We are in the middle of a beautiful weeklong vacation in the Grand Canyon to celebrate my sister-in-law's 40th birthday. Yesterday's hike was mostly paved and relatively flat. Today's hike would be neither of those things.
This out-and-back hike to Ooh Ahh Point in Grand Canyon was short at less than 4 miles roundtrip, but you descend over 600 feet into the canyon to an awesome viewpoint, then you climb back out. The hike begins on the canyon rim at about 7,200 ft., starting at the South Kaibab Trailhead.
Grand Canyon Inn
Before diving into the details of this hike, I should really back up and share some highlights about our lodging. As you might have guessed, all of the hotels close to Grand Canyon National Park are pretty pricey, and since we were going to be on the South Rim a couple of days, we opted for a less expensive option, which put us out in Williams, AZ, about 25 minutes from the national park South Rim entrance.
I think the motel we stayed in might have had the highest ratings of the less expensive choices, but I am pretty sure that rating is associated with their "inn." The inn looks like a pretty normal and basic, albeit dated, hotel.
When we checked in at the inn, however, they handed us our keycards and informed us that we wouldn't be staying in the inn. We'd be staying in their "annex," which was across the highway from the inn. From that vantage point, it didn't look like much. In fact, it looked like a cluster of dilapidated, abandoned buildings.
We drove across the highway, turned into a parking area with the multiple buildings, one of which looked like a rundown motorlodge, and then another hotel (or maybe a previously operating hotel) that had a mountain of used mattresses piled behind it.
Meandering through slowly and gawking, the gravel surface crunching under our tires, we wondered if we were in the right place. We eventually located our rooms in the "motorlodge" building, based on our keen deductive reasoning: the room numbers we were given on our paperwork at check-in matched the numbers on the doors. So, we parked and started arranging our stuff in our tiny rooms filled with oversized furniture.
Parts of the motel were a little hokey, but I can deal with hokey.
Each door of the motel rooms had fake woodgrain painted on it and were adorned with a hand-painted historical Western figure. (Ours was Wyatt Earp, if you couldn't tell.)
And this was the huge hand-painted mural in our room:
It's fine. I have no issues with, or judgment on, stuff like this. You have a theme. Run with it. Doesn't bother me. Someone far more talented than I created these, after all, and I have an appreciation of that.
Perhaps in conjunction with this theme, the motel rooms had a very rustic, "bunkhouse," bare bones feel to them. Not ideal, but I can handle roughing it for a couple of nights.
However, the faucet at the bathroom sink only dispensed cold water. And by that I mean, the "C" knob was there and fully functioning, the "H" knob was not. This immediately prompted me to check out the shower faucet situation, because I wanted to know what I was in for the following morning... taking cold showers is not something I was looking forward to.
I knelt down at the shower faucet and rotated the handle counterclockwise, the position where the "H" side would normally be opened to dispense hot water.
I let the water run for several minutes to see if it would get warmer. Nope. I wondered if the "H" and the "C" were installed backwards, so I turned the handle clockwise back to the "C" side and waited to see if the water temperature changed. It seemed slightly warmer. So, I started adjusting the handle a little in each direction to see if one position produced warmer water. (This "game" reminded me of playing that "Hot or Cold" game with my 4-year-old niece, where you hide an object and then tell someone whether they are "getting warmer" or "getting colder" as they try to find it.)
Eventually, I nailed it down to this: If you rotate the faucet handle about 1/4 counterclockwise from the closed position, you can get some hot water. Whew.
I was relieved to confirm I'd be able to have a warm shower in my future.
But on top of these faulty faucets, we also discovered the rooms offered no hand soap. Again, I can rough it for a few days, but I have a hard time not being able to thoroughly wash my hands with soap and water – after all, this wasn't camping – so we made a trip to the little convenience store/rock shop nearby and found a package of bar soap, which we broke in half, giving the other chunk to my sister-in-law for her room.
All first-world problems, perhaps, but when you're paying for lodging, you kind of expect certain aspects to function properly. We made it all work, but had we stayed there any longer than two nights, I think it would have gotten annoying for us.
One of the nights we were there, it was late and I was well past hangry and had moved into punch drunk mode, so we decided to give the onsite restaurant a try. The food was decent, but the notable part was when we got to chatting with our waiter.
We told him we were staying in the "bunkhouse." He said that he lived in the hotel next to the bunkhouse and that the room didn't have a refrigerator, so he took ice from the restaurant home with him every night and put it in his bathtub to keep things (I believe he specifically mentioned his beer) cold. We left him a generous tip.
So, that's where we stayed on the Grand Canyon South Rim portion of our trip.
Okay. Back to the hike.
Once in Grand Canyon National Park, we drove out to the area near the Kaibab Trailhead, hoping we would be able to find a parking space. After some driving around, we found an open spot along the road that seemed suitable, even though it would add a little distance to our overall hike to get to and from the trailhead.
And the views along the way to the trailhead did not disappoint, either.
So, we started down the trail to Ooh Ahh Point, which included numerous switchbacks and reminded me of Walter's Wiggles in Zion.
We didn't get too far down when we came across a park ranger. She was posted (in the shade) along the route, just before the switchbacks started in, and she was checking with every hiker that was going down the trail to find out what their hiking destination was (translation: how far they were hiking) and how much water they were carrying. Apparently, enough people attempt to hike down farther than they can safely hike back up, and many are unprepared, hiking without water or with very little water. And daytime heat plays into this equation, as well.
At the time we were here, rangers were actively looking for a specific hiker who had separated from his group and was trying to make it back up to the rim from the bottom of the canyon. Other hikers were reporting seeing him and offering him some water and snacks, but the rangers were increasingly concerned about his safety and whereabouts.
Here's looking over some of the early switchbacks winding everyone down the trail before it straightens out and follows the contour of the canyon to the lookout point.
Descending down from the rim, looking back at a series of the switchbacks.
The views along this trail were so awesome.
This sign cracked me up. (Also, gross.)
Again with the views!
It didn't take us long to descend to our picturesque destination.
The trail continued farther, but we stopped at this point to take in the sights and then make the climb back to the rim.
Back up we go...
Can you spot my two hiking partners standing together on the trail below?
How about from here? Can you spot them on the trail?
A few more views from the rim after I reached the top.
Now, can you spot me in this one? I'm waving at the camera.
All three of us made it back to the top and we continued the remainder of the walk to our parked vehicle. When we'd almost reached it, I noticed a vehicle with Wisconsin license plates parked along the road and an early 20-something man and woman were just getting out. Obviously, I had to engage them in conversation, so my husband and I chatted them up. We learned they were on week two of a road trip from Antigo, WI, and had just been to Yellowstone in Wyoming. We strongly suggested they add Yosemite and Lake Tahoe to their itinerary.
Ohh Ahh Point
Desert View Watchtower
From the Kaibab Trail, we drove the 23 miles out to the next destination on my sister-in-law's list for this trip: Desert View Watchtower, a National Historic Landmark.
Designed by Mary Colter, the watchtower was constructed in 1932 and is based on the architecture of the Ancestral Puebloan people of the Southwest.
Here are some overlook views looking east from the grounds surrounding Desert Watchtower. This flat-topped mesa is called Cedar Mountain.
Then we headed back to the main park and we saw another elk along the road!
When we re-entered the park, I got fixated on the Grand Canyon Railway and wanted to get photos and video of it as it passed through the park. I grew up very near railroad tracks, where wall-hangings rattled when the trains rolled through, so hearing and seeing trains isn't a huge novelty for me, but the train cars were beautiful and the whistle of the Grand Canyon engine was unique. It sounded almost musical and I set out to capture it on video.
The train departs at 3:00 p.m. local time, so we had a couple of hours to kill before we'd have to stake out our post at the train crossing. We ventured over to Bright Angel Lodge to get a late lunch/early dinner at Harvey House Tavern. In addition to two restaurants and a coffee shop, the main lodge building houses a historical museum and gift shop, so we spent some time perusing both of those, too.
Wandering around outside near the tracks and depot, I captured a few still shots of the various, shiny rail cars.
I just love how classic and "old-timey" trains are, especially passenger trains.
Eventually, I scoped out the post I wanted at the crossing and anxiously awaited. (Yes, I am a huge nerd.) And let me tell you, that train was RIGHT on time.
(Caution: The horn is a bit loud.)
So, that was exciting!
On our final exit from Grand Canyon National Park, we spotted the official national park sign, so we definitely had to stop there for a photo op.
Heading back to Williams, AZ, we found a really lovely (and busy) diner and had some dinner before returning to our motel room for our final night. Williams is on Route 66, so we found all kinds of fun souvenir shops and memorabilia around this cute town. And, this is where the Grand Canyon train route ends up, too.
Tomorrow we'd be hitting the road again, ultimately bound for Jacob Lake, AZ, with a few fun stops along the way.
Note: When planning this trip, we plotted a route that would allow us to see the West Rim, South Rim, and North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We hoped we could spend a day hiking and sightseeing on the North Rim, but it was still closed due to snow. The North Rim is seasonally closed from mid-October to mid-May, but this winter, the North Rim received a record amount of snow — more than 20 feet by early April. As a result, the park service had to delay the opening until June so that State Route 67 could be plowed and staff could reopen the lodge and other visitor facilities.