Saturday, October 02, 2010

SWS Day 3 - The Mighty Canyon

Thursday, August 26, 2010 - Dee and I awoke early (again!) and quickly stole away from our comatose teens to watch the Sedona sunrise. Taking a set of outside stairs beside the Amara's spa building, we found a secluded observation deck that placed us above the treetops for a perfect view of the surrounding red cliffs. The morning air bordered on frigid, but we forgot about all that as we watched the red cliffs (near and far) suddenly light up from the first rays of the Sun. It was an amazing show - colours ever-changing as the Sun rose higher to, finally, make an appearance over the distant cliffs.

Dee greets the dawn.

By 7:30am we needed to have our luggage ready for unseen Disney elves to load up on the coach - a process that would happen while we were distracted by a final Amara breakfast. And by 8:00am Dan was driving us out of Sedona towards the day's destination - The Grand Canyon! We made a quick pit-stop on the outskirts of Sedona at a place called Airport Mesa. This is the location of one of Sedona's (in)famous 'energy vortexs' - a source of spiritual or psychic energy. I can't say that I felt anything unusual, but an inspiration for a lottery number would not have been unwelcome.

As we made our way North-ish towards the Canyon, we made a brief stop in Williams - a little town trying to build a tourist trade on the fact that the original Route 66 runs down its main street. We poked our heads into a few shops selling slightly-tacky tourist swag. We also had time to visit their 'train museum', which is fundamentally a preserved steam engine from times gone by.

The Boy gets his kicks on Route 66

Back on the road we went until lunchtime, when we stopped just short of the Canyon in a little town called Tusayan. Our lunch destination: a small restaurant called We Cook Pizza. The staff were all ready for us with a meal of pizza, salad, chicken wings, and deserts. It was nothing fancy, mind you, just a modest eatery offering decent food.

Next stop was, of course, the Grannd Canyon! We first hit up the Visitor's Centre near Mather Point. Dan parked the coach and we more-or-less made a beeline to the Canyon's edge. I found I was not prepared for two important facts. Number one: the Canyon is LARGE - much larger than I ever imagined. Number two: there are no railings preventing you from climbing over the edge (which only makes sense given the hundreds of miles of Canyon edge).

The Girl has her first Grand Canyon encounter.

We walked the trail along the South Rim, taking picture after picture. Around every bend, rock, and scrubby tree was a new vista worthy of a new photo. Some of us got brave and ventured out onto rock ledges for a more 'extreme' vacation memory. At one point we were even lucky enough to spot a Condor! Our stroll went as far as Yavapai Point, at which point our few hours were coming to an an end, and so we made the trip back to the Visitor's Centere to board our coach.

Our next stop was to check-in to our hotel - Thunderbird Lodge. The Lodge is close to the village of Grand Canyon and perched on the rim of the Canyon, itself. And when I say perched, I mean that one could stand in their hotel room and quite easily throw a baseball into the Canyon. Needless to say, the Canyon-facing rooms (which are standard on the ABD tour) have an amazing view. Now I know that Thunderbird Lodge gets a bit of bad rap as being low-scale in comparison to ABD's typically up-scale accomodations. As an ABD (and general travel) veteran, I will agree that's true. The rooms are small and the amenities are very simple. But I will also add that the Lodge is clean and well-maintained - and the real point of it all is its proximity to the Canyon rim. For my family, the Lodge did not disappoint in the slightest.

After some free time to rest and explore a bit, our group met for a 6:30pm dinner in a private room on the second floor of the Lodge. And, of course, there was that view again! Dinner included barbequed steak and chicken (cooked however we prefered) and a buffet with choices of potato salad, garden salads, and the like. There was even locally-produced beer (and wine) to wash down our (quite delicious) dinner. While various large tables had been set up bistro-style, our small group (who had gotten quite chummy over the past few days) elected to push all the tables together for a more family-style atmosphere. It might have been too much food, too many refreshments, or too little sleep, but I enjoyed my myself immensely!

As if the day had not been full enough, a trio of local Native Americans provided after-dinner entertainment for us all. They sang, they danced, they told stories about their culture. The highlight for me was a young fellow who did a traditional Hoop Dance - a truly incredible sight. And for the finale, our group was invited into a circle with with the performers where we learned to do a Friendship Dance. Now, I will openly admit that public displays of awkwardness - dancing included - are something I avoid, but I had a heckuva good time dancing in that circle - even if my feet may not have been totally in sync!

Native dances require a lot of feathers.

After the performers and the last of the desert had left the building, everyone drifted off to their rooms or, perhaps, a moonlight stroll along the Canyon rim. We decided to check out the Bright Angel Lodge (the Thunderbird's next-door neighbour). Even at 9:00pm-ish the gift shop was packed. But the more interesting sight (besides the Canyon) was the hotel lobby - packed to the rafters with electronic gadgets attached to spastic thumbs who, themselves, were attached to intensely focused guests all taking advantage of the free wifi. I will, also, admit to pulling out my iTouch and taking a quick spin on the Information Highway.

Walking back to the Thunderbird, we were struck at how beautiful the Canyon looks under a moonlit sky. The rocky cliffs and fearless trees all took on a million shades of silver. Standing there like that, I could imagine losing myself in that silvery vista and shuffling to my doom over the pitch-black rim. But rather than succumbing to that weird temptation, I followed my family back to our room. I was tired, and I knew the next day would require energetic legs.


Sayhello said...

Sounds like a marvelous day! So you didn't do the nature hike through Red Rocks State Park? That's too bad, I really liked that. But the time in Williams sounds really nice (isn't Williams also where the train to the Rim starts?)

We did lunch & shopping at Tlaquepaque, then headed to the Grand Canyon after lunch. So we didn't get to the Canyon until much later in the day. I imagine the extra time at the canyon was nice. Our hotel was in Tusayan, and we had dinner at the pizza place after our full day at the canyon.

I really like the sound of the Thunderbird, as far as the experience of staying right at the Rim is concerned. Sometimes you have to give up some comforts for things like LOCATION! I can't imagine watching the sun rise over the canyon. Setting was cool enough!

Looking forward to more!


Crazylegs said...

Sayhello - It was a very marvelous day! Williams is nice enough, but the hour or so we spent there seemed like enough time to me. And, yes, it is, indeed, the place where you can board a train to the Rim.)

The tour has changed a little bit since your ABD experience (I recall talking to a Guide about this). They don't do the Red Rock hike anymore so as to provide a bit more time at the Canyon. And they no longer use the hotel in Tusayan - simply because of its location versus Thunderbrd Lodge. Also, they do not include Tlaquepaque on the agenda anymore. ABD felt (and my wife and I can agree on this) that it's a lovely-to-look-at place without a lot going on there.

I'm glad you're enjoying these posts (I love writing them)! I'm trying to keep them confined to just the highlights so as to keep some surprises for trip newbies (i.e. keep them a LOT shorter my previous ABD trip reports). But they are still taking a long time to produce since I'm *also* editing my way through the hours of video I shot during the trip!

Slow and steady, etc. etc.