It's the absolute best time to be outdoors, when some of our unique landscapes come brilliantly alive
Part of the magic of Thanksgiving at Phantom Ranch, the compound of stone cabins, canteen, and dorms nestled along Bright Angel Creek, is getting there. Up on the rim, temperatures can be below freezing, but once we get down in the canyon, it’s warm enough for shorts and T-shirts. The hike from rim to river is 7 miles—and a drop of nearly 4,800 feet—on the South Kaibab Trail. At the top, I have those “this is so damn big” views of the canyon. Then, as my group makes its way down, the color of the rock changes and we’re passing through layer after layer of geologic time. The vista narrows with the canyon walls until, finally, the Colorado River, cottonwood trees, and the oasis of Phantom Ranch peek into view (park entry $25/vehicle, dorm beds $44, cabins from $144; grandcanyonlodges.com/phantomranch or 888/297-2757).
Here, in a place deep down in the earth, it’s natural to feel gratitude. But on Thanksgiving, Phantom Ranch makes the day even more special: Only on this day and on Christmas does the kitchen vary its menu from the standard steak, stew, and veggie chili options. Mules trek supplies down to the ranch, where the chef and kitchen staff prepare turkey, gravy, stuffing, and all the sides. A “pie lady” (the name they give the baker, male or female) makes the selection of fruit, pumpkin, and pecan pies. And it’s all from scratch, miles from anywhere.
The meal is extra convivial because a fair number of people rebook every year, which of course means reservations are very hard to come by. The times we’ve gone, we started planning a year ahead, manning the phones in the early-morning hours on the first possible day to book our spots in the dorms, dialing again and again until we got through. But when good things don’t come easy, you appreciate them all the more.