I decided before my Tours of Santa Fe business picked up (this was on Feb 28, before the corona virus brought the tour business to a stand still) we should get out of town. A Grand Canyon road trip was just the ticket. I-25 being a north south route has some traffic but mostly cars so when we got on I-40 I was surprised at the heavy truck traffic. Trucks in front, back and beside me.
Arrival at the canyon
We arrived at the El Tovar a little after 5:00. El Tovar is the classic hotel right on the canyon rim. It is the first hotel built on the Grand Canyon and it was built by the Santa Fe railroad. As with all old Santa Fe railroad hotels it was managed by the Fred Harvey company. We could not get a room in the El Tovar but we did have a canyon view room in Kachina Lodge. Kachina is next to El Tovar and was built in the 60s. You check in at El Tovar and then try and I emphasize try to find a parking place. It was surprising that there is so little parking.
Grand Canyon Day 1
We got up a bit late on our first day at the Grand Canyon. This was a relaxing trip so we relaxed. We walked the short distance along the canyon rim trail to El Tovar for a nice breakfast to start the day. After breakfast we walked to the Verkamp’s Visitors Center for more information. The man in the center advised driving along the rim road (AZ-64) to the Desert View tower with stops along the way. Now on our Grand Canyon road trip we will see the canyon!
We got the car and headed out for our rim trail adventure. Out first stop was the main park Visitors center. It is a big facility with five parking lots. Very up to date unlike the Village where we are staying. Again, I was surprised at the crowds. This is the off season but the number of people there made us wonder what it is like during the high season. It must be difficult to even get close enough to see the canyon!
We walked out to Mathers point and the view was spectacular. Most of the people there were Asians, speaking Spanish or some strange European language. Occasionally we would hear English, but not often. Everywhere there are signs saying don’t feed the squirrels or any wild life. Of course a large group of Spanish speakers were feeding a squirrel! He was standing on his hind legs begging for food. Squirrel bites are the most common injury at the canyon. Maybe they need signs in all languages!
Desert View Tower
Desert view is a stone tower at the end of the rim road. It was designed by Mary Colter in 1932. It is a round stone tower 70 feet high and provides the highest viewing along the south rim. The interior is covered in fantastic Indian murals. The tower is designed to look like an ancient ruin. The climb up the inside with all the murals and lookout windows was one of the highlights of the trip. The Desert View tower is not to be missed.
Road to Hermits Rest
When we arrived back at the village we decided to continue the drive west to Hermits rest. This was the last day the road will be open to private cars. Starting on March 1st only shuttle busses will be on the road.
We started from Bright Angle lodge and drove along the road. The viewpoints were smaller but the canyon drop off were more dramatic. From several of the viewpoints you can see the Bright Angle trail leading down the canyon to the river and Phantom Ranch. One particular view point is called the Abyss. The walls go straight down in a dramatic fashion.
Ready for a steak and some brews
After a fantastic day along the canyon rim we were looking forward to a steak dinner. Also a few good cold brews. We were going to the Arizona Steak house at Bright Angle lodge but when we arrived it was closed! Remodeling don’t you know. Nothing on any of the websites about that. This is the time of year when they do a lot of work such as a remodel but they should tell people and not just let them find out when they try and go there!
Food at last !
So, we went to the Harvey Burger Café in Bright Angle lodge. What a complete disaster. The place was mobbed so we waited almost 45 minutes to get in. When we finally did we sat in an area that was supposed to be the bar. The bar was being remodeled so this was just a few tables plus a table with plus a table full of booze bottles. The service was terrible and the food mediocre at best. Not a good way to end a great day of our Grand Canyon road trip.
Calling all ski bums! The road trip from Santa Fe to Durango and Purgatory is a must. Do not take route 550. This is the route everyone from Albuquerque takes and it will get you there a bit faster. But the journey is a big part of a road trip and the 550 route does not offer much. So you may ask, what path should I take? Head north on 285, through Espanola, Abiquiu and Chama. Up over the continental divide and into Pagosa Springs. The road, the views and the mighty rockies make for an incredible journey. Head on over to Durango and you have arrived in a unique little western town.
On arriving in Durango you must stop at the historic Strater hotel and have lunch in the Diamond Bell. The waitress are dressed in period tight little corsets, fishnet stockings with a feather in their hair. Oh, and the food’s good too.
The drive to Purgatory ski area will continue the impressiveness of the road trip. Massive mountains rise up on both sides of the road. The Sangre De Christos around Santa Fe seem puny in comparison.
Now for the skiing.
Purgatory is a big ski area and I will be honest, I was a bit intimidated. I have skied many big areas but not for several years. This was my first road trip to Purgatory and I was totally unfamiliar with the mountain. But I gave it a go. The snow was hard packed which is not my favorite but you take what the mountain gives you. The sun came out, I was on the mountain and life was good.
Two hours of skiing and it was time to call it a day and find a good Durango brew pub. The Steamworks proved to be the perfect place. Good food and good beer. Just a short walk from the Stater down charming Main Street so no bothering with parking and driving back after sampling a variety of their excellent brews.
Full Ski Day.
The next day was a full ski day and the final day of the Durango road trip. The sun was out and the sky blue. A great ski day. The only down side was the hard packed snow. I had planned to ski all day but by 2:00 my legs were telling me ‘It’s time to call it a day’.
Back to Santa Fe.
The next day my Durango road trip came to an end. The drive back to Santa Fe was impressive as always. A herd of Pronghorn Antelope close to the road added an unexpected bonus to the incredible mountain scenery.
Click for information about Tours of Santa Fe.
When a friend asked if I would like to do a road trip to Death Valley this past January, how could I refuse.
This was the best time to experience Death Valley due to the temperatures. In the summer it is the hottest place in the USA. Temp should range from 38 to 65 so we had to bring warm and light clothes. We weren’t sure what to bring, but we are guys a pair of jeans, hiking pants, couple of shirts and warm jackets were all we needed. No need for four or five pairs of shoes !!
Off to Death Valley
We fly from Santa Fe to Las Vegas then our road trip begins as we drive toward Death Valley. The Nevada town of Pahrump was the last stop in Nevada before California and Death Valley. You just have to love a town called Pahrump!
We are in Death Valley. The lowest, hottest and driest place in the USA. This is truly a unique and odd place. I expected interesting scenery but I was taken aback by the incredible and uniqueness of the place. Only the pictures of the Artist Plate, The Devils Golf Course and Bad Water Basin can do Justus. They are in the slide show. It is a truly incredible place.
We had dinner at the Ranch Steak house which is quite the place. Lots of old west stuff on the walls. We were both a bit shocked at the prices. This is the only place for miles around and everything has to be shipped in but still, $48 for an ok steak. Well the beer was cold.
Day 2 in Death Valley
Today we started out on the Salt Marsh and it was cold. 30 some odd and windy. The little salt stream is supposed to have puppy fish. We saw none.
Next was the Keane Wonder Mine. A gold mine from the early 1900s. Fun to visit with an old mining engineer.
Then the Ubehebe crater. This is a volcano and the landscape is amazing. I was surprised that there were about 8 cars in the lot because we had seen none on the drive out. We hiked about half way around and up to Little Ubehebe. We had our lunch, PBJ sandwiches made in the morning, as we sat overlooking this amazing sight.
Next stop was Darwin falls, the only water in Death Valley. We hiked up to the falls, which are not big, maybe 12 to 15 feet but still nice. We found a photographer from Santa Fe there with a pro camera. His studio is in Santa Fe but I have not stopped in to see his work or the picture he took of the fall. On the way back, I wondered what happens to the river, stream actually. We followed it and eventually is just disappears into the sand.
Day 3 in Death Valley
The Mosaic Canyon trail leads up a canyon with many colored rock formations. A nice hike up a fairly flat canyon. We climb a bit then decided that it was late and well we didn’t want to climb the big rocks. One interesting thing is we kept running into the same groups of people at each stop. All nice folks and we all headed to the Mesquite Sand Dunes for a sunset docent tour.
The docent pointed out various tracks of the little critter that live on the dunes. Beatles, Kangaroo rats and other stuff. We saw a bug but no rats. We stayed until after sunset. With the setting sun the mountains become purple. Purple mountains, majesty.
Final Day in Death Valley
The final stop in Death Valley was the Golden Canyon trail. Again, we run into several groups from the day before. The trail leads up a canyon to the Red Rock Cathedral. Impressive sight. We got to the base and climb up a bit but decided we didn’t have time to go to the top. Also, it looked really hard. All the young kids did it so more power to them !!!!
An excellent road trip. It was colder than I had expected and I sort of would like to experience Death Valley in July when temperatures can reach 120 degrees. Then you would know you were in Death Valley !!!
Click for information about Tours of Santa Fe.