Road Trip Diaries Part V: The Grand Finale


During the last week in August, Ryan and I dropped the dogs off at boarding, packed up the Versa and embarked on a 5-day road trip through the southwest. Thousands of miles and 35 hours of driving took us through 5 states: California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Arizona. After attending a beautiful wedding, we left Aspen and headed to our final destination: the Grand Canyon. 

The road out of Aspen was full of grays and greens - a cloudy sky and pine trees rising up on either side of us quickly ushered us out of Colorado and back into my favorite state.


If you can't tell from my hand gesture up there, I'm really kidding about Utah being my favorite state. Why? Because for the next several hours, this was my view:

All bitterness about the landscape aside, there is one other important reason why I have very un-positive feelings towards the Beehive State (the Beehive State?)...

There is no cell service.

No cell service meant no GPS. And no GPS turned into a major problem around 2pm.

The plan for the last leg of our road trip included getting to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon by about 4pm, setting up camp at Mather Campground, and then heading to the Grand Canyon to watch the sunset. We were going to camp there that night, wake up early to watch the sunrise and then get back to San Diego by around 1pm.

Sounds like a great last day right? Only, that never happened.

What did happen was this: somewhere in the middle of Utah we realized that Google Maps was leading us to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. AKA a four hour drive from the South Rim where we had a camping spot.

Our options were as follows:

  1. Reroute to the South Rim, miss the sunset, set up our campsite between midnight and 1am and then wake up a few hours later, pack it in and try to at least catch the sunrise before driving six hours home.
  2. Head to the North Rim to see the sunset and then try to find more expensive lodging somewhere around there.
  3. Catch the sunset at the North Rim then drive four hours to the campsite at the South Rim just to have a place to crash.
  4. North Rim sunset and.... continue on to San Diego for a total of 21 hours in the car.

After an hour of loud sighs, swear words, burning resentment towards the state of Utah, and, eventually, resignation, we finally decided we were in it to win it. 21 hours of driving here we come. And so we pressed on, towards the less frequented North Rim, just in time for sunset.

Here are a few things that I learned about the North Rim in my frantic googling once we were in Arizona and had service again. One, it has a shorter season than the more popular South Rim of the Grand Canyon. It's only open from May 15th through October 15th and then snow more or less shuts down the area because, two? It's elevation is over 8,000 feet. And though the same concerns about freak thunderstorms exist at North Rim as at South Rim when it comes to watching the summer sunsets, the North Rim is considerably less crowded.

Ultimately, there are actually three different Grand Canyon experiences depending on whether you do North, West, or South Rim. And because I've only been to the North, sadly, I don't have much to compare it to, but I will say this...

It was pretty grand.

We stopped in the lodge first to see if that was a valid spot to watch the sunset. The nice thing about the lodge and the patio outside of it is that you can bring beer and wine out there and sit. And honestly, if we were staying there, that would have been my top choice. But knowing that we had a seven to eight hour drive ahead of us, I figured it was best not to tempt ourselves.

A park ranger told us her favorite trail for watching the sunset was the Cape Final Trail, but for that we'd have to get back in the car and drive farther around the rim for another 45 minutes. Plus, she mentioned, the way back was particularly dark and if we weren't careful, we would definitely hit some wildlife... not the kind of thing we were in the mood for.

Otherwise, she said, we should check out Bright Angel Point and see if we wanted to watch from there or we could find a spot along the Transept Trail. We decided to explore both. And this is what we saw:

After the sun went down, we grabbed some pizza and beer at the lodge, stopped in the gift shop, mailed some postcards, and then hit the road. On the way out, we saw a herd of buffalo and then soon enough we were in Nevada again, taking turns on and off as we sped down the highway towards California.

It was my shift when we passed back into our home state and even though we were still hours from what was actually home at the time, our old apartment in Mission Hills, I felt relieved when we crossed the border. The same old sense of relief I felt the first time, anytime and every time I found myself back in California.

The relief of being home.