The Grand Canyon and Monument Valley

We could have stayed longer in Scottsdale but the Grand Canyon called. The drive took us through the semi arid desert, Sonora. The landscape changed from cacti filled desert as we drove higher and it began to look more like Yosemite, with pine forests on the slopes of the higher hills and mountains. But still we were in the desert. Our first stop was Flagstaff for some lunch and a wander. It felt like a laid back and friendly town and it has a very pretty, old town area. It’s a skiing town in the Winter so maybe we’ll head back there one day. The girls found a lovely looking sweet shop and loved choosing a few sweets for later:

Flagstaff Sweet Shop

Flagstaff Sweet Shop

They didn’t really like any of the sweets, unfortunately, apart from the prickly pear jellies, which we all liked. We also brought some outdoor kit for rest of holiday – water shoes and water bottles for the girls. The novelty of the back pack style water bottles meant that we had to stop 3 times in the next hour for toilet breaks(!) but better that than the girls being dehydrated in the dry air and heat. The landscape changed again as we headed out of Flagstaff and closer to the Grand Canyon:

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Once we got into Grand Canyon National Park we headed straight to the rim for our first look. Nothing prepares you for the sheer magnitude or the beauty. Wow.

First view of the Grand Canyon

First view of the Grand Canyon

The Big One ran and skipped all the way down the path that lead to the rim but as she caught her first glimpse, the skipping stops and she just looks! Her first words were “You don’t see that every day!”

Neither the picture nor the film really show you how large and deep the canyon is, for one because you can’t even see to the bottom where the Colorado River is clearly. But you can hear the Little One telling me how far down the canyon goes, which might help!
We were staying at Yavapai Lodge, one of the national park lodges – basic but comfortable – and after finding our room we headed out for dinner at El Tovar, a 100 year old hotel. We saw the sun set over the rim then headed inside, after watching the mule elk who were sitting outside the hotel.

We sat outside having out drinks until our table was called, braving the chillier air! After dinner we took our tired girls home as it was late, but we did stop to look at the beautiful stars. There were more stars than I ever thought possible – the national park works hard to keep light pollution to an absolute minimum and it is certainly worth it.
Despite not getting to bed until 10.30pm, we were all up at 5am the next day for sunrise. We had planned it the night before and the girls had wanted to see it but it was very hard waking them up as they were so sleepy! Once dressed we gave them their sweet bags from the Flagstaff candy shop to warm them up (this is when they discovered that they didn’t like any if them!)
We got to the canyon just in time to see the sun peaking over the edge of the rim.

Sunrise at the Grand Canyon

Sunrise at the Grand Canyon

The girls were wrapped in my coat and a towel to keep them warm as we watched the rising sun bring colour to the canyon. It was beautiful and breathtaking. And I truly mean breathtaking – every time you get your first glimpse of the canyon for the day it makes you catch your breathe and be utterly stunned again.

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We drank a quick hot chocolate to warm us up and then went back to El Tovar for breakfast, as we had big plans for the rest if the day.

Ever since we planned our trip (last week, but to be fair we had discussed it a lot before then!) we knew we wanted to take a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon. The Big One was less than keen, even saying at one point that she’d rather stay on the ground with people she didn’t know than go up in one! But we’d taken her to see the helicopters take off and land the day before and she had finally agreed to come with us (which was a relief because if she hadn’t, then none of us would be going!)

Our helicopter trip

Our helicopter trip

The Big One was worried before we boarded but the pilot was excellent and completely put both girls at ease. They happily chatted away to him the entire flight, asking questions and sharing what they’d learnt about the canyon. It is truly the best way to see the canyon (apart from maybe rafting through it but the girls are definitely to young for that!) and the only way to get a sense of the sheer magnitude and beauty of the place. Our flight was 45 minutes long. That was about 35 minutes longer than I really wanted! It was a bit of a windy day and the ride was bumpy, so I felt sick for most of it but I still managed to appreciate the grandeur of the place whilst holding on tight to my sick bag!

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Flying over the canyon

Flying over the canyon

My Lovely Husband brought the DVD of our flight just so we could listen to the chatting of the girls with the pilot again and maybe so I can see the canyon without feeling sick!
Now I was on the ground again, we decided that if we were going to see Monument Valley, then today was the day to do it. With the very early morning, we hoped the girls might sleep for some of the long journey. It was a very long drive but it sped by in this beautiful and ever-changing landscape. The one common factor is that everything seems so big!
We drove into Utah, over 165 miles away from the Grand Canyon to find that Monument Valley is the exact opposite of the canyon: enormous rocks are left on their own, some 1000ft high, on a completely flat piece of desert. As we got closer we drove into a sand storm, with the sand whirling around us and up, like a mini tornado, high into the sky.

Sand storm in Monument Valley

Sand storm in Monument Valley

The rocks were like cathedrals in the desert. The pictures here don’t really do it justice but will give you some idea:

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We drove back through the desert as quickly as possible as, having reached our destination, the road trip had quickly lost all interest for the girls! We made it to the Watchtower at the East entrance just to see the last of the light disappear. It was too dark to go up the tower but the last bit of the sunset was beautiful. And we got to wish on the first star, surrounded b the beauty of the Grand Canyon, with no one else there.

Sunset at the Watchtower

Sunset at the Watchtower

Next morning was Friday and we were up early to visit the Yavapai geology museum to learn a bit about the Grand Canyon rocks. We were able to see a 3D map of the canyon to work out where we’d flown in helicopter yesterday and the girls purchased some very useful survival tools (torch, reflector, compass, whistle etc) which will be perfect as they both now plan to be explorers!
We took a walk along canyon rim and took some pictures of us sitting on the edge of the canyon.

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It was difficult to drag ourselves away but we wanted to climb up the watchtower to see the views of the Grand Canyon one last time before we headed to Sedona and the red rocks.

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