Grand Canyon is unmatched throughout the world for the vistas it offers to visitors on the rim. It is not the deepest canyon in the world. Both the Barranca del Cobre in northern Mexico and Hell’s Canyon in Idaho are deeper. But Grand Canyon is known for its overwhelming size and its intricate and colorful landscape. Geologically it is significant because of the thick sequence of ancient rocks that are beautifully preserved and exposed in the walls of the canyon. These rock layers record much of the early geologic history of the North American continent. Grand Canyon is also one of the most spectacular examples of erosion in the world.
Grand Canyon was largely unknown until after the Civil War. In 1869, Major John Wesley Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran with a thirst for science and adventure, made a pioneering journey through the canyon on the Colorado River. He accomplished this with nine men in four small wooden boats. Though only six men completed the journey. His party was, as far as we know, the first ever to make such a trip.
In the late 19th Century there was interest in the region because of its promise of mineral resources, mainly copper and asbestos. The first pioneer settlements along the rim came in the 1880s. Early residents soon discovered that tourism was destined to be more profitable than mining, and by the turn of the century Grand Canyon was a well known tourist destination. Many of the early tourist accommodations were not much different than the mining camps from which they developed. Most visitors made the grueling trip from nearby towns to the South Rim by stagecoach.
Grand Canyon National Park has 75 species of mammals, 50 species of reptiles and amphibians, 25 species of fish, and over 300 species of birds exist.
Two of the park’s most celebrated inhabitants are the Albert squirrel and the Kaibab squirrel. The Kaibab squirrel only lives on the north rim and the Albert squirrel are found only on the south rim. They shared the same ancestor, the tassel-eared squirrel. Widely separated by the vast canyon, each cousin has evolved into two separate and distinct species.
This is one of those “must see once” places in the world that everyone would like to visit. Visitors vary from backpackers and serious hikers to superstars and heads of state. Disabled visitors are catered for pretty well, with well-maintained trail paths around the rim. Wheelchair-friendly buses can be organised in advance. Americans naturally predominate and, indeed, add to the experience ? the words “wow” and “awesome” will become very familiar. Japanese and English are more restrained in their jaw-dropping wonder at this very large hole in the ground.
All accommodation in the Park itself is operated by a private company. The 6 lodges vary in quality and price, from the sublime El Tovar to the ridiculous. Some rooms even have no private bathroom; most lodges have more than one standard of (usually rustic) accommodation on offer.
The Grand Canyon is in the south west United States, in the North -central part of Arizona state. It is 9 mls N of Tusayan and a mile farther from its small airport (GCN), which takes mainly light aircraft. It is 220 mls N of Phoenix and its international airport. The Grand Canyon National Park (the Park) covers 1.2 million acres of the Canyon itself, North and South rims.
Daytime Activities – mainly looking at and photographing the Canyon from many different viewpoints along the 23-ml East Rim Drive or the shorter, 6-ml West Rim Drive. Both are closed to cars, but free shuttle buses ply the routes constantly. The serious hikers can descend into the Canyon itself; adventurous and fit ones even spend the night at Phantom Ranch on the Canyon floor and then hike out again to the North Rim. Less athletic types can descend by mule.
Nightlife – Some hotels both inside and outside the Park provide evening entertainment. Talks by rangers on various aspects of the Canyon’s history, geology, flora and fauna inside the Park. However, after a full day sightseeing, most people are glad to have a drink, eat dinner and get to bed for the early call to see the sunrise, a spectacular event if you can find a quiet spot away from the main viewpoints.
The Imax cinema in Tusayan shows an hourly film on the history of the Canyon on a huge screen. If time or budget does not stretch to flying over the Canyon or shooting the rapids, watch this from a central seat near the front and hold onto your stomach! Vertigo sufferers, however, should close their eyes during certain scenes.