Road Trip: The Grand Circle

Thanks to all of you who joined me in revisiting my trip around the Grand Circle in honor of National Parks Week. I’d like to give a special shout-out to my new followers: Welcome! You have inspired me to continue on a more regular schedule here. Keep an eye out for upcoming posts on some of my favorite national parks, including Grand Teton and Yosemite, as well as road trips in the Carolina Low Country, the Scottish Highlands, and West Texas.

When last we left the Grand Circle, I was in Monument Valley. I’m afraid there’s not much more to report after that. The drive from Monument Valley back to Las Vegas via the Grand Canyon can only be described as a whirlwind. With four to five hours of solitary driving each day, there wasn’t much time for sightseeing. I arrived fairly late at the Grand Canyon, and then had to leave very early in the morning. Luckily, I did manage to get a cabin at the Bright Angel Lodge, which meant that I was right on the rim of the canyon and could sneak in a sunrise hike partway down the Bright Angel Trail. It was very quiet at that hour but I was so intent on setting up my tripod for some shots that I didn’t notice that a bighorn sheep had come up behind me and was about to knock my tripod over the cliff! An incredible moment, sadly not captured on film.

Bighorn sheep sneak up on you when you least expect it.
Bighorn sheep sneak up on you when you least expect it.

Frankly, I have to say that the Grand Canyon was somewhat of a disappointment after all I’d seen on this trip. Of course, the scale is amazing, but it’s not nearly as pretty as some of the other parks and is a far less intimate experience. But perhaps that is only because I was rushed. This was the second of two abbreviated trips I’ve made to the Grand Canyon and one day I would really like to spend more time there, especially if it involves rafting in the canyon itself and/or a stay at Phantom Ranch.

Mule train down to Phantom Ranch
Mule train down to Phantom Ranch

Of course, I always want more time. While I took ten days for this trip, and it’s very doable in that amount of time, I would suggest a full two weeks to complete the full circle, perhaps adding a few more days if you want to spend any time in Vegas itself. If I had to do it all over again, I would add another night at the Boulder Mountain Lodge, one in Moab in order to properly visit both Arches and Canyonlands, and one at the Grand Canyon.

This is not really because I felt I gave any of these parks short shrift, but rather because the beauty of the Grand Circle is that even outside the main attractions, there are many interesting things to see and do along the way and it’s nice to be able to stop and smell the desert roses. Side trips abound, such as Dead Horse Point State Park, which is most familiar as the scene of Thelma & Louise’s final send-off, and Newspaper Rock, a sandstone wall covered with 1500-year-old petroglyphs (just there by the side of the road on the way to the Needles district of Canyonlands).

Newspaper Rock in black and white (and read all over)
Newspaper Rock in black and white (and read all over)

Not to mention the many picturesque diners along the route. I mean, don’t you want to be able to say you’ve tried a “ho-made” pie? Or any pie, really. I can still taste the enormous slice of banana cream pie I had at the Pine Country Restaurant in Williams, Arizona. That thing was a meal unto itself.

The Thunderbird Restaurant, Mount Carmel, Utah
The Thunderbird Restaurant, Mount Carmel, Utah
Blondie's in Hanksville, Utah, or, as we called it, "The Scary Diner"
Blondie’s in Hanksville, Utah, or, as we called it, “The Scary Diner”

To read the complete Grand Circle series, click below:
Zion National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park
Capitol Reef National Park
Arches National Park
Monument Valley

*Note: This trip was back in the days of my much-loved Pentax K1000. As such, most of the pictures in this Grand Circle series are scans of my printed photos.

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