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The Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is a tremendous and unusual landscape that must be experienced for oneself. The canyon is one mile deep, about 10 miles wide, and 277 river miles long. It formed after the Colorado River cut through and eroded the plateau over many years, carving out the vast trench. Its exposed rock layers are believed to indicate more than 2 billion years of geologic history. Fossils retrieved from this region tell scientists much about the earth’s evolution. This rugged area is great for hiking and backpacking for the day or on a multi-day journey. Around 5 million people travel here every year to explore the canyon and surrounding desert wilderness.
The inspirational Grand Canyon is divided into three main sections – the remote North Rim, the Inner Gorge, and the heavily traveled South Rim. The South Rim is 7,000 feet in elevation and ranges in temperature throughout the year. This area averages 50 to 80-degrees F in the summer, but often reaches over 100 degrees. The North Rim is slightly cooler because of its higher elevation. The Inner Gorge receives the most intense heat in the summer, but is relatively mild every other time of year. Winters at Grand Canyon can be extreme. Frequent storms sometimes cause a morning fog that obstructs the view of the canyon, but it usually clears up later in the day. Snow and ice sometimes result in road closures around the South Rim. This area is open all year, but the North Rim is only open from mid-May to mid-October. Peak visiting season is July and August.
Despite dramatic climatic changes, the park is home to a variety of wildlife. The rare California Condor has been spotted in this area, along with many other birds including Stellar’s Jays, ravens, hummingbirds, and Canyon Wrens. The Inner Gorge is inhabited by Desert Bighorn Sheep. Mule Deer and Elk are abundant throughout the park. Coyotes are commonly seen in the area, and predators such as Mountain Lions and Bobcats are seen on rare occasions. Different kinds of squirrels and chipmunks also live in this desert. A variety of lizards exist here as well. The park contains more than 1,700 plant species and hundreds of fungi variations. Aside from exploring the unique wilderness, visitors enjoy many outdoor activities in this desert location including river rafting and mule trips around the canyon. There is a lot to see and do at the extensive Grand Canyon National Park.
Places to See
There are many things to see on your visit into Grand Canyon National Park. The main transportation hub is at the Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. Free shuttle buses take visitors to lodges, restaurants, and shops including Market Plaza and Canyon View Information Plaza. Market Plaza is a central business location with a general store and deli There is a Historic District nearby with a vintage train depot and walking tours available. The Kolb Studio features fine art exhibitions in the auditorium where two of the canyon’s pioneering photographers once stayed. The studio also has a bookstore and gift shop.
The Yavapi Observation Station is a major lookout point one mile east of Market Plaza. This landmark provides panoramic views of the Grand Canyon. Rangers lead interpretive programs from the observation room where they explain geologic formations and their origins. Canyon View Information Plaza is where the South Rim Visitor Center is located. The plaza houses a bookstore and outdoor exhibits with park information for travelers.
When leaving the Grand Canyon Village, take the East Rim Drive (Highway 64) to Desert View at the east end of the park. The Desert View Watchtower is the highest point on the South Rim and looks out over the Painted Desert and the San Francisco Peaks to the south. Artistic murals are on the interior walls of this tower, which was constructed in 1932. The Tusayan Ruin and Museum is also located at the East Rim of the park. The museum shows Pueblo Indian sites dating back to the 1100s, and admission is free.
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is more remote and an estimated 10% of tourists visit here. The Grand Canyon Lodge is the only lodge located here. There is also one developed campground. Hiking from the South Rim to the North Rim is 21 miles straight across, but traveling around to it by car covers a total of 220 miles and takes about five hours. The North Rim Visitor Center is on the Bright Angel Peninsula, and is open from mid-May to mid-October. Interpretive tours are offered there seasonally.
The entrance road to the North Rim leads visitors to Bright Angel Point. There is also a trail from the Grand Canyon Lodge to the point which provides dynamic views of Bright Angel Canyon and Roaring Springs. Point Imperial is another impressive lookout point and is also the North Rim’s highest point. Point Imperial overlooks the Painted Desert and the unique, colorful east end of the Grand Canyon. Cape Royal is another popular vista on the North Rim. From there, people can see the Desert View Watchtower in the distance along with the Unkar Delta of the Colorado River and Angels Window natural arch.
The Toroweap Overlook is a famous viewpoint above the Lava Falls Rapid of the Colorado River. This is an extremely remote area and takes some work to get to, but the view from the 3,000 foot cliff is worth it. There are natural volcanic features at this point including cinder cones and lava flows. This area can only be reached from Arizona Highway 389 near Fredonia, Colorado City, Arizona, or from St. George, Utah. It takes 2 to 3 hours to reach the overlook from the highway and is not recommended in snowy conditions. This area is so primitive, cell phone service is rare. A permit and fee are required when staying overnight in the park’s backcountry. There are many great trails and viewpoint for visitors to the Grand Canyon National Park.
Grand Canyon Skywalk
The Grand Canyon Skywalk is a thrilling venture provided to visitors by the Hualapai Indian Tribe. It is located at Grand Canyon West on tribal lands. Guests walk out onto the construct with a steel frame and a glass floor and windows. The horse-shoe shaped passage extends 70 feet from the canyon. The lookout above the canyon from the skywalk is spectacular. It is a 5-hour drive from the South Rim of the park to Grand Canyon West.
The Hualapai tribe has lived in the Southwest for many generations. The word Hualapai translated means, “People of the Tall Pines.” This group’s reservation was established in 1883. The Hualapai tribe has almost 1 million acres of land shared by 2,300 members. Tribal headquarters are located in Peach Springs. There they run a hotel, restaurant, and gift shop. The tourist industry (including guided hunting) helps this group thrive. They also ranch and harvest timber on their land. A fee is required to enter the Hualapai Reservation. The Skywalk usually comes as a part of a package with air, bus, or river tours and overnight accommodations.
There are numerous river rafting options in and around Grand Canyon National Park. Many visitors take advantage of the view from inside the Canyon floating on the Colorado River. The Grand River Adventure is a package beginning with a morning flight over Glen Canyon and parts of the Grand Canyon above the river. The plane lands in Page, Arizona where you will join a Jeep Tour to renowned Antelope Canyon. At the base of Glen Canyon Dam, a motorized river raft will be waiting to take you on a 15 ½ mile trip down the Colorado River. At the start of the trip, explore the Glen Canyon Dam and then wind your way through the Navajo Indian Reservation, with pristine views of the Painted Desert. The ride ends at Lees Ferry where coaches will take you back to the airport.
A second great option is the Grand Canyon Smooth Water Float Trip. These trips begin aboard luxury vans or motor-coaches and take guests to the base of the Glen Canyon Dam. These rides also take a 15 ½ mile scenic journey through the Canyon to Lees Ferry. You will pass majestic cliffs and ancient rock art along the way. Each tour lasts about 12 ½ hours. For these adventures, rafters must be at least 4 years of age. Food and beverages are provided. River rafting at Grand Canyon National Park is an exciting and fun way to explore this natural wonder.
An assortment of guided tours are available to take you through the vast landscape of Grand Canyon National Park. There are guided hikes led by the park’s forest rangers on the South and North Rim of the canyon. Scenic trails on both sides of the canyon provide incredible lookouts. The South Rim offers day hikes all year. An additional 3-mile round trip into the canyon is available only in the summer. North Rim nature walks are offered when the North Rim is open mid-May to mid-October. Entrance stations carry the park newspaper, The Guide, which contains updated hiking schedules for both areas. Guided day hikes in the area take trails including South Kaibab to Cedar Ridge, Grandview Trail to Coconino Saddle, or Bright Angel Trail to Two-Mile Corner. There are also longer guided backpacking adventures to ancient Indian ruins or rim to rim through the canyon. All of these hikes are meant to familiarize people with their surroundings while teaching them about the area’s roots.
Jeep tours are another excellent way to appreciate the rugged terrain of Grand Canyon National Park. The Canyon Pines Tour departs at noon and follows an 1800s stage coach through the Kaibab National Forest wilderness to the edge of the Canyon. Grand Canyon Sunset Tours lead through the Kaibab Forest to the Desert View Watchtower where there are panoramic views of the park and San Francisco Peaks. The Indian Cave Paintings Tour is another popular option among history buffs. Guests can see petroglyphs and other ancient rock art from a historical archeological site. Deluxe Combo Tours are offered as well. Combo Tours combine all the Jeep trips through the park, giving tourists the opportunity to experience all of these fabulous sights first-hand. Be sure to bring your camera!
Overnight trips in the backcountry of Grand Canyon National Park requires some planning. In order to enjoy this private wilderness for more than a day hike, you must obtain an inexpensive Backcountry Permit from the Backcountry Information Centers at the park. The park receives around 30,000 permit requests every year, but only issues 13,000 so it is best to get your permit way ahead of time. There is an information center located on the North Rim open mid-May to mid-October and one at the South Rim open all year. Backcountry Permits are for overnight trips of any kind including hiking, cross-country ski trips, camping outside of a developed campground, or overnight horseback riding.
There are numerous remote wilderness trails throughout the park, most of which are not maintained by the National Park Service. The trails can be steep and sometimes unpredictable so never hike alone and always bring enough food and water with you. Popular hikes that take more than a day include the Clear Creek Trail which intersects with North Kaibab Trail and leads out onto the Tonto Plateau. Hiking on the Tonto Trail about 10 miles from the Hermit Trailhead leads to what is known as the “threshold zone,” and is not recommended for inexperienced hikers. There is also an uphill climb beside Hermit Creek that leads to a view of Hermit rapids and the colorful encasing sandstone. This hike takes about 2 full days.
Primitive hikes in and out of the canyon or from rim to rim are challenging, and should be avoided if high summer temperatures occur. Other popular backcountry hikes include a nature walk a half-mile north of the Colorado River along Bright Angel Creek. There is a river delta here with main trails leading to the South and North Rim. Cottonwood trees provide shade, and the creek is a nice place to cool off and take a break. Many animals like Mule Deer and Ringtail Cats are spotted in this area often. People also enjoy the hike from the Monument Creek Canyon down to Granite Rapids where there is a beach down from the strong currents of the Colorado River. The Grapevine Canyon is a good central location to explore with a creek that runs through seasonally. “Leave No Trace” is the policy in all Grand Canyon locations, so be sure to pack out everything you pack in.
There are mule rides available from the South and North Rims at Grand Canyon National Park. The South Rim trips are often booked more than a year in advance, especially around peak visiting season. It is rare to get a ride after being on the waiting list, so making a reservation and planning far ahead is crucial to experiencing this desert adventure. On the South Rim, there are full-day rides to Plateau Point overlooking the Colorado River with a panoramic view of the surrounding canyon. This route is also offered as a 7-hour trip and comes with a box lunch. These mule trips depart from the Stone Corral at the head of Bright Angel Trail.
Overnight rides from the South Rim includes meals and lodging at the Phantom Ranch, far into the canyon. Reservations for 1 or 2 nights must be made and paid for in advance. North Rim mule trips are shorter and usually available on a daily basis. There are one-hour trips along the North Rim starting at $40.00. Half-day trips to Uncle Jim’s Point are popular in this section of the park. There are also inner canyon trips offered for a full or half-day. The half-day mule ride descends down the North Kaibab Trail to Supai Tunnel. Full-day trips continue on this path to Roaring Springs, which is the main water source for both sides of the canyon. At the springs, guests get a break to eat a complimentary lunch and walk around the Canyon freely.
All mule trips require riders not weigh more than 200 pounds, or 220 pounds on one-hour rim rides. Riders must be at least 4 feet, 7 inches tall and speak English. The North Rim rides also have age limitations. Rim riders must be at least 7 years old. Half-day North Rim trips have a 10 year age limit. The full-day riders to Roaring Springs must be at least 12. Pregnant women are not allowed on mule rides. There is breathtaking scenery on each of the tour routes. Book a mule ride for your Grand Canyon trip today!
A satisfying and thrilling way to see Grand Canyon National Park is from high above on a private airplane tour. Millions of visitors have enjoyed Grand Discovery Air Tours since 1927. The planes continually depart from the Grand Canyon National Park Airport and begin their excursion over the spectacular eastern portion of the canyon. Guests aboard these planes fly through the Zuni Corridor and over landmarks such as the Desert View Watchtower and colorful Painted Desert. After crossing Temple Butte, the tours move toward the North Rim and over the Kaibab National Forest. Deer and Elk are abundant on the North Rim. Passengers fly above the widest part of the canyon near Dragon Corridor. Imperial Point, the highest point on the North Rim, is visible as the planes head west. The deepest part of the canyon can be seen as the ride concludes near the South Rim around Hermits Rest before returning back to the airport. Each tour lasts approximately 50 minutes, and are reasonably priced VISTALINER airplanes are world renowned, and continually provide spectacular views of the Grand Canyon in comfort.
There are many Interpretive Ranger Programs offered through the National Park Service at Grand Canyon National Park. South Rim tours include exploration of Desert View and Indian Garden. There are also walks through Phantom Ranch below the canyon rim. Rangers provide information about the park’s history and surrounding wildlife. National Park Ranger programs in Grand Canyon National Park last from late May to September.
North Rim programs are also provided when the area is open from mid-May to mid-October. These nature walks and history tours provide valuable information about the background and intriguing geology of the Grand Canyon. All of the programs are encouraged for the whole family to attend and are completely free. There are also programs designed for children as well as tours offered in the evening. There is always something new to learn about this natural masterpiece. Outdoor programs are subject to cancellation in the event of adverse weather conditions.
Cell Phone Tours
Cell phone tours in Grand Canyon National Park are an easy and fun way to learn about the region. Rangers provide state-of-the-art audio tours for visitors who have cell phones. There are many points of interest on the South Rim from Hermit Road to Yaki Point. Numerous “Park Ranger Audio Tour” signs along the way prompt visitors to call (928) 225-2907 and enter the stop number location. Messages by informative rangers will teach you about the various landmarks, views of wildlife, or history of a given area. Eighteen stops are offered that include facts about Geologic Clock, Night Skies, and Native American history.
Callers are in complete control of their audio experience. Just press 1 to rewind, 2 to play and pause, 3 to fast forward, # to stop, and *0 to reply or leave a comment about the messages. Audio tours can also be downloaded to MP3 players or iPhones online through the Grand Canyon National Park government Web site.
The Kolb Studio in the Village Historic District of Grand Canyon National Park offers free art exhibits in the main auditorium. Paintings, photographs, poems, and other works of art have been displayed here since 1993. Each piece of artwork represents an image or concept associated with the Grand Canyon. There have been various creative themes for these exhibits throughout the years. People can visit and appreciate the historic and present-day art of other visitors to the Grand Canyon.
The Kolb Studio building itself is a unique piece of history. It was the home and photography studio to Emery and Ellsworth Kolb, and has stood in its location for more than a century. Most of the Kolb photographs were of people and their mules making a journey around the canyon. There are original, black-and-white pictures of people at famous canyon locations such as Indian Garden. The studio is located right at the Bright Angel Trailhead. There is also a bookstore and gift shop inside the studio. The Kolb building was fully remodeled in 2004 in time for its centennial celebration. It is open to the public from 8 a.m. To 5 p.m. throughout the entire year.
The PaintAmerica Association hosts a “Paint the Parks” exhibit around the country and at the Kolb studio annually. It is a competition open to all artists interested in submitting their painting of a scene in Grand Canyon National Park. Cash prizes are rewarded to the top two winners. There are 100 paintings on the tour for display, and 50 more paintings are selected from each park location to accompany the others in the local exhibit. Judges are comprised of nationally recognized artists and art professionals. Proceeds from the event go toward the National Parks Foundation and the PaintAmerica Scholarship Fund.
There are also musical celebrations including “Symphony of the Canyon,” where people of all ages share their musical talents on the North Rim. There is an annual Grand Canyon Music Festival held at the South Rim’s Shrine of the Ages. This festival combines many types of music including rock, bluegrass, and jazz. Paintings created during festival week will be featured at the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art. There are also art contest winners and other paintings for sale. Admission to the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art is free. There is no shortage of creative work to appreciate coming out of the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon National Park every year.
The sheer beauty and magnificence of Grand Canyon National Park has inspired the greatest ... Read More
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