Month: February, 2007

Last look: Grand Canyon

Monday, February 26th, 2007 | All Things, Travel

Our final day started well before dawn, as we dragged ourselves achily from our toasty beds to catch the sun’s rise over the Canyon. The Park sponsors a “Surnrise” bus tour, but J and I decided to explore for ourselves.

We bundled up with our warmers — thanks SYB! — and set out onto Hermit Road, which leads 8 miles west from Grand Canyon Village to Hermit’s Rest. From March through November, the road is closed off to private vehicles, but in February, we had the rare opportunity to make our own way there without the shuttle bus. Mile for mile, this stretch of road has the greatest concentration of breathtaking viewpoints in the park — each more remote and spectacular than the last. Along the way, there are eight overlooks: Trailview, Maricopa Point, Powell Point, Hopi Point, Mohave Point, The Abyss, Pima Point, and Hermit’s Rest. The official tour stopped as far west as Hopi, so beyond that point, we had the views practically to ourselves.

Hermit’s Rest is the westernmost stop on the South Rim and lies at the end of Hermit Road. It was constructed originally as a rest stop along the stage line to El Tovar. Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter designed this National Historic Landmark structure in 1914 to blend with its natural setting — a stone building set just a few feet from the rim edge, and tucked into a small man-made earthen mound.

The building now houses a snack bar and gift shop — both shuttered for the season. In fact, save for a couple of Arizona gray squirrels, we were alone.

Hermits Rest

Canyon Sunrise

At Powell Point, the site of a memorial to Civil War veteran John Wesley Powell, who, in 1869 with a party of nine men, became the first person to navigate the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

Powell Point

After our morning trek, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast — J’s long-anticipated French toast — at the Bright Angel Lodge. Back at the Maswik, we packed up our things, and hit the road for the scenic drive back to Phoenix. Until next time, Grand Canyon!

Canyon Sunrise

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Dinner at El Tovar

Sunday, February 25th, 2007 | All Things, Eats, Travel

Canyon sunset:

Grand Canyon Sunset

Grand Canyon Sunset

Stunning, eh? Just remember to watch your step!

Danger Sign

I had read that reservations are essential for dining at the historic El Tovar Hotel, which is generally considered the best table at the Canyon. J and I made the arrangements our first day in the park, so after our long day on the trails, we were looking forward to fine dining in relative luxury.

The pine and stone hotel was built in 1905, just 20 feet from the Canyon rim, and is a registered National Historic Landmark. The El Tovar originated as a “Harvey House,” one of an American Southwest chain of railway hotels and restaurants built from the 1870s by English immigrant Fred Harvey in conjunction with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. The hotel was staffed then by single women recruited through newspaper ads from towns and cities across the country, who came to be known as “Harvey Girls.” The Fred Harvey Company, now Xanterra Parks & Resorts, has managed El Tovar since it opened over a century ago.

The casually elegant hotel is modeled after a European hunting lodge. It was designed by Charles Whittlesey, the Railway’s chief architect, and decorated with Native American artwork by architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, who was also responsible for many of the historic structures around the Grand Canyon.

El Tovar lobby

The rustic 19th-century dining room is built of hand-hewn logs, with beamed ceilings and picture windows that overlook the South Rim. After seven hours on muleback, braving biting winds and rugged terrain, our china-plated mesquite-grilled entrees and glasses of wine never felt so civilized.

El Tovar dining room

El Tovar charger

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Up, up, up and out

Sunday, February 25th, 2007 | All Things, Travel

The 6-mile ride back up to the rim took about an hour longer than the descent. Along the way, there were rest stops, during which the mules turned to face out into canyon as they caught their breaths, while we riders remained in our saddles and just enjoyed the view.

Plateau Point

Indian Gardens


A goat and raven, enjoying the same view:

Goat and Raven

The mules worked up quite a sweat tackling the Jacobs Ladder switchbacks, and as the temperatures dropped, the moisture on their fur turned to ice crystals.

Jacobs Ladder Rest

A look back at Plateau Point, the end of the trail. Hard to believe we were there just a couple hours earlier.

Plateau Point View

Mule Trail

Back at the corrals, our group dismounted before the small crowd that had gathered to catch the amusing spectacle. J and I hobbled our way back to the lodge, backs throbbing, knees buckling, bones aching,… and yes, it was entirely worth it.

Phantom Ranch in 2008?

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