Brian’s Travel Spot: Bright Angel Trail

Descending in the Grand Canyon from the Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse along the Bright Angel Trail.Welcome to the third instalment of the latest Travel Spot, which takes us back to October 2016 and my first visit to the Grand Canyon, part of a wider trip which took me to Phoenix for the first time for work. With a spare weekend at the end, and knowing nothing about Phoenix (a city I’ve since come to know very well), I decided to visit to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. This post covers my day-long hike down into the Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail, before I retraced my steps back to the rim.

I was staying in Tusayan, a small town just outside the southern edge the Grand Canyon National Park, having driven there from Williams on Saturday morning. That afternoon, I drove into the National Park for my first look at the Grand Canyon. To help get my bearings, and to acclimatise for my main hike on the following day, I took a leisurely 4½ hour, 13 km hike along the Rim Trail to Hermits Rest. Then, on Sunday morning, I drove back to the Grand Canyon to tackle the Bright Angel Trail.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Grand Canyon

Rain over the Grand Canyon, seen looking north from Mohave Point on the Rim Trail, with the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon.Welcome to the second instalment of the latest Travel Spot, which takes us back to 2016 and my first trip to Phoenix. It’s somewhere I’ve since come to know very well but back then, knowing nothing about the city and being short on time, I gave it a miss. Instead, I used my spare weekend for another first: a visit to the Grand Canyon. Or, to be more precise, a visit to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park, which is easily accessible from Phoenix. The North Rim, in contrast, is another three hours’ drive, since you have to get around and over the canyon! Alternatively, you can hike between the two, given a couple of days!

The first instalment of this Travel Spot covered my flight out, my first impressions of Phoenix and the drive to the Grand Canyon, where I arrived on Saturday morning, having split my journey overnight at the town of Williams. The Grand Canyon is somewhere I’d always wanted to visit and, as you will see, even though I only had 48 hours there, I was not disappointed, either with the canyon itself or with the two hikes I managed to get in.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Phoenix and the Grand Canyon

Making coffee with my Travel Press on the flight on the way to Phoenix, October 2016. Grinding by Knock.I made my first visit to Phoenix, a city I’ve since come to know very well, at the end of October, 2016. I’d not long since returned from my first around-the-world trip, travelling west-to-east via Hong Kong, Shanghai and Chicago. As a result, this trip, my last of the year, was rather hastily arranged. In contrast to my return to Phoenix a few months later, this was a rather concise affair, the whole thing lasting just eight days.

I flew in on the Monday, landing late in the evening, then spent the next four days in a meeting. However, I was determined to see something of the area and, knowing nothing about Phoenix itself, I decided that I would skip exploring the city and instead head north to the Grand Canyon, somewhere I’d always wanted to visit. I drove up on the Friday night, spent the weekend there, and then drove back to Phoenix on Monday afternoon to catch the flight home.

As usual, I’ve spread this trip over several posts, starting with this one, covering my flight out, my first impressions of Phoenix and the drive to the Grand Canyon, which included an overnight stop in the town of Williams.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Grand Adventure, Part V

The sun, directly behind the lighthouse at Pigeon Point, on the California coast, south of San Francisco.Welcome to the final instalment of The Grand Adventure,  my week-long drive from Phoenix to San Francisco, which I undertook in January 2017. So far, The Grand Adventure has taken me from Phoenix to Los Angeles via the Joshua Tree National Park, followed by a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway, with a stop at Hearst Castle and a detour around the Big Sur due to landslips, which got me as far as Santa Cruz on the northern edge of Monterey Bay.

This last post in the series covers my final day, which started with a quick exploration of Santa Cruz and was followed by the last stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway, which took me north to San Francisco (where the highway continues north over the Golden State Bridge). However, it was the end of the road for me, as I had to return my hire car in downtown San Francisco. In the middle of a very busy Friday afternoon. Which, I’ll be honest, went about as well as could be expected. It was not, I have to say, my finest bit of planning. Before that though, I had some more coast to explore.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Grand Adventure, Part IV

Enjoying a flat white at the Big Sur bakery, looking out over the mountains of the Santa Lucia Range in January 2017.Welcome to the fourth part of The Grand Adventure, my week-long drive from Phoenix to San Francisco, which I made in January 2017. I went from Phoenix to Joshua Tree National Park, spend a day hiking there, then drove to Los Angeles. After a day in the city, I took the Pacific Coast Highway to San Simeon, where I spent another day, this time visiting Hearst Castle. I had planned to carry on up the coast, through the Big Sur, to Santa Cruz and from there to San Francisco, but winter storms had washed out the road.

This led to a sudden change of plan. Instead of driving through the Big Sur, I doubled back on myself, cutting over the Santa Lucia Mountains on SR 46, before picking up my old friend US 101 for the drive north through the Salinas Valley on the other side of the Santa Lucia range. However, I was determined to see something of the Big Sur, so rather than carry on north to Santa Cruz, I doubled back on myself at Salinas, driving south down the Big Sur as far as I could go before turning around and heading up to Santa Cruz.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Grand Adventure, Hearst Castle

A view through the "Portal on the Big Sur" at Ragged Point Inn, looking north along the coastline.Welcome to another instalment of The Grand Adventure,  the week-long drive which I took from Phoenix to San Francisco, part of a larger trip to America in January/February 2017. The journey began with a drive from Phoenix to Joshua Tree National Park, followed a day spent hiking in the park. That evening, I drove to Los Angeles in the rain, then spent a day in the city before setting off on the last leg, following the Pacific Coast Highway all the way to San Francisco.

The first part of the drive took me as far as San Simeon, where I’d planned to spend the day visiting Hearst Castle, before carrying on through the Big Sur to Santa Cruz, my last stop before San Francisco. However, California had other plans for me…

Rainstorms had been battering the coast that winter, resulting in a large landslip in the Big Sur which had taken out the Pacific Coast Highway. Unfortunately, I only discovered this when I arrived at San Simeon at the end of my day-long drive from Los Angeles, leading to some hasty rescheduling that evening. The following morning, I’d worked out my new plan and was all set to go.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Grand Adventure, Part III

The picnic area at Sycamore Cove Beach on the Pacific Coast Highway just west of Los Angeles.Welcome to another Travel Spot, part of my series detailing my trip to America from January/February 2017. These particular posts are all about The Grand Adventure, the week-long drive which I took from Phoenix to San Francisco. So far, I’ve described my drive from Phoenix to Joshua Tree National Park, followed by a day hiking in the park and an evening drive in the rain to Los Angeles. After spending a day in the city, I was on my way again, driving along the Californian coast on my way to San Francisco.

This post, Part III of The Grand Adventure, covers the first part of the drive, from Los Angeles to San Simeon, following SR 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway) and US 101. The route I took followed the coast as much as possible, with some spectacular views along the way. In all, I covered 260 miles which, including stops, took me just over six hours.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Grand Adventure, A Day in LA

The famous Hollywood sign on the hills behind Los Angeles, from my first visit to the city in 2017.Welcome to the next instalment of The Grand Adventure, part of a series of Travel Spot posts that form part of a larger trip to America that I took in January/February 2017. The Grand Adventure itself is the week-long drive I made from Phoenix to San Francisco via the Joshua Tree National Park and Los Angeles, a total of 1,2000 miles.

Part I covered my drive from Phoenix to Joshua Tree, while Part II details the day I spent in the park, followed by an evening drive to Los Angeles. Today’s instalment is all about the day I spent in Los Angeles before I drove up the Californian coast all the way to San Francisco.

The fact that I spent any time at all in Los Angeles was all down to a chance encounter with Lee Gaze, owner of Silhouette, shortly before the trip. I’d originally planned to skip Los Angeles, and just go straight onto my drive along the coast. However, Lee was horrified when I told him, insisting that I had to have at least one day in the city. He was so persuasive that I relented, replanning my trip so that I would spend Monday in Los Angeles before carrying on with my drive.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: The Grand Adventure, Part II

A stand of Joshua trees in the Joshua Tree National Park in California.Welcome to the second instalment of The Grand Adventure, part of a series of Travel Spot posts covering my trip to America in January/February 2017. The Grand Adventure itself is the week-long drive I took from Phoenix to San Francisco via Joshua Tree National Park and Los Angeles, a total of 1,2000 miles.

In Part I, I left Phoenix, driving via Wickenburg, Arizona, to Joshua Tree, California, where I arrived in time for a short hike in the park at sunset. In this, Part II, I spend a day in the park and then continue my drive to the west, arriving in Los Angeles after nightfall.

The remaining parts of The Grand Adventure detail my day in Los Angeles and the drive up the Californian coast to San Francisco, while the remainder of the trip, where I flew from San Francisco to Chicago, Miami and Providence before flying home from Boston, is covered by a separate series of posts.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Amtrak’s Sunset Limited to Tucson, Day 2

The driver climbing up in the evening sun to get into the cab of the lead locomotive of the Sunset Limit at Houston, TexasWelcome the second part of this Travel Spot post detailing the journey that I took in March 2018 on Amtrak’s Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Tucson, Arizona. This was itself the final leg of a larger train journey which had seen me start in Providence, Rhode Island, in the teeth of a New England winter, and travel down via Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor to Manassas just south of Washington DC, then carry on to New Orleans on Amtrak’s Crescent service.

I left New Orleans at nine o’clock on Monday morning, the whole journey taking roughly a day and a half to cover the 2,400 km through Louisiana, all the way across Texas (which took almost a day!) and then along the Mexican border through New Mexico and Arizona, arriving in Tucson just after sunset on Tuesday evening. I was in coach class for the first day, which is covered in Part I, travelling from New Orleans to San Antonio, where we arrived just before midnight. There I transferred to a sleeper compartment for the rest of the journey, which is covered in this post.

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