Day 10 Soundtrack:
Morning - Vaudevillian, Salty Dog
Late Morning - The Beatles, White Album
Evening - The National, Boxer
When we do this trip again (because we plan on it.... maybe in the spring though) we will give ourselves more time to get to the Grand Canyon.
In order to stay at Phantom Ranch in the bottom of the GC, you need to book your trip well in advance. We were lucky, and due to the time of year, we were able to get a cabin with only two months notice. But if you were going peak-season, you'd need to book 6-12 months ahead of time.
Our trip-planning process was looser than most - we booked our stay at GC for January 10th, giving ourselves 12 days to drive down and make some stops along the way. Other than our first stay at Starved Rock State Park (because the friendly border patrol guards want to know you're not just gallivanting around the States with no itinerary), we didn't book a single thing the whole trip - we would spend each day of driving looking online or phoning parks to make sure we could stay there for the night. If we couldn't get a hold of them, we just showed up, and hoped for the best (this only backfired on us once... stay tuned for another blog post).
The only problem with this plan was that we quickly ran out of time to see all the things we wanted to see. We could have spent all 12 days at any one park! (Except maybe that night in Brush CO - no offense, Brush)
And so it was that we had 48 hours to get from Escalante UT to The Grand Canyon AZ, with about a billion things still on our list. No surprises - there were things we didn't get to do, and places we didn't stay long enough. This is where the "when we do this trip again" comes in...
En route to GC we were within a stone's throw of Zion National Park, so we decided to take a slight detour and spend a few hours there (not nearly long enough!) before continuing to Page AZ where we would spend the night.
With only a few hours in one of the most well-known and beautiful parks in the US... what to do? You ask a ranger, and follow their suggestions.
First we drove the length of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive (normally a shuttle-bus-only road in peak-season, the SD was open to personal vehicles for the winter). We were able to take our time, stopping at the scenic views and lookouts along the way, and finally ended at Temple of Sinawava where we took in the waterfall view while snacking on smoked oysters and trail mix. I half expected to see a pterodactyl come sweeping down from the cliff tops, or a tyrannosaurus come barreling through the trees. There was something especially prehistoric and grandiose about this place. If there is another Jurassic Park movie in the future - they should film it here (but don't, you'd ruin it).
After driving back up many switchbacks, and barreling through the Mt. Carmel tunnel, we parked and hiked up the Canyon Overlook Trail which, SURPRISE, overlooks the canyon. It was a slightly treacherous hike up, with spotty sections of ice, loose rocks and steep drop-offs, but we made it to the top and were thrilled that we did (Thanks ranger!) The view was astounding - red cliffs stretching out into the distance as far as the eye could see. And though there were spots with railings for the folks with height-related fears, there were lots of perching opportunities for those without. But please, don't fall!
Wecontinued on to Page AZ where we quickly lost cellphone reception (thank you, all of Northern Arizona, for your terrible cell reception) and wandered around for a bit looking for an appropriate place to camp for the night. In our wandering, we discovered that you can easily get McDonalds WiFi from the parking lot, and returned to the parking lot on 3 separate occasions that evening after finding that the sites we looked for no longer existed (or maybe never did?), were closed, or were merely a patch of dirt at the side of the highway.
We finally found a nearby RV and tent park that accepted late arrivals, and set up camp.