The scale of Grand Canyon National Park in northern Arizona strains the vocabulary.
A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size.
It’s slightly ironic that the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were all man-made objects, as if Gaia the earth mother, in all her glory, was seemingly incapable of providing wonders as stunning as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or the Colossus of Rhodes.
The Grand Canyon is a natural wonder which was geological eons in the making.
Grand Canyon National Park is located in the northwest corner of Arizona, close to the borders of Utah and Nevada. The Colorado River, which flows through the canyon, drains water from seven states, but the feature we know as Grand Canyon is entirely in Arizona.
The Grand Canyon is probably the best known national park in the U.S., if not the world. Grand doesn’t really even begin to describe it. The park includes more than a million acres of land.
Unique combinations of geologic color and erosion decorate the canyon that travels 277 river miles from Lees Ferry to the Grand Wash Cliffs, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep.
The Grand Canyon has two very different personalities.
Scenery, climate, and vegetation are noticeably different between north and south rims due to differences in elevation. It is almost like having two parks in one and it takes time, planning, and effort to be able to visit both sides of the Canyon in a single trip.
The North Rim, which at about 8,000 feet above sea level, cuts across the horizon 1,000 feet higher than the South.
And in between are countless side canyons, buttes, and temples with more than one billion years of geology on display.
Nearly five million people see the one-mile-deep Grand Canyon each year.
An overwhelming percentage of the visitors to Grand Canyon National Park visit the South Rim which is open all year. Most of them see it from their vehicle at overlooks along the South Rim—Grand Canyon Village, Hermits Rest, and Desert View.
In a well–known film lampoon of the family vacation, Chevy Chase stands at the edge of the Grand Canyon, nods his head in approval, and leaves. Visitors in real life tend to linger a bit longer—but not much. Too many come and go without wandering more than 100 feet from their vehicle.
At a chasm a mile deep and 277 miles long, the average stay is less than a day.
The best way to take in the views is to walk. The 12-mile Rim Trail stretches from Pipe Creek Vista west to Hermits Rest and is accessible from many overlooks and the campgrounds in the park. Most of the trail is paved and most of it is flat, something to be grateful for at 7,000 feet. Take time to take in at least a portion of the trail.
The South Rim is located at seven thousand feet above sea level. This means there is snow in winter and there are cool nights in the summer. But, summer temperatures at the bottom of the canyon, along the Colorado River, can reach 120 degrees.
A much smaller number of people view the Canyon from the North Rim, which lies just 10 miles (as the condor flies) directly across the Canyon from the South Rim. The North Rim rises a thousand feet higher than the South Rim, and is much less accessible.
Heavy snows close the road to the North Rim from late October to mid May each year. Even in good weather it’s harder to reach. It is a five-hour drive of 215 miles by vehicle from the South Rim, or 21 miles by foot across the Canyon by way of the North and South Kaibab Trails.
The Inner Canyon includes everything below the rim and is seen mainly by hikers, mule riders, or river runners. There are many opportunities here for adventurous and hardy persons who want to backpack, ride a mule to Phantom Ranch, or take a river trip through the Canyon on the Colorado River which can take anywhere from a few days to three weeks—there are no one-day river trips through Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon Summed up in one word: DUDE
D: Down Cutting
Did You Know?
The Grand Canyon is considered one of the natural wonders of the world largely because of its natural features. The exposed geologic strata, layer upon layer, rise over a mile above the river, representing one of the most complete records of geological history that can be seen anywhere in the world.
Please Note: This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on the Grand Canyon National Park
Part 2: Lure of the Grand Canyon
Part 3: Arizona’s Big Hole
The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail.
—Major John Wesley Powell, Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons