After not being so keen at first, Harriet Corp completely changed her mind in trekking through Death Valley and The Grand Canyon. Here she shares her top tips and advice for trekking this adventure, as well as stunning views that will definitely inspire the adventure seeker in all of us!
Do I really want to go?
I never wanted to go to America. I know how ridiculous that sounds as you are reading a blog about my American road trip but honestly, I never wanted to go. I had an image in my head what it would be like from endless TV programmes and films I had seen, and I had absolutely no interest in it
I am one of those people that has lists of places that I want to visit, experiences I want to have and mountains that I want to climb, and since changing my career in the year of this trip I had more time to be able to finally do all these things. The only problem was I had a partner that travelled the world for work. To try and reduce his time in airports, we decided a few years ago we would try to plan our adventures near to where he was working.
This had been working well with amazing trips to Budapest and various parts of Italy to name a few. Last year though, due to other adventure trips I had planned and both of our work commitments the only time we had available together was when he was working in Austin Texas.
As I said, I wasn’t interested, not in the slightest but I knew I had to do some research and try and plan something into the 9 (very rare) days that we had together.
Planning and research
The planning and research was endless and I didn’t feel even remotely inspired by anything I saw, looking back I think there was probably loads of amazing things to do but I shut myself down because of the (silly!) image I had in my head of what America would be like.
My partner said he wanted to go to Death Valley National Park. I had absolutely no idea what that was but anywhere that has ‘death’ in the title didn’t sound like somewhere I wanted to go!! This is how our relationship works, he drops in little ideas and I (as he says) “make it happen”.
So that was my starting point, Death Valley. That is how I started researching the US National Parks. Once I started researching, I quickly realised that finding something exciting to do wasn’t going to be the problem anymore, it was going to be whittling down the ideas to squeeze what we could into our 9 days.
Finally, that spark of excitement was there all I had to do was “make it happen!”
The road trip that we planned wasn’t like any other that I used for inspiration. Most other 7-10 day road trips either did Death Valley and Sequoia National Park OR Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. We wanted to do it all, but sadly something had to give.
I decided that we each had to choose one place on the trip that absolutely had to be there. He chose Death Valley and I chose the Grand Canyon. Annoyingly (at the time whilst planning) these were in opposite directions, with Las Vegas airport being in the middle.
I just needed to figure out how to make that happen and luckily for us, I did. This was by far the best trip either of us have ever been on to date. The views we witnessed, places we visited and the hikes that we did were memories that will stay with us for a lifetime. So much so that we are already planning our next trip back to explore more National Parks. Luckily, I don’t mind admitting when I am wrong, although I do get reminded regularly of the fact I said, “I’m not interested in America!”
We took our trip at the start of November, this meant that it was much quieter in the National Parks. I would highly recommend going at this time of year as accommodation and car hire seemed a lot cheaper and you got some spectacular views all to yourself. The heat can be an issue at other times of the year too, particularly in Death Valley, but the weather we had was perfect. I am going to go through the trip giving information on how we spent our time in each location, in the hope that I can inspire you to jump in and take this trip yourself or think about planning a road trip of your own. Enjoy!
Day 1- Arrival in Las Vegas
Las Vegas was the place I was least excited about visiting but needs must as that was where we were flying into. We stayed a night there at the start and the end of our holiday, due to early/late flight times. For me, Las Vegas was part of that image I had of America that did not fill me with excitement. That said (again, I am happy to admit when I am wrong!) I am really glad that I have been. It is one crazy crazy place, like nothing I have ever seen before. Everything is huge and loud and bright, but as I say I’m glad to have seen it. There are hundreds of hotels and restaurants to choose from here, which I am sure are fantastic but I’m not going to delve into that in this blog.
Day 2- Las Vegas- Pahrump
On day 2 we did something extravagant, which I know lots of people may not want or be able to do but I am so glad that we did it. We took a helicopter ride from Las Vegas over Hoover Dam and to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. This was an incredible way to see the Grand Canyon for the first time. The views and the rock formations that we saw from the helicopter in some ways were even more amazing than actually being in the canyon. This experience really gave that birds eye view and showed the vastness of this natural wonder.
On arrival back to Las Vegas we jumped in our hire car. Something that my partner wanted to do was hire a Mustang (boys will be boys!), it turned out due to the time of year we went that this was actually cheaper than hiring a mini!
We put the roof down and hit the open road out of Las Vegas towards Pahrump. This journey was just over an hour. Pahrump is approx. an hour from Death Valley, we decided to stay here rather that inside the National Park as it was much cheaper and meant we had less time to drive the following day.
- Travel/food tip- Pahrump has a supermarket and plenty of shops. Before heading to Death Valley ensure you have plenty of food and water as there is not a lot available once you get inside the National Park.
- Restaurant tip- We ate at Chatthai Bistro, which served us some amazing Thai food (a bit of a break from the fried food!)
Day 3- Death Valley
We had an early start, leaving the hotel before 5 am to take the hour drive into Death Valley National Park. We entered the park through Death Valley Junction, shortly after there are signs and a place for you to stop to pay for your entrance fee to the park. This is really simple and just keep hold of the ticket.
I had researched that Zabriskie Point was the best place to watch the sunrise. I would have to agree that this was truly amazing. There were quite a few others gathered here to watch the sunrise (this was probably the most people we saw all day!) but everyone was completely silent watching the light show before their eyes. As the sun came up, it moved slowly over the strange shaped and coloured rocks in front of us. We sat there, our first glimpse of Death Valley, wanting to appreciate the moment but so excited for what we were going to find during the rest of the day.
The next stop after sunrise was Badwater Basin. This is the lowest point in North America at 282 ft below sea level. This is a surreal landscape of vast salt flats that can be seen from your car (I would advise more than that!) or a short walk along a broad walk. I would recommend going here early on before it gets too hot. Even though the weather was much cooler in November by midday it was still very warm.
This was a short hike and we saw no people at all. Which was amazing, when we sat still you could hear absolutely nothing at all. This also felt quite scary at times. There is a clear path which leads you through a dramatic canyon to a natural bridge formation.
This was another beautiful hike with slightly more people milling around but by no means busy. This is a trail head to walk to Zabriskie Point through golden badlands. We didn’t do this but if we had more time we would have liked to. (See photo)
If you have seen photos of Death Valley, it’s likely that you have seen Artist Palette. This is a striking array of colours on the rocks which comes from oxidation of different metals (there is lots more information about this online). There is a 2 mile one way road called Artist Drive which has twists and turns through colourful rock walls, it was so good that we did it twice!
This is a perfect place to get some shade and a top up of water. There is also a gas station here and an opportunity to pick up supplies.
This view was the perfect way to end the day and to watch the sun setting, at 5,475 ft we had an amazing view of Badwater Basin which we had visited earlier, and Telescope Peak at 11,049ft. As the sky changed colour, we once again sat in silence enjoying a very special moment, with not another soul in sight.
That evening we made the journey back to Pahrump for an early night, ready for the next part of the adventure.
Day 4 – Pahrump to Grand Canyon (South Rim)
This was a long drive (approx. 5-6 hours) as we took it leisurely stopping wherever we wanted. Our main stop was Hoover Dam and then some signposted viewpoints along the way. Even though this day was mostly spent in the car, we really enjoyed having the top down and enjoying the huge highways. Driving over there is so easy and enjoyable, and it feels like part of the adventure, you get to see so many different towns and landscapes.
For our three nights in the Grand Canyon we decided to actually stay in the National Park. This was (at that time of year) about the same price as staying in neighbouring towns but we knew we would be up early for every sunrise and watch every sunset, so we wanted to be as close as possible.
We stayed at Yavapai Lodge, which had everything that you could possibly want or need, I would highly recommend staying here. The great thing about this part of the Grand Canyon is that is has a free shuttle service that runs all through the day and takes you to all the points of interest, this is a great way to travel and reduces the traffic within the National Park. If you walk 4 miles one way, then you can always get a bus back if you don’t fancy the walk. (Check which routes are running during the season you visit).
For our first sunset we went straight to the canyon rim near Yavapai Point. Absolutely nothing (not even my helicopter ride a few days before) could prepare me for the first visit to the canyon rim. There are barely any safety rails (don’t let that put you off its safe if you are sensible) just you standing on the edge of a gigantic, beautiful, 1 mile deep canyon. As far as you can see there are colourful rock formations and small glimpses of Colorado River. It is truly breath taking.
Day 5 to 7- The Grand Canyon
In all honesty the next three days go by in a blissful blur. Whichever area of the Grand Canyon that you go to it is sure to blow you away and leave you wanting more. In these 3 days we were completely shut off from the outside world, with barely any phone signal, all we had was nature at its absolute finest.
Every morning we watched the sunrise from a different spot such as YavaPai Point and Yaki Point, each were amazing in their own way. Watching the sunlight slowly roll over the canyon, lighting up different areas in each spot you visit.
Every evening we watched the sunset from spots such as Mather Point and Hopi Point, nothing beat watching the sun go down and the rocks go from red, to orange and then finally into darkness.
We used our car on one of the days (as no shuttles go to this area) to drive along Desert View Road stopping at a variety of viewpoints before reaching Desert View. This point has a watch tower which you can go up and has amazing views of the canyon and down to the Colorado River.
Hiking in the Grand Canyon was like nothing I have ever experienced. Usually we slog all the way up to get the views not down! There is plenty of advice available within the park about routes that you can do.
We decided to do two hikes (along with all the walking along the rim!)
South Kaibab Trail
This starts at the South Kaibab Trail head and goes to different points such as Ooh Aah Point, Cedar Ridge and Skeleton Point. We didn’t do the full hike as we were late starting but we walked to Ooh Aah Point which definitely lived up to its name!
Bright Angel Trail
This trail can take you down to the Colorado river although it is advised not to attempt that as a day hike. This route also has people on it hiking from the North Rim to the South Rim and they camp in the canyon. This sounded amazing…a possible addition to my never ending list! Again, we just did part of this trail. We hiked down to the 3 mile rest house and spent some time enjoying the sun and the views. This trail was the busiest but that didn’t take anything away from the beauty of it.
I would highly recommend these two hikes; they weren’t too strenuous for moderately fit person and gave you an opportunity to see the canyon from a completely different angle.
Day 8 and 9 – South Rim- Las Vegas- Home
Travelling back to Vegas was just as enjoyable except we knew our adventure was coming to an end. We left the canyon as late as possible and arrived back into Las Vegas to the bright lights and busy streets. I was well and truly having to eat my words…America and its National Parks had completely stolen my heart!
I hope this blog has inspired you to explore the US National Parks. If you, like me hadn’t even considered it as an option then I would urge you to research and see if something gives you that sparkle of excitement. It might just turn out to be your best adventure to date too.
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