First of all, if you’ve never been to the Grand Canyon & it’s on your bucket lists…. GO!!
My dad was a traveler. He lived on 10 acres off the grid in his van & box trailer. He had an entire setup that was pretty bad-ass. He had an outdoor kitchen (grill), outdoor shower (with propane heat), his van was his bedroom & the box trailer was his living room/office area. When we decided to move up here we invited him to come stay. He had always talked of traveling & I wanted him to be able to do just that with a home base to come back to. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to travel as much as he had wanted. Cancer took him away from us in February, 2022.
The last big trip that he took was to the Grand Canyon. I was so jealous because it’s been on my bucket list since I was a child. But I was SO excited for him to live his dream. During his last few months here, he talked of his travels & we promised him that we’d continue his journey in the van. He made us promise that we’d get to The Grand Canyon asap.
So much has happened since then. Just a few weeks later, my father-in-law was also diagnosed with cancer. And we lost a few other family members & friends. It’s been a very hard few years. After loosing both of our dads, our family needed a hard reset. We decided on a destination, I made some shirts & we surprised the girls on Christmas with our plans.
PLANNING: We suck at planning & we’re last minute packers. But this was the biggest trip we’ve ever been on so I actually made a list & started early. My husband worked hard on finishing up on the box trailer/camper conversion & I started planning. I would find things to do or see on social media, head to google maps to check it out & add it to my ‘wishlist’ if it looked interesting. I do have over 300 places in the US that I have tagged ‘to see’. Some, I’d never travel out of my way but it’d be cool to see if I was in the area.
I wasn’t sure what part of the Grand Canyon we should go so I went to good ole Google. We hate crowds but we settled on the South Rim. It’s known to be more crowded but has more hiking (which is what we love) & lots of great views & history. I really didn’t consider how large the Grand Canyon is & how much there is to do around it. I figured we’d be able to drive around to other areas, but it’s actually a 4hr drive from the South rim to the North rim. We ended up staying at the South Rim for a week & stayed plenty busy.
I chose Mather Campground because I wanted to make sure we were close enough to watch both the sunrise & sunsets in the canyon. Of course since I’m a procrastinator & we had to travel in the summer, all the electric & water sites were booked. But we’ve got everything we need & booked a primitive site for 7 nights for $128.
I spent hours looking up activities & things to see in the area (what a waste of time). But I am grateful that my family couldn’t decide on what to do so I didn’t book anything in advance. We were going to bring our dogs so there were so many things that were off limits. By the time we had it planned not to, everything was booked up. If you want to take a mule down the canyon, book a year in advance. The train ride is great if you’re staying in Williams to visit the canyon but I say if you’re going to see the Grand Canyon, stay in the Grand Canyon. I’m glad we didn’t book the train. It doesn’t go inside the canyon, just from Williams to where we camped. We literally would’ve driven an hour to ride the train to where we were camping.
Since we’re such procrastinators, we really didn’t plan out the drive either. We just decided we’d take the northern route there & the southern route home. There is a great website (freecampsites.net) for free camping, rest stops & Cracker Barrel’s. So we just used that to find a spot when we were ready to call it quits for the night.
PACKING: We love hiking & backpacking so we’ve got the packing part down. We took a short camping trip a few weekends before & I made a list of things I’ll need on a 2 week trip. It was a LONG list LOL. The weather said 75-80 during the day & 40-45 at night. We’re in NWFL & were sweating our butts off as we were packing. So I kept reminding everyone to bring something warm for at night. At the last minute I grabbed my forever lazy onesie & I’m so glad I did. It was about 5-10 degrees colder than expected.
- Clothes: Only pack what can be worn multiple times & interchangeable. Pack for warm & cold. Mostly hiking gear
- Toiletries: Lots of lotion! Holy crap is it dry AF. I’ve never had such dry skin in my life. We also shower outside & I’m all about using natural products that are earth friendly (leave no trace)
- I use weekly medicine containers to put allergy meds, Tylenol, etc. I have a small label on each section to know what’s in it.
- Hiking gear: trekking poles, water bladder & backpack, hat, sunscreen, etc. It’s so dry that your sweat evaporates so you don’t know you’re getting dehydrated. Add a pinch of salt & drink water all day.
- Hiking shoes. I brought water shoes too but there’s no water around.
- Emergency kit: obviously
- Oils: Lavender (skin soothing & mind relaxing), Tummy rolller (eating like crap), grounding (anxious feelings), Valor (for courage), breathe again (for dry ass sinuses), hormone roller (for me), kidpower (for perfume)
- Shower: We have a shower system that we bring & it’s perfect. We had the best showers. ** Fun fact: the showers at the campground are $2.50 for 5mins & they SUCK. I guess it’s great for hikers when there’s no other choice, but not for us.
DAY 1 Saturday: We left early as we always do when we’re excited for an adventure. We drove 10.5hrs on day 1. We had dinner & stayed at the Cracker Barrel in Tyler, TX. they actually had a nice area for campers in the back.
DAY 2 Sunday: On day 2 we stopped in Amarillo to see some extended family. It was great to visit with them & get lots of insight. We were told not to stop in Albuquerque, NM. There’s a lot of issues with travelers getting robbed & trailers broken into. So we decided to follow that advise & find a place to camp after Albuquerque. We drove about 11.5hrs on day 2 & stayed at the Dancing Eagle Travel Center & RV park in Paraje, NM. This place is literally in the middle of nowhere but there’s a casino, gas station & grocery store right there. It’s a nice little place to stop for $20 & directly on the highway.
DAY 3 Monday: Ok here’s where things get good. It was just over 5hrs to get to our campground & I really wanted to stop to check out a few places. We stopped at the drive thru Route 66 sign in Grants, NM & Indian City.
Next, we spent a few hours at the Petrified Forest & Painted Desert, which was absolutely beautiful. Make sure you talk to the rangers. They’re full of information & history. I’d love to plan a camping & hiking trip here.
We finally made it to Mather Campground right before sunset. We always joke that we’re cursed because we never see wildlife. However, the South Rim is crawling with elk. We saw 4 just pulling into our campground. Our first view of the Grand Canyon was at freaking sunset. When I say “it took my breath away”, it literally freaking did. What a sight to see… It looked like a big ass TV screen. After I caught my breath I literally started to cry. Although I held back as much as I could. I’m so grateful that my dad got to experience this. It’s not just a beautiful view, it’s a feeling, a whole experience.
DAY 4 Tuesday: Oh here we go. So on the drive here we were having some vehicle problems. The van was struggling to get up the hills & it was eating up gas. There’s a mechanic at the South Rim but they’re only a bandaid fix (tires, radiator, small things). They took a look at it & recommended a place in Williams to take it to. Now, these people are so sweet. I’m actually glad we stopped in there because we chatted with the woman that worked there & she had some great stories. We learned that the workers actually live on site because it’s too far of a drive to live elsewhere. They love their job & are full of history & info.
There is so many trails & things to see here. We filled our backpacks for the day & hiked around the rim trail hopping on & off the trolley along the way.
DAY 5 Wednesday: To Williams, AZ we go. We went to the recommended mechanic but they didn’t have time so they recommended another. Outlaw auto (great google reviews)… don’t do it! He hooked up his machine & said it was the battery, changed that out. Then it’s the alternator & the only one around is $600. Well he’s got us by the balls now & we don’t really have a choice. Long story short, it was NOT those 2 things & we spent $1350 & a day of our vacation to not get the van fixed. I was so upset this was happening to us. Then we ran into a local that said this guy sucks & good luck. ** Lesson learned: Either A) Have AAA or B) When out of town only go to the dealer service.
Luckily, Williams is a pretty cool place to check out. We walked up & down Route 66 for the day, had lunch & rode the Canyon Coaster (so much fun). I’d definitely recommend checking out the strip here. Lots of history, shops & a Wild West junction. Since it’s 2hrs behind, we were starving when everything wasn’t open yet. We were a bit hangry at this point & ate at the Pizza Factory. It was good, but as we left we saw Cruiser’s Cafe across the street & wished we would’ve eaten there instead.
Back at the campground they had a night sky program. ** Fun fact: the Grand Canyon is national dark sky park. Although, we had a full moon so it was pretty bright for us. They had a resident astronomer that talked about astronaut training at the Grand Canyon & then we learned about the stars. It was very interesting & I do recommend that.
DAY 6 Thursday: Hiking! We’ve been cooped up together in a van for 3 weeks… I mean days. Ha ha, it literally felt like weeks. We filled our water bladders at the campground water station & stopped at the store for snacks.
I’m deathly afraid of heights & these edges are a straight drop. It’s a mile down to the bottom (if you’re a bird) & nearly 7 to zig-zag down. Now, here’s the thing to remember…. You’ve gotta hike back UP. I was determined to hike this trail & conquer my fear! We took the South Kaibab 1 mile to ooh aah point, stopped for a hikers lunch (granola bars & jerky) & had an encounter with the canyon’s most deadly creature… the squirrel. The only bathroom was half a mile down or 1 mile back up so we continued down. There is no place to stop on the trail, especially with 1000 people there. However, there was a storm off in the distance & some dark clouds moving in so we ended up turning around before the bathrooms & heading back up the canyon. It never rained btw. Just crazy how you can see it from so far away. I’m so proud of myself for doing this hike. It was so hard for me & took way longer than it should have. You can always spot true trail people (love them), every time one passed they stopped to root me on.
After hiking all day & eating such a small lunch, we decided to go out to eat. Now, I wish we would’ve just went to one of the lodges. Instead we went to Big E’s Steakhouse. Way overpriced. It’s a cute place but not worth the $$$. There’s a few lodges at the South Rim but my husband really wanted steak.
DAY 7 Friday: One of the rangers highly recommended the Grand Canyon IMAX show. It was really cool to see the canyon from top to bottom & learn a bit of history.
Then we drove to the far end of the park & checked out a museum & found a small native American market on the way to check out the watchtower. Highly recommend stopping to chat with them too. The woman I spoke with was excited that I’m an herbalist. She told me about Navajo & Mormon teas & some of the plants that were around us. I wish I would’ve asked her if she would sell me tea the next day or harvest some of the Mormon tea. I’m definitely intrigued.
I booked a sunset tour that was like $158 for all 4 of us. Don’t do it. OMG they literally just took us around to the trolley stops that we could’ve done ourselves. So here’s the thing. For the sunset. Just take the red trolley before sunset & they’ll take you to the same spots… for FREE! And they’ll tell you the same things too.
DAY 8 Saturday: I wanted to see the sunrise so bad & now we’re kinda getting used to the time change. So we set our alarm & made sure not to miss it. It was cold AF. For the past couple months I’ve been sweating my butt off so it was difficult to pack for cooler weather. The nights got down to the 30s & reminder, we had no electric or water. It was worth it though, we were just bundled up like Floridians.
This day we planned to hike the Bright Angel trail. There’s tunnels at .25 & 1 mile down. I hiked to the first tunnel but I had no more adrenaline for this trail. My legs got shaky so I sat at the trail on this bench area & told everyone to look at the long horned sheep. For days we’re looking way down in the canyon & even bought binoculars. This guy was right off the trail just feet away. I sent the husband & kids to keep hiking, I did not want to hold them back. We spent the rest of the day hiking around the rim trail & checking out all the lookouts.
DAY 9 Sunday: Our last day at the Canyon. It was rainy most of the day. Throughout the week we kept an eye out for what souvenirs we wanted at the many shops that are at the South Rim. However, we never jotted down which shop had which item. So we spent the rainy day shopping around & checking out lodges. They’re really cool & there’s so much history around them. This day we did decide to eat at the food court at the Maswik lodge & it was delicious. I wish we just would’ve eaten here the other night.
We rode the red trolley to see the sunset one last time & stopped to watch the moonrise. It was a full moon Saturday so it was bright & beautiful.
DAY 10 Monday: On the road again. It literally all felt like a dream.
I really wanted to stop at the corner of Winslow, AZ… so we did. The van was still running like crap so we decided to avoid the interstate for while. We stopped to get some spark plugs because the shitty mechanic said that was the problem after everything else. Anthony said don’t touch it, I’ll do that. So we grabbed those & stayed at the dancing eagle again. It did help quite a bit, but there’s still something else going on.
DAY 11 Tuesday: Rosewell, NM. We thought this would be a fun place to stop. We ended up finding a great campground, Wild Willy’s, with the best bathrooms. Everyone immediately ran to the showers. The only issue I had was the constant barking from a long term guest’s dog. But the owner, the bathrooms & the price was great. It was only $25 for the night.
Of course we had to check out the International UFO Museum & the main strip in Rosewell. I wouldn’t go out of my way to go, but it was a cool stop along the way. We ate at Martin’s Capitol Cafe… not recommended. Nobody finished their meal & we hate wasting food. Not sure what to recommend because that’s the only place we ate at.
DAY 12 Wednesday: Warning: The winds out west are something different. We stopped for lunch & found that a solar panel literally ripped off the metal rack & was gone. I’m not sure how long we even drove this day because we stopped somewhere west of Houston at a Cracker Barrel. This one didn’t have the nice camper parking but there was a shopping center with a Target behind it.
DAY 13 Thursday: We wanted to stop in LA to see some friends & check out New Orleans. However, the solar rack is now loose & about ready to fly off. So we stopped to remove it & store it in the trailer (no more bed). By this point my husband was over driving & all the issues & just wants to be back home. We drove the rest of the way home.
We had such an amazing time & these are memories we’ll talk about forever. Life is too short, travel. Stop with the excuses. Trust me, I had them all. Especially “we can’t afford it”. We lived on sandwiches for lunches & our campsite was $128 for 7 nights. If there’s a will, there’s a way. If it wasn’t for making that promise to my dad, we’d still be dreaming about it & wishing we could.
MEALS: We have a solar cooler but it’s not very big so I needed more items that didn’t need refrigeration. We also have a Coleman propane stove & here’s some of the meals that I made:
- Canned chicken with taco sauce & shredded cheese quesadillas
- Shells & cheese with leftover hamburger
- Bear Creek soups. I usually get the potato soup
- Canned chili
- Sandwiches with lunch meat or chicken salad
- Cheese & crackers & fruit
- Tea & Coffee
- I have a roll up toiletry bag that hangs. I fill it with condiment packets & small containers of oil, sugar, etc.