Great American Adventures: The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon National Park, or simply the Grand Canyon, is considered to be one of the “seven natural wonders of the world.” Furthermore, exploring the Grand Canyon is one America’s great adventures.

When it opened as a national park in the early 20th Century, the Grand Canyon served about 45,000 annual visitors. Today, the Grand Canyon is visited by about 5 million people annually, making it the most popular national park after the Great Smoky Mountains (found along the Appalachian Trail).

The Grand Canyon, found in northwest Arizona, was officially declared a national park in 1919—three years after the establishment of the National Park Service—but its history predates its national park status by at least two billion years.

Breaking it down: Erosion

If you’ve seen the Grand Canyon in person or in photographs, it’s easy to imagine why the Grand Canyon is considered a “natural wonder.” What is more difficult to grasp, perhaps, is how something of this size could have formed.

The Grand Canyon is a gorge—or a narrow valley between hills or mountains with steep rocky walls and a stream running through it—and it’s one of the largest in the world. The Grand Canyon is a result of erosion, carved by the Colorado River over the course of about five million years.

Sunrise from Cape Royal on the North Rim. Photo from Wikipedia
Sunrise from Cape Royal on the North Rim.
Photo from Wikipedia

Stretching over 277 miles long, 18 miles wide (in some places), and 1 mile deep, the Grand Canyon encompasses 1 million acres of land. Older than mankind itself, the rock at the bottom of the Grand Canyon dates back 2 billion years. Let’s check it out!

Transportation: The basics

To get the most out of the Grand Canyon’s scenic landscape, we could take one of the many guided tours available. We have a lot of opportunities to choose from—the Grand Canyon is accessible via hike or bicycle, and by mule, raft, helicopter, jeep, and van rides—which one should we take?

It may be important to keep in mind that most people visiting the Grand Canyon pursue the South Rim, rather than the North Rim, which is known to be a more remote location. But let’s take a closer look at our options before we decide.

Viewpoint from Powell Point on the South Rim. Photo from Wikipedia
Viewpoint from Powell Point on the South Rim.
Photo from Wikipedia

First, there’s the South Rim Bus Tour, which provides sunrise and sunset tours as well as tours to specific locations and viewpoints. Bus tours are a good way to sit back, relax, and enjoy the view. There’s also a South Rim Tour available via helicopter.

Additionally, we have the option of renting bikes, and there’s even guided bicycle tours. This opportunity is available from the beginning of April through the end of October. There’s also day-hikes and walks led by park rangers, which take place throughout the year.

We could also join an off-road jeep or van trip to get some viewpoints along the canyon rim. In doing this, we have the option to tour the park with local guides and to learn the about the history, wildlife, geology, and “folklore” concerning the Grand Canyon.

Transportation: Not so basic

Or, perhaps, a more unconventional method of travel is more your style?

We could take a commercial whitewater raft trip, which can last from 3 days to 21 days. There are more than a dozen companies providing tours of the Grand Canyon via a trek down the Colorado River! One-day raft trips are available as well; something to remember if we need to make our visit a short one.

Saving the best for last, there’s also the option of seeing the Grand Canyon via mule back. Taking a mule ride through the Grand Canyon is a century-old tradition. Should we see what it’s like? Mule trips are offered for both North and South Rim tours, and offer a ride through the park’s woodlands and to scenic canyon overlooks.

Mules and horses are also utilized for one hour or two hour long trail rides. Offering a ride through the pines, twilight campfires, and wagon rides, a National Forest Trail Ride—available along just the South Rim—is another great opportunity to immerse ourselves into the natural world we’re exploring.

Let’s go!

One thing is for certain: the Grand Canyon doesn’t have a shortage of ways to experience its beauty. So how about that mule ride?

The availability of mule rides depends on whether we want to tour the North Rim or the South Rim. South Rim tours, available year round, need to be booked about 13 months in advance and fill up quickly. North Rim tours, running May through October, are usually available on a daily basis.

 Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Let’s go!

Related links

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBc8X4OPeKE

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nb0rKgECMwQ

By Hannah Postlethwait, Go! Staff Writer