By Car, Grand Canyon
Our tours are designed for people who understand that every second in every moment of this tour (and life) is not perfect. The glass is half-full and we'll have fun with whatever parts splash out. We hope that by the end of the day that your Grand Canyon tour with us was the highlight of your trip.
West Rim of the canyon with its helicopter rides is only 2.5 hours away from the pleasure capital Las Vegas. That is, if you rely on old-fashioned maps and your brains as opposed to the latest gadgets spinning off the GPS system. On the highway between Las Vegas and Kingman there is a turn off onto a secondary road leading straight to the helicopter pad. Unfortunately, this turn is not advertised until the last moment and moreover this is not part of the computer knowledge of Garmin navigator, so "she" wants you do drive all the way to Kingman and come back almost 180 degrees, making a huge loop that is totally unnecessary and time consuming. If you follow the navigator's instructions you will have to drive for at least one hour more so ignore "her" until "she" looses here breath and turns "her" voice hoarse like a crow and totally shuts up. OK, if looking at the countryside is your purpose but definitely not OK if you are to catch a helicopter flight within 2.5 hours away from your Las Vegas departure point. Mind you there is another little hurdle on the way. On Indian territory part of the road is covered just with gravel and particularly slow especially when the locals are active doing their errands with pick-up trucks filled up to the tilt with necessities of life.
As I said in my introduction, the North Rim is a lot more remote than the South and harder to get to. That is its charm, but it means that you will probably have to use a car (tours almost all go only to the South Rim from what I’ve been able to find out) and plan ahead. The whole area is completely closed to motor traffic from mid November to mid May, or even a little later if the snowfall is especially bad. The winter of 1992/3 was one such, and staff at the Lodge told us that they had been late opening that Spring and had arrived to do so when the snow was still as high as the Lodge roof on one side.
Don’t underestimate the distance you will need to drive. Here are some typical journeys:
~ from the South Rim – 212 miles / 341 kilometres (we did this in reverse on our departure)
~ from Flagstaff, AZ – 207 miles / 333 kilometres
~ from Las Vegas, NV (the route we came by) – 275 miles/ 443 kilometres
~ from Phoenix, AZ – 351 miles / 565 kilometres
There are several ways you can travel in order to reach one of the South Rim entrances to Grand Canyon, some are prettier, some are faster :)
Fastest: Take Hwy64 northbound from I-40 at Williams Arizona, just west of Flagstaff. The road is smooth and the speed limit is about 65mph most of the way. About 5 miles south of the park, you'll pass through the town of Tusayan. There's lodging, food, gas stations, a National Geographic IMAX theater, and the airport that serves the Canyon air tours. The drive up to that point isn't very inspiring, but it is a timesaver.
Prettiest: Take Hwy 89 northbound from I-40 just east of Flagstaff. You miss most of Flagstaff traffic this way. About 12 miles up, you'll see a little sign for a road to the right for the Sunset Crater National Monument. After taking a little time to visit the crater, you can continue on this same loop to Wupatki National Monument; an old native American pueblo whose ruins you can explore. You can continue on the loop until it takes you back to Hwy 89. Continue North to the town of Cameron. There you can catch Hwy 64 which will take you to the East Entrance to Grand Canyon. Even if you don't take the scenic loop described here, it is about an hour longer than the 'fastest' route I described above. BUT it is gorgeous! Empty in most places, you can see volcanic rocks poking through the ground cover - you'll spy hogans: Navajo round traditional homes, red soil, and of course roadside stands selling local crafts and artworks along the shoulder. You'll catch glimpses of the grandeur to come as the canyon forms along the North side of the road.
I took the 'fastest' in, and the 'prettiest' out! You can combine them any way you want ... just remember to take time to explore as you drive; take pullouts and enjoy the vistas before you. And once you reach the park, take every turnout you cross - you won't be disappointed!
Since I was busy driving, you'll have to be content with this map from the NPS website though and just take my word about the views :)
The garage at Grand Canyon is great in a pinch. I discovered that Mother was putting Automatic Transmission Fluid in the oil. She misread/didn't read the bottle. Well since we had done well over 500 miles in the car to get to the Grand Canyon, we really didn't want to go any further than we had to but the garage was cutting down on what they were doing. Thankfully, the wonderful guys there made an exception (probably laughing their butts off behind out backs :) and gave us an oil change.
So we had a great experience with the garage and are happy to recommend them if you need work done desparately on the vehicle.
In 1966, when my husband was transferred from the USNavy Post Graduate School in Monterey CA to Key West Florida, we had two children and three cars. We shipped one car from San Francisco to Miami by rail, and then drove the other two cars. My husband drove the 1932 Plymouth (pictured) and I drove our 1963 VW bus. My parents came out from Maryland to make the trip with us.
We left Monterey and did an overnight stop in Calico CA near Barstow and visited the Ghost Town. The next day, we passed Twenty-Nine Palms, and stopped for the night in Kingman AZ. In those days of course, there was no I-40. From there we went up US 180 to the park and entered at the South Entrance.
I took this picture (a digitized slide) from the driver's seat of our VW bus. You can see the steering wheel reflected in the windshield. My husband has stopped to avoid hitting some cows that were wandering around on the open range land.
After we left the park by the East Entrance (Desert View) we went up US 89 and across US 160 to Four Corners and Mesa Verde CO.
It was a bit of a challenge to find a parking spot at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
My advise is to come early if possible or be patient. There are a lot more cars than parking spots.
One word of advise is try to know where youare going before you arrive so you don't get frustrated or lost.
Once you get parked use the shuttle buses - it's free and you can let them do the driving.
It's quite easy to get there and park. Take the main highway off the interstate (is it I20 or I40?). Hey, it's a huge hole in the middle of a desert with people solely making money off you to see it, do you think you will miss it?
I would not do this again based on the terrible sunburn I got while driving through Oak Creek Canyon, despite the many layers of sunblock, but last trip I took to the Grand Canyon was in a cherry red Mazda Miata. Why do I mention that it was cherry red? Well umm...ok so I took my picture with the cherry red Miata with...my black and white film. Oops! You drive into the Grand Canyon and there is a fee. Something to the tune of $20 for the car I believe. It is valid for several days though. Once you drive in, find a place to park and look around. Any place will do and you can move from place to place also for some different views!