35 Hour Road Trip From Miami to Arizona
The best way to travel as a college student is by taking advantage of every single break you have and making the best of it. Since Jane and I are taking summer classes, we only had one week off between the spring and the summer semester. We had one of our craziest ideas to date: lets drive from Miami to Arizona... 2,361 miles apart!
We knew we wanted to travel somewhere, but just didn't know where. I was thinking of flying to Arizona or Cali, but then Jane was like, "let's just drive there! It would be cheaper than flying and we wouldn't have to rent a car when we get there." It was the perfect plan to make the best of our break. Before this trip, our longest road trip had been from our house in Miami to Atlanta. I remember thinking the 12 hour drive was way too long... boy, do I not think that now. We didn't really prepare for the trip until the day before since we had final exams to worry about. That meant that when exams ended, we had HOURS to get everything ready for the longest car ride of our lives. We spent 8 hours packing, shopping for food, and other last minute preparations we didn't get to earlier. One of the most important things we procrastinated on completing was getting an oil change and tire rotation.
How Was The Drive?
The drive itself wasn't that bad. After you drive for several hours straight, you go into auto-pilot. Jane and I would switch off driving every couple of hours while the other person slept in the back. MAKE SURE to bring a pillow and blanket! It makes sleeping in the back sooo much more comfortable. We made sure neither of us drove for more than 5 hours, just to be safe. As the drive went on, sleep time decreased. By the time we reached New Mexico, we were both so tired that there was no way either of us could drive any longer. We considered sleeping in our car, but it's illegal to sleep at a rest stop in New Mexico. We stopped at the closest hotel and caught up on our rest. BEST. DECISION. EVER. You know that quote, "You don't know what you have until it is gone?" Yeah, that is how we felt after being deprived of a shower and a bed after having driven for 30 hours straight. We also got to charge our laptop and camera, as well as sleep for 8 hours straight without the fear of crashing. Before we went on the road trip, we had both said that we were not going to stop at a hotel... we didn't achieve our goal but it was sooo worth it.
What Did We Do?
Grand Canyon National Park has two official Campgrounds: Mather Campground and Desert View Campground. Mather Campground requires reservations and are something up to 6 months in advance. They have more than 300 campgrounds. Desert View is a first come first serve campground, but it usually gets full between 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM. They only have 50 campsites, so make sure to get there early.
Since we stopped at a hotel, we arrived at Grand Canyon National Park around 4:00 P.M. By that time, all the spots at Desert View had been taken. We had no idea where to camp until the park ranger suggested that we try dispersed camping in Kaibab National Forest, located on the outskirts of the park; we had never heard about dispersed camping until then. The ranger told us to go on the primitive roads off the main highway that led to open areas where it was apparent that other people had camped there before. There are no bathrooms or ranger supervision. Basically, you're by yourself in the wilderness and you have to pick up all the stuff you bring, but it's free! Quick note: when you're going to pee or poop while dispersed camping, make sure to dig a hole about 6 inches deep first. We spent our first night in Kaibab but woke up early enough and got a place in Desert view for $12.00 per night for the following day. We didn't want to go through the hassle of putting up and taking down our tent everyday, especially after a long hike.
We stayed in Desert View for four nights and felt safe leaving stuff inside of the tent. Every morning, we saw different animals calmly stroll by our tent. A beautiful example of how humans and animals can coexist with each other. The campground host was very sweet to us. However, even though Desert View provided bathrooms, there were no showers so Jane and I went 5 days without showering, but we were able to experience authentic camping! For those who want to be more civil, there are showers at Mather Campground, which is about 20 - 25 minute drive from Desert View. It's also where the Grand Canyon Village and Visitor Center can be found.
Camping in the Canyon was extremely rewarding. By being inside the National Park, you're only minutes away from some of the best hiking in the largest canyon in the U.S.!
The Canyon has two entrances, one via the North Rim and one via the South Rim. The South Rim is more popular and is open year-round. The North Rim is only open during the summer so make sure to check dates in advance. The North Rim has one trail that leads down to the canyon (North Kaibab Trail) and the South Rim has two (South Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel Trail). It is strongly recommended by the park rangers to not hike all the way down to the Colorado River and back in one day (although we met several people who have accomplished it who are alive and well). But if you want to camp at the bottom of the canyon, you need a permit. There are two ways to obtain a permit, both through a lottery system. You can either apply online several months in advance or apply last minute in person at least three days before you want to camp. Don't get your hopes up! We met one woman who said she applied for three months straight 9 months in advance but never obtained a permit.
We hiked down to Plateau Point via the Bright Angel trail. Plateau Point is about 6 miles down via the trail and 3,000 feet lower in elevation than the point at which we started at. When we reached Plateau Point, we were only about 5 miles from the Bright Angel Campground, the bottom of the Grand Canyon. We started the hike around 11:00 A.M. which was considered late, and reached Plateau Point 4 hours later (I know, we are slow). Our backpacks were filled with lots of salty snacks and a ton of water. Even though going down was the easy part, it got hotter and hotter on our way down. When we got down to Plateau Point, it was over 100°F. The worst part about hiking into the Grand Canyon is the hike back up. You have to fight against gravity while the increase in elevation makes the air thinner and thinner. On the way back, we stopped at Indian Garden. You can get a drink of water, use the bathroom, and stick your feet in the stream of water. It's a great place to stop and have lunch! It was one of the most challenging hikes we have ever done but also one of the most rewarding.
A second lodging option at the bottom of the Canyon is Phantom Ranch. There, you can rent cabins instead of camping in your tent. The ranch also serves breakfast and dinner, but those must be reserved in advance. Phantom Ranch has enough food and accommodations to hold a good number of people. How do they bring their food down from the top of the canyon, you ask? Mules. Every now and then, during the hike down, we would see a pack of mules going up or down the canyon. Some carried people and others carried luggage. We found out that the luggage carried all the food, drinks, and supplies needed down at Phantom Ranch. So, if you think you're working hard hiking down, the mules are working even harder.
Make sure you're prepared for the hike; no one wants to get injured on vacation. Grand Canyon National Park has several podcasts that they provide on their website. These podcast are very helpful for beginners. They cover topics from preparing for the hike to coming into contact with a rattlesnake.
The famous Horseshoe Bend is part of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area located less than 2 hours away from Grand Canyon National Park. It's free to the public and requires a 0.75 mile hike to the top. The thing that makes it unique to all the attraction around it is the fact that it is FREE and doesn't require a permit. One thing to take note: Horseshoe bend is massive compared to what you see in photos. It's absolutely beautiful once you're there to walk around and look at it from different angles. When it comes to most tourist attractions, it's best if you go early, but not this one. We arrived at 8:00 A.M. and we had a lot of trouble getting a good photo. Because the sun was still rising, only half of the canyon had the sun rays hitting it while the other half was still in the shade. When we came back in the afternoon, the entire canyon was lit up and we were able to get the photo you see here. And you do not have to worry about the crowd because the canyon is so big you can take a picture without anyone in it if you just move to a less crowded area. There's one specific cliff that everyone wanted to take a picture on and that one had a line, but virtually everywhere else was empty. If you're visiting northern Arizona, then Horseshoe Bend is a must see.
Antelope Canyon is wildly famous! It is also located less than 2 hours from Grand Canyon National Park and about 10 minutes from Horseshoe Bend. Since the Canyon is located on Navajo land, you cannot get there without a tour. We went to the Upper Antelope Canyon and we paid $40.00 each for a regular tour plus an $8.00 Navajo Park entrance fee. You can buy tickets in person or online. If you are planning on taking the photography tour, it costs $120.00 and you can only reserve them online. The photography tours are usually for the more experienced photographers who want to get really good pictures. The photography tour is literally a bunch of people with tripods and expensive DSLRs taking pictures and the tour guides don't let anyone get in their way; whereas, the regular tour is just walking around and the tour guide sometimes takes your photos of your group. The photography tour lasts about two and a half hours to give photographers time to take their pictures while the regular tour is an hour and a half. The best time to take the tours are at 12:00 P.M. because that's when the sun is directly above you and the light comes through the cracks to create the sunbeam effect. For the photography enthusiasts, the sun beams through the canyon will make for an amazing picture.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Sunset Crater is less known, but still very interesting and completely free! It's about an hour away from Grand Canyon National Park. As you get closer to the volcano you start to notice the soil go from brown to black and the amount of trees decreasing. You can still see the fields of lava from the volcano that erupted over 1,000 years ago. There are several hiking trails in the area and it's way more tourist free than the neighboring national parks. If you wanted to climb up a volcano, the Lenox Crater trail will actually lead you to the top of the dormant volcano and allow you to look into the crater. All these volcanos are part of the San Francisco volcanic field.
Meteor Crater is the best preserved crater in the world. It was formed 50,000 years ago by a huge asteroid. It costs $18.00 to get in and you have to pay an additional fee if you want to take a tour around the rim. They have videos and interactive maps indoors. It's a cool sight to see but not something we'd go back to again.
Corner of Winslow, Arizona
Has anyone heard the Eagles song, Take it Easy? The famous line "Standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona" has a street side attraction where many people take photos and the song is on repeat from the nearby souvenir shops. Winslow has a very old, western town vibe. If you're a fan of the Pixar movie Cars, then this little town will make you feel like you're in the Radiator Springs, especially while you're driving down Route 66.
Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest National Park is almost 3 hours away from Grand Canyon National Park located in eastern Arizona, but it's one of the most unique places we have ever seen! It has these beautiful multi-colored layered mountains as well as crystallized wood formed over thousands of years. The entire park makes you feel like you're on another planet! It was like if we drove to Mars, but instead of red it's all multicolored. Even though it feels like we are thousands of light years away, the gravity is still the same so you can't bounce really high like you see in the movies. Trust me, we tried.
What We Will Do Next Time?
The Wave was at the top of our list! However, we didn't realize how competitive the process to get a permit was. They only allow 20 people per day to hike the wave. The visitor center is located in Utah which is about 2 hours from the Grand Canyon. In order to get a permit, you have to apply in advance or you can apply for a last minute permit 3 days in advance. We didn't want to waste 4 hours driving to apply for something we had a low chance of receiving anyway. There is a $1200 fine for hiking The Wave without a permit and it is very heavily monitored so hiking without a permit wasn't an option either. We decided to just leave it for next time.
Camping in the Canyon
As we mentioned above, you need a permit to camp at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The first way to get the permit is to apply ahead of time and see if you can get it online. The "procrastinator's" way is to wait until you're at the park and apply 3 days before you are planning on camping there. There are two campgrounds: Indian Garden and Bright Angel. Indian Garden campground is about 5 miles from the bottom and Bright Angel campground is the bottom, right next to the Colorado River. From what we heard, it's way harder to get the permit for the Bright Angel campground than for the Indian Garden campground. When we decide to revisit the Grand Canyon, we'll probably apply months in advance to give us a for sure chance of getting the permit.
Havasu Falls is absolutely beautiful, but same sob story: you need a permit. The permit for the falls must be obtained through the Havasupai Tribe's website since it's not part of the National Park Service. The hike to the falls is 10 miles, but from the pictures it seems worth it. Since we were so unprepared, we decided to leave all the permit stuff for next time and do everything we can without one. There are still many beautiful sights to be seen that do not require a permit.