It looks like we have a theme here. When we started to plan our trip to Arizona we thought that the entire state would be much warmer than New England, however as we learned in Sedona, it’s snowy in northern Arizona in the winter. The altitude at the south rim of the Grand Canyon is 6500 feet above sea level, higher than Mount Washington which at 6288 is the highest peak in the Northeastern US. Who knew? We do now!
To make our way to the Grand Canyon from Sedona, we drove through a winter wonderland of snow.
Oak Creek Canyon
After leaving our hotel we turned toward Sedona by mistake on our way out to the highway. We were thoroughly enjoying the scenery and didn’t realize our mistake until we reached the town of Sedona. The drive back to route 17 toward Flagstaff was about 15 miles, so, rather than backtracking we took the scenic route through Oak Creek Canyon and we were so glad that we did. It was breathtaking, and while we didn’t use it, we had four wheel drive if we needed it.
Anyway, two and a half hours after leaving Sedona we made it to Grand Canyon!
… looking over the south rim of the Grand Canyon!
This moment had been on my bucket list for years. I have very fond memories of seeing it with my family as a child and I’d always wanted for Michael and our kids to experience it, so I was kind of overwhelmed. I barely looked at the view myself because I was having a great time watching their reactions.
Good thing I took lots of pictures! The views are amazing from every possible vantage point. In case you missed it, I posted photos of nothing but views of the Grand Canyon on Wordless Wednesday last week. You can see them here.
Just above is the exterior of the main visitor center at Grand Canyon Village in the south rim. I didn’t take photos inside but it was beautiful with engaging exhibits about many different aspects of the history, wildlife and geology of the canyon.
The south rim and north rim of the canyon are very different. While it’s less than twenty miles straight across, the trip to the north rim from the south rim is over 200 miles each way. The north rim is closed in the winter and sounds much less developed then the main viewing area of the south rim, which has a village that includes ten hotels, several visitor centers and museums, restaurants and a post office.
After seeing the canyon and looking around the visitor center, we had lunch at the El Tovar Hotel. This is one of a few remaining Fred Harvey Hotels and it’s an interesting stop. It was built to be one of the most elegant hotels in the west in the early 1900s. Fred Harvey was a British immigrant who built many restaurants and several grand hotels on the rail lines and on Route 66. El Tovar was designed by well known architect Mary Colter who also designed grand hotels in Winslow, AZ and several other cities across the southwest. We’ll run into Fred and Mary again soon in Winslow. We grew quite fond of them and appreciated their very cozy and elegant design style!
One of the wonderful aspects of traveling in the winter is the lack of crowds. While the lodge and dining room were pleasantly busy, we were seated right away. The El Tovar dining room was lovely. At $400/night per room, we weren’t staying there, but lunch was as reasonably priced as many of the other stops on our trip. The food was good, not spectacular, but very good, and the service was great. After a few days on the road white linen tablecloths and napkins were a treat.
These beautiful stained glass chandeliers were too.
I would have loved to have gone up to see the mezzanine… the view of the canyon must be awesome up there!
The front porch looks like an inviting place to sit on a warmer day.
The hotel had the look, feel and smell (in a good way) of a huge log cabin. It should probably be a post of it’s own.
This is a garden blog, not a hotel blog, but hmm….
This photo (complete with window reflection) was taken inside the Yavapai Geology Museum. This was our “homeschooling for ten days” moment of the day.. I should probably call it the “un-schooling” moment because I worked very hard to let the kids experience it on their own terms without intervening too much, so that they would really get it, and they did. The geological miracle of the canyon is crystal clear after spending a half hour there. I should have taken more photos but I was busy looking around and learning.
We also visited the Hopi Lodge, which is a recreated Hopi house thats used as a gift shop. The visitor center right behind Hopi Lodge had an interesting exhibit about life as a resident of Grand Canyon Village. Apparently a few thousand people live there in a housing complex that’s tucked away out of view. There’s even a school and a health clinic. I think that it would be an interesting place to live as a park service family.
Here’s our official Grand Canyon family portrait.
Before I close I’ll summarize a little bit about the logistics of our visit to the Grand Canyon.
- The literature says “stay in the park”… my mom intuition said “stay where it’s less expensive and there’s an indoor pool.” So, we did that… the Grand Canyon Holiday Inn Express worked well for us. It was clean, cozy and included a very extensive continental breakfast. Other family restaurants were within walking distance.
- Don’t be afraid of winter, just dress for it, then embrace the experience!
- We had one beautiful afternoon to spend there, which was pushing it a bit, but it was enough time. We weren’t hiking into the canyon and some of the roads were closed due to snow so we enjoyed our experience immensely and then felt ready to move on. I think that the time frame needed to see everything varies with each visitor and their interests and abilities.
- At any time of the year be sure to monitor the weather conditions before you go. We stayed in Sedona for an extra night because the roads were still snowy and the canyon was full of clouds. The NPS website (click here) has an accurate forecast, park alerts and a webcam that you can check to make sure your visit will be the best it can be
- Even if you’re not concerned about the weather, the NPS website is a great starting point for planning your visit to the Grand Canyon.
- Enjoy every minute!
Coming Soon: Winslow Arizona and starting onion seeds!