With Detours to Ruby Falls, The Meteor Crater, Painted Desert and Petrified Forest
The road trip from Orlando, Florida to the Grand Canyon that we took from September 26, 2011 to October 2, 2011 is something that we’ve mentioned in one of our first posts, and is still probably one of the most epic, fun, adventurous road trips that John and I have taken.
The Grand Canyon was actually never on either of our ‘lists of places to see’. A big hole in the ground didn’t really intrigued us. But road trips did. And a road trip out west really intrigued me.
We had a week of vacation coming up with no real plans and the Grand Canyon popped into my head. I looked up how long it would take to drive — 1 day and 8 hours. It would be a crazy road trip. We would have to drive almost straight through just to have a couple of days to explore the park. We’d have to sleep in the car! It would be epic, like those coming-of-age movies where friends have crazy road trips! (At least, that’s what I thought anyway.)
So on the morning of September 26, 2011, we set out with adventure on our mind.
We decided to take I-40 West, and because we’d be close, our first stop was Ruby Falls in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Having only ever been through one other cave system in my life at the Florida Caverns State Park, I thought this one was really great, with lots of space to walk through. The finale at the end was a big, cavernous room, with different colored lights highlighting Ruby Falls. It made for some cool pictures.
Ruby Falls is about 8 hours away from Orlando, FL, so we got there a bit late in the day. Above the cave system, there’s a nice area overlooking the city where I tried to get a good picture of the city at night and failed.
And then… the drive.
We drove through the night, catching a few hours in the car when we were both too tired to drive anymore.
When the sun came up, we were greeted by miles and miles of grassland.
Oklahoma and northern Texas were the most boring places we’d ever been in our lives. Ever.
And finally we got to New Mexico.
Being 4 years ago now, the trip is becoming a bit hazy, but I remember being in awe of the sunset as we drove through New Mexico. It seems like I was so much in awe, I never took a picture.
Grand Canyon National Park
We arrived at the Grand Canyon National Park around 2 or 3am — I can’t even remember. All I remember were the stars. I had never been anywhere before where I could see so many stars. John and I had gotten out of the car maybe a mile before the entrance of the park just to stare for a while.
We slept in the car again, waiting for the sunrise. Since it’s not the easiest thing to do — sleeping in a Yaris — it wasn’t difficult to get up in time to walk to the edge of the canyon for the amazing sunrise.
Camping at the Grand Canyon
Another part of this trip that I was extremely excited about was the camping! I had never been camping before (probably because camping in Florida outside of December through March would be miserable and nobody in my family seems to camp).
Camping in the desert in late September/early October was amazing.
The campsites on the south rim are all in close proximity to bathrooms and there’s a nice (but expensive) general store nearby in the park. You don’t really need to leave the park – and we didn’t for the 2.5 days we spent at the park.
Our campsite was surrounded by tall pine trees, so it was nice and shady during the day. It got pretty chilly out at night, which was preferable for us, and we just bundled up in blankets in the tent while we slept.
Being from Orlando, I was amazed at the buglessness of the night.
We grilled out, tried to make Jiffy Pop (and sort of succeeded), and drank coffee around the fire each night.
Waking up outside with the morning sun is one of my favorite feelings in the world and we enjoyed every minute of it in the cool mornings.
We would have a cup of coffee and just lazed around the campsite while the sun came up. Little birds came to hang out with us and I would sing to them like Snow White. (Okay, they weren’t there to hang out with us, we know… and no, I didn’t sing to the birds. That’s a private moment not meant for a public campground.)
Once we were awake, we would hike around the canyon.
Although we didn’t hike down into the canyon, we still had a great time hiking the rim. Everything was paved for the most part, but there was still a lot of uphill/downhill to keep it interesting.
If you haven’t been there, the giant hole in the ground may not seem like much to look at, but when you’re standing there in front of it, 11 miles away from the other side, you can’t help but be in awe of the amazing power of the Colorado River. When we could see the Colorado River from up on the rim, it looked tiny and unmoving. It’s astounding that a river that looks so small could carve so much out of the earth.
After two nights of camping, hearing the coyotes in the night, watching the ravens and listening to their throaty, guttural honks during the day, we took off back home.
Our next stop was the Meteor Crater. My mom had talked about visiting the crater, so I thought we should give it a look before we left.
It’s hard to realize the depth and scale of the crater, even when you’re standing in front of it. It’s a mile to the other side of where we’re standing in the photos above and in the middle of the crater, there is an old mine shaft that you can barely see. (Here’s a picture of what’s down there from Wikipedia.)
The visitor center had a lot of cool stuff in it and one of our few souvenirs from this trip is a cool, retro-looking coffee mug.
We didn’t realize the Painted Desert would be a drive-through kind of park, but we were happy that it was because we were getting low on time!
I’m sure you could get out and hike a lot of this park, but it really was a lovely drive.
On the road again
For the rest of the trip, we didn’t really stop except to eat, sleep or use the rest room so that we could get home in time to rest before going back to work.
It was somewhere in the middle of New Mexico that we lost all contact with the outside world. We couldn’t even get a radio station!
It was one of the strangest feelings I’d ever had, to be so far away from things that I just expect to be there on a normal day.
But it was also nice to know that there wouldn’t be any phone calls.
Or Facebook updates to check.
It was just us and the road.
Yep, I know it’s really cheesy.
But it was so peaceful to unplug so completely and know that if you missed a call, text, tweet, whatever, you had a completely legitimate excuse for missing it.
We stopped at The Nature’s Way Cafe in the middle of nowhere and John did something super brave — he ate a burger topped with green chilies while on a road trip.
It wasn’t a good idea.
The sun setting over the mountains was breath taking. I wish this had been the end of the trip and we would have just been home, asleep after this! But no, we had another day of driving ahead of us with pretty much nothing new to see.
We can just pretend…
Achievement Unlocked: First Night Camping Under the Stars!
Achievement Unlocked: Out of Range – No AM or FM radio waves out here!
Miles Driven: Over 4,500