We’ve been to the Grand Canyon a number of times but this spring we took two grandkids who had not been there before. Of course in describing the Grand Canyon, it is always “no matter how many pictures you’ve seen it’s not the same as seeing it in person.”
I told Grand-daughter that I was excited about seeing her face when she saw it for the first time. Her response was classic – “We’ll drive by it, won’t we? So it won’t be like somebody opens a curtain and it’s the big reveal, right?” I responded, “Oh, it’s the big reveal all right.”
We entered the south park entrance and on the way to the village, there are a couple of glimpses of the canyon, but we warned her not to look and she didn’t. So when we walked to the canyon rim behind Bright Angel Lodge, it was the “Big Reveal” and she was totally impressed, as was Grandson.
Grand Canyon National Park is one of the crown jewels of the National Park system. It became a National Park on February 26. 1919 and in 2018 was the second most-visited national park with 6,380,495 visitors, over 90% of them to the South Rim. The park encompasses 1,217,403 acres or 1904 Square miles.
The size of the canyon is hard to comprehend, even standing there on the rim. The canyon in the park is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide and a mile deep.
Viewing the Colorado River from the rim, it appears to be maybe 10 feet wide. In reality, its minimum width is 76 feet and the average width is 300 feet. Average depth is 40 feet and greatest depth is 85 feet. It’s a big river!
The Grand Canyon has to be a geologist’s dream come true. Rock dating back 1.8 billion years lies at the bottom and layers from numerous geologic eras are exposed above that. For a photographer, the unique combinations of geologic color and eroded forms present vistas that change with the changing light.
As inhospitable as it is, the canyon has had human activity for over 3000 years. Prehistoric artifacts and ruins have been found throughout the canyon. The first recorded view of the Grand Canyon was as a part of the 1540 Coronado expedition. After an unsuccessful attempt to reach the bottom, they reported that the canyon was immense and the river big. In 1776, there were two Spanish expeditions led by priests in this general area but the Grand Canyon remained largely unexplored until the late nineteenth century. The Ives Expedition in 1857 attempted to travel upstream from the Gulf of California in a 54-foot steamboat. They made it several hundred miles and then traveled overland a bit further at which point Ives declared the region “altogether valueless” and wrote “Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality.”
In 1869, John Wesley Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran, became the first known man to descend the Colorado River through the canyon with ten men and four tiny wooden boats. They covered a distance of over 1,000 miles in a little over three months. Powell was the one who called the place Grand Canyon. His journal and numerous other books chronicle this expedition and Powell’s many other accomplishments.
In the 1880’s prospectors came to the canyon where they mined copper and asbestos even though it was not easy to access. By the early 1900’s tourism became the main commercial venture on the South Rim. Even though there were earlier efforts at preservation, it was not until 1919 that Grand Canyon National Park was established.
The Hermit Road west of the South Rim Village is closed to personal vehicles but the shuttle bus system works well. It is free and you can get off and back on at various places. We rode the bus and then got off at several stops and hiked along the rim trail to the next stop. The road ends at Hermit’s Rest which serves as the obligatory souvenir and quick food shop.
Hermit’s Rest, a limestone building with an amazing fireplace, was designed by Mary Jane Colter. Ms. Colter, an early female architect, also designed Bright Angel Lodge, Hopi House, Lookout Studio, Phantom Ranch and Desert View Watchtower. The main Bright Angel lodge features a “geological fireplace” made of layers of stone repeating the layers found in the canyon from river to rim.
There are various lodging possibilities in the park and we stayed at the Yavapai Lodge – reservations are necessary and, even more than a month before our trip, there was extremely limited availability. We also made reservations well in advance for dinner at the El Tovar, which is always a treat.
The Grand Canyon is wondrous, beautiful and dangerous. Each year there are fatalities in the park, most because someone is trying to get the “perfect picture” and plummets over the edge. In this day of “selfies” that has become even more of a problem. Much of the rim does not have guardrails and even when there are guardrails and warning signs, people often venture beyond them. An amazing place in which common sense needs to prevail.
There are several adventurous ways to see the Grand Canyon including raft trips on the Colorado, mule trips to Phantom Ranch at the bottom, and hiking down and back or rim-to-rim. All of these require a certain degree of fitness as the canyon can be very unforgiving.
Grand Canyon National Park is one of our premier parks which, unfortunately, is being “loved to death.” The National Park Service is exploring ways in which to deal with continually increasing visitor numbers while maintaining the “wow” experience. The South Rim is overcrowded, parking is difficult, the walkways are crowded and long lines are typical in gift shops and restaurants.
The North Rim has somewhat fewer of these issues since, even though the average distance across the canyon is only 10 miles, it takes five hours to drive the 215 miles between the park’s South Rim Village and the North Rim Village. The South Rim is open 24 hours a day 365 days a year. The North Rim is only open May 15 through October 15. The North Rim is more difficult to get to and has a much shorter season but is our favorite as there are far fewer people and it is incredibly beautiful.
For more information: https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm