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A Sinfully Grand Christmas Trip Report


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We were moving pretty fast and didn't want to create elk jam gridlock, so most of the pics are a blur...

I also noticed that the Grand Canyon elk have some appearance differences from the Yellowstone elk. The rough around their necks seems much more dense and their colors seem darker. I'm sure it's all an adaptive thing based on environment.

As we drove further in, we saw remnants of a previous snow storm...

It was also pretty bizarre to see the Ranger Operations building and have it be dead when so many people were in the park. It actually made me pretty sad as I'd been looking forward to seeing the kids interact with the rangers at GCNP.

More Grand Canyon train...

We were actually making a loop at this point. We missed the entrance for the El Tovar and were circling around. Sam spotted some mule deer right after this, but David was getting antsy about check in details, so I made figuring all of this out my focus. OK...well, not before taking a pic of the bus...

We pulled up to the El Tovar and realized that we weren't going to find any parking, so David dropped me off...

No, I was not lucky enough to snag a room here. I booked about 6 months out when I got this crazy trip idea in the middle of our Yellowstone, etc. plans, but this was where I needed to check in. Still, we had a rim view room at the Kachina Lodge (right next door), so I thought that was a really nice spot for Christmas.

Check in was pretty easy, BUT when I asked about parking I was told that we'd probably have to wait until all the day guests left to get anything remotely close to our lodge. I get that this is the Grand Canyon, but it really sucked that lodge guests didn't get any kind of parking priority. I also confirmed that the room I saw off to my right was the El Tovar Dining Room. The guy who checked me in confirmed, but I could tell he was about to give me a lecture about how only people with reservations would be getting in there that night for dinner... which he basically did...and I could gleefully reply that I had a reservation. If there's one thing Disney dining has taught me...it's to know when reservations are really needed and to not waste time with booking them.

I tried calling and texting David, but service was really spotty. I was cold and he had my big coat in the car (as well as both real cameras), but here I was at the south rim of the Grand Canyon for the first time in my life. I wasn't about to wait on the porch or in the parking lot. I knew he'd find me, so I headed to see it...

David and the kids eventually found me. He had to park a ridiculous distance from the lodge so we started to game plan, which meant going to the room to make sure all was good and decide what might be the best way to approach all of this.

Our room was on the 2nd/top floor of the lodge at the very end of the hall closest to the El Tovar. And the very first thing we all did was check out the view (with the luxury of the room heater right at our feet).

They list all of these rim side rooms as partial/obstructed views, but it's still a pretty sweet view to have from your hotel room. The room wasn't bad either. I mean, it wasn't our enormous suite at the Ventian, but it was better than our Yellowstone cabin.



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I decided to go out and scope out the building to figure out the best way to do this luggage stuff...and took pics along the way...

In that last pic, we found the elevator. Whew! No dragging bags up the stairs. Mine was nearly 50lbs and my bag with the cameras, binoculars, and my laptop was also a real load. So, this was a thing of joy. We reported back to David who decided to get the car, drive up to the front doors and just unload the bags there...and maybe he'd get lucky that one of those day guests would leave while we were in the process of unloading. No such luck, but it at least was good for us with the bags.

That's it for now. Coming up...

A sunset walk
Ready for dinner
El Tovar decor and shopping
Dinner and Drinks


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I stayed at the El Tovar when we stayed at the Grand Canyon a few years ago. The parking situation was horrible! I too thought they should have spot reserved for hotel guests. We ended up being "lucky", after 15 minutes of circling I got out and checked us in and hubs kept circling and as I was done checking in hubs sent a text that he finally got a spot. So the lucky part was it only took about 25 minutes....


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Many years ago I visited the Grand Canyon. Flew (with 7 others) on a small plane into the canyon, and there we were greeted by a few members of the Hualapai Indian Tribe. We had lunch there with them, and after a while, we flew back to the airport. It was a really fun experience, and worth the price of the tour package at the time.

So glad you got to experience the Grand Canyon--it's really unique and so impressive.


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I stayed at the El Tovar when we stayed at the Grand Canyon a few years ago. The parking situation was horrible! I too thought they should have spot reserved for hotel guests. We ended up being "lucky", after 15 minutes of circling I got out and checked us in and hubs kept circling and as I was done checking in hubs sent a text that he finally got a spot. So the lucky part was it only took about 25 minutes....
Jealous that you got to stay at the El Tovar! David doesn't really have the patience to circle. :hilarious: I had read it would be bad and went as far as to pull up a map with all of the lots (prior to travel), but it all looked so different in person that I left it on him to park where he wanted...which was down at Bright Angel.

Many years ago I visited the Grand Canyon. Flew (with 7 others) on a small plane into the canyon, and there we were greeted by a few members of the Hualapai Indian Tribe. We had lunch there with them, and after a while, we flew back to the airport. It was a really fun experience, and worth the price of the tour package at the time.

So glad you got to experience the Grand Canyon--it's really unique and so impressive.
That sounds like an incredibly cool experience! I know the Hualapai still do a lot with the West Rim...especially since they were able to open up that crazy (scary) skywalk bridge. Very glad we got to see what we did. More to come on that :)


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Dec 25th continued...

We managed to get all of the bags up to the room, but David still wasn't able to find any decent parking. Still, we made it in time before the sun set, so we put on our coats, grabbed the real cameras and walked around a little bit. We really weren't up for walking far, but just enough to try and get our fill of pictures...which was a lot!

As you can see, the kids were also taking pics and I liked quite a few of theirs too. They caught some details I just didn't get...particularly because I never busted out the telephoto lens.

This was also one of the photos K took when I took pic of her taking a pic. Unfortunately, she didn't look and adjust her focus, so the canyon is fairly sharp, but Sam is a bit blurred.

They were also having fun watching the colors change and go in and out of shadows from the clouds.

It's too bad they weren't paying attention to the focus, because they had a few setting sun pics that would have been great if they had...

I won't bore you with any more of the blurry kid pics (for now)...at least the ones from this batch. Ha! We went back to the room because we all needed to warm up, David wanted to rest a bit, and after our bathroom sharing issues the previous night...I wanted Kendall to start getting ready for dinner. Samantha wanted to go back outside and take more pictures, so I bundled back up and headed out.

First up...she brought me to what she's named "Heart Rock."

The sun was low enough that it wasn't hitting much of anything in this section of the canyon.



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But we took some random pics...

You can see all of the caging and such to try and keep the elk from destroying all of the vegetation. I know my parents saw elk cows grazing in this area in the morning and I've seen video of bulls doing the same right under the Kachina and Thunderbird windows. I guess like anything with wildlife, it's all a bit of luck seeing them in these spots.

While it wasn't creating a ton of color in the canyon, there was a nice sunset off to the west...

Temps were falling fast as the sun went down. We were expecting it in the mid to low teens overnight...something we're not used to...so we decided to get our tails inside to warm up and jump in line to get ready for dinner.

While DH kept it a bit more casual, even though I told him we were dressing up (second of three times this trip), the girls and I had fun getting all decked out. Tonight was sparkly jumpsuit #2 for me (I clearly don't have the hang of how people do this stuff on Instagram)...

*Probably should have gotten the trash and recyle bins out of the shot.

I also busted out the dress coat I got just before the trip...since we all decided it would be best to leave my grandmother's fur (that I inherited) at home. Controversial, I know...but it was something she loved from a time when it was glam...and man would it have been warm! Oh well...we all cleaned up nicely.

We grabbed our flashlights (we were warned, pre trip, that it would be fairly dark) and headed over to the El Tovar. There was lighting on the path, but it was very dim...and I was in the same ridiculous heels again...so having a little extra light couldn't hurt. Although, I must say, when you look up and out, you can see how this would be a pretty awesome place for stargazing. I know the park recently switched to being a "dark sky park." I could see how Death Valley would be amazing as a dark sky park as well.

In any event, while we were right next to the El Tovar, there are no entrances directly across from the Kachina...so we had to walk around a little bit...but nothing too crazy. I was excited to get inside and get some of pics of the El Tovar's holiday decor...

I forgot that I could take video and just snapped a really blurry pic of the Christmas evening entertainment in the lobby...

The kids tried taking pics, but they are quickly learning that it takes a lot more manual settings, steady hands and patience to use my old camera in low light situations. Hence this...

...and this...



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After checking everything out and looking in the shops, I decided it was time to check in for dinner. We had a 7:15pm reservation that I booked exactly 30 days out when the window opened (best time I could get after sunset) and I just wanted to make sure all was good. Turns out, they were willing to seat us right away, so we hung up our coats on the coat check rack and made our way to our table.

Little side note-I've seen some people griping about not being able to get into the dining room for Christmas dinner...i.e. not taking walk ups and no reservations day of. On one hand, I felt bad, because with it being winter and Christmas, dining options were few and far between. On the other hand, everything I'd read about the dining room said people are strongly encouraged to make reservations and that they're often required...even when it's not Christmas.

And I must say, on a cold dark night, a fireplace view (even if partially obstructed by the adjacent table) is pretty sweet!

I'd read that there would be a special Christmas menu, but they made sure to add some of the more popular items from the standard menu as well.

I wasn't sure what I wanted for food, but I knew what I wanted to drink...

I was also just having fun taking in all of the details...

I wish I caught the name of our server, but he was very nice...friendly without it being too casual. He made several recommendations that may or may not have helped us order, but it was nice to have insight on the items.

Both of the girls started with the lobster bisque. Apparently, this is the half portion.

David and I each started with the sea scallops on plantain cakes.

For my entree, I had the salmon...

The girls each had the ham...although, Sam had the prickly pear dijon sauce on the side.

David had the prime rib...

It was then time to make some dessert decisions. There were lots of options for the kids and David, but the only thing that kind of worked for me was their gluten free chocolate cake. I knew I'd probably regret having the dairy in it, but it was Christmas...and I wanted a real dessert. So, I had one...and said a little prayer that my tummy wouldn't do awful things at the worst times. I would eventually regret it, but man...it tasted SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO good!

Kendall got red velvet cake, which I was happy to see was a true red velvet and not a heavily dyed red.

Sam had bourbon pecan pie. Because of K's allergies, this is something she's never had before (i.e. we don't get it in the house or make it), but she thought it was the most delicious pie she's ever eaten. Our server informed us that this was his fave as well.

I also loved the chocolate decorations on everything.

I got some pics of their special holiday edible decorations on the way out...

All in all, it was a wonderful Christmas dinner. It's the only time I've eaten a nice dinner in a national park and the majority of the patrons were all dressed up too. So glad that we took a Christmas break from Vegas!

We popped into one of the shops after dinner. Kendall bought this great adult coloring book where you color all of these intricate details of the various national parks. Sam got a deck of cards with constellations. Both girls got to talk photography with the guy behind the counter and he shared some of his photos from one of the recent meteor showers (sadly, we had clouds at home for the Geminids- boooo!). I found the Grand Canyon version of one of my favorite national park books...

And Samantha found me my official trip souvenir...



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We weren't quite ready to go back to the room, so we headed to the lounge. Yes, I had my children in a bar on Christmas. LOL They weren't the only ones and it was more just a bunch of people relaxing and chatting.

Funny little story...I took this pic of the fam while we were perusing the drink menu. The man in the red behind us asked me if I got him in the pic because he photobomed it and made sure to smile. Not sure if I got that smile here, but we all had a good laugh.

David wound up getting some scotch...

And I had a prickly pear margarita...

I guess prickly pear at the Grand Canyon is like Huckleberry is to Yellowstone.

I wanted to be up to see sunrise, so we couldn't linger for too long. So, we packed up and headed back to our room. Sam, who was a really good sport about all of these dresses and skirts, was thrilled to get back into comfy pj's and call it a night.


Coming up...

Sunrise at the Grand Canyon
Breakfast at the El Tovar
Hopi House
The drive back to Vegas
Bellagio ups and downs
Playing the night by ear


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What, no red nose? :joyfull::joyfull:

Loving your pics of the canyon. When I lived in Flag I spent a lot of time at the Canyon - it's just an awesome place to be, especially when the tourists aren't around. One of my favorite sights there was seeing low level clouds flowing over the banks of the canyon like a waterfall. Truly magical!


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View attachment 339701

What, no red nose? :joyfull::joyfull:

Loving your pics of the canyon. When I lived in Flag I spent a lot of time at the Canyon - it's just an awesome place to be, especially when the tourists aren't around. One of my favorite sights there was seeing low level clouds flowing over the banks of the canyon like a waterfall. Truly magical!
Right! It would have been so perfect if they gave him a red nose.

There are a lot more canyon pics to come. That sounds absolutely beautiful with the clouds. One of the luxuries of being close...being able to go at slow times and going more often. Speaking of Flagstaff, you almost got an SOS from me when it was up in the air as to whether or not park gates would be open. Flagstaff/Sedona were going to be our plan B. We had plans C and D too :hilarious:, just in case weather was looking too ugly for safe travel.


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Weather can be troublesome there for sure. Storms come up fast, and I learned the hard way to always be prepared.
We went to the dentist right before the trip and he was telling us about something like that happening to him when he was in the area. Not that I wanted to have to do it, but if it looked like it was going to be bad (even before all of these shutdown worries), we figured we'd just stay in Vegas or head to Anaheim for the night. Hey, the Disneyland Hotel still had rooms for Christmas night!

Those were some excellent photos of the Canyon -- it really is such a spectacular sight!

And those indoor photos--beautiful. I love the Christmas decorations. What a nice trip you had!
And that was only day 1 of pics! LOL Thanks! Always fun to travel new places and see how they do the holidays :)


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Dec 26th-

Initially, I had been all excited to see the Grand Canyon at sunset, but my dad informed me that he was far more impressed with the colors and transformation at sunrise. I think there are really just pros to both, but I wanted to see for myself. Clear skies were initially a concern when I thought we'd see more snow, but the forecast was looking good for the morning.

I think the El Tovar had sunrise listed for 7:37am, so I got out around 7:15am. It was about 14 or 15 degrees outside at the time, which is VERY cold to us. Well, I should say ME...since everyone else was slower to get up and out. I don't think we had snow overnight (although, there were some who thought we had a light dusting), but there was a lot of frost.

Next order of business was to find a spot that I liked. There weren't a ton of people out just but enough...including several people who had some really high end gear. Oh well...this was the first spot I checked out...

I was wondering what kinds of shadows these puffy clouds moving through would add to the colors and contrasts.

At the time, you don't really see all of the subtle changes, but when I go through my pictures, it's almost like a flip book. Not quite time lapse, but just those little things that start to pop as the light levels increase.

I'll spare you the tons of "subtle changes" pictures. At some point in this, David and the kids met me. Not a ton of sun yet, but this one reminds me that the kids had questions about Phantom Ranch. We saw some buildings down in this section, but weren't sure if this was that area. I thought that was even deeper.

The kids' pics are pretty similar to mine, but I did kind of like this one...

We bounced around to a number of spots, but we finally started to see some direct sunlight...

I will try not to overdo it, but here's a few handfuls of pics as the sun started to come up.

I also didn't want to make the news in all the wrong ways. So, we tried to keep to the trail. That guy to the right really made me nervous!

It's funny...same area here from pretty much the same vantage point, but such a huge transformation in a short amount of time...

Panning out a bit...



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Even just a footstep back and it's a slightly different look...

Trying to focus on some different sections...

This section now had a ton of light...

And I kind of laughed it off the night before when I heard it, but they weren't kidding how every day, second, etc. is a different painting.

We hadn't seen many birds, and most we did see were ravens, but I got in around these trees and saw some little black and white birds. Of course, no pictures of them because I was a bit too frozen to be fast. After seeing some pictures, the only thing that looks close is the purple martin.

It didn't photograph well, but I was still trying to get pics of all of the frost around...

The bench was so frosty that it was sparkling. The sign was covered to the point that you could have used an auto windshield scraper to try and read it (which we didn't).

More evidence of the sun and clouds moving to create a different view...

And I don't know why, but this bare tree fascinated me.

Sun is definitely much higher in the sky...

You're probably tired of sunrise pics at this point! LOL...and it's only a small fraction of em. David and the kids stopped to read a non-frosty sign...

It was still pretty frosty out and everyone wanted to go back to the room for a moment ... for some reason... I can't remember why. BUT...I took pics along the way.



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*really should have had my portrait lens out for this.

That's our room up there - top left corner of the pic...

Even the stairs leading up to it have a little view...

I was going to try and take a selfie before heading in, but the older battery on my phone I guess has become temp sensitive. Or maybe it's just the phone. I went from a 75% charge to 7% and then died. I plugged it once inside and once on, it was back to 75%. Oh well. At least I can rely on the big camera to get fun things like this.

On our way back to the El Tovar, I noticed that the flag that was being raised earlier was at full staff...

I couldn't recall if it was at half staff on the previous day, but I knew it hadn't been 30 days since the passing of President Bush. While I know the whole country saw a lot of that coverage, being in the Houston area, it was non stop here. So, I knew it hadn't been that long.

David and the girls wanted to head up to Verkamp's to see if they were open since it looked like they may have the stamp for the girls' national parks book. I took a few canyon pics along the way.

And we have arrived...

I saw all of the boot chains, but we heard everyone advising visitors to not do any kind of crazy hiking during the shutdown. Not sure how many people chose not to heed the warning, but we heard it a lot.

The kids at least got what they came for...

We were getting hungry...time to head in for breakfast.

Also decided we wanted to pop in here afterwards...

I didn't want to waste time waiting on a window view table. There was plenty of view outside and I could see enough from where we were...

The breakfast menu looked incredible...

So, I can't have it, but David and Kendall decided they wanted hot cocoa. One of the runners cam out with cups filled with fresh whipped cream and chocolate chips. Then hand poured the cocoa. I wasn't at a good angle for video...or even pics for that matter...but the cocoa causes the cream to sort of flip and then all of the chips start to liquify and drizzle into the mix. It looked soooooooooo good.



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Also neat to see some of the other details in the room that we didn't see the previous night.

Or even just little details of the tableware...

These two used some downtime to start plotting ideas for future trips.

They'd eventually get to Katmai (my dream!), but were not too pleased to find out that the costs make it one of those trips that probably will not involve them. Of course, narwhal obsessed Sam said she didn't care if she couldn't go to Alaska and see narwhals. So, I found her a trip to see narwhals that she can save for once she's an adult and pulling an income (prices start at $10,500 pp before air).

Food started coming out. Sam got the Belgian waffle...

Looks nice, but apparently it was too overdone/cripsy and lacking the fluffy middle. She said it tasted good, but the texture was off.

Sam also got this cinnamon roll, which was also just OK.

What's funny...it was all too much food for her, so we boxed this up for the road. I didn't realize that she boxed it up and brought it home. I found her in our kitchen at home, four days after this, asking me if it was OK to toss the roll since it had gotten really hard and didn't taste as good. I thought this darn thing got trashed in Vegas! Ha!

Kendall had this take on lox and bagel...salmon crostini...

I got the prime rib hash. It also came with tortillas. It was supposed to come with flour, but they were kind enough to get me corn...nice red ones too!

It was pretty good...a bit oily, but very tasty.

David got the omelette with house-made chorizo. I got to taste the chorizo and that was delicious although not as spicy as David would have liked.

Kendall got something else too because David was afraid the salmon wouldn't keep her filled up until dinner, but I have no idea what she got. I just see they that brought her some preserves.

After this we thought about sitting on the porch for a bit...

I mean, it was a beautiful day out there...

I took a few pics as we walked since we were now in full sun...

Yet there was still enough shade to keep things frosty in a few spots.

I also noticed that they lowered the flag...

It's not Disney or Vegas over the top, but I still love all of the little holiday decorations all over the place...

Before leaving, we made sure to stop into Hopi House...



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While more of a gift shop, it was interesting to see a lot of the art.

One of the ladies in the shop (had a nice chat with her) informed us that the paintings on the stairs were about to celebrate a birthday. I think she said 114 years old. She was really sweet...originally from TX (not too far from us) and was very interested in the girls' travels over the last year.

Before leaving, I picked up some magnets for my team at work (seemed like a steal at $2.99 a piece) and Sam got another souvenir (a Native American flute style instrument). I didn't take any pics of these things, but we had a really neat experience at checkout. The man helping us informed us that he was Hopi and he wanted to teach the girls a little bit about their culture and language. I don't remember everything, but I do remember "askwali," which is the feminine form of thank you.

After this, I checked out, and it was time for a few parting shots before hitting the road. Oh...and David managed to get a parking spot right by the door...so packing up the bags wouldn't be as much of an issue. Just too bad we didn't get this until right before leaving.

Good-bye to the El Tovar...

Good-bye to the Kachina...

I was the driver on the way out. We didn't see any animals or anything, but we did see there was a bit of new snow that had fallen in the peaks in the area, so that was pretty. Sadly, I can take pics and drive and the kids weren't any help.

Coming up...
The drive back to Vegas
An Evening of Exploration
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