Backpacking Dad’s Southwest Road Trip, Part 4: The Grand Canyon

06/07/2013 By Shawn Burns

This is Part 4 in a series of stories (and tips) from our most recent road trip. Read Part 1, on the Calico Ghost Town, here, Part 2, on Las Vegas, here, and Part 3, on Flagstaff, here.

Before we left on our road trip, we brought the car in for a service. We didn’t want any leaky tubes or gaskets or flat tires or anything to crop up while we were driving across three states. One thing we had our mechanic look at was a wonky (technical term) thermostat knob in the dashboard. Sometimes it would work, and the heater would come on, and other times I’d have to crank it back and forth, fiddling, looking for that one perfect spot before things would start to heat up.

I apologize for that sentence.

Anyway, the mechanic looked at it, and said it was going to be many hundreds of dollars to replace the part, although what he really wanted to do was just solder a loose wire. The part replacement is what the manufacturer recommended, but our mechanic is a tinkerer. He probably could have fixed it with a simple solder, but I didn’t have time for him to get it wrong, then have to order the part for what would then be a non-functioning (as opposed to a sometimes-functioning) unit. And honestly, we weren’t too worried about it. We were going to Arizona in the spring, not Canada in the winter. We had checked the weather before the trip, and it was supposed to be lovely the entire way, though maybe a little hot in Phoenix.

On the morning of our Grand Canyon day, it started hailing in Flagstaff.

TRAVELING WITH KIDS TIP #10: Always have layers available. No matter how cold you think it can’t get, that’s how cold it will get where you’re going.

It hailed all the way out of Flagstaff, when the hail stopped and it turned into blowing snow. I messed with the heater. I cranked it back and forth, fiddling, looking for that one perfect spot. No joy. We were heaterless. When the mechanic had re-tightened things after looking them over, he did something that made the heater not work at all instead of work sometimes.

Worse, we could see cars driving down the mountains from the Grand Canyon, and they were covered in snow. This was not the weather that was promised us. And we witnessed microclimate after microclimate on the way up the hills: blowing snow in some places, sunshine over meadows, fog banks on the ground where the mountains were kissing the sky. We really had no good idea what we’d encounter when we finally arrived at the Grand Canyon.

What we found was snow. Snow, and biting, bitterly cold air.


At first, the cold weather and snow on the ground was a novelty for the kids.


But as we left the visitor’s center parking lot and set out to find the rim, the cold started to get to Adrian.


He was not a happy hiker. The rest of us weren’t much happier. But it was the Grand Canyon! The sights! Look, there’s a sight.


There’s another sight.


We got the freezing kids out to the rim, and onto a promontory rock, where they posed, briefly, for this picture.


TRAVELING WITH KIDS TIP #11: Don’t forget, in your optimistic packing, that kids hate having cold hands. Bring gloves. Even if you never ever ever ever ever need gloves where you live, you just never know. Tiny hands get cold very easily, and heads are impossible to convince that everything is going to be okay. All they can detect is coldness.

Somehow, we distracted Adrian from his troubles long enough for him to enjoy himself, standing up above the earth.


He bestrode the world like a colossus. An adorable colossus.


We returned to the visitor’s center to warm up for a while. The kids saw some videos about the majestic vista they had just fled. Then they went across the plaza to the bookstore for some browsing.


Adrian, the adorable ranger, picked out some binoculars to bring home with him. Or, as he calls them: bee-knockulars.


I was kind of disappointed that we had spent so little time at the canyon rim, getting only a view pictures. None of them had that Grand Canyon majesty that I was really looking for. So while Emily and the kids browsed the bookstore, I took the camera back out to the rim to try to get some more pictures.

That’s when it started hailing on me.

Not only did it hail on me: fog rolled in again, covering the canyon floor and most of the rim walls. I got a picture of me. You can kind of make out the Grand Canyon behind me.


And here’s another picture of Adrian. I just like this picture.


Erin insisted on her own bee-knockulars, and after they had them unboxed they couldn’t wait to run outside and stare at each other with them.


They stared up close.


They stared at the ground.


They stared from a distance.


They stared at Emily’s butt.


Somehow, once the kids had their bee-knockulars, they forgot all about the cold.

TRAVELING WITH KIDS TIP #12: If you are inclined to purchase toys or things for the kids to have in the car, make them quiet ones. You will be in the car a long time, and you don’t need to hear every chirp, squeak, crackle, crunch, beep, or yell. You know what makes a great, quiet, distraction for a drive: bee-knockulars.

Our Grand Canyon day was stressful. The drive was stressful, the kids’ distress at the cold was stressful, the weather sabotaging our photo opportunities was stressful. But it was still a fun day, and we will remember it forever. We’ll probably remember it better than we would have if the weather had been perfect and we’d just seen some boring rocks at the bottom of a ravine.












We didn’t stay at the Grand Canyon all day. We arrived in early afternoon, and left in late afternoon, trying to get ahead of a weather system that was moving in, and which discouraged a drive along the rim, like we had intended. Instead, we backtracked, had some dinner just outside of the park, and drove back through Flagstaff.

We had to make Phoenix before bedtime.