EARTH DAY TRAVEL: The Grand Canyon and Saguaro National Park

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  Join The Orlando Local News on a journey through Arizona for a special Earth Day travel report on Grand Canyon National Park (north and south rim) and Saguaro National Park near Tucson.

Grand Canyon National Park

  The south rim lies just a short distance from the town of Williams, AZ near Flagstaff. The ride from Tucson to the Grand Canyon gives travelers the opportunity of a lifetime to witness the incredible changes in landscape, as passengers and drivers alike ascend and descend altitudes, from desert to grasslands and forests.

  A stay at the El Tovar Hotel makes for a well-rounded and fun-filled visit. The experience is further enhanced by a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway, leaving from the Williams Station ($67). For those not able to book a reservation on the railway or at the lodge, Williams, AZ also offers an enjoyable, family friendly stay.

  Built in 1905, the lodge fosters an atmosphere taking guests back in time to a bygone era. Filled with stuffed animals and log-built, wooded walls, the lodge’s restaurant also presents the ideal opportuniity to take in the south rim from the comfort of the dining room for breakfast, lunch or dinner (just be sure to book in advance).

  Across from the hotel: a Navajo structure built in the early 1900s as a trading post for the Indian tribe. The tribe still trades there today and sells their native gifts and crafts to many a visitor.

  First timers to the Grand Canyon may not grasp the immense spread of miles between the north and the south rim. Although the view at the south rim is arguably more encompassing, the north rim presents a more intimate experience, oftentimes with less crowds. Journeying to the south rim, travelers may drive by car or train. However, rail travel is not an option for those seeking to travel north, a significantly longer trip.

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  Although the trade off might appear to be a pain, the lengthy and ordinarily mundane road trip is anything but. The drive takes travelers close to red rock mesa and giant buttes, imbuing a sense of awe and wonder in passersby. Further to the northeast, perfect for the second leg of any trip, lies Monument Valley, where John Ford produced many a famed Western, including the now legendary film Stagecoach starring John Wayne.

  Arriving at the Grand Canyon’s Northern Rim (closed for most of the winter season), onlookers take in the beauty and impressive array of animal life (including non-native buffalo), as well the vast depth of the canyon’s abyss. A fine dining restaurant also overlooks the canyon, and visitors may rent a cabin in advance of their arrival. Less fencing also exists to the north, allowing for better photo ops. Just be careful not to turn you trip into a grand disaster by dropping your camera or phone!

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Saguaro National Park

  Behind Monument Valley’s place in Western lore as a favorite for producers, Saguaro National Park near Tucson ranks in as part of the top five— at least in the American psyche. In 1920 members of the Natural History Society of the University of Arizona expressed interest in establishing a protected area for saguaro, a cactus species familiar to watchers of silent-movie Westerns. Finally, in 1933, Frank Harris Hitchcock, publisher of the Tucson Citizen and a former United States Postmaster General who was influential in the Republican Party, persuaded U.S. President Herbert Hoover to create Saguaro National Monument. Hoover used his power under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to create the monument by proclamation on March 1, 1933.

  Visitors may indulge in a wide range of activities at the park, including horseback riding, hiking and bird and animal watching, though these activites may be better enjoyed in the Winter or early spring. Horseback rides may take place on both public and private lands surrounding the park.

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  We chose Tucson Mountain Stables for our ride. Dwayne, a local cowboy and modern drifter took us on a private journey through the desert past all manner of cactus and wild life, including Rattle Snakes, Chipmunks, and hawks. Also residing in the hills and deserts of Saguaro are wild bobcats, coyotes and even the occasional bear venturing down from the park’s nearby mountains.

  Getting to the park by a rented car is best, though Uber or Lyft do travel to the park. However, such a decision may result in a one way ticket, so be prepared by asking your driver to return at a later time or else risk being stuck in the desert for an unintended outdoor camping trip.

  On the way back, be sure to stop in at the local saloon, Lil Abner’s (a long-time favorite steakhouse among residents of the area), for a solid drink and a delicious slab of prime USDA beef. Surrounded by historically authentic pictures the old west as well as portraits of John Wayne, the restaurant has served up home-style cooking since 1947 and was originally founded by Dutches and Larry Lewis. Although the establishment original takes its name from the owners’ dog, the dog’s namesake comes from a comic strip first created in the 1930s that appeared in many newspapers in the United States, Canada and Europe, featuring a fictional clan of hillbillies in the impoverished mountain village of Dogpatch, USA.

 Written and drawn by Al Capp, the strip ran for 43 years, from August 13, 1934, through November 13, 1977.  The site of Lil Abner’s is also said to be a former Pony Express Depot, among the first such depots in the state of Arizona. The restaurant features live music on the weekend and can be found at 8501 N Silverbell Rd, Tucson, AZ.

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