Goth Panda

August 2, 2016

Traveling Pandas Tuesday – North Rim, Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon, North Rim

February 4, 2016

Arizona 2014 Wrap-Up

Why I Wanted to Go

Does anyone else remember this set of Disney books from their childhood? I think I can trace back my obsession with the National Parks to the America book, which was the first introduction I had to them. In retrospect, it seems clear that they were intended to make kids want to go to Disney World, but that’s not the effect they had on me. I’m pretty sure both that the reason the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone were at the top of my travel wishlist had a lot to do with these books.

Mike had been to Flagstaff many times and loves it. He’d also been to the Grand Canyon, but he had never hiked to the bottom. Since I didn’t think I was up to the Grand Canyon hike, we decided to split our time, with a few days in Flagstaff together and then going our separate ways at the Grand Canyon.

The Plan

I usually do almost all of the travel planning, but this time Mike could give many recommendations, especially for restaurants. In the end, we did some things that were new for him, like the Wupatki National Monument and Petrified Forest National Park, and some things he had done before but i hadn’t, like the Meteor Crater and the Grand Canyon.

Another unique aspect of the trip was that we split up for part of it, and I ended up spending the time at the Grand Canyon by myself. Although I’m not opposed to the idea of traveling by myself, I haven’t done it much in the past. The only times I can think of were a few roadtrips to New England to do research for my dissertation. I wouldn’t mind doing solo trips in the future, if there is someplace I’d like to visit and Mike doesn’t want to go. I definitely identify as an introvert, so spending time alone doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t mind going places alone or even eating alone, as long as I have a book to read. I felt a little weird about having lunch by myself at El Tovar, since it is a fancier restaurant than the cafeteria where I ate most of the time, but it was something I really wanted to experience, and so I did it anyway and it turned out fine.

What I Would Do Differently

I would have brought a flashlight! We also forgot one at Yellowstone. If you will be walking around in a National Park at night, even just from the restaurant or grocery store to your hotel room, it helps to have a flashlight.


Since you go to the Grand Canyon expecting to be overwhelmed, I wasn’t sure if my reaction in real life would measure up, but it did. It also surprised me that there was a lot to do in the park. It doesn’t seem unusual for people just to drive out and look at it for a few hours and then leave, but I’m happy I stayed around for a few days. I never felt at a loss for something to do, and looking at the views never got old.

I hiked most of the rim trail, and it completely surprised me how after you get past the designated viewpoints, there are long stretches where there are no fences or guardrails, and nothing to stop you from tumbling over the edge. Another surprise on the rim trail: my first real-life sighting of a tarantula, but unfortunately I don’t have a picture to prove it. It was only when I described it to Mike’s guide and he told me what it was that I realized I should have taken a picture. At the time I was more focused on not stepping on it. I was also astounded to see people hiking down into the canyon with inappropriate footwear (think ballet flats) and no water, paying no heed to the many, many warning signs.


I didn’t have time to see the North Rim, but we are planning to make up for that by stopping in June.

This is the first time we flew on Southwest, and it was kind of stressful because at first we didn’t understand the lining up process, and we were worried about not getting seats together. I think if I were flying by myself, I wouldn’t mind flying with them again, but flying together, I prefer to have assigned seats. Everything else about the flights was fine.

I think my biggest disappointment was Sedona, because I had been expecting to like it more. Don’t get me wrong, the location is beautiful.



But other than the landscape and the views, I wasn’t very impressed with the town itself, which had a resorty, touristy feel. I much preferred Flagstaff, which has more of an outdoorsy, college town vibe. People always tout Sedona as being some kind of spiritual nexus, but I don’t consider myself a very spiritual person, so maybe that’s why we didn’t connect.

On the Road to Sedona

On the Road to Sedona (via Instagram)

We did splurge and have dinner at Che-Ah-Chi, a restaurant at the Enchantment resort that Mike remembered fondly, and that was the best part of Sedona for me.

Rainbow at the Enchantment

Best Parts of the Trip

The food! I love visiting the southwest for the food, and because it is easy to find vegetarian options.

The Grand Canyon at sunrise and sunset, which Mike urged me to do, and I would recommend to others. Set your alarm and grab your camera.

I also really enjoyed Petrified Forest National Park, which although it was not what I imagined as a kid, still turned out to be pretty cool.

Most Difficult Parts of the Trip

My trip wasn’t difficult at all, but the Grand Canyon hike ended up being much more physically demanding than Mike and Rob were expecting. But afterwards when we were back in Flagstaff, they were exhilarated and called it a life-changing experience.

Worst Parts of the Trip

This had nothing to do with the trip itself, but I had a lot of work stress right before leaving, and as a result it took a few days for me to get into the vacation spirit.


Mike wants to go back. As I mentioned, he loves Flagstaff, but he also wants to hike the Grand Canyon again, this time on a slightly easier trail and with more people. I think is one of his favorite areas of the world. We will be visiting the North Rim for an overnight stay in June, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up out there again in the future. I personally wouldn’t mind going back so I would have the chance to stay at El Tovar.

December 13, 2015

Introducing the Traveling Pandas

So far there have not been enough pandas on the Goth Panda website. This new category aims to change that by providing photos of our traveling companions.

Grand Canyon

We like this photo because it almost looks like it was done at a Sears portrait studio with a fake Grand Canyon backdrop.

December 12, 2015

The Grand Canyon


I got my first look at the Grand Canyon alone. The tour company picked up Mike and Rob at the hotel in Flagstaff for their three-day hike to the bottom. After they left, I drove to the Canyon for three days of solitude until they re-emerged.

Sunrise at the Grand Canyon

I imagine there are some natural wonders that fail to live up to their hype, but I haven’t found that to be the case yet in any of the National Parks. I stopped at the South Rim’s Visitor Center for my first glimpse, and it left me breathless and a little woozy. I’m not ruling out the possibility that vertigo rather than the beauty of the scene caused those symptoms.

Bright Angel Trail

It’s amazing that a park built around only one major attraction can still offer so many things to do. Beyond a short hike not very far down Bright Angel Trail, I never went into the canyon, and yet I still had plenty to occupy me for the three days I stayed there. I got up early to see the sun rise over the canyon, and stayed out to photograph the sunset. I hiked the Rim Trail from Grand Canyon Village to Hermit’s Rest, and in the other direction to the Yavapai Museum of Geology, which has trail markers of stone from the different geological layers of the canyon. I was amazed that, once you get away from the main overlook points, there are no guardrails on much of the Rim Trail, and nothing preventing you from tumbling over the edge.

Geological Display

I explored the Village and the different hotels and restaurants, the train depot, and the grocery store. I’ve mentioned here my obsession with national park lodges before. I think what I like so much about them, in addition to the history and the natural beauty, is the self-contained aspect, the sense of being in a planned oasis that provides for all of a traveller’s needs. As one of the oldest and certainly one of the most popular, the Grand Canyon Village had this in spades.

I wasn't expecting a full-size grocery store. #grandcanyon #arizona

A photo posted by Victoria (@startcoloring) on

Grand Canyon Railroad Station. #grandcanyon #arizona

A photo posted by Victoria (@startcoloring) on

Since we ended up changing our travel dates at the last minute, I had to give up my hotel reservation in El Tovar, and I ended up staying in Yavapai Lodge. Instead, I went to have lunch at El Tovar, and enjoyed a lovely meal while sparing a thought for Mike and Rob eating camp food at the bottom of the canyon. When they emerged from the canyon dirty, exhausted, and hungry, I shared these photos with them, right before they consumed the most amount of food I have ever seen human beings intake in one sitting.

ET Lunch Collage

Grand Canyon from the Rim Trail

I was disappointed I didn’t have enough time to visit the North Rim, but we’re planning to make an overnight stop there next spring, when we will visit some of Utah’s national parks.

Grand Canyon Pano

November 23, 2015

Flagstaff, Arizona

We were originally supposed to go to Arizona in 2013, but it got postponed. The main reason we went is so Mike and our friend Rob could hike the Grand Canyon. I never intended to hike it, but I did want to see it. Mike had been there several times, not just to the Canyon, but to one of his favorite towns, Flagstaff. Neither Rob nor I had ever been there.

We ended up flying out on Sept. 11, 2014, and the airport was much less crowded than usual.

We arrived a few days in advance of Rob and the Canyon hike, so Mike and I spent a few days in Flagstaff by ourselves. On our first full day there, we visited Wupatki National Monument, a 900-year-old Native American pueblo. There are supposed to be at least 100 rooms in the pueblo, but the rooms seemed tiny. You can’t go inside the pueblo, but you can see some of the interior where the walls have crumbled away. The sun was so bright I could barely see without my sunglasses due to squinting.

Wupatki National Monument

Wupatki also feature an enclosed ball court, where some kind of game used to be played, although no one is quite sure what.

Ball Field at Wupatki National Monument

On the second day, we drove out to the Petrified Forest National Park and Painted Desert. I remember being fascinated by the idea of a petrified forest when I was a child, although the idea I had if it was completely different from what it actually there. I think I had pictured something out of a fairy tale, a forest made of stone. It doesn’t look much like a forest, but there is petrified wood everywhere and it is beautiful.


The Painted Desert was a short drive away. We had lunch at the visitor’s center, where Mike had a vegetarian Navajo fry bread taco that was a big hit.

Painted Desert at Petrified Forest National Park

Painted Desert at Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park

On the way back to Flagstaff, we stopped at the meteor crater featured in Star Man. It is privately owned, so a little overpriced and over-commercialized. And there is not much to do there other than look at the big hole in the ground. It was not nearly as interesting as the other big hole in the ground we saw several days later.

Meteor Crater

We spent a lot of the time visiting places Mike knew and remembered from his earlier trips to Flagstaff. Some of these places I had been hearing about for more than ten years, and finally got to see for myself.

Restaurants in Flagstaff that got our seal of approval:

Altitudes Bar and Grill
Beaver Street Brewery
La Bellavia
La Fonda
MartAnne’s Cafe
Salsa Brava