"It's just a big hole in the ground."
January 10, 2012 7:50 AM   Subscribe

Grand Canyon in April with an eighty year old and a ten year old . Bad idea?

We’re considering taking my mom to the Grand Canyon this April as an early 80th birthday present. We’ve accepted that we won’t be able to do anything more than short, easy hikes, and for her age she’s quite perky and mobile, but we’re wondering what else we can do with her.

Long drives. We don’t mind sitting in a car all day, driving around and stopping at various sites. What about off-roading? In California we had a small SUV and were able to take some dirt roads and side trails in the desert. Are there opportunities for this at the GC? Keep in mind we’ll also need to keep my ten year old somewhat occupied.

Scenic flights. Assuming we can convince her to get into a small plane or a helicopter, and assuming we can afford it, are these worth it? Can we, say, take a ride down into the canyon, walk around, and get a ride back out?

I’ll just assume rafting is out, unless you prove me wrong.

In the event we did want to do some hiking is there something we could send her off to alone for the day? Like a bus tour or something? (lest you think I’m a horrible person for even considering this, she’d probably be ok with it, as long as it was guided and there was no chance of her getting lost, and it would help to assuage some of the inevitable guilt she will feel for holding us back.)

What about that crazy glass walkway that overhangs the Canyon? Is that too difficult to get to from the "main" side of the park? I would totally dare my mom to do that.

What other activities might be suitable for her that the rest of us would also enjoy? Figure we’d probably be there for the better part of a week.
posted by bondcliff to Travel & Transportation around Grand Canyon, AZ (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you want to get *into* the canyon, it's on a mule or on your feet. The only vehicles below the rim are expensive ambulance helicopters for idiots who think they can walk down to the river and back in one day.

I'd recommend pushing it back to May, perhaps right before Memorial day (when the crowds get thick). It's really goddamn windy in the canyon, which makes 60F feel like freezing (even for me, and I *like* cold weather). I'm not sure if the North Rim is even open in May, much less April.

Besides the lookouts and village ranger talks, there's not much to do *except* hike. A fit 80-year-old could probably do a half-mile down and back on the Bright Angel Trail. Even if the view doesn't change that much in that relatively short distance, to get a sense of just how goddamn tall each of those layers is, is a shock. There are some gravel roads to the West Rim, as it's called. I believe the Skywalk is a pretty far drive from the South Rim Village.

If you're gonna be in the area, you might consider a few side trips: up to the Navajo Bridge, on to Page, or a day in Flagstaff at the Museum of Northern Arizona. The wife and I took our mothers-in-law (heh) to the GC for a four-day trip, and caught the Museum on the way back to PHX for our flight home. I really wish I could have spent another day or more there.
posted by notsnot at 8:33 AM on January 10, 2012

I heard that the drive on dirt roads is so long to the Skywalk that it makes it not worth it.

"Besides the lookouts and village ranger talks, there's not much to do *except* hike." --- This

We spent some time on route 66 in Williams. Bearzona if you think you'd like to see bears. Flagstaff has things that you might not expect. You can tour the observatory where they discovered Pluto if you're into that sort of thing. Flagstaff also has Riordan Mansion it was for brothers. I'd never seen anything like it.
posted by notned at 8:50 AM on January 10, 2012

Best answer: There are several different short, flat walks you can do on the edge of the canyon. On one of my trips (in April) the canyon itself was still frozen, so all we could do was walk along the edge, and we loved it. We also did a helicopter ride, which was AWESOME, and I'm sure your mother would love.

You should absolutely side-trip to Page to see Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. If you go to Antelope Canyon, you *must* go at noon to get the good light.

Note that getting to Antelope Canyone requires a 20 minute or so ride in an open-top jeep, with 10 minutes of that in sand. Also, your mom will have to climb a short, three step ladder to get up to the seats. It isn't strenuous, and the place is amazing. Antelope Canyon itself has a completely flat, sandy bottom floor.

Horseshoe Bend is a half mile hilly walk from a parking lot off the highway. It's sandy and a little slow going, but isn't steep, long or difficult. Note that there are no guardrails at the edge of Horsehoe Bend.

You're so close to Zion (and Bryce for that matter) that if you can stretch this trip to a five day weekend, it would be well worth side-tripping to those spots as well.
posted by cnc at 9:40 AM on January 10, 2012

Best answer: Grand Canyon National Park is really only worth a day unless you are planning on camping overnight in the canyon. The glass walkway is not part of teh National park, it's quite far from there and I have never heard anyone say it was worth it.

++ on Page, AZ. I believe you'll want to focus on Upper Antelope Conyon as the Lower Canyon has quite a number of steps and stairs that might be troublesome for an eighty year old.

Rafting is probably out, but Page is on the edge of Lake Powell with some awesome scenes that can only be seen from the water. Here's a place to start for boat tours: http://www.lakepowelltours.net/
posted by dzot at 9:53 AM on January 10, 2012

Take the Grand Canyon Railway from Williams. Great for any age, comfortable, scenic, historic, and it will get you out of traffic. Totally worth it if you are trying to please a diverse group. They sell packages if you want to stay overnight, but if you want to do it all in one day it gives you about three hours at the rim before you have to catch the train back.

Three hours walking along the rim is a pretty good workout for a spry 80 year old with a child also in-tow. Go back again in a few years for the hiking and rafting when you have just a teenager with you.
posted by quarterframer at 10:26 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was at the Grand Canyon at Christmas. There was a bit of snow and the off rim trails were somewhat icy so you needed yaktrax to hike into the canyon itself. It didn't feel particularly cold or windy but then we may have been lucky and we were wrapped up warm. Still I think you should be ok in April.

As others have said you would struggle to spend more than a day or a day and morningthere given the fact that you can't hike into the canyon with your elderly mother, even if you do end up doing a scenic flight. There are definitely plenty of scenic view points you can stop at and the rim trails are very flat so it would be accessible for your mother. And there's the visitor centre and ranger talks and a film and what have you. But these things only take so much time. You may consider splitting up and one of you hikes a bit into the canyon with the 10 yr old and the other one does all the non strenuous stuff with mother.

But I would strongly encourage you to work out how much time you have available for this trip in total and look at the map and work out what else there is to do that you can do comfortably given how much driving you want to do.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:49 AM on January 10, 2012

Response by poster: Reading the advice here and looking at a map I'm suddenly drooling over a Vegas -> Grand Canyon --> Page --> Bryce --> Zion --> Vegas road trip over 5-6 days. Doable?

I can drive forever, and they'd all do well in the car. Frequent stops to see the sites, of course.
posted by bondcliff at 11:05 AM on January 10, 2012

Best answer: While many are saying it is not worth more than a day at the park, I recommend catching at least a sunrise and/or sunset over the canyon. It is worth it to see the way that big hole changes colors as the light changes.
posted by vagabond at 11:42 AM on January 10, 2012

Best answer: Agreeing that you aren't going to get more than 1-1.5 days out of the Grand Canyon. When I was there (last August) I stayed a little under 24 hours. I arrived in time to watch the sunset (amazing), spent the night at Desert View campground (car camping but much smaller/quieter/nature-y-er than the other campground), got up early for the sunrise (less amazing than sunset but still cool), did the whole bus loop (which allows you to get off for as long as you like at a bunch of lookout points - this is great, and plus you can alternate the bus and walking trails between points as you like) and a few more spots along the rim, and then left late afternoon. I didn't go for any real hikes (because I hadn't been meaning to stay even as long as I did), so I can't comment on how strenuous they are. I would nth throwing Zion in there, it is seriously gorgeous.
posted by naoko at 11:54 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Zion and Bryce are both very worth it; I'd go for Zion if you have to pick one (Bryce is cool but probably more of a one-day experience, and one awesome view -- I'd skip it if it's going to take you way out of your way and spend more time in Zion).

Nthing that the Grand Canyon won't entertain you for more than a day.
posted by half life at 2:48 PM on January 10, 2012

Skip the Grand Canyon, go to Bryce, which is really very accessible for the elderly, as it has four or five viewpoints visited by a regular bus - it's also a real WTF, alien place, I'm not sure it has an equivalent anywhere else. Next, go to Zion, which would be a tougher day for an 80 year old, and isn't as scenic if you can't hike as you are in the bottom of the valley looking up rather than at the top of the rim looking down (as Bryce).

Once you've got over the "ooh, isn't it a big hole", the GC isn't all that, and the perpetual heat haze usually makes for some crappy pictures. You can drive between all three, but the haul down to the GC and back is a long one.
posted by nicktf at 4:22 PM on January 10, 2012

I second the train from Williams, it's a hoot, but yeah May might be better for short hikes around the South Rim. Doable and fun, but two days max if she's up for a short hike down part of Bright Angel (might consider the burros, but boy do they pee everywhere). Sounds like adding in side trips to Bryce and Zion are the way to go.

But when the kid is a teenager? So worth hiking down, camping and hiking out. You just do it in May or October when it's not insanely hot down there. The lack of heat haze usually makes for some amazing pictures.
posted by canine epigram at 9:05 AM on January 12, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. A couple of things:

It has to be April, as that is when school vacation is. Summer isn't an option due to other plans.

The Grand Canyon has to be on the itinerary. My mom has wanted to see the Grand Canyon for about 80 years now. Well, at least since she came to America in 1962. I'm not sure they knew much about it in Ireland. We already took her back to Ireland.

Since we'd be going mostly as a gift for her, we're resigned to the fact that this will not be a hiking opportunity. We're cool with that. We'll go back.
posted by bondcliff at 10:58 AM on January 12, 2012

Bless your little heart(s) for making one of your Mom's wishes come true!
posted by aryma at 7:31 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ok, flight booked! Lodge at the GC reserved.

Current itinerary:

Fly to Vegas, spend the night.
Drive to GC South Rim, spend two nights.
Drive to Page, AZ, spend a night.
Drive to Springdale, Utah (or somewhere around there), spend three nights. Side trips to Bryce and Zion
Drive back to Vegas, spend the night.
Fly home.
Hope I'm still speaking to my mom.

I expect I'll have a few more AskMe questions about this in the next couple months.

Thanks to everyone for the tips, and especially to those who mentioned Page, AZ. We're really looking forward to Antelope Canyon.

Also, my mom knows we're going somewhere but we haven't told her where. It will be interesting to see how long we can keep her in the dark.
posted by bondcliff at 8:18 AM on January 31, 2012

Response by poster: I don't know if anyone will ever read this but I just don't know where else to put it. Our trip was a huge success and my mom had an amazing time. I really owe Metafilter a whole lot because what started as "let's take my mom to the Grand Canyon" turned into so much more because of this thread.

We saw the Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon South rim, Antelope Canyon, Zion NP, Bryce Canyon NP, and Valley of Fire SP. In Vegas we stayed at a couple of places recommended in another thread.

We had more snow our first day at the Grand Canyon than we had all winter in New England. Luckily it started clearing on Sunday and we were able to catch some views. My Monday it was a perfectly fine day. People were right, without hiking down in it the Grand Canyon is amazing to look at but only for so long. We did see the whole South Rim though, taking a shuttle to the West one day and driving out the East exit the next. My mom climbed up four stories to the top of the tower at Desert View, at an altitude over 7000 feet.

I had never even heard of Page, AZ or Antelope Canyon before this thread. I think that was the highlight for all of us. Upon entering the canyon (after bouncing around in the back of a pickup for twenty minutes) my mom said "Oh my God, it's like being in heaven!" which is my mom's way of saying "holy fuckballs!" Our Navaho guide played his flute for us inside the canyon and we got to see the afternoon light doing amazing things on the walls of the canyon.

The drive into Zion from Mt. Carmel Junction was one of the most incredible things I've ever done. I won't even attempt to describe it.

We only had one day to see Zion, though we hope to come back for an extended hiking trip within a few years. We did the two mile round trip Riverside Walk and saw deer, chipmunks, and a monkey! I never thought I'd see a monkey in Zion but we met a very nice woman in a wheelchair and her helper monkey.

In Bryce we drove up to over 9000 feet, walked along the rim of the canyon and saw antelope grazing in a meadow.

We would not have seen most of these places (not yet, anyway, and my mom would never have) without the suggestions from people in this thread. We were all in awe the entire time, even while flying back over those same places on a crystal clear morning. Mom had, as she put it, the trip of a lifetime. So, once again, I am in debt to you fine people. My mom has no idea that there is a place on "the computer" (what she calls The Internet) called Metafilter and how much of her trip would not have happened without it.

I will leave you with this: At one point in Zion my wife and I were taking pictures. We walked back to my mom who was resting on a stone wall waiting for us. She had been staring at a sloping boulder in front of her and, as she put it, she just got the urge climb it. My son climbed up with the video camera, I spotted from below (coincidentally wearing my Mefi t-shirt) and my mom climbed up it. Perhaps not the best idea we've ever had, but certainly not the worst. It sure made mom's day and brought her back to when she was a kid, scrambling over the mountains of Co. Kerry.
posted by bondcliff at 7:29 AM on April 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Glad you had such a good time and more power to your mom for climbing up the boulder :)
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:08 AM on April 27, 2012

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