Lonely Planet Writer

Obama's Grand Canyon

The Obamas are stopping by the Grand Canyon -- a prequel weekend trip to the Martha's Vineyard weeklong trip in a couple weeks. But the South Rim in August, really? Sounds like a zoo. So I came up with three options for the First Family on the Road -- ways to get away from the hordes of travelers (a bit) and hopefully get a bit more than a token Chevy Chase-a-la-Vacation glance and move on.

Floods last year changed this waterfall-filled canyons, west of the national park, for good. The Havasu Falls have sand bags at its base and the 100-foot drop of blue-green water now emerges from the side; rerouted waters dried up the Navajo Falls; and the swimming hole below the 200-foot Mooney Falls is filled with silt.

Sounds grim? Not really. Havasu Falls still has good swimming, and a couple new falls have formed -- about a mile up the trail. (I asked an employee at the nearby Havasuapai Lodge how they look. She replied, "Like waterfalls.")

The reservation cannot be accessed from the South Rim. It's 65 miles northwest of Rte 66, or 90 miles from Seligman's motels on I-90.

It's a bit hokey -- like the glass floor at the Sears Tower -- but futile to resist. Way west of the national park, "Grand Canyon West" features a horseshoe-shaped, glass-floor deck jutting 70-foot out above the canyon floor resting a mere 4000 feet below.

The catch is getting there. You can drive out on the rough Diamond Creek Road yourself, ending with about 20 miles of very bumpy road. But you have to take a tour to see the Skywalk. Some visitors go from a coach tour from Las Vegas, which take in Lake Mead, the Skywalk and lunch on the rim for $202 per person (Teresa at Destination Grand Canyon told me, "I'm going to try to talk the Obamas into taking it.") Another option is the five-hour shuttle tours from Meadview (on the south shore of Lake Mead).

Only 10 miles across from the South Rim, yet a five-hour drive away, the remote North Rim has always been the alternate spot for more isolated looks at the two billion-year-old scenery. Obama, however, may need to use some presidential muscle to book a room or cottage at the classic 1920s North Rim Grand Canyon Lodge, which likes to say has a two-year waiting list (I found some vacancies here and there over the next months on their site). From there, it's a 10-minute drive to Point Imperial, which at 8830 feet is the highest overlook on either side of the canyon. The Cape Final three-hour hike is relatively flat and reaches 270-degree looks over the lower Marble Canyon.

--> For more information, pick up Lonely Planet's custom guide to the region or the Grand Canyon National Park guidebook.