Junior Rangers and a Grand Adventure

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We just got home from an amazing adventure. We took a road trip to the Grand Canyon, parked our pop-up at Mather Campground and spent five days exploring. It was one of the best vacations ever.

When we got to the park, we spent the first evening setting up and running out to Mather Point to catch the last few minutes of sunset. It was our first glimpse of the canyon and it’s true – pictures don’t fully express the grandness of the canyon. You can’t see the depth and the color that seems to change depending on your location and the time of day. It’s pretty darn beautiful.

We arrived on a Sunday evening and spent Monday through Friday exploring. We decided to start at one end and work our way down the South Rim.

Highlights of the Trip:

Mule Deer: These guys were awesome to watch. The campground was relatively empty Monday through Wednesday so we had lots of Mule Deer foraging in the area. We gave them plenty of space, as you should. But they didn’t seem to be bothered at all by our presence. They even came to our campsite to chew on s few trees, and a pair of deer settled in for a nap in the campsite across from us. At one point a group of five large males with big antlers were all withing a few hundred feet of us. They lose their antlers every year and grow new ones, but if you find antlers, you must leave them where they lie. They are protected within the park.

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Hiking in the Canyon: We had a tight grip on the kids for both canyon hikes that we went on, but traveling down into it was like stepping into a different world. The huge walls and cliffs of limestone, shale, and sandstone were awesome.

Earning the Junior Ranger Badges: The kids completed the activities in their workbooks and attended two Ranger talks (Critter Chat and Geology Glimpse). When they did their park pledge and received their badges from the ranger they were so proud! They are now Junior Rangers at two parks – Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree.

Here is what our week-long adventure looked like:

Desert View Watchtower Day 1: We first went to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center and picked up Junior Ranger books for the kids. We don’t explore National Parks without these awesome books and the kids love working on their workbooks and earning their Junior Ranger Badges.

Then we drove about 25 miles to Desert View Watchtower, stopping at the Tusayan Museum and Ruin on the way. The short, self-guided paths at Tusayan were fun to explore and the kids enjoyed seeing what was left of the meeting areas and storage rooms that local tribes built and used nearly 1000 years ago.

The Watchtower, built in 1932 in the Ancestral Puebloan style, was exciting. There are four levels, with 85 steps to climb, an outdoor observation deck, and is painted inside with Native American symbols. From the top of the Watchtower you can look out and view the Grand Canyon from the highest point in the park. There are many lookout points on the side of the road that travels along South Rim, and we stopped at all the major points on our way back to camp.

On our last stop we were surprised to find a herd of elk resting in the trees. They were pretty amazing to see.

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Day 2: We hiked South Kaibab trail about a mile down into the canyon to a spot called Ooh Aah Point. This is the first main stop on the trail with a grand view of the giant canyon that is spread out in front of you. People tend to walk out on the rock pile for a better view, but we help on to the kids and stopped to rest and have a small snack before heading back up. The hike up is tough, but my 5- and 8-year olds handled it well. They say it is equivalent to climbing 76 flights of stairs to get back up from this point. The trail is semi-rocky with lots of built-in steps to climb.

Day 3: We spent the bulk of our day traveling the Hermit’s Rest route. You can take the free shuttle bus to many major lookout points and end up at Hermit’s Rest, a stone building that was built in 1914 for tourists and travelers. You can get on and off the shuttle bus to get from one location to another, but there is also a trail that goes along the path that you can walk on. We opted to walk a stretch of the path where the lookout points were closer together and got back on the bus for the longer distances. Overall, this adventure took us about 4 hours, but if you stay on the bus it’s about an hour and a half.

Day 4: We hiked down into the canyon on the Bright Angel Trail. This path was a little less rocky and there weren’t a lot of steps built into it so I thought it was easier than the South Kaibab Trail. There are two tunnels to pass through on this hike – meaning that you pass through holes in giant boulders on the canyon trail. The first tunnel is a short distance from the trail head and is an easy out and back walk. The lower tunnel is about a mile down from the trail head. Getting back up is like climbing 65 flights of stairs.  We also went to the Geology Museum and attended the Geology Glimpse ranger talk which was fun and informative and the kids got their Junior Ranger books signed for attending one of the ranger talks.

Day 5: Day five was crowded in the park. People were filtering in for the weekend. We spent the day collecting souvenirs from the Hopi House and the Bright Angel area.

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Our trip was an unforgettable experience and the time we took for it was perfect. We got to see everything along the South Rim without rushing. We planned family meals that we made together in the Pop-up trailer. We had no television. One of the smartest things we did was keep our cooler and dry food in the back of the car. After our hikes or while we were out exploring, all we had to do was pop the back open and make sandwiches, complete with drinks, chips, and other snacks.

Lastly, my camera broke almost the moment we got there. Turns out that was good and bad for me. Bummer because I didn’t have a camera, but wonderful because I spent the entire trip capturing memories with my eyes and enjoying each moment, rather than fumbling for the camera to get a picture and missing tiny moments in between.

The day after Thanksgiving is GreenFriday and many California State Parks are offering free passes to get outside, rather than going shopping. Click here to find your park and get a pass. Spend time with your family this Thanksgiving holiday. What do you want your next adventure to be?

For more information about the Grand Canyon and to start planning your trip, Visit the National Park Service website.

 

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