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Help me plan loop from Phoenix: GC , southern Utah, Mesa Verde, Santa Fe

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Feb 6th, 2011, 12:04 PM
  #1
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Help me plan loop from Phoenix: GC , southern Utah, Mesa Verde, Santa Fe

Planning a driving trip in late July with our 2 kids, ages 9 & 11!
We will have about 13 nights: will fly in/out Phoenix (have relatives there), go to the Grand Canyon for 3 nights (will hike down to Phantom Ranch for 1 of the nights).
THEN, (this is where we need advice on how to pace ourselves!) we will drive from the GC & stay near some southern Utah National Parks (I'm thinking Canyonlands area - Zion might be too far for us to accomplish all of this in 13 days? OR can it be done? Please advise) Then, over to Mesa Verde in Colorado and down to Santa Fe (maybe via Durango/Pagosa?), Then drive back over to Phoenix on a route by which we might be able to do more sightseeing. Possibly through Albuquerque.
Our main interests are: hiking, geology, nature, animals, swimming. Would love to hear from those familiar with the southwest about the number of days we should plan in each of the areas (within our 13 night limit) so as to have time to really get into nature and not be constantly in the car all day. I want to make sure we don't miss anything great in these areas!!! Thanks in advance.
Possible itinerary: (please advise)
3 nights Grand Canyon (1 in Phantom Ranch)
2 nights Moab area?? Is that best place to stay in the Canyonlands area?
1 night Mesa Verde Area
2 nights Durango area
1 night Pagosa? or Taos?
2 nights Santa Fe
1 night Albuquerque
(could spend another night on this trip, but where woudl be best?)
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Feb 6th, 2011, 02:53 PM
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We did a Southwest trip with our young daughter a few years ago. We flew into Phoenix and out of ABQ.

Day 1: Picked up rental car in Phoenix drove to Grand Canyon (1 night, DD too young to hike at the time; 3 nights sounds great, do you already have your reservations? very hard to come by).
Day 2 & 3: Drove to Monument Valley - 2 nights at Gouldings Ranch. We each took a half day tour from the hotel into the valley. Great photos. Loved the Navajo Tacos.
Day 4 & 5: Drove to Mesa Verde, lunched in Cortez before heading into Mesa Verde; two nights at Far View Lodge. We loved it. We enjoyed wonderful dinners at Metate (in Far View Lodge). Took the bus tour around the park and did several of the Cliff dwellings. DD loved the wild horses and wild turkeys we saw.
Days 6-10: Drove to Bernalillo, We planned a stop at Chaco but it was raining hard and DD was cranky. Hope to make it back. 5 nights at Hyatt Tamaya. We used it as a base as we've found when traveling with little ones that they can only take so many hotel changes (come to think of it me too!) From there - we spent one day in ABQ hitting the major sites and the Zoo (where we fed Giraffes), the Science Museum and Aquarium; one day in Santa Fe (I took a cooking class at Santa Fe School of Cooking); another day we explored the Petroglyphs National Monument (3 miles north of ABQ) and played at the hotel in the afternoon (including taking a bread baking class); another day we drove to Bandalier National Monument (great for kids, lots of nature and early history but very manageable), stopped at Valle Caldera and visited several of the Northern pueblos (another highlight as I loved the pottery); we were going to go to Taos one day but we were pretty tired and ready for an easy day so I went to the hotel spa while DD and DH played in pool (we actually went to the pool most days as Tamaya had several pools and a cool water slide). We probably did something else too but I don't remember.

It was a wonderful trip and with slightly older kids you may be able to do a little more than we did. We've tried several times to get to Moab but not yet. Good luck with your planning and have a wonderful time.
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Feb 6th, 2011, 03:11 PM
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will hike down to Phantom Ranch for 1 of the nights

In late July it can be really nasty down there for hiking, I'd expect temps in the 105 - 110 F range, occasionally higher. Seems like 1-3 GC hikers die from heat stroke every summer, the worst year I remember seven people dying, so be extremely careful ... everyone needs to be in excellent shape, you should leave Phantom as early as possible for the hike out (4 AM is about right but this is before breakfast, I'd personally bring something with me on the hike down to eat next morning so I could skip waiting for breakfast at the Ranch), and should cancel if inner canyon temps are much over 105 F.

Zion might be too far

You could squeeze in a quickie Zion - Bryce drive by with one night stolen from Durango or Albuquerque (for example). But it's a bit out of the way, simpler to just go from GC to Moab. I think personally I'd do a night at Zion and a night at Bryce and slice out the 2 nights elsewhere. If this is a one-time trip then Bryce and Zion are surely worth seeing.

2 nights Moab area?? Is that best place to stay in the Canyonlands area?

Best for Arches and for Island-in-the-Sky unit of Canyonlands ... lots to do in Moab (maybe take the kids on a rafting trip while there, good way to cool off) but it will be pretty hot. 2 nights is minimal here, could add another night and still not run out of stuff to do what with the river, Arches and Canyonlands (two units accessible from Moab). Great mountain biking here too, you can find some easier trails for the kids and rent bikes from one of the outfitters.

1 night Mesa Verde Area
2 nights Durango area


If you wanted to cut a night and add elsewhere I'd cut one night in Durango, but there is a lot to do in this area and it will be blessedly COOL compared to the other places you mention at lower elevations.

1 night Pagosa? or Taos?

I'd pick Taos ...

2 nights Santa Fe
1 night Albuquerque


With two nights in Santa Fe you could skip the night at Albuquerque, I feel.

Overall you have an excellent plan, I think the one worrisome aspect is the late-summer hike to Phantom Ranch, it's a death zone down there when the temps are too high (Rangers usually have to do 250-350 'assistances' of hikers, almost all in the summer).

I've mentioned two places you could shave a day off for use elsewhere (Durango and ABQ) in case you want to add something else, but what you have is fine.
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Feb 6th, 2011, 03:42 PM
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Thanks to you BOTH for your wonderful replies. I really appreciate it and your info will help me greatly. That is worrisome about the heat in the Grand Canyon. Our window to travel is definitely in late July / early August so we are stuck with that time period. We will have to ponder the GC hiking thing. We don't have reservations yet for anything since it is for Summer 2012, but I know we have to book WAY in advance ....so have to decide soon what we will actually do. Do you think that Zion/Bryce or the Moab/Canyonlands area would be more pleasant in late July, if we have to choose one of them?
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Feb 6th, 2011, 07:07 PM
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You are picking a hot hot time of the year. The Coolest options woudl be on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and Bryce. Mesa Verde might not be too bad either. YOu have to consider that a lot of these places offer no shade at all.

The Durango Train-- consider the zipline with the train. It is really awesome, but pricey. www.soaringcanopytours.com

In Moab consider canyoneering. Absolutely one of the best things we have ever done. www.deserthighlights.com
Definately hike to Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch.

I would seriously think about not doing the hike down into the Grand Canyon at that time unless you are acclimated to the heat. If you work out in it, play tennis in it, etc. then you are more likely to be ok. If you are from a cool climate and you do your activites on a treadmill indoors, then I'd say you for sure shouldn't do it. All 4 of you need to be in decent shape and able to carry plenty of water. The Phantom Ranch hike(which ever side you start from or which trail you take) is more about an accomplishment or bragging rights. You will find just as good, if not more scenic, in many of the other places. Most of those you can start early in the morning and be done by noon and then find cooler options in the afternoon. Do your driving to the next location in the afternoon or do something in water.

Angels Landing in Zion, The Narrows- both amazing hikes and not nearly as hard. Delicate Arch, Devils Garden, Fiery Furnace in Arches. Navajo Loop/Queens Garden in Bryce. Calf Creek Falls. Goblin Valley/Little Wildhorse Canyon. For instance you could hike Angels Landing(totally scenic and totally amazing) early in the day and be back down by Noon. The hard part is the first 3 hours. Then that afternoon do The Narrows, which is a hike all in water and lots of shade. Not nearly as risky. I would certainly try those before tackling a hike to Phantom in August.

That said, I haven't hiked down to Phantom(yet, I have rafted a portion of GC), but it is definately something I plan on doing in the next 2 to 3 years. I plan on doing a rim to rim. I operate sanitation service in Oklahoma it is always above 100 here in July and August and the humidity is very high. There is just no way I would attempt a hike down the Grand Canyon in the period you suggest for my first hike. Especially with a 9 year old. I will go in May or October.

Allow plenty of time in Moab and in between. Plenty to do there. I would consider giving Mesa Verde 2 days as well. Allow your 2nd day for Wetherill area.

I haven't hiked into the GC, but the rest of the hikes I have done. It is a fantastic area and your kids will love it. Have a great trip!!!
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Feb 6th, 2011, 07:26 PM
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You are very smart getting your ideas figured out. You really need to book all "in park" lodging a year in advance to get exactly what you want. Get the book--The Complete Guide to National Park Lodges. It tells you the most desirable cabins, rooms, etc.
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Feb 6th, 2011, 08:28 PM
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Do you think that Zion/Bryce or the Moab/Canyonlands area would be more pleasant in late July, if we have to choose one of them?

Elevation is the key since every thousand feet higher you go it's 4-5 degrees F cooler. Bryce is about 8,400 ft and so relatively cool, Zion is just 4,000 ft or so in the valley floor so 20+ degrees warmer, but because of the river and the shade it often doesn't feel all that bad.

Moab is also about 4,000 ft but the surrounding parks are higher, esp Island in the Sky (Canyonlands). Plus you have the river in Moab and can do a rafting trip, which will be pleasant temp-wise (though easy to burn). I'd plan any biking trips early in the day though.

Phantom Ranch is about 2,400 ft and the canyon walls seem to hold the heat like an oven, so it gets deadly hot in the summer afternoons, plus you have a 9 mile hike with 4,400 ft elevation gain to get out, so it's very grueling physically.

Other than the hike down to Phantom most of the areas you mention will be warm but not dangerously hot, even in the summer. You can still do the Phantom hike safely IF you are in excellent shape, can start hiking out very early before it gets too hot, and aren't there during a heat wave, but it is very strenuous even in the best conditions in the summer.

I'd suggest shorter day hikes into the canyon, especially with young kids. A nice 1.5 mile hike on Kaibab to Plateau Point where you won't lose much altitude, or at most the 4.5 mile hike on Bright Angel to Indian Gardens will be safer and easier than coming up from the river.
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Feb 6th, 2011, 08:47 PM
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Another great place to visit is Bandelier NM. It is not far from Santa Fe, near Los Alamos, and has neat early Native American housing that was carved into the mountainside, actually hardened volcanic ash. I have a few pictures of it at www.flickr.com/emalloy2009/sets in the 2008 set.

Sounds like a fantastic trip is in the planning.
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Feb 7th, 2011, 06:47 AM
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Thanks so much, everyone! I really appreciate all your great suggestions which will help me plot out a great trip. Love the suggestions!!! Regarding the heat and hiking down to Phantom Ranch: We live in Florida, and are outdoors a lot even in the hottest part of summer, doing active stuff. (the kids are in great shape from being on a swim team) Last summer we flew to the island of St John in July. It was HOT and humid. We hiked constantly, the hikes were not as far as the Grand Canyon hike would be (maybe 2 hours each), but it was hot humid 90 degree weather up & down elevations. It wasn't bad. We don't mind getting up really early to do hikes... so I am hoping that in 2012, when the kids are ages 10 & 12, they will be even better hikers after doing some more training hikes in Florida and maybe North Carolina moutains (I said kids were 9 & 11 in my first post, but in 2012, when we go, they will be 10 & 12) My husband and I both jog & hike, so the main challenge seems like it will be the possibility of 110 degree heat and carrying enough water.
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Feb 7th, 2011, 08:58 AM
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A nice 1.5 mile hike on Kaibab to Plateau Point

Sorry, I made a mistake here ... instead of "Plateau Point" I should have written "Cedar Ridge" ... Plateau Point is further down into the canyon on the other trail.
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Feb 7th, 2011, 09:06 AM
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Regarding the heat and hiking down to Phantom Ranch: We live in Florida, and are outdoors a lot even in the hottest part of summer, doing active stuff.

mvan, sounds like your group would be well-acclimated to the heat, especially since the Florida humidity is much higher than in Arizona. Just keep in mind that in an average year 300 people are rescued and probably 295 of those would be considered in "excellent shape", it's just that the heat and exertion was too much for them (and many thousands make it safely each year).

Most of the people who die also seem to be in very good shape (though many of the deaths occur on the more remote trails where there is no help when something goes wrong).

main challenge seems like it will be the possibility of 110 degree heat and carrying enough water

You can fill up on water at the campground, then it's about a 4.5 mile hike to Indian Gardens, where you can fill up again, then about 1.5 miles to the next water, then 1.5 miles to the fourth water supply, then just 1.5 miles out to the ice cream shoppe on the rim ... so you don't actually have to carry a great deal of water, just be sure to fill up the canteens at each faucet.
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Feb 7th, 2011, 10:46 AM
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Do give your family time to get used to the elevations you will be dealing with. For us, who also live near sea level, it takes a few days not to be sucking wind on even wussy, baby, hikes. You need to drink much more water than you or your kids think you need.
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Feb 7th, 2011, 11:00 AM
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I took the mule ride down into the canyon. We were required to wear khaki pants, long sleeved white (or light) shirts, hats, shoes and hat. At Island Gardens they completely soaked us with water before we mounted up after our lunch break. Every drop of water had evaporated within a few minutes.

I know you are used to heat but when they say "It's a dry heat", they mean it. The heat, dryness and elevation all provide challenges. I agree with emalloy's suggestion to get acclimitized first.
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Feb 7th, 2011, 02:49 PM
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Try to find some hikes between now and then that have a lot of elevation gain and loss. Like some really serious mountain hikes.
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Feb 7th, 2011, 03:25 PM
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Thanks again everyone. We will make a point of doing some elevation hikes earlier that summer in NC or TN. Also we will be in Arizona for 2 nights (Phoenix with relatives) and 1 night at the GC rim, before we start the hike, so hopefully we will get used to the intense dry heat. We were in Phoenix once when it was 114 so I am imagining that would be REALLY tough hiking...do-able but tough. We will have to be flexible in case the heat is unusual and have to be ready to scuttle our plan if necessary. I am really big on water-drinking so that should be ok. And we don't mind getting on the trail at 4am.
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Feb 7th, 2011, 03:34 PM
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Getting on the trail before the mules is probably a very good idea
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Feb 7th, 2011, 06:37 PM
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Please note that to get Phantom Ranch reservations you will need to start calling (constantly dialing / repeatedly redialing) at 7:00am mountain time on July 1, 2011. The ranch will completely sell out for the month of July 2012 within hours (within 3 or so hours). You may or may not get through before they sell out or your dates may not be available when you get through. You will need to be a little lucky to get the reservations.

That being said, I agree with Bill_H that the late summer hike to Phantom Ranch is worrisome. DH and I have hiked to Phantom Ranch twice (April and November) and will being going again at the end of September (hiking down from the north rim, hiking out to the south rim). I personally would never attempt hiking to Phantom Ranch during the summer months. The intensity of the sun in the dry western air, at elevation, in simply mind-boggling. We used to live in Atlanta and trained for marathons through the hot, humid summer months, but that was pleasant compared to summer hiking in desert-like conditions under a blazing sun. It may be doable, but it could be very unpleasant.

If you do go to Zion, I recommend hiking the narrows

http://www.utah.com/nationalparks/zion/zion_narrows.htm

This is probably my all-time favorite hike. Everyone will need some type of watershoe (we wore Keen sandals)and a walking stick/pole. What better way to spend a hot summer day than hiking up a river through a slot canyon - doesn't get much better than this.

Bryce is also really special and rather unique with all the hoodoos with good hiking and some nice horseback riding options.

If you can, try to fit in time to go to Zion and Bryce.

Pamela
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Feb 8th, 2011, 04:29 AM
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I do hope that you are doing the GC hike late in your trip. Otherwise, you stand a really good chance of not wanting to hike or do much anywhere else. I think everywhere else you are going is much better. I know you are getting a lot of negative responses here, but that's because it is tough for most people even under the best circumstances. I asked my 17 year old daughter what she thought about hiking into the GC in July. She said NO WAY. This is coming from a person who competes in the State Track Meet the past 3 years(always finishes in the top 3, but has never won). She has hiked a lot in Utah, and we have hiked a little in the GC, just never to Phantom.

Crane is right. You might want to get 2 or 3 cell phones at 7:00AM and use all of them, so you stand a better chance of getting through.
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Feb 8th, 2011, 06:05 AM
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spirobulldog makes a really good point - I hiked to the floor of GC when I was in the best shape of my life and I was sore for days afterwards. The Grand Canyon is really amazing and I am proud to have hiked it but it can be grueling. We carried lots of water (it was August) and did the up and back in a day, with a late start so I'll admit we made it harder on ourselves (we were much younger then) but this is no walk in the park.
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Feb 8th, 2011, 07:13 AM
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I am a little late to the party but thought I would throw this into the mix:

re hiking down into GC - I am surprised no one has commented the children's ability to do this with the effects of the heat and dryness. I would really caution you about this. Smaller bodies are impacted far faster than adults.

And one last thing and this is a bit of a personal issue with me -- visitors to NM often give short shrift to Albuquerque. We have many great experiences to offer visitors including our Bio Parks [zoo, aquarium, botanical gardens]; National Hispanic Cultural Center; Indian Peublo Cultural Center to name just a few.

www.cabq.gov/visiting.html

If I can help with either NM info or Mesa Verde NP/Durango {I have homes in both locations} please feel free to contact me. I can help with accomodations, restaurants etc.
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