Two Generations Share a Family Vacation in Arizona

From left, Sarah, Susan and Anna look at Glen Canyon Dam as they relax in the infinity pool at the rental house in Page, Arizona.

From left, Sarah, Susan and Anna look at Glen Canyon Dam as they relax in the infinity pool at the rental house in Page, Arizona.

Story and photos by Michael Ciaglo

Michael is a freelance photographer based in Denver, Colorado. See more of his work on his website.

Three couples explore canyons, watch sunsets and go sightseeing on rivers together.

What are the secrets for a successful multigenerational family vacation? Time together, to appreciate in unison the splendor of world-class natural landforms, and time apart, to pursue individual interests. That formula worked well on a recent road trip to Arizona with my girlfriend’s family. Our vacation was more leisurely than those depicted in Hollywood movies, where travelers hike poison ivy-covered trails, burn burgers on the grill and run out of gas next to a “200 miles to Phoenix” road sign.

Three couples made up our group: Sarah, my girlfriend, and me; Susan, Sarah’s mom, and her boyfriend, Mike; and Anna, Sarah’s sister, and her boyfriend, Ryan. Page, a town of about 7,400 in northern Arizona, served as our base for the five-day trip. Known for its steep canyons and ethereal red rock formations, Page is about a 15-minute drive from Lake Powell, and it’s less than 2.5 hours to either the north or south rims of Grand Canyon National Park.

To accommodate our different interests, each couple drove to Page in separate vehicles. Sarah and I love to pack our days from sunrise to sunset with active experiences. Susan looks for a big splash of adventure each morning but then may opt for a poolside seat for the rest of the day. Mike is happy to tinker with his RV inside and out, fixing any problem that he comes across. Anna may lag on a hike as she stops to identify a flower, or she and Ryan may go in search of local craft shops.

When we assembled at our rental house on a cool and dry September evening, clouds hung on the horizon, and a light fog filled the canyon. After some of us gathered in the infinity pool to watch the sunset from inner tubes, we all settled into our rooms, eagerly anticipating the next day’s visit to the 227-mile-long Grand Canyon.

The next morning, on our 133-mile drive along AZ-64 to Grand Canyon Village on the south rim, Anna and Susan kept a lookout for Navajo craft stands. Sarah was stuck with me in the front seat, listening as I pointed out every deer and antelope we passed. As though on cue, Mike sang the refrain from “Home on the Range” and spouted dad jokes from the back.

A 'Grand' Canyon View

Just 25 miles east of Grand Canyon Village, we reached the 70-foot-high Desert View Watchtower. The tower was closed, but Sarah’s family got their first breathtaking view of the Grand Canyon from the overlook. All afternoon, at each pullout along Desert View Drive, the adult “kids” would see how far we could make it out onto a rock precipice while Susan and Mike hung back to snap photos of us from above.

Then we drove into Grand Canyon Village for dinner at the El Tovar Hotel, where we celebrated Susan’s birthday in style. The braised short ribs with polenta was rich and decadent, and the three vegetarians at the table devoured every leaf in the tasty autumn salad. After dinner, we drove 10 minutes to Yavapai Point to view the sunset from the edge of the landform that is so much greater than “grand.” When the sun touched the horizon, rock spires throughout the depths of the canyon lit up like so many candles.

The next day, the younger adults and Susan drove 2 miles to the meeting point for a guided half-day boat trip through the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. On the water, we watched wild horses drink from the Colorado River and bighorn sheep scramble up the 1000-foot-high canyon walls. Later that day, Susan and Mike headed for the visitor center at the Glen Canyon Dam as the rest of us hiked a 1.5-mile trail above the rim of the canyon that led to the Hanging Gardens. Here, lush plants fed by laterally flowing springs cling to the underside of a rock ledge in complete juxtaposition to the surrounding arid landscape.

Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon

Later, we all gathered for a 10-minute drive south on US-89 to Horseshoe Bend, a dramatic curve in the canyon where the Colorado River loops around a sandstone escarpment. On our final day of vacation, we wanted a closer encounter with the sedimentary rock so common in the area, so we drove 6.4 miles east on AZ-98 to Antelope Canyon, located on Navajo Nation. Tours were limited to eight people, but no one else joined us, so the six of us had a private guide and plenty of space.

Our hour-long tour of Lower Antelope Canyon started with a climb down a steep staircase that took us into an otherworldly slot canyon. We followed a narrow, sandy path as we contorted ourselves through the tighter passages. Though the sun was no longer visible to us overhead, its beams pierced the darkness and lit up the canyon walls — some 120 feet high — in vibrant shades of red and orange.

After the tour, we drove about 6 miles west on AZ-98 to Lake Powell, where we rented a pontoon boat and motored out to explore the lake. Mike took the helm, and I played navigator while Susan, Sarah and Anna relaxed on the comfy seats in the sun. Ryan baited the hook on the fishing rod we’d purchased on a whim, but the fish weren’t biting. After an hour of cruising along canyon walls (and among many massive houseboats), we tucked into a side channel, anchored on a beach and settled in to enjoy the rest of the afternoon.

Soon after, the wind picked up, whipping off the cliffs above and pelting us first with sand and then hard rain. We were not at all prepared for the storm, and as Mike pushed the boat to its limits to get us back to the marina, the rest of us tried to shelter under life jackets and beach towels. When the sky cleared at last, the six of us were soaked and shivering, but we laughed, hugged and celebrated that we’d survived the chaotic, Hollywood-worthy twist that had presented itself on our family vacation after all.

Now, we can’t wait to plan our next trip!


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