Parks and Recreation’s Ron Swanson famously once said that crying is acceptable only at funerals and the Grand Canyon. The next stop on our trip would test whether Ron was onto something or not as we headed to Arizona, the USA’s sixth largest State and home to one of its most famous landmarks.
You basically have two choices with the Grand Canyon, South Rim or North Rim? The South is slightly quicker to get to from Las Vegas, but the North is slightly less of a tourist trap. We opted for the North, partly because the lodgings (there’s only really one choice unless you’re camping) at the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge looked really cool but also because the route there from Vegas enabled us to take in Zion National Park (more of that in the next post!).
The road into the North Rim climbs slowly and takes you through the Kaibab National Forest, we encountered a spectacular rain storm which threatened to ruin an evening’s photography before it cleared pretty quickly. When we arrived at the Lodge we sensed that there was something special about the place. We parked the car and nervously headed to the first view point we could see, which wasn’t even the main event, but boy oh boy is Ron Swanson right. This place is something special.
The rock was a mottled red and white colour when we first peered over the edge. The drops are sheer and pretty scary, but there’s plenty to take your mind off that. We wandered down towards the Lodge itself, and as you walk in you see its very own piece de resistance – a giant, almost floor to ceiling, window that gives a truly epic view of the Canyon. It really is enough to make a grown man cry, indescribably massive and beautiful. Every time you turn your head there is something ever-more incredible to clap your eyes on, and with each passing minute the changing angle of the sun gives it a whole new character over and over.
We then checked into our little cabin complete with porch overlooking the Canyon. The cabins are basic but spacious and perfectly comfortable. Anyway, with a view like that just footsteps away why would you want to spend any time inside? We headed back to the main Lodge building and sampled one of the many Ranger talks on offer, this one about the endangered condor, but there’s all sorts on offer.
The Lodge has its own small saloon, where you can get cocktails (Hannah opted for a particularly excellent salted caramel white Russian, yum…) and beers, including flavoursome locally brewed ales. You can also get snacks there and we’d probably suggest you did. The restaurant at the Lodge was perfectly nice, but not particularly special and a little pricey. We’d advise you relax on the extensive terrace with a cocktail to watch the sunset, drop into the saloon for a snack before returning to the terrace to marvel at the night sky over the Canyon.
After a perfect night’s sleep we rose at sunrise (if you’re not going to get up at sunrise at the Grand Canyon, when are you?!) for a real treat. We ambled down the little path with a few other early risers and gawped as the sun peeked over the eastern edge. It was another jaw-dropping moment in a very special 24 hours.
We headed away from the Grand Canyon unsure if we’d ever see anything quite so spectacular again. There are a million and one amazing things to see in America but if you can only see one, the Grand Canyon is surely it, don’t miss out. The scenery driving through Arizona is often awe-inspiring, enormous rock faces climb out of expansive plains around every turn – not that there are many turns since many of the roads are those that appear to go on forever towards the horizon. We drove to our next stop via the Glen Canyon Dam and stopped for lunch at Big John’s BBQ in Page, AZ. It’s a totally unassuming place but did some exceptional pulled pork, just what we needed on another lengthy drive!
Arizona’s biggest cities, Phoenix and Tuscon, are some way further to the South of the State than our route so there’s a lot of this vast State we didn’t see, but we feel like we saw the best it has to offer.
Rate the State
Good for: Varied and epic scenery, plenty to entertain your eyes on long drives
Bad for: The North of the State isn’t great for big towns and cities.
Overall: 8/10 (but the Grand Canyon alone is a ten!)