The Grand Canyon is a six to seven-hour drive from Las Vegas. It’s a drive that has an expansive, flat landscape and no-man's-land feel. There are long stretches of road with few rest areas, so bring provisions. We made a pit stop at the Hoover Dam, which straddles Arizona and Nevada. Before arriving at the Hoover Dam, all cars must go through an inspection point. Most cars are waved through after a short chat with the guard. Not us. After the guard caught a glimpse of the large, mangled cardboard box in our backseat, we were waived to the side for a more thorough inspection. The box, containing our camping gear from Mountain Side Gear Rental, wasn’t even looked at during the prolonged probe. I suggest the following if you are to pass through a security checkpoint of any kind, while on a roadtrip:
- Be sure to know where the buttons are on your rental car to pop the hood and trunk. We did not, which led to an embarrassing exchange at the checkpoint.
- If at all possible, only speak in the official language. As I translated what the inspector and police officer were asking us to my travel companion in Spanish, I could see the two male inspectors looking ever inquisitively at us, thinking: Maybe they are part of some kind of blonde female Spanish-American rebel faction.
- Dress appropriately for the final destination. Ours was a campground. We were wearing skirts, which only fueled suspicion that we were in some kind of lady mafia.
After having a check under the hood and in the trunk, we were sent on our way. We wound up to the Dam and I got my first taste of vertigo while on the Dam-adjacent walkway. There was no way I would be setting foot on the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a glass bridge that juts out over the Grand Canyon. We snapped some photos; used the restroom, a hole in the ground, with a plastic seat enclosure around it, a standard for park loos; and we continued on to the Canyon.
During the drive, we were able to hop on and off the iconic Route 66 (a 2,400-mile route connecting Chicago to Los Angeles established on November 11, 1926). Route 66 follows the old trails laid out by the early explorers and railroad and was even called the "Mother Road" by great American novelist, John Steinbeck. We stopped for a bite and a trip back to the 50s at Mr. D’z Route 66 diner in Kingman, AZ. I recommend the hamburger with fresh avocado and fries.
Our destination, Mather Campground (South Rim) Grand, Canyon (3-night stay for 2 people: $54) lay an hour and a half away. We stopped at a supermarket for food and propane (the only things the Mountain Side Gear Rental car camping kit doesn't come with) and prayed the sun wouldn't go down before we arrived. If you think you'll arrive at any of the Canyon campgrounds after 8pm, call: 877-444-6777 or 877-448-1474. The reservation confirmation email will advise you to call another number and leave a message, however we were told that the messages are hardly ever checked. The alternative numbers listed will connect you to 'live' people instead.
We didn't beat the sun setting and didn't have to pay the park vehicle entrance fee of $25 upon arrival as the staff was having a monthly meeting. FYI: If no one is at the entrance when you arrive and you don't leave the grounds during your entire stay, then you pocket the $25 vehicle fee.
We checked in, got a map and headed to 268 Pine Loop. We flew out of the car in our inappropriate outfits, lighting the tent plot with the car's headlights and attempted to pitch the tent. A voice in the distance asked if we needed help. A guy with a red mark on his face and what appeared to be blood at the top of our shirt approached. We didn't think much of his appearance, as within minutes, he had our tent pitched. We learned later that our hero boy scout, Matt, was at the Canyon for a First Responders Course, and the red mark and 'blood' were fake wounds from a morning class.
Life on the South Rim was great, we were a short drive from the general store, bank, post office and showers ($2 in quarters for an 8 minute shower; hair dryers available). There was also one computer with Internet ($2 in dollars or use a credit card for 8 minutes) and laundry machines. Our fellow campers helped us out immensely. In addition to Matt, a couple (the man a trombone player, the woman a speech pathologist) helped us blow up our air mattresses and gave us a home-cooked first meal. The facilities were clean and there was a ranger on patrol in the early morning and evenings. The following are hike suggestions (we did both):
Day One: Rim Trail: An easy-going, fairly flat trail that goes around the edge of the Canyon and is dotted by gift shops, restrooms, fresh water fountains, an art studio and the Bright Angel Lodge, a hotel and the main watering hole in the area.
Day Two: Bright Angel Trail: A steep hike that drops 4380 feet into the Canyon. Don't attempt to hike all the way to the river in one day. Leave early, as hiking in the hot sun between 10am-4pm is not advisable. Bring plenty of water and snacks. We heard a number of horror stories about dehydration and one about a female who drank too much water and flushed her system of salt.