Explorer: On an Arizona Road Trip, Miles of Family Firsts

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The chef and owner Jeff Smedstad’s travels across Oaxaca, Veracruz and Puebla pay off in an assortment of entrees like the chicken chilaquiles (smoked chicken and tortillas simmered in guajillo sauce) and a vegetable relleno with seared vegetables and apples, pecans, pumpkin seeds and pepita crema. (Be ready to stand in line, though, the Elote Café does not accept reservations.)

A Canyon Finale

All week, I had been worried about our Grand Canyon excursion. I felt that I was cheating the whole family. Did a day trip really do it justice? The summer rafting trips through the canyon on the Colorado River are highly recommended, but they are booked through 2019. Besides, it was winter. Another option, riding a mule down to the bottom and back, was as appetizing as mountain oysters for Jack and Mary.

I need not have worried.

It was Mary who suggested I book a trip through one of the more famous Arizona brands, Pink Jeep Tours, a company that, since 1960, has been zipping people around on- and off-road in, yes, pink jeeps.

It was well worth the $494 price tag for all three of us. Our guide, Jeff Dana, picked us up at our hotel in a Mercedes coach at 7:30 a.m. and was nothing but informative and funny right up to returning us at 4:45 p.m. There were 10 of us altogether and Mr. Dana was a true pro, with insightful patter on everything, including the history and customs of the Navajos, whose land we were crossing on our 90-minute drive to the star attraction.

Once at the canyon, Mr. Dana’s storytelling put us alongside Captain García López de Cárdenas and his Spanish soldiers, relying on Hopi guides and stumbling upon the canyon when they were searching for the Seven Cities of Gold. Mr. Dana made harrowing and concrete the challenges that Army Maj. John Wesley Powell faced as he led his expedition in 1869. Mr. Dana explained the canyon’s geology and timeline and where it fit in Native American culture and lore. He not only knew what he was talking about, but his passion for history and nature was genuine: He spoke of his own experiences hiking down the canyon and camping at the bottom.

The Grand Canyon itself does not disappoint.

There are the facts: 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and over a mile deep. Then there is the sheer awe that washes over you.

Standing on its lip, it looks like God’s footprint. It well could be. Some of the rocks along its walls are nearly 2 billion years old. Late in the morning, the faded hues of red and beige and orange at first looked freshly hand-drawn rather than chiseled over time. In the early afternoon, the walls morphed into deeper reds and more gilded golds. Later still, blues blended with purples and greens.