The last time I visited the Grand Canyon, I was a teenager … eons ago. But hey, compared with the national park's age — 2 billion years or so — I'm a youngster. Last spring, my husband and I arrived at the South Rim and immediately took a hike on the steep Bright Angel Trail. Plot twist: I twisted my ankle. I was forced to rewrite the script for a weekend of hiking, so I found other ways to amuse myself, while my husband cheerfully plodded on without me. Thanks to the park's excellent shuttle-bus system, visitors can enjoy the canyon on many levels: history to learn, ever-changing vistas and even good shopping. The tab: We spent $410 for two nights at the Yavapai Lodge and about $180 for meals.
The rooms at the Yavapai Lodge have been renovated, and I was pleasantly surprised by how modern our second-floor room in Yavapai East was. (Yavapai West has single-story units.) We had a king-sized bed, comfy love seat and picture window with a lovely view of the juniper and pinyon forest. The bathroom was small but adequate, and the amenities included in-room coffee, air conditioning (in some rooms), mini-fridge and a flat-screen TV. It was a short walk from our room to the reception/lobby area, cafeteria and small tavern, all renovated as well. The complex is next to a general store, plus there was a handy shuttle stop. The lodge is about a half a mile from the rim.
The South Rim isn't noted for its haute cuisine or any particular cuisine, for that matter. But hiking can work up an appetite, and you can't eat the scenery. Our lunch of turkey sandwiches, chili and soup at the deli in the general store was OK for a quick bite. The best option is the dining room in the historic El Tovar Hotel, a century-old gem once considered the most elegant hotel west of the Mississippi River. The rustic pine and stone dining room features colorful murals and great views. It was a chilly night, and we sat near the fireplace while enjoying chicken with mushroom sherry sauce over angel-hair pasta and pork chops with apple-jalapeño chutney and mashed sweet potatoes.
My sprain was mild enough that I could get around. I hit the shuttle buses and sampled different routes, each stopping at vantage points for views of the canyon. My favorite was the Hermit Road route. Afterward, I combined two of my favorite things — history and retail therapy — at the Hopi House across from El Tovar (both opened in 1905). Architect Mary Colter designed it to represent a typical Hopi adobe, so be careful not to bonk your head on the low door as you enter. There are well thought out displays of Native American arts and crafts. I enjoyed browsing the large selection of handcrafted pottery, jewelry, kachinas and Navajo rugs for sale.
THE LESSON LEARNED
Scouts, be prepared: It's pitch-black at night, so bring a flashlight. Be kind to Mother Nature and bring reusable water bottles to fill up at the park's water stations. And if you're a klutz like me, remember to pack a first-aid kit.
Yavapai Lodge, 11 Yavapai Lodge Road, Grand Canyon; (877) 404-4611. Wheelchair-accessible rooms in Yavapai East.
El Tovar Hotel, 1 El Tovar Road, Grand Canyon Village; (866) 315-2980. Wheelchair accessible.
Hopi House, Grand Canyon Village. Wheelchair accessible.