dinner.
The next morning we slept in a little bit, and didn’t start exploring until 9am. Because we had Roxy with us, we decided to check out the park by car so she could come with us. It’s situations like these when I appreciate most how accessible some of the National Parks are.
Our plan was to drive on Hermit Road, along the South Rim, all the way to Hermit’s Rest. The road is only open to private cars from December to February, during other months you have to take the Red Line Shuttle bus to be able to visit the vista points. You can bike or hike the trail all year long.
I was so happy that the weather was a bit better and clear on the second day of our visit, it really allowed us to see more of the canyon. Every vista point we stopped at along the road reviewed a different and amazing side of the park. I have to say, the Grand Canyon is one of my favorite places in the world and I want us to go back – asap – and explore the park’s trails.
On our way back to the campsite, I noticed that the park’s laundry and showers were open. Bonus: they are conveniently in the same building. That was very exciting news, since, at that point, we hadn’t seen a shower in a least 4 days. Showers were $2.00 for 8 minutes (which was much longer than I expected), the water was nice and warm, shower pressure surprisingly great, and they had a liquid soap dispenser! If you want/need to do your laundry, it is $1.25 for a wash cycle, $1.75 for dryer, and they sell laundry detergent if you didn’t bring any.
After a long day and a relaxing shower, we headed back, started a fire, and started planning the next day of travels. 4 days in, 4 more days to go, and so many more memories to make! Our next stop: Zion National Park.
This post is part of a series in which we visited Oceano Dunes SVRA, Los Padres National Forest, Joshua Tree National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Red Rock Canyon National Preserve, and Death Valley National Park.
– Pt 1: San Francisco to Joshua Tree
– Pt 2: Joshua Tree to Grand Canyon (this post!)
– Pt 3: Grand Canyon to Zion
– Pt 4: Zion to Death Valley and back home (coming soon)
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