Yellow Van Travels: A Family Travel Blog

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Sunrise at Mather Point

One of the things you are often told to do if you go to the Grand Canyon is see the sunrise. We almost didn't go ourselves because we were so tired after our day in the canyon, in fact we had decided not to worry about when we went back to our tent that night. Fortunately in October, when we were there, the sunrise was not so early as it is during other times of the year. I woke up checked my watch and realized we could still make it. The Grand Canyon app from Chimani that we were using on our trip listed multiple places you could see the sunrise, but we knew we would only have time to make it to Mather Point which was not far from our campground. We pulled on our sweatshirts, grabbed the photography equipment, and actually hopped in our car feeling pretty sure the parking lot would not be full early in the morning.

Getting there:
Mather Point is just about a two minute walk from the South Rim Visitors Center. There are multiple parking lots at the visitor center with lots of room. Signs tell you where to go and make sure that you don't end up in the bus lane! (Not that that almost happened to us ;) During the days these lots can get pretty full but early in the morning there was plenty of room when we arrived. From the parking lot you just walk towards the canyon, up behind the visitor center. Mather Point is on the Rim Trail and has multiple areas that jut out into the canyon making for and excellent view. For many people it is the first sight they have of the canyon (not us, ours was at the Desert View Watchtower).

What you will see:
When we arrived the whole place was lined with photographers waiting to catch the sunrise.

Our camera next to the big pros

It wasn't as crowded as it might have been though and we could still find good places to watch and snap pictures ourselves. In mid-October the whether was crisp, but not too bad.

View East from Mather Point
We had some overcast, which made it hard to see the actual moment of the sunrise, but made for and awesome array of colors in the canyon that you don't normally see. Mather Point has an excellent view down the East side of the canyon though so in clear weather it provides and great spot for seeing the sun and even in cloudy weather gets you an awesome view of the first light coming into this majestic place. Mather Point is also an accessible area of the canyon, so for strollers and wheelchairs it provides and excellent option for views anytime.

On clear days the sunrise is a very fast event, so it won't take much of your time to witness it, you just have to be willing to be up early, more or less, depending on the time of year. On overcast days like when we were there it is a more gradual process of seeing the canyon light up, but it still only took us 15 or 20 minutes for the whole excursion.

What to bring:
Regardless of when you go to the park mornings are going to be cool to cold, so make sure you dress for the temperature, and that your kids do as well. Other than that not much is needed. Besides the best camera you have and a tripod if you want really good pictures. It's not a long enough excursion to need to bring food, but since it is early if you have kids that need to eat right away in the morning you might bring some quick snacks and water. Since it is an accessible area most shoes will be fine here, you aren't walking far.
Don't forget your camera though! You will be sad if you do.

Sum up:
The sunrise at Mather Point is a beautiful experience, and one not worth missing just for sleep for yourself (traveling children may be another matter entirely). It is easy to get to and not overly crowded (which is not something you can say about it for sunset).

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Packing for the Grand Canyon

Packing for the Grand Canyon can be a daunting task. You are going to a fairly remote place and while they do offer basically whatever you could need or want in the village, you will be paying extremely high prices. Below are packing lists that we used when we went to the Grand Canyon.

Days in the Canyon: We spent 2-3 days in the Grand Canyon and we chose to camp there overnight. Every morning, we would leave our campsite and not return until the evening. Below is a list a things we would take with us for the day.
  • Good walking/hiking shoes-make sure they are comfortable and broken in
  • A sturdy back-pack-we took a backpack similar to this one as well as a light-weight cinch backpack
  • Sweatshirt/light jacket-we went in the fall and sweatshirts were a must!
  • Comfy walking/hiking clothes-don't forget a hat if it's sunny
  • Water bottles-there are multiple filling stations with clean water from the canyon around the rim 
  • Meals and snacks-depending on how long you are planning to be gone, you might want to bring simple lunches and dinners as well as some snacks; see the food list for more ideas
  • Camera/phone and camera equipment (tri-pod, selfie-stick, etc.)
  • Park guide-these are free when you enter the park and they are located at most buildings in the village in case yours gets lost or destroyed
  • Phone (with the Grand Canyon app loaded onto it!)
  • External battery pack and charging cords-while the buildings have electricity, it is hard to find outlets to charge your devices; make sure to bring some external battery chargers and make sure they are charged before you leave home!
  • Binoculars-we really wished we had brought these
  • Flashlights-especially if you are planning on being out after dark; parts of the trails and areas are not very well lit
  • Sunscreen and bug spray

Camping: We chose to camp as an economical way to stay in the Grand Canyon. We camped at the South Rim in Mather Campground for $15 a night. Each campsite had a fire pit and a picnic table. and centrally located restrooms.

  • Tent and tarp
  • Sleeping items (sleeping bags, air mattress or sleeping pads, pillows, etc.)
  • Lantern
  • Flashlights
  • Cooking equipment (camp stove, firewood, roasting sticks, etc.)
  • Changes of clothes and pajamas
  • Toiletries

Food: Because we were staying for only a short time, we did not take many items that needed to be in a cooler. You can purchase ice in the village, but we preferred to not take too much that needed ice. For lunches and dinners, we made sandwiches or bagels and put them in a collapsable, insulated lunch box that we carried in our backpacks. We would also bring snacks in our lunch boxes and backpacks as well.

  • Bread and sandwich fixings
  • Bagels
  • Granola and cereal bars
  • Crackers
  • Fruit
  • Muffins
  • Hard candy (for hikes to keep your mouth moist)

Other Random Things:

  • Ziploc bags-these are great for packing lunches, keeping wet things in, etc.
  • Hand sanitizer-great for around the campsites and to have in a backpack
  • Plasticware-we used knives a lot to make our sandwiches and bagles
  • Small first aid kit
  • Plastic grocery sacks-great to collect garbage in and toss as you are leaving the campsite or your picnic area

Click the image below (or here) to download your own Grand Canyon packing list!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Ice Skating at Rice Park

Located in downtown St. Paul is Rice Park. And at the triangular portion of Rice Park, the Landmark Plaza, is a small outdoor skating rink, run by Wells Fargo. Now it might be strange to have a skating rink that is run by a giant bank, but just across the street from the park is the Wells Fargo building.


The rink is free and if you have your a Wells Fargo debit card you also get a free skate rental. We were in Minnesota for the Christmas holiday and unfortunately had left our skates at home in Utah, but fortunately we had our debit cards with us so we got free skate rentals as well. I dislike paying for skates when I own my own, so I was glad about that. We were skating with Meagan's two brothers and her little sister. Everyone was able to get skates at no cost because we had enough cards between us. If you do not have a Wells Fargo card skate rental will cost you $4. 


The skates were not the best, but that was to be expected. I love skating, skating of all kinds, but none of us are particularly skilled at ice skating, so we normally use hockey skates. One of Meagan's brothers was given figure skates though, so be aware that their skate stock is limited. Figure skates can be more difficult to use because they have less ankle support and the toe picks can catch. 

You pick up rental skates in the warming hut. The hut has rows of benches for you to sit on to put on your skates and it is considerably warmer than the outside, but it gets pretty crowded pretty fast from what I saw. Of course I don't got to a skating rink to sit inside a warming hut so I didn't see too much of it. 


The rink is small but as it was quite cold and snowing, it was not overly crowded. The fact that it was snowing didn't bother us; it was not very wet snow. The ice was rough and I take it they do not zamboni it regularly. Despite being rough it did not give us too much trouble and was still enjoyable. 

Meagan and me at the rink.


Part of the charm of this rink was that it is overlooked by a the Landmark Center, a building that looks a little bit like Hogwarts. This building gives it a nice feel even though it is smack in the middle of the city. 

Yellow Van on the rink's boards in front of Landmark Center

Rice Park is also home to a number of statues of Peanuts characters which were fun to see.

Yellow Van with with Lucy and Schroder
Yellow Van with Charlie Brown and Snoopy

St. Paul is a large city, so traffic and parking issues should always be allowed for. That being said after circling for a few minutes we were able to find metered parking on the street without too much difficulty. Getting in and out of the spot was a little tight but it all worked out fine. 

Sum Up
If you can go for free because you have your own skates or a Wells Fargo card, it is a nice little skating rink and fun to do. Particularly if you are in downtown St. Paul for some other reason. 

Ice Skating at Rice Park will be open this year (2016), until February 7th. To learn more visit this link

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Grand Canyon: Photography Tips and Tools

When you go to the Grand Canyon, you can expect amazing views all around you. We were blown away by the natural beauty and how different the canyon looked at different times of day and from different places around the canyon.  We saw people from all over the world, both amateurs and professionals, taking pictures of the beautiful place.

While we were definitely on the ammeter side of the photography realm, we were still able to capture some of the awe-inspiring views. Below are some of our tips and the tools that we used while photographing the Grand Canyon.


  • See the sunrise
    • Depending on the time of year, the sunrise may be very early or slightly later in the morning. Either way, it is worth it to get up and see the sunrise! The canyon takes on a completely different look and it is really fun to photograph. When we were there, it was pretty overcast so we didn't get to see the full sun rising, but the clouds cast the most beautiful purples and blues across the canyon. It was definitely a completely different view than what we had seen throughout our whole trip. 
  • See the sunset
    • This is on pretty much everyone's list, but it is also totally worth it. The guides you get when you enter the park will give you some good information about where to see the sunset. Or you can ask a ranger and they will tell you good spots too. We went an hour or two before the sun set to stake out a spot right on the edge of a cliff and we had a picnic dinner while we watched the sun set. In addition to photographs, we also set up a time-lapse using an iPhone and a Gorilla Pod. It turned out really cool and we used it later in our music video. It can get pretty crowed so we definitely suggest getting there earlier than later.
  • Don't be afraid to stop
    • We stopped multiple times on our hike down Bright Angel Trail to take some pictures (and for me to catch my breath!). We saw lots of others doing the same as well. We used our selfie-stick and phones as well as setting up our tripod and using the timer on our Canon to take some pictures. We would also stop as we went along the Rim Trail at random outcroppings of rock. All of these pictures look different and we are glad we took the time to stop and take some pictures. 
  • Find a spot that isn't crowded
    • While it is a good idea to stop to take pictures, you will probably want to do it where it isn't crowded. If you're at a spot and want to take a picture but there are a lot of people getting in your shot, just walk a short ways down the trail you're on and you're bound to find a place with much more scenery. The Grand Canyon is big! There's plenty of room for everyone to get beautiful pictures :)
  • Don't spend your whole time photographing!
    • While you will want to remember your trip through your photographs, don't spend the whole time taking pictures! No matter how hard you try, your pictures still won't be able to completely capture the immense beauty of the Grand Canyon. So enjoy your time there and really take it all it through your own eyes instead of through a lens. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Bright Angel Trail

Upon our arrival in the Grand Canyon at the East entrance we were given the fall guide to the park. After leaving our first stop at the Desert View Watchtower, while driving to south rim I (Ben) studied the guide while Meagan drove. The guide gave several options for different time commitments which was very helpful. One of the suggestions if you had a moderate amount of time was to hike the Bright Angel Trail. There were various lengths you could go on the trail and of course the farther you went the more difficult it would become. We decided that the second turn around option (Tunnel 2) would be the best choice for us.

Bright Angel is reported to be the most popular trail in the canyon. This being the case you may experience crowds on the trail depending on when you go. While we were there on a Thursday afternoon in mid October, there were plenty of people on the trail but it was not crowded.

Getting there:
To get to the trail head the best option is to take the shuttle bus. Shuttles are free with your park admission and make getting around much easier than driving your own vehicle. If you are coming from the visitor center or the Mather campground get on a westbound blue line shuttle. From the campground we found it easiest to get on at the Shrine of the Ages westbound stop.

You can take the shuttle to either the Bright Angel Lodge stop or the Hermit's Rest Transfer stop. Both are close to entrances to the trail. We went to the Hermit's Rest Transfer, but it appeared that both were equally close.

What you will see:
The trail is one of the oldest in the canyon and is reported to have been used as far back as prehistoric times. Its long use is credited to being a natural trail formed by a fault line and its having its own water supply at Indian Gardens. It is one of the ways to reach the canyon floor and Phantom Ranch.

If you hike the trail you will see an amazing view of the Grand Canyon from below the rim. Bright Angel trail looks out on a gorgeous view that sweeps in front of you, while also affording a close look at the layers of rock you descend between.

On our trip we went as far as what they term the "second tunnel" in the park guide (about 500 feet of elevation loss). The trip took us about an hour and forty five minutes at a leisurely pace. We saw plenty of children and senior citizens doing the hike as far down as we did. If you want a very short hike you can go only to the first tunnel and still get a good view of the canyon. With children a trip to the first tunnel will likely take about half and hour round trip.

I have put in a picture of what the tunnels look like because we were confused at first as to whether they counted as tunnels because they were so small.

What you will need:
Water: Make sure you bring plenty of water with you. You can fill your water at the trail head form the Grand Canyon spring water station. These stations are found throughout the park and distribute water pumped from the springs on the North Rim. You will not have a chance to refill water on the trail unless you go as far down as Indian Gardens.

Food: Bring food based on the amount of time you plan to spend hiking. We did not end up needing any food during our hike, but when hiking with children you will want to make sure you have some. And if you plan to go deep into the canyon you will need to pack plenty of food to keep up your strength on the way out. There are a few places where you can stop and sit on out cropping rocks but no picnic tables or benches so plan on individually wrapped food like granola bars and fruit snacks.

Camera: Don't forget your camera and equipment, you will be extremely sad if you do. We took with us our DSLR camera with tripod, iPhone 6s, and iPhone 5s with selfiestick. We used all three during the hike. This was a good setup because we could easily capture shots along the trail quickly using the phones, As well as get some better shots with the DSLR.  Phones are common cameras on the trail and all over the Grand Canyon, but make sure that you have a good case on it that won't slip out of your hand.

Other Materials: We did not have walking sticks or ski poles with us but we saw a number of other hikers who did and they would likely be a good choice but are not required. Make sure you have good shoes for walking in. I unfortunately forgot my hiking shoes on this trip, much to my chagrin. Of course when hiking it is always good to have a simple first aid kit, especially with children and rocks. Depending on the time of year and day you will likely also want sunscreen and hats.

Sum up: 
The Bright Angel Trail is a fun hike that most people can do at least the first portion of. It is an easy way to get below the rim of the Grand Canyon and see the geology up close. We recommend it as part of your trip.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


So glad you dropped by Yellow Van Travels.

We are Ben and Meagan :)

We are newlyweds who love to travel. We are here to give you our firsthand experiences from traveling around this beautiful world.

Join us as we post each week about our various adventures from around the country (and eventually the world!) and feel free to share your experiences with us as well.

To learn more about us, our van, and our travels, check out the About Us page.