Family adventures at the Grand Canyon

Grand. At 10 miles wide, 277 miles long and 5,000 feet deep-there really is no other word for it. Except maybe magnificent, magical or mesmerizing.

Grand plans? Tips for visiting

  • Fly into Vegas and out of Phoenix-it gives you the opportunity
    to cover more ground.
  • Brave the Cedar Ridge hiking trail-and don’t forget to pack a
    picnic lunch.
  • Don’t skip the visitor center movie, “Grand Canyon: A Journey
    Of Wonder.” It lasts 20 minutes and plays every half hour.
  • Try to stay in the park. Unless you are going to do a lot of
    hiking, one or two nights is long enough.
  • Don’t forget a camera. You’ll value the pictures you take for a
    lifetime to come.

The Grand Canyon was all of those to us, the perfect outdoor family adventure for our three girls, their legs finally long enough to hike their way into the famed landscape that has carved itself into the list of seven natural wonders.

Touch down

We came by the Grand Canyon in a roundabout way. Most everyone does. Unless you fly into Flagstaff, you’re about five or six hours from the nearest airport. Most people fly into Phoenix or Vegas. We chose Vegas.

Some say most of what happens in Vegas should stay in Vegas, far from little peeps’ little peeps. Even though my Facebook page lit up with warnings from eager-to-advise parents, I was certain we could experience Vegas in a family way. And we did.

We stayed at the Four Seasons, plopped right at the back door of Vegas, a straight shot from the airport. We spent the rest of the day poolside at this lovely little non-gaming boutique hotel. We did sneak out to the CSI exhibit at MGM, where you investigate a crime scene and solve a murder. The girls loved their dive into forensic science. Grace even decided to re-create the exhibit for her upcoming birthday party. As I tried to explain away the gambling on our way through the casino, my girls just rolled their eyes. “Oh Mama, we’ve all seen The Lightning Thief,” they said.

So much for what stays in Vegas.

Between here and there

Literally in between Nevada and Arizona, you’ll find the Hoover Dam. It was a delightful half-day learning experience-the kind where textbook lessons come alive. We liked the movie and the tour of the power plant, but mostly liked walking our way from Nevada to Arizona and back again, marveling how workers toiled seven days a week in crazy cold and crazy hot days to build the seemingly impossible Hoover Dam. We also got a kick walking along the new Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. At a knee-knocking height of 840 feet, it’s the second highest bridge in the U.S. It was great scary fun and a little warm-up to the heights we’d climb the next day.

Grand slam

We checked into The El Tovar Hotel under the cloak of darkness. The El Tovar was built as a destination resort in 1905 and is located right on the edge of the South Rim-just 20 feet from the Canyon. It’s rustic and elegant. There’s a fireplace in the lobby, a piano on the landing, stuffed elk mounted on black paneled walls. The rooms are small, but quaint.

Our first glimpse of the Grand Canyon was at its finest moment-the crack of dawn.

It takes your breath away

I mean that figuratively, and if you brave the Cedar Ridge hiking trail, literally. The Cedar Ridge trail is quite a hike, with the first mile a straight vertical drop down steep narrow rock. Of course, the Colorado River did not whittle guardrails in the Canyon’s steep limestone, and there can be snow and ice, so it’s not for the faint-of-heart mom. But it is a gorgeous descent with numerous places to stop, catch your breath and snap a picture.

We took the trail about 1,200 feet down and had a memorable picnic lunch against a glorious vista. We lingered, then eventually hiked back up. The return climb is harder-OK, crazy-brutal in spots-but we made it.

For us, it was well, a grand triumph.

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