Breakfast Club

An Affiliate of the Arizona Pilot’s Assn



The Knife & Fork






Breakfast Club Visits the Grandest of Canyons


Dines at The El Tovar




14 Sep 2013

By Warren McIlvoy


The last time that the Breakfast Club attempted to visit the south rim of the Grand Canyon, the weather Gods pitched us a curve ball that included rain and low ceilings thus washing-out our weekend.  We did manage to book a weekend event following that aborted event the following year but the south rim adventure was a tad bit more elusive.  However, this year, the weather was a lot more accommodating and we were able to finally get to stay at the south rim.


Even though we were still in the heart of our “monsoon season”, the morning dawned with outstanding flying weather.  Our direct course to the Grand Canyon Airport would take us over the top of Cottonwood (P52), the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Area, and just to the east of the City of Williams.  It has been a while since I have been to the Williams area and the sight of all the wind turbines just to the northwest of the airport was sort of a surprise.  We also flew over Valle Airport which is another Breakfast Club stop that we have not been to in some time. 


By this time, we were monitoring the GCN frequency to form a mental picture of what the traffic was like.  The winds were calm and they were using runway 21.  After checking-in with the Grand Canyon Tower, I was to report entering a left downwind for 21.  I called the tower after entering the downwind and the tower said to maintain at least 7500’ until turning final to allow for spacing for the helicopter operations that are just abeam the arrival end of runway 21.  Turning final at 7500 makes for a rather steep descent and an arrival over the town of Tusyan that is adjacent to the north end of the airport property.  The airport (which is the only airport owned by the State of Arizona) has moved the transient parking from the north end of the ramp, to a location that is about a ¼ mile south of the old parking area.  It is also located in “no-man’s land” as it is well south of the terminal and FBO buildings.  The procedure is to call the FBO and they will send a van to pick you up and deposit you in front of the Grand Canyon Airlines facility.  If you ask, the FBO will summon the shuttle to pick you up and take you into the park, and in our case, drop us off in front of the El Tovar Hotel.  Two vans arrived and there was two of us that had senior passes that got us all through the park entrance at not cost.  The shuttle ride is $3.00 per person which is not too bad at all.


It was too early to check in to our rooms but the hotel did have a storage room where we could stow our gear until the time that our rooms were ready.  After shedding our gear, about half of us decided to have breakfast in the hotel dinning room.  Another portion of our group opted begin their day of hiking and sight-seeing.


If you have never been to or dined at the El Tovar, the dinning room has more character than a Shakespearian drama.  The high vaulted ceiling would rival any Swiss lodge.  The massive wood beams carry through the post and beam architecture.  The large round table easily accommodated our group and was adorned with linen napkins and china (not made in China) punctuated the fine dinning atmosphere.  Our wait service was good as were the breakfast entrees.  The prices were on the high side of moderate. 


After breakfast, our group split-up to seek our own Canyon adventures.  Paul Fortune along with my wife and I opted to explore the canyon rim via the shuttle bus that will take out to Hermits Rest (about 8-miles west of the Village) with stops along the way at various overlooks.  The bus stop is about a ¼ mile west of the El Tovar.  If you have not been to the Grand Canyon for some time (or at least the south rim), there are two shuttle routes.  One heads west (the Red route) and makes eight stops prior to reaching Hermits Rest.  You can get off and each of the stops if you want to and re-board on the next bus heading west.  Since the return bus stops three of these overlooks, make sure that you get on the bus with “Hermits Rest” in its destination banner.  We debarked at most of the stops on the outbound bus as each overlook offers a slightly different vantage point.  At each overlook, you can take a short hike to the view points for partaking of that special “Kodak Moment”.  Once you reach Hermits Rest, you can “grab a cold one” and just sit on a log bench and stare-out at the canyon wonders or, you can continue along the rim via the Hermit Trailhead to points west.  There are ample “facilities” just in case you are getting a flashing “high water pressure” warning light.  After relaxing for a short while, we boarded the in-bound bus with the “Village Transfer” route identifier.  We did not get off at any of the overlooks on the return trip but just enjoyed the ride.  Not far out from our final destination, the bus slowed as there were a number of elk grazing along the highway.  The one elk closest to the road raised his head to pose for a photo (just as he was trained to do). 


After exiting the bus at the end of the route, we took a shortcut that would get us to rim trail on the way back to the hotels and, of course, more photo ops.  As my wife and I came upon the Bright Angle Lodge, we decided that it time for a treat from the ice cream shop that just happened to be adjacent to the rim trail.  I ordered a dish (rather than a cone) for each of us and went back out to sit on the stone seating overlooking the canyon.  After finishing my ice cream, I set the dish along side my leg as the trash container was along the way to our hotel.  I just sat there taking-in the canyon atmosphere I began to notice people walking past us stopping to watch.  I initially though that they were wondering were we got the ice cream when I suddenly noticed a squirrel lapping-up the remnants from my dish (another Kodak moment).  When my wife finished hers, I put her empty bowl inside mine and our friendly fauna came back for seconds.  When he was finished, you could have put the bowls back on the shelf as he licked them cleaner than a whistle. 


There are two other bus routes available to the canyon visitor.  The “Blue” route covers the entire Grand Canyon Village area including the Trailer Village, shopping venues, park headquarters, and all of the rim hotels.  This is one of the best ideas that the Park Service has ever come-up with.  Once you reach the Canyon Village area or you hotel or lodging facility, you can park your car, motor cycle, bicycle, (not aircraft) and never need it again as all of the south rim sights and attractions are available via the free bus transportation.  There is also an “Orange” route that will take you all the way out to Yaki Point.  There were a lot of people visiting the canyon that day and I shutter to imagine the traffic nightmare if everyone drove there own vehicle to the various overlooks.


About this time, our “personal power source” was beginning to nudge the empty level so we headed over to the El Tovar to check-into our room at the Kachina Lodge.  We collected our gear from the storage room and headed out the north exit of the hotel.  Back out on the rim trail, we made the short hike to the Kachina Lodge that is right next to the El Tovar.  The entry is on the south side of the building with the elevator just inside the entry.  After exiting the elevator, you must step down about 4 steps for the west wing of the building.  Our room was at the far west end of the hallway.  By this time our power source was completely exhausted so after turning-down the bedding, we just flopped down and took a short snooze. 


After this brief recharge, we unpacked some our gear and explored our room.  I would have preferred the El Tovar if for nothing else that the ambiance of the place but the Kachina Lodge is not exactly a dump.  We had a great view of the canyon from our 2nd floor window.  One of our group who was staying at the El Tovar had made dinner reservations a couple of month ago for 14 at about 1800.  We continued our relaxation until it was time to get ready for dinner.  Although the El Tovar is not the only dinning facility in the Village, it is by far the most popular and making dinner reservations months in advance is a requirement unless you want something less at one of the other lodging facilities.  They had a table set-up for 14 but we had two additional folks who had to sit at an adjacent table.  Having dinner together on one of these weekend outings is one of the high points of the weekend.  We get to spend some quality time with friends along with relaxed conversation that centered around the days activities and experiences.  If that was not enough for you, we had a great dinner to boot. 


After dinner we exited the El Tovar via the north entry for a short walk along the canyon trail.  The night had a definite chill but not entirely unpleasant.  There were more stars in the sky than you might ever think possible and to boot there was lightening off in the distance to the east possibility around Tuba City.


There are few lights along the walk and seeing more than a few feet in front of you, is about all you are going to get.  We turned on the walk to the Kachina Lodge and after about 8 paces; I spotted one of our group that was nearer the single lamp post and facing towards us.  He stated that there was an elk on the grass.  I asked him where it was and he replied that it was about 10-12’ to our left.  I made a quick turn and suddenly spotted the profile of an elk as it moved its head.  I could not believe that we could have missed it when we started down the sidewalk to the hotel.  After entering our room, I cracked the window a bit to savor the cool night canyon air and settled down to watch some reruns on the TV.


Sunday morning the sun was low in the eastern sky creating a view of the canyon that was just spectacular.  The kaleidoscope of colors was awe inspiring.  The shadows created by the low sun displays a different character of the canyon and are a photographers dream.  The only thing lacking were some morning clouds to give the crystal clear sky some definition.  We decided to walk over to the Bright Angle Lodge for breakfast via the rim trail and the early morning view of the canyon is something that every person should experience at least once in their life.  I did not have my camera with me but I remembered that my smart phone could take some pretty good photos and those are the ones included in the slide show and the end of my story. 


We met some of our Breakfast Club folks who were also enjoying their meal at this hotel and after some talk about the prior day’s activities and finishing our breakfast; we headed back to our respective hotels to get our gear ready for the return trip back to the valley.  I stopped at the desk in the El Tovar and requested that they summon two vans for our trip to the airport.  Everyone had gathered on the front porch of the hotel and as the vans arrived, we loaded our gear.  As we departed the village area, we spotted a small group of maybe 5-6 elk grazing in the small wooded island that divides the inbound and outbound lanes of the road. 


The shuttle dropped us off in front of the FBO.  Before heading to our aircraft, we all made one more “pit stop” in the Grand Canyon Airlines building.  The FBO then gave us a ride to the transient parking area.  Each aircraft had an envelope attached into which you deposited your $5.00 parking fee.  Along the fence was a receptacle where we placed the envelopes.  Even at this early hour, the airport was busy with inbound tour airplanes that brought tourist from who knows where, into the terminal where some boarded buses for sightseeing tours and some boarded tour planes for an aerial view of the Grand Canyon.  As each aircraft started-up and called for taxi clearance for a runway 21 departure, we all got in the queue along taxiway “Papa” with the sightseeing aircraft.  I wondered why the airport people designated this (one and only) taxiway “Papa”.  Usually a single taxiway airport will name it “Alpha” or “Bravo”.  Anyway, after our run-up, I receive take-off clearance for a straight-out departure on 21.  The ride home was smooth and uneventful but it did allow us time to reflect on what a great time that we had visiting this natural wonder, the grandest of canyons.


The Grand Canyon Explorers


  • Warren & Jeri-Ann McIlvoy with Paul Fortune in 93MB, BC-1 & 1.5 and BC-201
  • John & Pat Rynearsn in 3501S
  • Austin Erwin, Rich Kupiec, Greg and Paige Coomans in 6693M, BC-86, 49, and 48
  • Steve & Amanda and Ryan Gavette in 9014D
  • Doug Doehrman and Libby Vance in 428DW
  • Ed & Paula Burchenal


What’s Next?


In October the Breakfast Club will make our annual trek to Lake Havasu and the Makai Café near the London Bridge.  In November we will be returning to White River and White Mountain Motel.  It has been a while since we have here so it is about time to get re-acquainted.  That is all for now but remember, fly safe.


Click on the Grand Canyon  link to view photos of this event.