Back to the West

After last year’s trip to the American Northwest, I’ll be turning right back around this summer and heading out to the American Southwest. I’ve always wanted to visit the Grand Canyon, so I thought I would organize a big trip around it that will include visits to Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks in Utah, and a lot of driving in between. Here is my rough itinerary:

Days 1-2: Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

I had originally planned to start at Arches National Park in eastern Utah and work my way down through the other Utah parks before finally ending at the Grand Canyon, but I concluded that Arches was a bit too far away from all of my other stops on this trip (and the car rental fees were much more expensive at the nearby airports), so when I stumbled onto this animal sanctuary located right in the middle of my other destinations, I decided to make this my first stop after flying into Vegas.

What better way to use the volunteer hours my company allocates to me than by spending two days hanging out with dogs in a beautiful canyon? The sanctuary is also home to cats, horses, rabbits, pigs, and other animals, but as a dog lover I’ll be focusing my volunteer time with the dogs. And when I’m not volunteering, there appear to be some good hiking opportunities in the canyon, while at night I may be able to bring one of the dogs back to my cabin for a sleepover, which would be neat.

Days 3-4: Bryce Canyon National Park

I’ll be spending the next two days in Bryce Canyon. In-park lodging was already booked up so I’m staying just outside the park, but Bryce appears to be fairly easy to explore by car. I’m thinking my first day will be a drive-through to stop at all of the overlooks since it will be a partial day, and I’ll return on the second day for specific hikes.

Days 5-6: Zion National Park

I’m very much looking forward to my two days here as everyone raves about Zion. Like with Bryce, the in-park lodging at Zion was all booked up, so I’m staying just outside the park. The good news is that my hotel is right across from a shuttle stop and from what I’ve read, you essentially need the shuttle to get around the park anyway, so there’s not a huge disadvantage to beginning outside the park.

Days 7-8: Grand Canyon North Rim

At last, the reason for the trip. My first two days at the Grand Canyon will be spent at the less-popular North Rim. Most tourists go to the South Rim because it has all of the facilities and iconic views, but many visitors actually prefer the less-crowded North Rim in spite of its more limited facilities (there is only one lodge here, in a more rustic setting of cabins and motel rooms). Although I will be spending more time at the South Rim, I have a feeling that I will end up counting myself among those who prefer the relative tranquility of the less-touristy North Rim.

This was the hardest place to find lodging for. If you don’t stay at the Grand Canyon Lodge, the next closest lodging facility requires you to drive a considerable distance to get to the rim. I had to rearrange my trip to a couple of weeks earlier than I had planned just to find a couple of nights here. People start booking these rooms over a year in advance, so if you want to stay here, book early.

Days 9-11: Grand Canyon South Rim

The final three days of my trip will be spent on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The photo above will be the approximate view from my hotel; pretty cool. Interestingly, even though the North and South rims are fairly close as the crow flies, my drive from the North Rim to the South Rim will be the longest of my trip up to that point because of how much you have to backtrack and circle around by car.

The Drive Back: Route 66

Since I have a late flight home, I was planning to stop at Hoover Dam on my way back to Vegas and then spend any remaining time checking out some of the Vegas strip. But when I saw that my route will pass by a significant stretch of Old Route 66, I decided that I can’t forego the chance to drive on that historic highway. Depending on how long I decide to remain on the road (dare I drive all the way into the Black Mountains and up to Oatman?), I may not have time for Hoover Dam and definitely won’t have time to check out Vegas, but I don’t consider that to be a big loss since Vegas doesn’t particularly interest me anyway.

For the red-eye flight home, I decided to treat myself to first class since it only ended up costing about $100 more than I would have paid for economy plus and a checked bag, so that’ll be a new experience to be in front of the curtain. 🙂

Well, that’s the plan. Have you been to any of these parks or driven any of these routes? I would love to hear about your experiences, as well as any tips you might have.