Southwest June 2009
Dates: June 7 - June 13, 2009
People: Mark and Sarah
- 6-7 Flying to Vegas
- 6-8 Zion National Park
- 6-9 Bryce Canyon National Park
- 6-10 Grand Canyon National Park
- 6-11 Grand Canyon National Park
- 6-12 Sunset Crater NM/Hoover Dam/Vegas
- 6-13 Flying home
SUNDAY JUNE 7
This day actually began at church for all of us. We attended the early service at Grace so Mark could help with communion and liturgy. We left home finally about 10:30am for Chicago. We got into Chicago around 2:30pm (central) and met Mark's parents at the cell phone lot outside of Midway Airport. We were able to play with the boys and talk there for nearly an hour before we headed into the airport to check bags and sit and wait.
The airport time was mostly uneventful. Mark would go from restaurant to restaurant as we walked the concourse to watch the Cubs game on various TV's. (They won 6-3 in 14 innings against the Reds). We ate at the Oak Street Beach cafe.
Flight to Vegas went by smoothly. We were able to talk, read, drink, watch the Simpsons on Mark's tablet, and mostly enjoy the flight. The descent into Vegas was great. We picked just the right side of the plane and we able to see the strip right beside us as we flew into McCarran International.
We rode the shuttle down to the main car rental facility which services all the companies at McCarran. We had to wait in line for like 20 minutes. Once I made it to the counter most of the reservation stuff went fine until the lady tried to force their insurance on me. When I told her I wasn't interested in the $23/day policy (which over the week would more than double what I was already paying) she really gave me the 3rd degree and tried to make me feel like an idiot. Apparently they try to hold you liable for *anything* that happens to the car even if it isn't your fault. She said something about me paying $90/day if anything happens, including the vehicle getting stolen or damaged by no fault of mine until the vehicle would be fixed. Sheesh. Anyways when we finally hopped in our grey Dodge Caliber I was quite nervous pulling out of the garage.
We drove up to the Excalibur and had no idea where to check in or where we could park. We drove around the building once and figured out the front desk area along with all the long valet lines. I finally dropped Sarah off on the second trip around the building and she checked us in and found out we could park in any of the main lots behind the hotel.
We tossed our stuff into our nice room in Tower 2 and headed out on the strip. We hopped on a tram to the Mandalay Bay which was a quick and simple ride. At Mandalay Bay we tried to go see the Shark Reef Aquarium but after walking for like 20 minutes through this city of a Casino/Hotel we found it to be closed.
We headed out of Mandalay Bay and decided to walk outside on the strip now. We headed past the Luxor which was an amazing sight in the evening as a darkened pyramid with this great spotlight heading straight out of the pinnacle (top). We walked back past the Excalibur and then past the New York New York. We headed across another pedestrian bridge past the MGM Grand and found a small food court. It was about 11:30pm (Pacific) and we were hungry again. Sarah got her Panda Express fix and I got some nachos.
We headed back into the Excalibur for the evening. We walked past all the casino stuff but just didn't know where to get started so we passed. We grabbed our complimentary drinks from the bar and headed to our room. We felt old when we passed a bunch of young party-ers in the elevator on their way down to the casino as we headed to bed.
A map of today's main activity:
MONDAY JUNE 8
Left our hotel at an early 8am today to get going on the day. We drove up the strip past the other hotels and made for the interstate. We headed up to a Walmart by Nellis Air Force Base on the way out of town. We had a good time picking out groceries for the week as well as breakfast for this day and the next few (donuts!). We also were hoping to find a Coleman PowerMax fuel canister for our backpacking stove, but no such luck.
After failing to find the fuel canister for the stove that we needed to cook the freeze dried food which was going to be our suppers this week, we decided to move on to the next place. The GPS wasn't helping us in finding places that may have the stove fuel. There was an REI in Vegas but it didn't open till 10am and it was in the opposite direction. We decided to risk it and head for Zion anyways. We headed for Mesquite where we found an outdoor sports store but they didn't have our fuel. They directed us to an Ace Hardware and they also didn't have the right fuel. Our last chance was Hurricane, UT, where we find another outdoor sports store. This place we finally found a guy who knew what PowerMax was but he said he'd stopped selling that product in his store. But, he knew the Ace Hardware (ironic) down the street had them. Sure enough he was right and we found out stove fuel.
The drive into Zion was fantastic. We knew we'd be in for an amazing day of pictures. We bought our annual pass at the gate for Zion and we headed into the park hoping to find our campground. Apparently we missed it though, as we ended up on the road heading for the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel. The tunnel was quite a drive. It's over a mile long and ever quarter mile or so there is a window looking out of the tunnel to the canyon walls outside. We drove through the tunnel and turned around and headed back. The second time through we did find our campground at Watchman. We setup camp with several squirrels trying to make friends with us and our food.
We headed through the Visitor Center, asked some questions about the trails and shuttles, and headed onto the Zion shuttles. We rode up to the Grotto stop and there we hopped out onto the Angels Landing trail. We enjoyed a beautiful hike along the Virgin River for the first half mile and started getting great views of the canyon walls around us. Sarah had to do a time out on the hike about a mile in as the switchbacks started and the trail got steeper heading up into Refrigerator Canyon. Mark headed on ahead and cruised along the trail. With a half mile to go on the trail you reach Scout Lookout and the remaining trail heads up a narrow ridge to Angels Landing. At this point there are steep dropoffs around the trail and chain ropes to hang onto (for safety and piece of mind). It was a beautiful trail to the top. It took 1:20 to get to the top, only 40 minutes on the way down.
We hiked down the remainder of the Angels Landing trail together and then hopped on the shuttle again. We rode it to the north end of the canyon at the Temple of Sinawava. The canyon was narrow at this point and we got out and walked to the river's edge.
We made our first freeze dried meal of the trip doing some lasagna for supper. Sarah liked it quite a lot. It was a beautiful evening in the canyon and actually got quite cool overnight.
A map of today's main activity:
The next two images are track data from the hike up Angels Landing
TUESDAY JUNE 9
Started the morning finishing up some of the sights at Zion. We packed up camp and drove to the parking lot at the Zion Museum. We toured the museum for just a moment which had some human history exhibits and a small bookstore. Behind the museum was a fantastic viewing area for the Temples and Towers area of the canyon. Took a great panorama there of the peaks. We rode the shuttle from there to the Court of the Patriarchs stop and again took some great photos.
The drive out of Zion was equally amazing. We drove through the tunnel again. After the tunnel is an amazing landscape. The hills look like they were all scraped by knives on the sides. We drove by Checkerboard Mesa which is pretty much what its name says. The rest of the drive up to Bryce Canyon was quiet with varying landscapes.
The weather today was the coolest day of the week. Temp didn't even break 70 degrees. And at Bryce where the elevation was 8000 feet, the temps were especially cool. We spent time at the visitor center at Bryce gathering info and went to setup camp. It was a nice campground and even better when we found out the rim of the canyon was about a 40 second walk. We stayed in the North Campground.
We made some quick lunch at camp and then hit the road. We drove to the Bryce Point and Paria View overlooks. The view from Bryce Point was spectacular. It is awe-inspiring to see all the rock formations filling the landscape. We drove down the Bryce road to Rainbow Point at the south end. We didn't walk out to Yovimpa Point and we also saw signs for recent bear sightings there. On the way north along the road we stopped at the Black Birch Canyon, Agua Canyon, Natural Bridge, Farview Point, and Inspiration Points. At Inspiration Point I hiked up the short trail to the Upper Inspiration Point for more pictures. The view there was equal to Bryce Point as by far the best in the park.
The rest of the afternoon Sarah spent at camp while I hiked the "Queens Garden/Navajo Combination Loop" quoted as the "World's best 3-mile hike". I started hiking from our camp along the rim to Sunrise Point where I picked up the trail to Queen's Garden. I was taking quite a few pictures on the Nikon D50 camera when the batteries ran out. I was stuck taking pics on my Omnia phone the rest of the way. The 1-mile hike to Queen's Garden had some great views. I saw the Queen Victoria formation at the end of this trail portion. From there is a forest hike to the Navajo Loop. I took the northern section of the loop. This brought me two a signed split in the trail which pointed right to the two bridges area. It was unclear if this was trail so I followed it up a gulley past the two bridges. I followed this to the top of the gulley where it dead ended at a 50 foot cliff. I turned around and went up the other split which was the real trail. The trail ends at Sunset Point where I took some more pictures. On the walk back to camp I stopped at the General Store and bought some Corona for supper at camp. We did more freeze dried for supper eating chicken and rice tonight. It was a cold night down in the 30's up at 8000 feet.
A map of today's main activity:
The next two images are track data from the hike on the Queen Navajo Loop
WEDNESDAY JUNE 10
Today was the day of driving. We left camp early once more from Bryce Canyon and made a quick drive down to Kanab. By this time our lovely Walmart donuts had run out so we hit a McDonald's in Kanab for breakfast. We made the decision this morning since we had the luxury of time to try the north rim of the Grand Canyon. My first check made me think it was only 30 miles in but then I realized the GPS fooled me. It was 30 miles to the edge of the park, and another 15 to the rim. We did the drive anyways and it was a nice drive to the rim.
At the rim we hopped out of the car and stopped in the visitor center. We then made the walk out to Bright Angel Point to take pictures of the canyon. As we would find out in the next 2 days the view here isn't quite as impressive, but the quiet more remote nature of the north rim adds some nice appeal. Back from Bright Angel Point we walked through the lodge which is right near the canyon's rim and then through the north rim village area. We drove out and stopped for a picnic lunch a few miles north of the visitor center area. There were buffalo along the road there which we sat and watched as we ate.
The drive along US-89 heading for Marble Canyon was fantastic. There were amazing mesas to our north and vast expansive views across the plain to our south. At Marble Canyon we got out and walked on the Navajo Bridge. This is where the highway crosses the river and Marble Canyon eventually turns into the Grand Canyon many miles south.
As we headed west on Arizona-64 we ran into quite a few native American vendors along the road. Every sign that said "scenic view" would be accompanied by a row of vendors all selling authentic indian items. About 30 miles in on this road you finally meet the gate for the Grand Canyon and shortly after this is the Desert View stop for the Grand Canyon. We got out here and walked the path to the Watchtower and the canyon view here was nice. You could see the Colorado river and the vast expanse of the canyon leading to the west. From Desert View we also stopped at Navajo Point, Lipan Point, Moran Point and Grandview Point on our way into the village.
In the village we checked into camp and had a great site in the Mather Campground. You could call it a corner lot just into the Juniper Loop. Bathrooms were close, lots of space, and even some wildlife friends like squirrels, rabbits, and ravens to keep us company. We made a trip back to the large General Store (which was almost a full-sized grocery) to get some essentials. We got hot dogs, jiffy pop, and some firewood. We did end up doing some freeze-dry (spaghetti) tonight. But we also made a fire and cooked dogs over the fire. This was a great evening with perfect camping temps, a fire, and lots of good food.
A map of today's main activity:
THURSDAY JUNE 11
Mark woke up this morning about 5:30am and hopped the shuttle to Yaki Point right around 6am. The shuttle from the campground takes you to the Information Center where you catch a different shuttle to Yaki Point for the South Kaibab Trail. It took the better part of 45 minutes to get to the trailhead. Along the way I saw some elk near the Yavapai Lodge and deer eating breakfast at the Information Center.
I left the South Kaibab trailhead at 6:42am. It was nice cool air and shade for the first part of the hike. Met a few hikers along the trail as I sped down pretty quickly. I made a 5 minutes stop at Ooh Aah point. Took an amazing panorama (my favorite of the trip) from this point. It was 7:18am when I made it to Cedar Ridge (1.5 miles in) where I took another stop at their bathrooms. From Cedar Ridge the sun finally came out in full force which gave more great pictures and the temp barely broke over 80 degrees. The trail from Cedar Ridge takes you to the east side of O'Neill Butte and eventually to Skeleton Point (3 miles in). I spent about 25 minutes at this stop which is the first place where you can see the Colorado River. I took plenty of pictures here and talked to Sarah on the phone back at camp. From there the trail descends down some steep switchbacks and meanders its way another 3 miles to the river, so very tempting to go the distance but I didn't for lack of time. On the way back up the canyon I made it back to Cedar Ridge at 8:53am where I stopped another 20 minutes for pictures and to walk to the end of Cedar Ridge. Made it back to the trailhead at 9:52am. All in all it was about 1:07 down (minus the major stops) and 1:14 up (minus major stops). Fantastic hike.
We spent the afternoon on the shuttle out to Hermits Rest. We had to drive our car to the Bright Angel Lodge area and park. Then hopped the red shuttle out to Hermits Rest. On this shuttle we stopped at Trailview Overlook, Maricopa Point, Powell Point, Hopi Point, The Abyss, and Pima Point, ending up at Hermits Rest. At Hermits Rest we walked through the bookstore and grabbed a drink. I got some great closeup pics of a raven that perched close by to everyone for pictures. The shuttles out this way were very crowd, nearly overflowing with people. At this point we were tired and finally headed back to camp.
This evening we didn't muster the energy for a fire and rather started getting our gear cleaned up as it was our last night of camping. The one special thing we did do was we drove over to the Yavapai Observation Station where we watched the sun go down over the canyon. We took a ton of pictures here and saw the 30-40 minutes around the sunset. Great views!
A map of today's main activity:
The next five images are track data from the hike down the South Kaibab Trail
FRIDAY JUNE 12
Headed out of the Grand Canyon this morning after packing up camp for the last time. We decided to give Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument a try as we had lots of time to give today. This meant about 90 miles of extra driving heading east out of the Grand Canyon to US89 rather than taking Arizona-64 south.
We got to Sunset Crater around 10am and it was worth the drive. We stopped in at the visitor center to learn fun facts about the Crater. We then drove down the road to the Lava Flow Trail. This was a 1-mile loop which takes you to the edge of Sunset Crater. For about 30 years now they've not allowed anybody to actually summit the crater. The loop trail gave us many great pictures of this fascinating landscape. After the loop trail we took some time at a picnic table in the parking lot to clean up all our camping gear and repack, saving us from having to do this in Vegas.
The drive to Vegas took us through Flagstaff and then onto the interstate. We stopped in Williams for a Pizza Hut buffet which was a real treat after four days camping. The next real treat was driving over Hoover Dam. A few miles from the dam we hit a checkpoint along the road. They had every car exit the highway and stop for two security officers who took a quick peak in the vehicle and then passed us through. There was much construction in this area as it was evident they were expanding this crowded 2-lane highway to 4 lanes. About 3 miles from the dam the traffic stopped. We spent the next hour driving those 3 miles to the dam. Along the way we got great views of the new bypass bridge being built. When we finally got to Hoover Dam Sarah had some great picture opportunities of the Dam itself as well as the new bypass bridge which seemed to be about halfway done. Traffic was moving over the dam, slowly but surely. I took a video of our drive over the dam.
After passing the dam we made a quick drive into Vegas, stopping for gas, and arriving at the Imperial Palace in one piece. When you enter the Imperial Palace off the strip it is like driving straight into a building. We drove in past the main entrance, pass the valet lines, and found the self-parking garage.
We got a room there with an extra large "luv" tub. We were most happy to have showers and the tub to soak in all evening. We also took another walk down the strip this evening. We especially enjoyed the volcano show in front of the Mirage and the fountain show in front of the Bellagio. The walk through the Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace was also intriguing.
A map of today's main activity:
SATURDAY JUNE 13
This was another early morning. We were out the doors by 5:30 to return the rental car and ride the shuttle into the airport. We were checked in and at our gate by 6:30 by the 7:55am flight. The flight to St. Louis went quickly.