How to see (and not see) the Grand Canyon
Since our visit was during the busy winter holiday season, we were happy to find a detailed “Know Before You Go” on the Grand Canyon National Park website. We wished we had looked at it before leaving Virginia because, as mentioned in the previous blog, we only learned four days before that the Grand Canyon NP is at a snowy 7000+ foot altitude, and not the warm and dry desert canyon we had envisioned. We had a short wait at the Entrance Gate due to our evening arrival with snowy weather. We were especially grateful for this when we left the next day and saw cars waiting up to 2 hours to enter.
Our first “view” of the Grand Canyon was a foggy haze at the Mather Point Overlook, located a very short walk from the GCNP Visitor Center. The 22-minute introductory video at the Visitor Center was helpful for an overview of the geology, human history, and plants and wildlife of the park.
Yavapia Gem Museum Area
The next day we luckily had a very short window to view the canyon. We woke up to clear weather and made it to the Yavapi Gem Museum parking area by 9am. We were glad we did; within 30 minutes the breathtaking views from Yavapi Point were completely overtaken by clouds, and by 10am Park Rangers were telling arriving visitors that there would likely be no view for the rest of the day. The museum does a wonderful job of providing a detailed history of the canyon’s geology. The vast amount of information was overwhelming to my more biological sciences-minded brain, but rock geeks will enjoy it.
With more time on a day with better weather, we would have taken one of the 50-minute round-trip bus tours offered by the National Park Service. The buses ran every 15 minutes, and visitors hop on and off at various vistas. We left the park around 12:30pm, and were in Las Vegas by 5pm (because, unbeknownst to us, the time switches back to PST).
Lodges & Shopping
We chose to stay at the Yavapia Lodge due to proximity to the GCNP Visitor Center and the affordable cost compared to the resorts in the Village. Our room in the East Wing was clean and updated, and we enjoyed dinner in the Grill at the Lodge.
We were thankful to have made an Open Table lunch reservation at the El Tovar Dining Room on our last day; it was completely booked for the entire day when we arrived. Like other larger (Acadia NP, Grand Tetons NP) National Park Lodge dining, we found it to be cozy and upscale-ish, but a comfortable place to still be in hiking clothes. From the same parking lot we were able to walk to the smaller Verkamp’s Visitor Center.
The Hopi House was an incredible collection of Native American-made art and jewelry; it felt more like a gallery than a gift shop. They also had information about individual artists, and noted when items were not authentically made by Indigenous Peoples.