Day 2 started super early also, as I woke up around 2AM. I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to stumble around the hotel room, iron my clothes, and get ready in a non-rushed fashion. We had to meet our tour bus at 6:25AM at Excalibur, with no exceptions. The instructions were clear that the bus driver was strict about schedule and would leave without people if they were late. As a constant late person, this freaked me out so I wanted to allow extra time. (Also, allowing yourself extra time to get anywhere in Vegas is a really good idea because things are massive and spread out.)
One beautiful thing about getting up early - the sunrise. I was able to catch a glimpse of it in between hotels that morning. It made me wish I was a naturally early riser.
Initially, we were going to try to rent a car and drive to the Grand Canyon. While the West Rim is only two hours from Vegas, the South Rim is four hours away and often recommended as the rim to see if you have a choice. Sean wanted to be able to relax and not drive, but the South Rim tours we looked at were just far out of our budget. When we set out to plan activities for our vacation, browsing Groupon eluded me until I went looking for a Grand Canyon tour. Suddenly, we found discounted prices for meals, shows, and tours. Groupon is a great option for saving some money on your vacation, no matter where you are traveling. Do make sure you will be able to use the coupon on the date you are traveling and check for any blackout dates. The particular tour we bought had really great reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp and felt like a good fit for us. Via the Groupon, it was also about 50% cheaper than it would be originally which was also a great fit! lol The price included a warm breakfast and a box lunch as well. (This company also offers tours to the West Rim and Hoover Dam.)
We hoofed it to the Excalibur next door with about ten minutes to spare. The tour bus stops at certain hotels along the Strip to pick up passengers. When you book your tour, you choose which stop is most convenient and they give you a time to meet up. We had no idea what kind of bus we were looking for, so when one pulled up on time we got in that line. Turns out that one was going to the West Rim and our driver found us in the line and brought us to the right vehicle.
We chose Comedy On Deck Tours for the price, convenience, and exceptional reviews online. The actual trip wasn't quite what I had expected based on the reviews, but it wasn't bad either. I would actually use this tour company again. Based on the reviews, I thought we would have a really witty, outgoing driver/tour guide who talked a lot. (They train their guides and drivers by comedians.) While our driver was very nice, friendly, and helpful, he didn't have that energy that I expected. Not that I was super energetic. I did end up sleeping a fair amount of our drive.
There were only ten passengers on our trip that day, so we were in a smaller coach bus with a driver who also acted as a tour guide. He pointed out spots along the way, like when we passed the Hoover Dam and talked about the history of some of the towns we passed through. You can only see the dam when traveling west, so it was completely dark when we passed it on our way back to Vegas that night. However, it is all lit up and looks like a massive castle fortress! It is quite impressive! But I digress....
I did fall in and out of sleep during the four hour drive, but I was so self-conscious about possibly snoring on the quiet bus that I tried my best to stay awake. During the trip, a small television at the front of the bus was pulled down to play comedy movies to keep us entertained. Turner and Hooch and Paul Blart: Mall Cop were the movies of our trip. Obviously, you can bring your own devices to watch or listen to something on your own.
A couple of hours into the trip, we had a half hour stop at a truck stop diner/convenience store for breakfast and a restroom break. When we first boarded the bus, the driver gave us a piece of paper with about five different breakfast meal options. We marked what we wanted for breakfast and chose our sandwich for our box lunch too (turkey, ham, or vegetarian). The trip was very organized to ensure we had enough time at the Grand Canyon to see as much as possible. Once seated at the diner, we showed our pieces of paper to the waitress, who was swift about getting us our meals and coffee.
Before our turn off to head towards Grand Canyon National Park, the driver stopped at a hotel to pick up our great little box lunches. The lunches consisted of a nice sandwich, apple, carrot sticks, celery sticks and ranch, granola bar, potato chips, and a mini bottle of water. There was also a restroom break at a gift shop with lots of jewelry, t-shirts, Native American pots, dolls, etc. This was also a convenience store in case you need something extra to drink or any snacks. Some of the gifts here are cheaper than at the Grand Canyon, so look around and check prices because you stop here again after you leave the park.
Upon arriving, our driver gave us information on the park and the canyon itself, including many warnings not to get too close to the edge (people fall off the edge more than you might imagine. Rather recently, we were told, a lady pushed her husband off the side, which our driver referred to as "an 8-second divorce" because it doesn't take very long for a human being to fall the mile down to the bottom of the canyon.) and to be cautious of the very aggressive squirrels who will crawl up your body and maul you in hopes of getting whatever food you may be eating.
Because we had three hours to spend, we had the option of spending a little bit of time at our current location at the canyon and then boarding the bus to a farther point a few miles away; or we could start at our current location and walk the three miles to the finishing point, where we were to meet up with everyone before we left. Our driver was very adamant that everyone be on time to the finish point so no one was left behind or on the trail after dark. He handed out maps he had drawn himself to make sure we knew where we were starting and where we were meeting up, with landmark points labeled in between for those that chose to walk the trail.
This map of the South Rim highlights our walk in red, followed by a map of the Grand Canyon Village area with a closer look at our path:
The weather was gorgeously sunny and not too hot, so Sean and I chose to walk the three miles. It was particularly windy that day (the driver said it was the windiest he had seen it in a long time), but we thought it was great natural air-conditioning. I just wished I brought a hair tie. Sean had to fashion one for me out of wire.
We walked up to Mather Point to get our first glimpse at the Grand Canyon. I think I took some pretty great photos on our trip, but nothing compares to seeing it in person. I am kind of an emotional person anyway, but it was so beautiful that I teared up. We just stood there in amazement for a while, taking it all in.
At Mather Point, there are safety railings and benches, so we sat down to eat some of our boxed lunch. By this time, it was around noon and we were getting pretty hungry. After taking a couple of bites of our sandwich and staring at the beautiful canyon in front of us, Sean noticed a squirrel moving closer to us with determination in his eyes. We stood up and tried to shoo at him, quickly packing our lunches away in Sean's backpack. Not wanting to be attacked by Mr. Squirrel, we walked back down to the parking lot and found a spot to sit and finish our sandwiches. We consolidated the rest of our boxes and headed back to the trail to start our three mile trek.
There were plenty of people around the main points like this, so we took a bit longer taking photos and waiting for people to move from prime positions. An older man and his family offered to take our photo if we took theirs. While the strong wind made him almost drop my camera, it was nice to have one of us together that wasn't a selfie situation. A majority of the rest of the trail, particularly after the first mile, it was just Sean and I walking at our leisure and taking photos. It was a glorious way to spend an afternoon!
Below is one of a handful of lookout points with railings. Most of the trail did not have any kind of railings or other safety features. There were parts of the trail with shoulders between the path as big as six to eight feet and other parts where there was just a couple of feet between you and a mile long drop off. Factor in the wind and there were parts of the trail that felt very precarious. We tried to be as safe as possible.
An example of a decent amount of space between path and edge:
If you look carefully on top of the far left rock below, you will see two humans who have lost their minds. Can you see them?
Need a closer look? These dumb dumbs ventured out onto this overlook that had no safety features whatsoever. They stayed out for as long as it took us to trek by them, taking photos and climbing around on the rock's edge. Did I mention the wind was greater than 30 miles-per-hour?? It was pushing me around like crazy and I am easily twice the size and weight of the people pictured.
More dumbies climbing around, sitting on the edge of the canyon, and climbing out on a rock to take a photo....I bet the photo looked amazing, but I wasn't about to die trying to get one. Thank you very much!
Just as wonderful and interesting as the canyon were the trees and shrubbery lining the path on either side. I've only been in a desert-like location a few times in my life, so I find the vegetation fascinating. The area of the path on our left side had trees, shrubbery, and a pretty wooded area all the way. Our driver said people often see elk in the woods along the path. Unfortunately, we didn't see any during our visit, except for small group of deer on our way out of the park. The picture I took from the bus as we passed didn't turn out very well.
Every view along the way was just spectacular. The colors and shadows, levels of sediment in the rock, shapes of the plant-life, were all things I could just sit and stare at for quite some time.
The evolution of my hair day alone should be enough to prove how windy it was. LOL
About a mile into our journey, we came upon the Yavapai Point and Geology Museum. The small museum houses a windowed area for a panoramic view of the canyon with written information about the levels of sediment and history of the area. It points out spaces in the rock where caves and artifacts have been found. There is a large topographic relief model of the canyon as well as an exhibit on rock layers and fossils. Rounding it out is a gift shop with books and other souvenirs.
Just outside of the museum begins the Trail of Time, an interpretive walking timeline (2.83 miles long) that focuses on the geologic time of the rock layers and landscapes along this section of the path. Each meter walked along the timeline represents one million years of the geologic history of the Grand Canyon. There are a series of rocks along the path that were brought from deep in the canyon to show the various forms of rock. It is quite interesting and incredible to fathom.
Sean pointing towards our end destination.
Pictured below: Hotauta conglomerate (1,200 million years old); Phantom Granite (1,662 million years old); and me with a Rama Schist (1,755 million years old).
As I stated earlier in the post, the canyon is about a mile deep here. What is hard to distinguish, in person and in pictures, is that the width of the canyon in this area is roughly 8 miles wide. (The canyon as a whole ranges in width from 4 miles to 18 miles wide.) Clearly, it is almost surreal to be on the precipice of this kind of vastness.
Another little example of how big everything is....In the picture above and these two below, there are people on top of this rock. I circled them to make them easier to find.
We still had a good mile to mile and a half to go along the trail when we came upon the windiest area with the smallest shoulder between path and drop. It was pretty scary. The wind was insane and was pushing me all over the place!! As I filmed the video, Sean was behind me holding me back so the wind wouldn't push me forward. Here I am bracing against the wind, trying to take some photos:
As the Trail of Time came to a close and we started to see evidence of buildings and a parking lot in the distance, we stopped to take some celebratory photographs to mark the end of our three mile trek. We were really proud of ourselves for choosing this option of the trip and making good time on the last mile and half of trail. I am so glad we had the opportunity to walk the path and see everything we saw. Half of our fellow passengers didn't walk the path and I feel like they missed so much of the beauty of the area. There are so many things we would have missed had we rode the bus instead.
And then we saw we still weren't in the right place. LOL We had another fifteen minute walk ahead of us. There are a couple more museums along the path, including one about pueblo life. We had no time to stop though because we were not in the mood to be left behind. There are also various hotels and lodges we passed on our way to Bright Angel Lodge. Below, you will see a tiny blue dot in the bottom left - a tent. This wasn't the bottom of the canyon, but just a drop off. The run off trail went out to a point and disappeared over the edge of the next drop off.
Once we arrived at our destination, we took some more photos. I brushed my hair before we headed into the gift shop to buy a couple souvenirs. Then we stopped at a tiny ice cream shoppe for mocha and peanut butter chocolate ice cream. It was a great little treat after all of our hard work. :-)
I would absolutely love to come back to the South Rim and stay for a few days to explore and stare at the landscape. There are many other scenic points along the rim, with shuttle buses that run out to the farther points as well. Wishing we had a bit more time to just "be" there and sit and look out at everything for a while was our only regret about this trip. We just didn't have quite enough time since we chose to walk the trail. I would highly recommend taking a trip to the South Rim, using the Comedy On Deck Tour company, and walking the trail. It was fun and amazingly beautiful - our favorite activity of the whole vacation! Plus, taking the tour bus helped alleviate a lot of stress for us about navigating the area.
Thankfully, all of our fellow passengers were on time and ready to go. On our way out, past the adorable mules you can ride for tours, we saw the herd of deer. They crossed the path in front of us and went off into the woods. We made a stop at the same gift shop and again at a truck stop a couple of hours later. The bus dropped us off promptly at around 9:30, which allowed us to get to bed at a decent time. We were pooped!!
To see extra photos from our day at the Grand Canyon, visit my Facebook album.
For more information on all things pertaining to the Grand Canyon and this post, here are a list of links:
- Groupon - If you aren't signed up for Groupon yet, you can use this referral link. I'll earn $10 Groupon bucks when you make your first purchase. Also, check out the Groupon Las Vegas area offers for more activities, meals, etc.
- Comedy On Deck Tour via Groupon - They are still offering their West Rim and South Rim tours at a discounted price. The Groupon expires 90 days after purchase.
- Grand Canyon National Park - Lots of information on the park, lodging, fees, weather, and much, much more.
- Trail of Time - More pictures and information about the geologic history of the canyon.
Have you been to the Grand Canyon? Taken a tour there? Stayed at one of the lodges?
I would love to hear your thoughts and comments!