From Phoenix to the Grand Canyon
Since I didn't arrive in Phoenix until the middle of the day, I knew that Day 1 would be short. So, I had just two goals: eat at Garduno's New Mexican Restaurant in Scottsdale, then drive non-stop to the South Rim. After accomplishing the first goal, I set out on the second.
From Phoenix, take Interstate 17 north until it ends at Flagstaff. Drive straight through town, following signs for the Grand Canyon, or US Hwy. 180. After about 45 miles, US 180 runs into AZ Hwy. 64, and both continue north to the Grand Canyon.
Interstate 17 is an enjoyable drive. As soon as you leave the sprawl of Phoenix, you're climbing into the mountains--nothing big, just enough to add a few curves and hills to the road.
About halfway between Phoenix and Sedona, there's a rest area that offers a great view of the Bradshaw Mountains, a huge sundial, and a memorial to Arizona DOT workers killed in the line of duty.
By the time you reach Flagstaff, Humphreys Peak (elevation 12,637 ft.) dominates the view. You'll be staring at it for a while, even after you pass through the city.
Beyond Flagstaff, US 180 slowly climbs, but is mostly level and straight, passing through forests and grassy plains. As I was driving through (in December), I watched my rental car's temperature readout, as the air dropped from the 40's into the 20's. There were occasional small patches of ice on the road, but nothing to cause any concern. By the time I reached the AZ 64 intersection, it was dark, which was just as well, because this is a pretty boring drive. At least the destination isn't boring!
Before you enter Grand Canyon National Park, you'll pass through Tusayan, a small town that exists primarily to cater to tourists. You might want to grab dinner here, but I recommend spending the night inside the park. You'll need to plan ahead, and make reservations through Xanterra. The small amount extra you'll pay for a motel room inside the park is well worth the after-dark access you'll enjoy to the canyon.
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