Camping the Grand Canyon, three kids in August

I read that the Grand Canyon gets on average sixteen inches of rain per year, it is the desert. Lucky us, we tent camped three days in which it rained every night with a downpour on the first night. Lesson to my frugal husband, our fifteen year old tent will not be waterproof and Amazon does not deliver next day to Grand Canyon, Arizona.

If you are interested in things that were helpful on our trip, skip to the bottom.

I was a bit deterred when we arrived. We didn’t make reservations, we literally packed the car and headed Northwest. The Grand Canyon is very busy in the summer. There are two campgrounds in the park, Mathers and Desert View. Mathers takes reservations and is conveniently located near food stores and restaurants. It is also in the middle of the South Rim and walking distance to the transit bus. The transit bus takes you to other view points of the canyon, tourist centers and other areas of interest within the park. Mathers Campground also has showers and laundry. I read the reviews about the tall trees great for shade which can come in handy since it is August. We had arrived in the afternoon and had our fingers crossed for an opening at Mathers. We were disappointed to discover they are reservation only and I started internally freaking out.

The Desert View campgrounds are on first come first serve basis only. You must drive 30 minutes around the park on the outermost edge of the South Rim, it seemed like an eternity. Desert view, desert is all I kept thinking about. Scorching heat and cacti seemed pretty unappealing. I can survive heat, I am from Texas after all but that is in the safety of tall pine trees. I would be alright without laundry and we could drive back and shower if we were desperate.

As we drove around to Desert View campground we drove past many points at which you could pull over and enjoy the view. It was so beautiful, but I couldn’t enjoy it knowing that we may either be staying in our car or camping in the areas designated for dispersed camping. In case you are not familiar with dispersed camping, it is just the forest where you can pitch a tent, no fires, no running water and you are lucky if you see anyone else out there. You are more likely to wake up next to an elk or coyote than another camper. We did see lots of elk.

We pulled into the Desert View Campgrounds I noticed the trees were much shorter, only a few big ones here and there. We drove around the curve into the entrance of the campgrounds with baited breath. I kept praying and thinking, “it’s Sunday people will be leaving.” As we rounded the camp we noticed several spots and a big sigh of relief came. Thankfully we found a spot and the campground was only about seventy percent full. I was still nervous about not having a shower, but they did have running water, restrooms and a dish sink. We chose a site farthest away from the restrooms for a more private setting.

We sent up camp as soon as we arrived 
Our big girls were so good about watching baby sister

We set up our tent and decided to take a walk to the Chevron gas station we  had passed before we turned into the campgrounds. The girls took their scooters and rode along as we searched for supplies. We stopped in and to our surprise the store was equipped with a microwave, food and what I thought was a large variety of camping supplies. We stopped in and was told by the attendant that the general store had so much more. We walked to the end of a black top road across a parking lot and found wide sidewalks, picnic and sitting areas with restrooms, a general store and a little gift shop that served specialty coffee and ice cream. We were in need of s’more supplies so we headed into the store and found there was a full service deli, anything that you would need for camping, more souvenirs and plenty of alcohol.

All the areas around the view points of the canyon were scooter and stroller friendly
Just in time for sunset

We picked out our groceries and headed to the tower at the edge of the canyon where we saw people gathering. The sky was just starting to fade into purple and pink with a glowing orange sun slowly descending behind the north rim. Below the miles of canyon between us and the sunset was painted with the layers of glowing rocks. It took our breath away, it was glorious and I could feel Ryan beaming with pride and thanks to God  for his blessings. We had a picture perfect view.

This site is just magical

Who would have thought with that beautiful sunset that we were in for a torrential downpour with lightning and thunder, the whole works! I guess God planned it pretty well. We were late getting back from watching the sunset and had just put the kids to bed. They girls fell asleep pretty quick. We were so thankful we set up camp prior to getting groceries and viewing the Grand Canyon. The good thing about there being no tall trees is that you can see the storm coming for miles away. We only thought we were going to enjoy a nice fire with the wood that was conveniently left by the previous campers. We counted seconds between the lighting and thunder and yeah buddy it was coming. We threw everything chairs under the car and hurried to put things away.

We laughed as we searched for lights and frantically threw things in the van before getting ready to hunker down in the tent with our sleeping girls.

For those of you that might have forgotten, my husband, he will figure out any way to save a dollar. We took our fifteen year old tent on our Grand Canyon adventure. The rain fly to said tent had seen better days and Ryan (the husband) decided he would fix it. He bought some sort of glue especially for the opening seams in the rain fly. He spent two weeks applying seal, letting it dry and testing the fly.

Cleaning out the tent and testing the rain fly in the backyard

So there we were changing into our pajamas and snuggling up to see if his hard work paid off. In the desert rainstorms are far and few between, but when it does rain it pours! We waited and kept shining a light toward the top of the tent looking for drips. We were definitely taking on water and it was apparent that the rain fly was not working. Water pooled up in the corners of the tent and we used towels that we had brought inside to soak up most of it. The top started leaking really bad and we hung a sheet above us to keep water from dripping on us. The sheet didn’t stop all of the water and there were a few spots where water was leaking on the air mattresses. We curled up our dirty laundry into balls on the mattress to absorb the remaining drips. Remember the movie Overboard with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell? It definitely felt like the scene where Goldie tries sleeping on the couch holding pots to catch water from the leaking roof. Thankfully the rain was slowing down. Ryan and I both “slept” in awkward positions. Our little beauties never even cracked an eye. We both laid in our respective “S” shapes as we tried to get comfortable while also trying to stay dry. A few minutes later we hear another clap of thunder. I start to sing ” Here Comes the Rain Again.” We both cracked up laughing and finally went to sleep.

The next morning we set out in search of a new tent.

New TENT and PRO marshmallow roasting

We had the most amazing time camping all three nights. We were so glad to have a tent to weather two more nights of storms. I thought we were in the desert!

The girls earned their junior ranger pin during our visit. Part of earning their badge was completing activities around the park. We enjoyed the ranger chats and watching the history of the park, especially since it was in an air conditioned theater after our walk around the rim. The girls also have to answer questions about the park or about its wildlife.

Grand Canyon National Park celebrates its 100th birthday, the girls hanging out near the Grand Canyon Visitors Center, the best view! 
View from Bright Angel Lodge, it does not even look real

The girls were such troopers especially since I dragged them into all the museums and gift shops without buying them a thing. We did end up buying their National Park Ranger Vests on the last day.  There were so many places of interest and tons of places for food. We brought our own water bottles and filled up at the water stations that were available all down the trail.

Our last night at the canyon we decided to enjoy dinner while watching the sunset at a quiet place that not many tourists probably would have visited. My husband is king of the path less traveled. It was a bit scary to even get settled in our chairs hence the reason it is less traveled. It was a nice effort but we soon realized it was too cloudy for sunsets and it started to rain. Again.

Navajo Point Overlook
as we were leaving the park

We left around lunchtime and headed back to Texas. We stopped at the Petrified Forest National Park, it was very hot but the visitors center was cool and had fun exhibits. Seeing tons of petrified trees seemed very surreal. The girls earned their badges and we set off on a 17 hour drive home.

This exhibit was a hands on fossil dig, the girls could dig all day
It was so hot and I am lucky to have gotten the girls to take pictures

We stopped for meals and to rest but we drove through the night while the kids slept. We were so exhausted the next few days after arriving home but it was so worth it to get a hot shower and sleep in our cozy beds.

The girls were amazing road trippers. I got nervous about food since we did not restock the cooler before we left the Grand Canyon. Our snacks were low and we found an amazing hole in the wall diner that served the most amazing tacos! The girls had chocolate chip pancakes and Norah had breast milk. It definitely made it easier traveling with a nursing baby. I highly recommend it! She even slept in her bassinet during the day while at the campsite. We covered her with a swaddle and using clamps to keep it from blowing off. The bassinet was mesh all around so she could breathe and stay cool.

Norah turned five months while we were traveling and finally decided she wanted to try solids at six months. We couldn’t have planned it better and we really didn’t plan much at all in terms of reservations. The girls saw elk on the roads and near the camp, we saw our first ever scorpion near our fire pit. It was only 1/2 an inch long but we were still excited. We also saw a huge jackrabbit near our campsite.

Things that were helpful:

We did however upgrade to a mini van right before we left and bought dual video monitors so the girls could watch DVDs on the drive. The van made the drive so much more comfortable. We outfitted the entire family in adjustable hiking sandals so we had comfortable shoes that could be used in water. We also brought walkie talkies so the girls could explore a bit while we set up camp. We packed light long sleeve shirts and hats for sun protection. We also brought light jackets as it gets cold in the dessert at night. Ryan and I both got new rechargeable headlamps and the girls had their rechargeable lanterns which have been the best investment. They do not get hot and they convert from a yellow green lantern to a reading lamp that is able to hang.

We brought lots of wash rags and soap to clean up with before bed. We did fill up 3 gallon water jugs that we brought and used them to shower as best we could during the day while it was hot. I’m glad we picked a spot furthest away from other campsites. We hung up some sheets and made a make shift bathroom. The campsites have restrooms and a sink for you to wash dishes. We filled our water jugs at a pump in the center of the camp. As much as you prepare most parks have everything you need especially a popular place like the Grand Canyon. We bought a tent, gourmet coffee and gelato for goodness sakes.

The best way to prepare for such a long and unpredictable trip with children is to have a good attitude. Adding your negativity to bad situation just makes things worse. After all it’s about the memories and welcoming the adventure. I admittedly panicked a few times but I blame my overwhelming hunger from breastfeeding a baby.

Nine months later and I finally finished writing this story and probably forgot a few details. The girls haven’t stopped talking about going back and I know we will never forget our amazing Grand Canyon Adventure.

For more information on The Grand Canyon National Park visit the website:

https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

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