One of the beautiful things about our National Parks is that they allow for families with fourth grade students to enter the parks for free during that year. I have kids in 6th, 5th, 3rd, and 1st grades. Oops! The good news is, we were able to help the National Parks by purchasing an Annual Pass and we could feel fancy when we drove up and had an official hang tag for our van. (One morning we arrived at the park before it opened, because we didn’t have to worry about paying to park we just drove in and carried on. Another hiker asked me about how we were supposed to pay for parking and I felt like a pro when I replied, “Oh, we have an annual parks pass so I really don’t know. I’m so sorry!” It was a VIP moment.) That being said, our first time through the park gates at Grand Canyon we met a park ranger who apparently had already dealt with her share of dumb tourists and was less than patient with our unsigned pass. (We literally just needed to use a pen and sign the back.) We made it through the gates with only a little reprimanding and our day was ready to begin.
We parked at the visitor’s center and hopped on a shuttle to our first hike. I don’t know that I realized how vast the National Park really was, or how far the distance between trail heads would be. Fortunately for us the shuttle system was easy and mostly empty. Our kids made a habit of going to the back of the shuttle and people generally avoided us. This happens a lot in life. People see a big group of kids and move to the opposite end of the space. Works for me. We also had Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer in our bags. We were not planning to bring home any viruses (or germs of any kind really!)
Our first hike was the South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point. It is described as a hard 5.4 mile, 1978 ft elevation gain, out & back hike on our All Trails app. I would say that it lived up to that description. Before leaving for our trip I made the last minute executive decision to buy YakTraks (think snow chains for your feet instead of your tires) for each of our hiking boots to help us with snow and ice on the trails. They were not hugely expensive, but like all things it added up quickly when you figure 7 pairs. I was hesitant to buy them, reluctant to pull them out of the packaging, and even a little nervous about whether they would fly in carry on bags without causing problems in security. When all was said and done they ended up being a clutch purchase. The first part of our hike was certainly a little icy, and day two’s hike would prove to be even more so. And the kids had fun talking about their YakTraks like they were All Pro Hikers.
We started off the day cold and layered up (and one of us was wearing a new headband-style ear warmer that her family would later tell her looked kind of silly. But not until after MANY pictures were taken. I will let you guess which of us it was…) The hike down into the canyon was fairly easy. It was a decline, and the trail was pretty empty of other hikers. Unlike the hiking we do in the mountains of North Carolina there would be no summit at the turning point of the hike, so we were really free to turn around at any point without a worry that we went all that way “for nothing”. A surprising benefit of hiking in this particular National Park were the composting toilets along the trail. For once the girls and I wouldn’t suffer for our inability to potty in the woods. These were like individual restrooms with a clean-ish place to answer nature’s call in privacy. The negative of canyon vs. mountain hiking was realized as soon as we made it to our turnaround point. You see we had hiked until we were ready to turn around…and then the hard part was still waiting there for us. No “it’s all downhill from here” to motivate us down the mountainside. We had to make it to the top. And our little troopers did it. The views throughout the canyon were incredible. We had never seen a landscape quite like the one we were exploring.
What was described as anywhere from 5.4-6.5 miles of trail from point to point logged in our gps as closer to 7.8 by the time we factored in getting to the trail head and retracing our steps in search of a lost YakTrak. By the time we finished we were able to get into our room for the next two nights. We were able to book a room at the Yavapai Lodge in the park. The rooms had everything we needed once we blew up an extra air mattress for sleeping space. As soon as we got into the room we started the bath/shower portion of the evening. And the littlest kids laid down to rest while they waited for the rest of us to be ready. Grace’s “rest” quickly turned to deep sleep…to the point that we eventually had to wake her to be able to go to dinner. We tried out the Yavapai Lounge and it suited us perfectly. We were able to find two tables in the overflow dining area that we could push together. We were out of the way and didn’t have to worry about the fact that we had at least one sleepy kid and quite a few “hangry” ones.
There is a strange phenomenon I have noticed when children are embarking on any type of grueling physical tasks. Adult passers-by feel compelled to tell those children that they have earned an ice cream cone for their work. I don’t know why this happens. And more often than not it involves us telling the kids that it’s tough luck for them, but on this trip, and this night, ice cream was had by all. We were exhausted and full and ready for a good night of sleep.
In order to be ready for a smooth morning we had to have things prepped the night before. The dorky, organized part of me LOVED this part of the trip. Clothes were planned and stacked. Lunches were made. (The first day we bought premade sandwiches from the grocery store, but we quickly switched to our reusable sandwich bags and in-room prepared peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It is an essential truth of hiking that ALL FOOD tastes better on the trail. Except apparently the egg salad sandwich Lily requested from the grocery. THAT was gross.) We had a system of emptying and refilling water bladders for backpacks and making sure everyone had the items they would need for the hike. It was a Type A dream.
Once our prep was complete, the one hurdle to that good night’s sleep was the fact that we had 7 people on two queen beds and a twin air mattress. More than once in the night a child flung him or herself over the top of a sleeping sibling. More than once a kid on the bed knocked something off of the nightstand onto the sleeping face of an air mattress resident. But we survived.
As morning dawned (or more accurately, before morning dawned in AZ but approximately when it would have dawned in NC) we got ourselves dressed and geared up for another hike. We also had our second round of what we loving called the 2020 Snack Draft. We took turns choosing our Clif bars and trail mixes that we most desired as we prepared for our hike snack needs. And then it was out into the darkness to watch the sunrise over Grand Canyon for hiking day 2.
Continue to follow our adventure Our Trip West: Hiking Day Two