[Day 3] Horseshoe bend and grand canyon

Today was our main event! We were planning on hitting 2 major view points in Arizona, Horseshoe Bend and Grand Canyon. The last time I visit this area was 4 years ago and at that time, we were only able to drive by Horseshoe Bend so this was my first time actually visiting. I was super excited for it.

Before heading out, we made samgak kimbap (triangular kimbap) for lunch/dinner/snack. It was our first time making it but it wasn’t too hard. We made Tuna-Mayo gimbap and kept it cool in the ice box. We weren’t sure what time we might arrive at Grand Canyon so we made sure to take enough food and drinks with us.

Our first stop was Horseshoe bend. There were several changes since 3 years ago! They now had a paid parking lot with a gate and had a $10 per vehicle entry fee. And the trail down to the overlook was all new as well. Before, there was no actual trail but a sandy path that people took. The new trail was great, with a few stopping points, as well as, semi-fenced path. The path itself took longer than before since it wrapped around but it felt more safer. This was also pet-friendly area as I saw several dogs on the trail, all leashed.

Once we got to the edge, I noticed that they fenced off the main area, making the place safer for families with children. There were several spaces, left and right, that did not have the fence and people were sitting on the edge, all enjoying the view. And I don’t blame them! It was beautiful.

We visited in the morning but I would recommend visiting during the afternoon to avoid the shadows shown in the picture. However, it was still amazing to see it in person. Just watching the boats go by and enjoying the sun and wind made things very serene. The horizontal line that split the canyon and the sky, the view of the river… I definitely could have just sat here for hours.

Also, visiting at 10am, there wasn’t a lot of people at the Bend. We were able to take pictures without people in it and enjoy the scene quietly. I cannot say for sure how busy the afternoon gets. But my guess is that it will be slightly more busy to see the Bend without the shadows.

After taking in the scene, we headed out to Grand Canyon North rim. This was my first time going to the North rim so I was super excited to see the difference. Everyone told me that they enjoyed the South rim more but I wanted to see it with my own eyes. On the way to Grand Canyon, we passed by the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs wilderness area. Only if we had won the lottery. I will have to try again next time 🙂

The drive to Grand Canyon was longer than expected but quite surprising. We were driving through the desert one moment and next, we were passing through a forest! There were so many trees! We rolled down our windows and enjoyed the cool, fresh air. Also, from the welcome sign and entrance booth, the canyon was another 30-40 minute drive! Due to Covid, they were not accepting cash/credit card at the booth. You had to purchase the pass from their website. The park ranger handed us a map with the website’s QR code.

We didn’t have a lot of time to explore the rim but we wanted to do at least do one trail. And there must have been several people who visited the Rim with the same idea because they had a sign for it!

We decided to do the shortest one so we can have lots of time for photos and it was the right choice. Once we were on the Bright Angel Point trail, every few steps, we ended up stopping and taking photos because it was just breathtaking. The depth, the colors, the ridges… it was all just amazing.

I really loved seeing all the red shades! Just wow. Just these simple glimpse were enough to make the trip worth it. The North rim had its own kind of beauty and I would not compare it to the South rim. However, personally, I think I prefer the North rim. Getting here is troublesome but the view really took my heart away.

We had to walk a bit more to reach the end of the trail. The trail itself is not hard but there are small ups and downs. Several area did not have railings and were a bit narrow as well. But the view at the end made it all worth the walk.

The camera does not do it justice! The 360 view of the Canyon was amazing. Plus, when we got to the end, there were only a handful of people. Most of them were wearing masks and just taking pictures. We ended up doing the same. It was amazing to see the red and the green together. We both stood here in awe for a few moments.

After taking in the view, we headed back to the parking lot and found a picnic area to eat our packed lunch. And the view from the picnic area was amazing too. We were able to eat while enjoying the Canyon and the fresh air! The openness really made my cabin fever go away.

On our way out, we saw some buffalo and deer. The cars in front of us stopped and for a moment, we didn’t know why. We only noticed when people started to get out of their cars to take photos. It was pretty cool. We didn’t want to disturb them so we drove off slowly. The sun started to set as we got out of the forest area and the way the sunset light was beaming on the canyon was something that just made us pull over.

Just looking at this, I was mesmerized. I started to wonder what the sunset would be like at the Grand Canyon North rim and told myself that next time, I will try to spend a night at the rim. Once the sun started to set, the light was gone quick! We ended up arriving at our hotel in the dark! But we both agreed that it was all worth it.

We took a break and rested a bit before heading out again. This time, to see the stars! I love stargazing and it is definitely better in the dark. We left the hotel around 11pm and drove into the darkness. And while driving out, we were able to see stars brightly shining in the sky. It was just amazing. We parked safely and viewed the stars. Because we were on the road, we had cars go by but only a few and it didn’t bother us. We were able to see the Milky Way with our naked eyes and it came out even more clearly in the photos. What a great way to end the night!

[day 2] lottery and onwards to page, az

Today was a big day! Lottery day for the Coyote Buttes permit. According to their website, the lottery would take place daily at the Kanab Center at 8 am. Luckily, the Perry Lodge was walking distance (across the street!) from the Center so it was an easy walk. There is a parking lot at the Center if you are bringing your vehicle. At 8 am, they open the doors for people to fill out their application.

Things you need to know about the application

  • Bring your own pen/pencil
  • license plate number
  • emergency contact (someone who is not traveling with you)
  • cash or check of $7 per person in case you win the lottery

I arrived around 8:15 am and there was already several applicants. After filling out my application, I decided to wait in the room and ask some questions about the lottery. The rangers told me that only 20 people can enter per day and 10 are pre-selected from the online lottery and 10 are selected during the in-person lottery. For the in-person lottery, they keep picking groups until they hit 10 people, not 10 groups. Meaning, if the first lottery picked has 2 people, the rangers keep picking the lottery until 10 hits. And if they are at 9 people, and the next group picked has a group of 4, the group can decided to pass their chance or kick people off their group.

While waiting in the room, I noticed a lot of repeat applicants from the day before. The ranger mentioned that they keep the application since people do come for second and third rounds. The ranger also told me that the day before they had 82 applications and it was their busiest day so far.

At 9 am, the room was packed with applicants and the ranger did a roll-call and gave every applicant their lottery number. Today there were 75 applicants and I was number 50. The ranger asked if everyone remembered their number and there were several people who could not remember and the rangers provided the numbers again. The lottery proceeded quickly from here and unfortunately, I didn’t win. Sad but I guess more reason to come back 🙂 The ranger recommended several different local spots we could visit so we decided to pick one and go with it.

After not winning the lottery, I headed back to the lodge’s lobby and pick up our breakfast bag. Usually they would provide continental breakfast but since COVID, they were giving out small lunch bag. The Lodge’s bag wasn’t bad. It had yogurt, pastry, fruit bowl, juice, apple, string cheese, granola bar, and a water bottle. Not bad. We thought it was perfect to take it for our hikes. We packed our things and checked out and headed towards the Coral Pink Sand Dunes.

On our way, we made a pitstop to see the Sand Dune Arch. This wasn’t on Google maps but it was on the pamphlet that the ranger gave out. The direction on the handout wasn’t very clear so we got lost a bit but luckily, there was no one around and it made it feel like we owned the place. While following the google maps toward the Dunes, from HWY 89, you will make a left turn at Hancock road. From there, you have to park your car around 64B. Walk towards the bird-like rock (on google maps, this is the Lone Rock Overlook) and keep following the road to the left that goes down the hill. At the end of the hill, you should see the Arch. It wasn’t as grand as the name makes it to be.

It was a mid-sized arch. It looks pretty small in the picture but the hole in the center was about 5feet5inches. We spent some time here, climbing the Arch and looking around the area. But other than the Arch, this area was empty and no visitors. After seeing enough, we headed back to our vehicle and drove off to the Dunes. About 15 minutes in, we started to see the Dunes and lots of ATVs. And while driving, the GPS told us that we arrived but it was in the middle of the road?! Not even a parking lot! So we parked on the side of the street and walked into the Dunes. There were small trail like area so we followed that in.

Guys. The sand dunes are not something you should just walk into. We saw the high dunes and thought they were relatively close but it wasn’t. We ended up walking around 40 minutes to get to the bottom of the dunes. However, it was really impressive! The sand was really soft and as we climbed to the top, we kept sinking a bit. By the time we got to the top, we had sand in our pants and shoes! The sand waves were really pretty and from the top, you can see the other dunes and there were teams of people in ATVs and also sandboarding.

One thing to definitely consider is the sun. There were no shade and it was 98 degree sun just beating on us. After our climb, we headed back but we got lost. All the trails were starting to look the same and we ended up somewhere we didn’t pass. We were lucky we brought our water bottle but it was just too hot. We ended up following the sound of vehicles passing on the road and got out. I think if you were to walk, make sure you bring something to help you navigate (like strings you can tie around plants?).

After getting out of the maze-like Dunes, we headed to our next destination, Page, AZ. The drive to Page was very straight forward with lots of canyon views. The red colors of the canyons along the roads were a sight to see! And once at Page, we were amazed to see all the water from the Lake Powell into the canyons! We quickly checked into our hotel for the next 2 days, Sleep Inn & Suites, ate a quick lunch/dinner, and headed to Lake Powell.

We brought our swimsuits just in case and it was a good thing we did. The hotel gave us two options for swimming: The Wahweap Marina and The Chain. The Marina was a bit further but it has a beach and is part of the National Park. The Chain was more of a local people’s gathering area and was close to the dam. We decided to give The Chain a try and I’m so glad we did.

From the hotel, you have to follow signs/GPS to The Hanging Garden Trail. Do not park at the parking lot but keeping driving down until you see another parking lot (there is a small building at the end). Park here and you can follow the trail down to the bottom. It is about a 10-15 minute walk. Once at the bottom, you should see people swimming, fishing, and just enjoying themselves.

It was amazing to swim between the canyons! The colors were amazing and the water was just right. At some parts, it was shallow but it dips rather quickly so if you cannot swim, I would not recommend this place. On the deeper end, we noticed small motor boats driving by so watch out for those as well. This place was really peaceful and nice. No wonder the locals come here to relax! And I couldn’t believe we were able to swim so close to the dam! It was definitely an experience 🙂

We played in the waters until sundown. After getting out, we explored the area a bit before heading back. The view of the canyons along with the rock formations were just amazing. We didn’t want to leave! Plus, there were still several groups of people here when we left.

Once back at our hotel, we washed up, relaxed, and talked about our plans for the next day. Tomorrow was going to be our big day: Grand Canyon!

WEEKEND GETAWAY: SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK DAY 3

This was our last day here. Our original plan was to go back to the Park and do another trail but we decided to cancel that plan. We didn’t want to wait again to get through the entrance. Instead, we decided to go over to another recreation area that was close by called Slick Rock Recreation Area.

You can park in the parking lot but once it’s full, it seemed like you can park on the street. If you stay at the Lodge, you can walk to the stream as well. Once at the parking lot, you have to walk down to the stream area. We noticed that some parts were shaded by trees and some weren’t. It would be best to bring mats and tents in case all the tree shades are taken. We were lucky to find a small spot in the wooden area and setup our mat.

The water here was super clear and cool. You could even see little fishes swimming around. And I even saw a dragonfly just chilling. The water isn’t as deep as the Kaweah Recreation Area but comparing the two, I prefer Slick Rock Recreation Area. This place also seemed pet-friendly, as there were several dogs, small and large, enjoying the waters. Kai really liked the water and he was just jumping around, following his favorite ball.

We were able to have a slow, relaxing day, dipping our feet in the flowing water before heading back home. Perfect for that summer sun.

This was a short and somewhat impromptu trip but it was well worth it and I was able to spend some quality family time. This trip made me really want to see more nature! Time to plan my next trip 🙂

WEEKEND GETAWAY: SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK DAY 2

Today was going to be a full day! There were several things we wanted to see and trails we wanted to do. So we ate breakfast, packed some snacks, grabbed our masks and hand sanitizers, and headed out. We left the lodge around 9:30am and we thought we started the day early but not early enough! The road to the entrance gate was super backed up! It’s a single lane road all the way into the Park so we were stuck in it for over an hour! Once you get closer to the gate, there is a second lane for people who already have a pass so to make it a bit faster, I would recommend purchasing the pass before heading to the Park.

We decided to Hike the Moro Rock and on the way, we first saw the Tunnel Log. Follow signs for Moro Rock and you should see signs that points towards the Tunnel Log so keep going. The drive thru for the Tunnel Log had a huge line so we decide to walk it. If you really want to drive through it, there is a bypass around the log. So many cars were waiting in line to get ready for videos and pictures.

There were also several people climbing up top of the log and taking pictures. I didn’t see any signs prohibiting the action but do be careful and follow signage.

Other than the Tunnel Log, the area had a short trail and some large redwoods! And they were impressively tall! I couldn’t get the photo in one go so I tried a panorama shot. It looks so much better in person 🙂 Just being next to the trees made me feel so small and it made me appreciate nature more.

After walking around and admiring the trees, we headed back to our car and drove over to Moro Rock. It is very close to the Tunnel Log and the drive through the forest was really nice.

The parking lot was really small and was already packed but you can park on the side of the streets. This must be a popular spot since we started to see packs of people. Most of them were wearing masks which made me feel slightly better. There were Covid related signs so please follow the signage! Moro Rock is a staircase hike that is narrow so if you want to social distance yourself, this is not for you!

I don’t mind stairs that much so I was excited for the hike but only about 15 minutes in, I realized that I was so out of shape! There are several “rest area” on the way up and I took full use of them. Some part of the stairs had railing and others didn’t so just be careful when other people are around. Also, as I mentioned, parts of the trail are super narrow and zigzags. Meaning only one person can pass at a time. So be mindful of people heading the opposite direction of you.

Once that the top, you get a great panorama view of the Park and it made the hike worth it. There weren’t a lot of people at top and most of them were wearing masks. I did notice people taking off the mask for just the picture and putting it back on. People were being mindful of each other and being considerate. We were all able to enjoy nature together.

The hike down was easier but again, we had to be careful of the hikers coming up. If there is traffic headed your way, wait a couple seconds for everyone to pass before heading forward. Courtesy goes a long way on these narrow hikes.

There is a bathroom at the start of the Moro Rock trail if you need to use the bathroom. Make sure to take hand sanitizer/wipes with you. The people in line were social distancing and there were signs on the round indicating where to line up.

After the hike, we decided to head back to our lodge to grab lunch and go to the recreation park nearby. We saw people swimming and jet-skiing so we wanted to check it out. It was called Kaweah Recreation Area and there were lots of tents, people swimming, jet-skis, and more. The water wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be. Actually, it was rather lukewarm (meh) but my family had a good time here. My dad didn’t want to go in so he just dipped his feet and watched people on their boats (you can see a part of a boat on the right side)

My brother and SIL brought their dog Kai and he didn’t want to swim at first. I think it was his first time swimming? He wanted to escape so bad but he got used to being in the water on one condition. That his favorite ball was also in the water with him.

After playing in the water for a bit and using all our energy, we headed back to the lodge. We relaxed until the sun went down and headed out to see the stars. This was around 11pm and it was dark enough to see the starts with your own eyes. The one that was clearly visible was the dipper. Sorry for the picture quality. My camera isn’t the best for night time photography. But you can still see the dipper on the left side 🙂 We watched the stars quietly for about 30 minutes and headed back to the lodge and passed out.

[Day 9] Humantay Lake

Is it really a vacation if you are waking up at 4 am every morning? A question I was asking myself on this day. Our tour guide came to pick us up at 5 am at the hostel. We walked a bit to the main street and had to meet our ride there. This time, it was a tour bus (not a van). The walk to the bus was a bit hard since we had just woken up and the steps were really steep. Again, when you are making accommodation booking, read the reviews to see if there are any mention of steps or high hills.

We took the bus for about 2 hours to Mollepata Village and purchased our tourist ticket there. It was 10 sols but ours was included in the price so we did not have to pay extra. If your tour package did not include ticket prices, the tour guide will collect them later. Make sure you talk with your tour agency to see if ticket prices are included.

After purchasing our tickets, we continued to Soraypampa. Once at the foot of the mountain, we walked to the entrance of the trail and had breakfast there. The walk was beautiful! The snow capped mountains with all the greens was just a sight to see. It was also quite chilly here. I’m not sure if it was due to the mountain air or the morning chill but make sure to layer up!

We were served breakfast before the hike but this was worst than the breakfast at Rainbow Mountain. There really wasn’t a lot to eat so if you need some energy before a hike, bring your own meal!

After breakfast, we were all on our way. There was no official guide with us so we were all on our own. If you wanted to take a horse up, you would have to ask the guide before leaving. From the start of the trail, we could see Humantay Mountain and Salkantay. There were a lot of people taking the Salkantay trail but that would have to wait for another time.

The guide said the hike would take roughly 1 hour so we hurried along. This hike was even harder than Rainbow Mountain. The road was very rocky and steep. And a lot of the rocks were loose so watch your step here. When our guide said 1 hour, it didn’t seem so bad but I was wrong. It took us 1 hour and 15 minutes to get to the top and I had to take a lot of breaks in the middle. I’m glad a lot of the hikers were encouraging each other and with everyone’s help, I made it.

And I’m so glad I hiked it because the view was 100% worth it! The mountain and the lake, a harmonious marriage. And the perfect weather made everything here extra wonderful. It was serene. There were lots of people at the top but I was still able to get some photos without anyone in them.

After taking in all the nature and all the photos, we started to walk back down. There is no horse for the downward hike because of all the loose rocks so make sure you get the timing right. The downward hike was just as hard as the upward because of how slippery the trail was. I even slipped a couple times even with hiking boots.

Once we were back at the start of the trail, they served us lunch. Lunch was better than breakfast, having things like soup, fried chicken, fried rice, pasta, and veggies. It wasn’t the best tasting food but after the hike, I needed it. We ate as much as we wanted and enjoyed the scenery before getting back on the bus. I thought it would be the same amount of time to get back to Cusco but the traffic didn’t agree with us and we arrived at 7 pm. I guess that is what you get for trying to enter the city on a Friday night.

We quickly dropped off our belong at the hostel and took an Uber to Mercado Molino. I needed a bigger bag for all the stuff and my companion needed to get a sim card. We were told that Mercado Molino would have everything and they were right! If you are thinking about doing shopping (not touristy), this place has it all! From clothing to electronics, you probably could find everything here. It was closer to what I would consider a mall. They even had a small food court at the front.

While waiting for my companion to register her sim card, I got some picarones, which are like peruvian fried donuts. They fried them as the orders came in so it was super fresh and so good. It was a great pick me up for 3 sol. Once my companion had internet, we roamed around the market. We found several stores that sold luggage and suitcases but vast majority of them did not take card. I didn’t have a lot of cash on me and the ATM machine at the market was not working. Luckily, my companion had some cash and she was also really good at bargaining so we were able to make a purchase. Mine (the purple one) went from 160 sol to 120 sol and hers from 150 sol to 100 sol. I think we did pretty good, right?

After all the shopping, we headed back to the hotel. The laundry was done and all the items were neatly folded and in a plastic bag. Our laundry at the hostel was 12 sol per kilo and I know this wasn’t cheap but I guess I was paying for the connivance. You can find laundry mats all around Cusco and the average price would be around 4~7 sol per kilo.

With the new luggage and clean clothes, I reorganized all my things. And it was so nice to see empty space in my bag for souvenirs! Next time, never take a full suitcase on a trip because you will definitely buy things.

[Day 8] Machu Picchu

Another early day. We woke up early and ate breakfast provided by the B&B. It was basic things like cereal, fruit, ham, bread, and lots of coca tea. We had to pack everything and store it at the B&B since we did not want to take everything on our hike. (Double check if your accommodation has storage!)

We headed to our tour agency’s hostel to meet with our guide but he did not show up on time. When he did show up, we had to wait even longer because a group did not show up and the guide had to make sure everyone was present. I knew waiting would mean that we will have to spend less time up at Machu Picchu so I asked if we could go ahead by ourselves. Luckily, the guide told us to go ahead and get in line. When we headed to the bus station at around 7:10am, there was already a long line. But no worries! The bus comes fairly regularly so we were on the bus in no time. The staff checked our bus tickets and stamped them.

The bus was very comfortable! It looked and felt like a new bus. And thank goodness for that since the road was rough and full of hairpin turns. The view going up was also beautiful so try to get a window seat on the right side of the bus.

Once we got off the bus, there was a huge line by the entrance. Before heading, make sure to use the bathroom (2 sol). There is also a luggage storage here if your accommodation couldn’t store your things. It was 5 sols and lots of people were using it.

The entrance did not have a clear line and a lot of groups were all trying to stay together, making it a bit of a mess. Once at the entrance, you show them the stamped ticket and they scan the barcode and you are in! We saw our guide but he disappeared again to find other tour members. We decided to just venture on our own and take in the views. And really… WHAT A VIEW!

It was just like the photos. Not a fog in sight. There were lots of greens and blues all around. A lot of people were present but I was still able to take photos without any obstacles. And we took a ton of photos. Photos everywhere. Each viewpoint gave us a different perspective of Machu Picchu.

There were several photo points at the top of the mountain and we did spend some time there to just sit and relax and to take in the view. However, our guide did mention the hike back down was going to take about 2 hours to the exit. So we slowly headed out of Machu Picchu.

Even on our way down, we stopped several times for different photos. Each corner had something unique and interesting. As we were leaving, there were still a lot of tourist coming in. I really wish we could have stayed inside Machu Picchu for longer but we had to catch the train. We only stopped for quick pictures and ended up getting back to the exit in about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

And once we were at the exit, we had 2 options: purchase a bus ticket back to Aguas Calientes or to walk down. Since we took the bus up, we decided to walk down. *Please do not walk down if you are not 100% sure you can do it. It was really tough and hard on my knees.* Walking down meant going straight through the mountain. Just by looking at the map, it didn’t seem so bad.

Boy, was I wrong. The stone staircases were not even and some of them were really steep! Also, we had to close the main road at times and you had to watch out for the buses. There were lots of people hiking up and we all encouraged each other.

It took about 1 hour and 30 minutes to get to the bottom and we celebrated! We took pictures of the signs, thinking we were done. But nope! We still had to walk back to the city which took another 30 minutes.

We did not have a lot of time so we headed back to our B&B, grabbed our luggage and looked for a place to grab lunch. A friend of mine recommended Amazonas, a Chinese Peruvian restaurant. We had their lomo saltado and chaufa and they were pretty good and relatively cheap. We ordered 2 main dishes and 1 soup and it was about 40 sol ($12 USD). Not bad for 3 people. One thing. You have to tell them you are in a hurry because they are a bit slow with their service.

Our train was at 2:30 so after lunch, we headed to the station. The snack was different going down (I liked the north bound snack more) but because of the hike, I think everyone must have been tired because one by one, people were all passing out, including myself.

Once we were back at Ollantaytambo Station, Fabian Agency had someone with a sign and we were all herded to a tour bus and we headed back to Cusco. A lot of the people on the bus were Korean, which was not surprising since Fabian Agency deals with lots of Korean. We talked about the tour and mingled and in no time, we were back in Cusco. We picked up our bags from the Agency and took the Uber to our hostel.

We had some issues with our hostel. First, our driver could not find the place because there was no sign on the door or the building. Second, when we did find it, the place was not what was described on the website. My companion told me that she would rather pay more at a different place than to stay at this location. So we ended up moving. Lucky for us, Cusco is a tourism city so every corner , every street had a hostel. We walked down the street a bit and found another hostel, Tunqui, and ended up staying here. We stayed in the double with a private bathroom and it was great. The room was spacious and hot water was available all day.

Once we settled in, we gave the front desk our laundry, and we walked to the plaza to find a place to eat dinner. I really wanted to try Pollo a la Brasa so we headed to Los Toldos Chicken. This restaurant seemed famous and was on top of the list for Pollo a la Brasa. And it was super delicious. The chicken was very juicy and had lots of flavors. Their french fries were crispy and their salad bar was decent too. I highly recommend!