Now that our four (!) kids are grown and (mostly) living on their own, when it comes to travel, I find that my husband and I can focus on what we want.
Empty nest travel can be a lot of things- seeing your college kid during family weekend or visiting your adult child at the new address that they now call “home”. Some of the best empty nest trips are celebratory vacations for big anniversaries or milestone birthdays. For my husband and I, one of our “deals” is that for every five years of marriage (and we have been married now for 30 years!) we go on a romantic getaway . Some of our past anniversary trips have been to Montreal , Paris and London- and these trips are some of our best memories as a couple.
Another option to see the world? To be the tag-along-spouse on a business trip. In my case, as a travel writer, my husband has been my “plus-one” on countless of my press trips and site visits. Now it’s my turn.
As a college professor, my husband’s job doesn’t require a lot of travel. However this year, he had the opportunity to attend a November conference in Phoenix. I would need to pay for my flight and meals, but his expenses -including the hotel room- would be covered. The trip would be an inexpensive way for us to see a bit of the West. And why not extend our stay to include a side trip to the Grand Canyon? Taking a Grand Canyon mule ride excursion has been on my bucket list for years.
Because Grand Canyon portion of our trip was so short , it made sense of us to stay at one of the Grand Canyon Park hotels. Even though our trip was during the off-season and even though I called months in advance, I was lucky to get a room at all! We stayed at Bright Angel Lodge ,right on the canyon rim, in a room best described as charmingly historic-rustic. Our room had twin beds, a tiny bathroom and no TV (but it did have Wi-Fi). At just $100 per night, the room was perfectly adequate – and best of all- we were just steps away from the canyon and its breathtaking vistas.
The Grand Canyon’s premier lodging is El Tovar , a spectacular hotel which was built in 1905. It’s a turn-of-the-last century beauty, reminiscient of the some of my favorite New England grand dame hotels like New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Hotel or the Vineyard’s Harbourview Hotel . We ate in the enormous, yet elegant dining room of El Tovar twice during our stay. Massive log beams frame a fireplace and a wall of windows that open to the canyon. For dinner I chose the sirloin steak- this is beef country after all! But hands down, the best dish was the appetizer- the beef and pork tamale with adoba cream.
Everyone staying at the Grand Canyon Park hotels seems to wake up early for a hearty breakfast (along with copious cups of coffee) before catching the sunrise. We fueled up on omelets before heading out for our morning mule ride along the canyon’s rim.
Book your Grand Canyon Mule ride well in advance. There are only two rides each day and they fill up early. We chose to do the three-hour trail ride along the South Rim. What an adventure ! We learned that mules are a cross between a female horse and a male donkey and that their eyes are set further back giving them outstanding peripheral vision – and a steady sure footedness that makes the journey safe – even for novice riders like me.
My mule was named Seymour- and together we saw a lot! Our guided mule train of 20 riders meandered along the top of the canyon, stopping at several overlooks to take in the panoramic views of the inner gorge and its orang-ish layers of sedimentary rock. Although pricey at $135, the Grand Canyon mule ride was a terrific introduction to the history of the canyon and truly a once in a lifetime experience. By lunchtime we were back at El Tovar and making plans for next year’s conference in Tampa. Having an empty nest isn’t so bad after all.