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The Grandest of the Grand

Grand Canyon, Arizona

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Grand Canyon, Colorado River One of the difficulties of visiting the Grand Canyon is that it is just so unimaginably huge that your mind can’t cope with its dimensions. If you stand on the South Rim and look down and across, the landmarks you see may seem quite close: the Colorado River looks quiet and peaceful, an apparent few hundred feet below. The far, north rim of the Canyon can, in certain lights, seem so close that you can touch it.

Only you can’t, because it might be as much as eight miles away. The delightful stream you can see down below is actually a roaring torrent – and you’re three thousand feet above it. It’s only when the bit of your brain that deals with distances begins to absorb these figures that you can really comprehend how huge the Grand Canyon is. Up until that point your consciousness simply refuses to believe what it’s seeing.

The Grand Canyon Probably the best way to enjoy the sheer scale of the Canyon is to spend a day driving between some of the major viewpoints on the south rim – the most popular are generally quite close to the National Park tourist center at Grand Canyon Village. If you start early in the morning you’ll be able to notice the other great thing about the Canyon: the almost infinite variety of lighting conditions that illuminate it at different times of the day. Sunrises, in particular, can seem amazing from remote spots such as Yaki Point. Check out the transport possibilities and arrangements before you arrive. Many of roads along the south rim are closed during the height of the tourist season to permit the easy flow of shuttle buses. These buses can themselves offer a great way of getting around the south rim of the Canyon, and regular organized tours stop at many of the most famous points.

The Grand Canyon The north rim is much less easy to access, and is generally closed completely during the winter months. The huge majority of people who are simply going to the Canyon to enjoy the amazing views find that the vistas from the south are more than enough to satisfy their desire to see some really spectacular geography.

The Park authorities don’t expect you to simply stand at viewpoints gawping the whole time, either, though if you’re suitably impressed by the immensity of it all that would be a pretty easy thing to do. The south rim is studded with museums and viewing galleries that tell you all about the history and the science behind the Grand Canyon. Here are a few must-sees:

  • The Tusuyan museum is 22 miles out of Grand Canyon Village on Desert View Drive. Admission is free, and the museum is a great chance to learn about ancient Americans. The museum is gateway to a site that was, 800 years ago, the home village of a community of pueblo Indians. You can look around by yourself, or join one of the twice-daily Ranger tours that start at 11.30am and 1pm.
  • If bad weather strikes – which isn’t exactly unknown – you can head along to Yavapai Observation Station. It has huge observation windows that allow you to look out on the Canyon if poor conditions set in, or, more likely at the height of the tourist season, it’s just too hot outside – even at over 3000 feet the sun can beat down! The Station also hosts a number of changing displays and exhibitions about the history, geology, flora and fauna of the Grand Canyon.
  • For those of a more artistic inclination, there’s a very interesting sight to see in Grand Canyon Village itself, by the Bright Angel trailhead. The Kolb Studio was once the home of the Kolb brothers and is now a museum dedicated to them and their work. The brothers were pioneering photographers who took some of the earliest and most famous shots of the Canyon. There is a permanent exhibition of their work on display, plus exhibits of art inspired by the Grand Canyon and Native American arts and crafts. The studio itself is a charming old wooden house, surprisingly large, which perches right on the edge of the south rim.

Grand Canyon Lookout Of course, if you’re an outdoors type, the Grand Canyon presents great opportunities for hiking. The landscape offers some great chances for a kind of inverted mountain-climb: you start off with a descent and have to climb back up! This, of course, presents its own perils. Make sure you’re fit enough to get back up once you’ve made the descent, that you’re properly equipped and have plenty of food and water. The Park authorities recommend camping on the Canyon floor to split the hike over two days and therefore avoid having to walk in the midday heat.

The Grand Canyon is a great destination because it really does have something to offer everyone – and it’s getting deeper and more spectacular all the time!

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