How NOT to plan a Grand Canyon road trip


Have you ever looked around for a minute and thought, “I need to get the heck out of here RIGHT NOW”? Okay, I know you have, because it happens to me all the time. So it’s got to have happened to you at least once. Right? Right. Sometimes you just need to leave it all behind and run as fast as you can waving your arms in the direction of ANYTHING else.

That’s more or less how this crazy road trip got started. I was lucky enough to rope a couple of friends into this ill-advised adventure. They, too, were feeling the need to get away or were at least very easily persuaded. So, naturally, we set off on a whirlwind trip to the Grand Canyon from our home in Minneapolis. 3 days. 3,450+ miles. 6 hours of sleep. Over 50 hours of driving. In fact we spent almost the entire time in the car between driving and sleeping in it. Would I recommend it? Absolutely not. Would I do it all again? In a heartbeat! Okay, maybe with a few slight changes.

Pro Tip: If you DO attempt something similar, make damn sure the friends you choose are in it for life, as I did, or else you may come back in a car full of bitter enemies. That is, if you behave anything like I do when I haven’t eaten in a while… Hanger is real, y’all.

Leaving Minneapolis

The planning phase of this venture was brief and minimal. Selecting a weekend the three of us were all free was the major concern. From there all we had to do was Google directions, pack a bag and rent a car. I had already decided on the route years before during a road-trip daydream, so we were pretty well set in that department. Packing was no more involved than throwing several outfits in a backpack and grabbing a hell of a lot of peanut butter and jelly. And how hard could renting a car be? Well, I’ll never make that mistake again as that turned out to be the most challenging part of leaving the city!

We expected to show up at the airport, pay the dollars, sign the papers and be directed to our temporary chariot. Instead, there was a lot of waiting in a line that I don’t think ever moved. Those people may still be there, actually. Let’s all say a quick prayer for their souls. After realizing we were going to die in that line, we left it and poked around at what was more or less a car rental ATM. That turned out to be the way to go! After a delightful (though lengthy) exchange by phone with a very helpful gentleman whose name I no longer recall, we were on the road in our very own (borrowed) Kia Soul. Little did we know, this was a car whose characteristics we would grow to both love and hate over the course of the next three days.

The first leg of our journey was covering the distance between Minneapolis and the Colorado border as quickly as possible, before daylight. By the time we were finally on the road, it was already dusk and we knew we had a long night of driving ahead of us. Luckily, spirits were extremely high at this point with the newness and novelty of the crazy days to come. As we’ll soon see, sleep deprivation and close quarters dampens those spirits rather quickly. But by the time we’d crossed into Iowa, our neighbor to the south, we’d already gotten into my road trip playlist and broken out the PB&Js. Two of us were running on low sleep at the outset of the trip and as you might guess that’s not really a problem that improves over time, but at this point we were filled with energy and pushing through with no issues.

I took over driving once we hit Omaha and my compatriots slept now and then across Nebraska. I know what you’re thinking…good call, right? Actually, they missed parts of the most amazing thunderstorm I’ve ever seen. It began just before dawn and lit up the entire horizon. The lightening strikes were sometimes shockingly close (I like puns) to the interstate. I could actually feel the electricity in the air. Then the sky broke open and the rain started. This was not as amazing. I had the Soul’s wipers on full blast, but could still hardly see the road in front of me. Luckily, very few others were out and about on a Friday before 6:00 am so we were able to slow and even stop until the rain let up a bit.

Somewhere beyond the Colorado border we needed to stop for gas and rolled into a little Sinclair station near Sterling. We took this opportunity to stretch our legs, brush our teeth and pour a bunch of gasoline all over the ground. Turns out the pump we chose was having an issue with the automatic shut-off feature. Great way to start the day. After that debacle, we were all ready to climb in the car and get back on the road to Denver, already. But not before taking a brief ride on this little dino.

Riding the Sinclair Dino
I hadn’t slept in 27 hours. You can’t tell, right?

Making it to Denver

After jumping back on the road I promptly fell asleep and got a neat two hours of shuteye in. By that time, Denver wasn’t far away. I woke up in time to take in several cattle ranches and it wasn’t long until we started seeing mountains on the horizon. All that driving was starting to pay off! We were all amazed at how quickly the scenery started to change after breaking free from Nebraska. Just outside Denver we stopped for some gas, saw the first of many groups of adorable prairie dogs and prepared to drive up into the mountains to take in some scenic views.

View from the Colorado Rockies

Anna resting on a ledge in Colorado

Colorado Rockies

The drive up into the mountains was bustling with many others cars on the road with us. We didn’t mind much considering it was somewhat of a novelty for us and allowed us to get good views of the little towns and communities on the way up. Eventually, traffic did break up a bit and we wound our way around exploring what there was to see! Check out some of the gorgeous views we had!

Anna sitting on a rock above a gorge in the Rocky Mountains

I had to go through two or three outfit changes throughout the course of our brief exploration of the area. It was amazing how quickly the temperature fluctuated up there! We made our way to the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, which is the highest paved road in North America, reaching an elevation of 14,130 feet.

Beautiful Colorado

Rocky Mountains

Finally, we found a nice little area to park the car just off the road and take a little snooze. Or attempt to, at any rate. Trying to make room for three adults to comfortably sleep in a Kia Soul is no simple task and is not something that I would recommend to anyone not made of sawdust. Even after settling into what was just going to have to pass for comfort, we were besieged by mosquitoes that had no intention of allowing us any rest. Spoiler alert: this is where tensions begin to mount and angst begins festering among the crew. After thrashing around in our tiny sleeping quarters for a short while, we surrendered and started the next (and arguably most beautiful) leg of our journey: the drive into and through Utah!

Our nice napping spot up in the Rocky Mountains
Our peaceful napping spot up in the Rocky Mountains. Not pictured: 1,000 hungry mosquitoes!

Join us next time as our brave heroes attempt to traverse the Rockies and make their way to breathtakingly beautiful Utah. The next leg of the journey can be found here: How NOT to Plan a Grand Canyon Road Trip [Part II] << Coming soon!

Anna

Have you planned your own Grand Canyon road trip? How’d it go? Spent some time in Denver or the Rockies? What were your favorite spots or activities? Share below!

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