The historic El Tovar Hotel is full of rustic charm from the blazing wood fire in the welcoming lobby to the cozy cocktail bar that serves drinks and casual fare to guests. Those fortunate enough to grab one of the coveted tables in that famous watering hole gaze through the picture window at the stunning view of the world’s most famous canyon. Ahhhh, now where’s that mule?
Stiff drink required
My husband, Johnny, and I have visited this remote national park several times since we launched our grand tour in a 23-foot Thor Gemini motorhome in 2018. Whether it’s the north rim or the south, we can’t seem to get enough of the indescribly beautiful sight of that magnificent hole in the ground.
So, when a friend offered up tickets for a flight over the grandest canyon during a recent visit, we said: Absolutely!
The morning of our 45-minute trip, we arrived at the teeny airport and climbed aboard a twin-engine prop plane with four other folks and buckled up. The sky was dark, but our pilot didn’t seem stressed. Then, shortly after takeoff, the dramatic drops began. Whoa! Is this normal?
After a thrilling and, at times, terrifying, tour we landed and our fearless leader apologized, saying the weather report hadn’t picked up on the fierce winds we barreled through. Flights for the rest of the day were cancelled. I handed the guy a fat tip and thanked him. Other passengers asked to take a photo with our hero.
I’ve battled fear of flying over the years and when the turbulence was rocking our aircraft around like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, I looked across the aisle to my fearless sidekick and saw him looking frightened, searching for the barf bag. I thought at that moment: well… it’s been a good life, right?
Johnny later told me he thought about kissing the ground after we touched down, but instead we headed to the bar so he could get his mule on.
For a bird’s eye view of that flight, check out my Instagram reel.
A snowy walk along the rim
For many of the millions who make the trek to one of the world’s seven wonders, a visit to the Grand Canyon involves walking from the vast parking lot to Mather Point. Selfies are shot and then, it’s back to the car. On that recent chilly March day, there was loads of snow on the walkways and hail was raining down.
I heard one shorts-wearing guy whine to his partner: “This better be worth it.”
Oh, it is. And – pro tip – start your visit by watching the movie at the visitor’s center. Narrated by the most perfect voiceover artist of our time, Peter Coyote, this short film tells the billion-year story succinctly.
When we arrived at El Tovar Hotel, we were giddy to find no line up at the popular spot. First, we cheat death and now, a prime seat at the best bar in the park? Maybe we should buy a lottery ticket!
On a fall trip to the North Rim in 2021, Johnny decided he was going to hike down into the canyon on the Kaibab Trail. Little did he realize, he’d spend the first few miles dodging mule dung and – wow! – that smell. Mule rides are a time-honored way to get down into the canyon, but, wow, that stank stays with you.
That’s why I was surprised that he was fixated on trying one of the lineup of signature mules served in the bar. Because he’s a bourbon drinker, he hopped right on the Kentucky Mule. It was everything he’d wanted: bright and citrusy playing well off that sharp edge of ginger. The smoky character of the brown liquor wasn’t lost in the mix. Only hitch? It was served in a Collins glass, not the traditional copper mug.
The menu is short and nearly every table around us seemed to be graced with a pile of golden truffle fries or a barbecued pork sandwich. We went with the classic shrimp cocktail and it was spot on, if a little on the skimpy side at just four pieces.
Drinks and snacks aside, the atmosphere in the snug space was warm and friendly and the view of the canyon was postcard perfect. During the warm weather months, the outdoor patio is the place you want to hang. But on that frosty day, El Tovar’s Lounge was especially lovely.