Traveling Grand on a Shoe String

vintage suitcasesTravel always has a cost but if you love seeing the world, experiencing different geographies and cultures, then the cost is always worth it. Still, there are ways to make a trip affordable, even for thrifty folks like us. Last month, my husband, my sister and I helped my mom cross off a bucket-list item: see the Grand Canyon. We did that and also visited Antelope Canyon – a hidden gem in north-eastern Arizona. This week I’ll focus on the Grand Canyon.

the Look Out Studio designed by architect Mary Coulter.

the Look Out Studio designed by architect Mary Coulter.

Grand Canyon Here’s the great thing about the canyon: pay your $25 entrance fee and nearly everything else you want to see is free. There are shuttle buses that take you to all kinds of lookouts and several very interesting architectural sites all of which are offered to visitors at no cost.

we were surprised at how much green we saw

we were surprised at how much green we saw

The Visitor’s Centre at the Mather lookout has an introductory movie (about 20 minutes), an interpretive centre and park rangers who will answer questions, do talks and give you the Grand Canyon newsletter which has info and maps – all free.

the  Watchtower, designed by Mary Coulter. When you get to the top, you're at the highest point of the Grand Canyon.

the Watchtower, designed by Mary Coulter. When you get to the top, you’re at the highest point of the Grand Canyon.

My favourite part was learning about Mary Coulter, a female architect who designed several of the buildings in the park. She was painstaking about creating buildings that blended in with the landscape and that included Hopi and Navajo art/influence. She also employed Hopi people to build them. What’s amazing about all of that, is that she was doing this in the early 1900s, when women weren’t typically architects and architects weren’t typically being informed by ecology or culture in their design. She was truly a woman ahead of her time, I was so glad to discover her!

John livin' on the edge

John livin’ on the edge

Of course, there are some costs to visiting the canyon. What does cost is food (if you choose to eat in any of the restaurants there, most of which are quite reasonable) souvenirs (huge variety from cheap kitsch to gorgeous artisan stuff) and accommodation. It’s the latter that was our greatest cost. If you decide not to stay in the park, you have to stay either in Flagstaff or Page – both about an hour and a half drive to the park. If you’re doing a one day visit to the Grand Canyon this might make sense but doing a one day visit to the Grand Canyon is stupid. We spent 3 nights, which was just about right for a visit that did NOT include going down into the canyon. We basically did everything we could on the South Rim.

Yavapai Lodge - clean, very basic, very pedestrian accommodation. Conveniently located.

Yavapai Lodge – clean, very basic, very pedestrian accommodation. Conveniently located.

Because we were spending multiple days here, we chose to stay in the park at one of the “cheaper” lodges (no canyon view). It was basically a room with two beds, bathroom, small fridge, small coffee maker, TV, no wifi (had to go to the main lodge for that and it was desperately slow.) We spent $272 a night (Cdn). You can camp or park your RV here which would be a cheaper option but it snowed the day we left so tenting in April is maybe not a good idea.

Prickly Pear Margaritas - yes, please.

Prickly Pear Margaritas – yes, please.

The bonus of our lodge was that it was within walking distance of the market so we bought bread, cheese, fruit, yogurt and granola and ate our breakfast and evening meals this way. We ate lunch and enjoyed happy hour – including these yummy but overpriced prickly pear cactus margaritas.

Big sky over Grand Canyon

Big sky over Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon won me over but next week, I’ll tell you about the real highlight of our trip and the cost savings we experienced there. Have you visited Grand Canyon? What was your favourite part?

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