Molly Hitchings

Grand Canyon National Park

Molly Hitchings
Grand Canyon National Park
  • Drive from Austin to the Grand Canyon: 1085 Miles // 17 hours
  • When: September 8- 15, 2015

The one rule for the trip to the Grand Canyon was 'no phones for maps -- must use paper atlas.'

As a notorious motion sickness fool, hearing that the drive from Austin to the Grand Canyon would take us 17 hours wasn’t the most ideal. But it’s the adventure and quality time that made it all more than worth it.

Having never been to the Grand Canyon before, we weren’t entirely sure what to expect with the length of hikes and day trips we could make. We totally thought we could hike in and out of the canyon in one day (take note, you can’t). In the weeks leading up to the trip, we prepped our gear, used Pinterest for the best camping food ideas, and mapped out our drive in an atlas. Yes… we used a paper map. Chris and Jonathan were very set on not using any sort of map application on our phones to get us there. We headed to HEB the day before and got our breakfast, lunch, and dinners to split between the four of us for our eight day adventure. Jonathan carefully tetris-ed out the YETI cooler and the dry food container to make it all fit perfectly.

The next morning we were out the door by 4am. Ladies asleep in the back, men in the front watching for deer as we drove through the dark morning. Once we got about 3.5 hours outside of Austin, we stopped in Abilene at a Cracker Barrel for breakfast. This was my first Cracker Barrel experience, and I think I’d be okay saying it would be my last. Not that it’s entirely bad (you get way too much food for the $12 you spend), but it’s just not my cup of coffee.

Back on the road, we powered through to Roswell, New Mexico; home of the UFO and aliens. This place was weird. In the middle of nowhere, almost every shop and restaurant was alien themed. I wanted a trinket so badly, but every shop was just so odd I didn’t even know what to get. Now I’m wishing I grabbed a “someone who loves me went to Roswell and bought me this alien shirt” shirt for a friend. We ate lunch at Big D’s Downtown Dive and got burgers. After exploring around Roswell for just the right amount of time, it was back on the road to Bluewater Lake State Park, New Mexico.

Four and a half hours later, we arrived at Bluewater Lake State Park where we camped for the night. A little under two hours past Albuquerque, Bluewater is absolutely gorgeous. We arrived just in time for sunset and it was the most rewarding view. We got a camping spot right at the top of the cliffs and overlooked the lake for the transition of dusk to night. Upon arrival, we met a few fellow campers (Rachel and Kristian) who we joined up with later in the evening for a few drinks around a campfire. They were heading cross country from the East Coast to Lake Tahoe, stopping in the Grand Canyon as well. Great people, that was the first of many fun experiences with them.

Following sunrise, we had our coffee overlooking the lake, and headed back on the road for the final six hour haul to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Driving into the Grand Canyon is mind blowing. Sure I had seen pictures, but I had no idea what to expect. It looks prehistoric. I wouldn’t have been completely shocked if a dinosaur walked past our car and into the canyon. It’s breathtaking. We stopped along the entrance and took some (lots) photos overlooking the vast area. From there, we went and checked into our campsite and got set up. After camp was ready to go for the evening, we headed back to the top of the canyon where we walked around and explored a bit more. The weather was perfect. Early September, it was warm during the day (but not too hot), and a great chill at night to sit by the fire.

Day one in the canyon was an amazing start. We woke up and made breakfast and coffee to prep for our first hike. We headed to Bright Angel Trail, which is a great day hike right at the Grand Canyon Village. The heat definitely increased as you hike deeper into the canyon, so be prepared with lots of water. There are a few spickets along the way, and restrooms if you need it. The steepness of the hike is misleading as well. Definitely plan on it taking twice as long to get back up as it did going down. A beautiful first hike completed, it was back to the campsite for enjoying the outdoors and making dinner.

The following day, we were all surprisingly sore and blistered from the first hike. So we decided to take it easy and walk around the top of the canyon on the paved trails and see some different lookout points. That night, we watched the sunset over the canyon. We set up at a lookout with a bottle of whiskey, and watched the sunset turn to a star lit sky. And then we got lost in the dark trying to get back to our car…

Another great hike we went on was the South Kaibab Trail. The access to this trail is by shuttle bus only. But they run so frequently, it’s easy to catch. The multiple switchbacks, mule trains, and insane views made it my favorite of the trip. As always, going down is the easy part-- but we didn’t want to stop. We hiked a few miles down to get a different perspective of the canyon, passing the time by seeing how many scientific elements we knew by atomic symbol… Wow that sounds so lame when I typed it out. I wasn’t even good at science.

Our time in the Grand Canyon flew by, but it was by far one of my favorite trips I’ve ever taken in my life. The campfire chats, meeting new friends, and getting to know one another better, made each night so special.

And we successfully made it to and from Austin using only our paper atlas.