The Grand Canyon: An American Wonder
Step into a bit of Earth’s history for your next vacation. Measuring more than 270 miles long, 18 miles wide and one mile deep, the Grand Canyon is known throughout the world for its intricate details and breathtaking views, staggering size and perseverance of a rich geological timeline.
It’s difficult to imagine that the Colorado River, which now appears as a thin, blue ribbon streaming through the canyon, once rushed atop the ground of this space; but as the river wound its way around the land for millions of years, the earth around it began to erode. This erosion can be seen throughout the Grand Canyon in layers, with each one telling a different story of the times. Sediment left behind reflects the conditions, whether muddy, rocky, sandy or volcanic, letting us glimpse the passing of ages. Today, Grand Canyon National Park covers more than one million acres, and it’s one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
While the final destination is worth the trip alone, the journey that gets you there may turn out to be just as fulfilling. Since the Grand Canyon is located in northern Arizona, many travelers will make the drive along historic highways and scenic views. Taking the historic Route 66 will transport you right back into the roots of Americana. Paving the way from Chicago to Santa Monica, this route passes through the vintage-rich towns of Williams and Seligman, Arizona, about 60 to 90 minutes away, respectively, from the Grand Canyon. If driving cross-country sounds more like the rapture rather than an adventure, hopping on a plane to nearby Las Vegas, Denver or Santa Fe may be more your style. These three pit stops all guarantee their own unique adventures, as the drive takes two hours, ten hours, or six and a half hours, respectively, with all three routes offering landscapes that would make Hollywood westerns jealous. However, if you have no time to waste, flying into the Flagstaff Airport will put you closest to the canyon, at about an hour and 15 minutes away. Sky Harbor in Phoenix is the nearest major airport.
You can find parking lots through Grand Canyon Village and the Visitor Center. Additionally, Greyhound Bus Lines offers services to Flagstaff and Williams, Arizona, from points nationwide.
Lodging is available year-round around the Grand Canyon, and reservations fill up quickest in summer months. But if you’re looking to up your canyon game, check out some interesting lodging options that pay homage to the Grand Canyon’s history. Spend the night in a refurbished railcar in Williams, Arizona, or see the stars through a tipi in Monument Valley, Utah. Or stay in the Monte Vista Hotel in Flagstaff, a spot that’s housed Hollywood stars and might just be home to a few historic ghosts. The real thrill seekers can take an elevator 22 stories down into the Caverns’ Inn’s underground cave suite. There’s no WiFi or cell phone service here; the hotel staff will happily hand you a walkie-talkie for any communication needs.
Today there are three major rims of the Grand Canyon that attract tourists. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the most popular, mainly because of its easy accessibility, and the majority of tourist destinations, lodging and transportation are located there. The South Rim sees more than five million visitors every year; in fact, 90 percent of Grand Canyon visitors take a trip to the South Rim in particular. Conversely, the remote North Rim does not see nearly as many visitors. Even though it can be seen from the South Rim, it’s about a five-hour car trip, making the North Rim actually more accessible through southern Utah. Though it’s not as easily accessible, many Grand Canyon visitors have touted the North Rim as having the most worthwhile views of the canyon. The West Rim offers a different type of experience, as it is owned and operated by the Hualapai Tribe. Home of the SkyWalk, where guests can walk out over the surface of the canyon with just glass beneath them, this section of the canyon is growing in amenities and is closest if traveling from Las Vegas.
Whether you want to travel the canyon by land, water or even mule is up to you! Countless guided tours are available for groups of all sizes, throughout the day and evening, and by a variety of transportation. Experience the geological wonders of the canyon on a rafting trip through the river, ride a mule into the canyon or along the rim, or sit back and relax as a skilled driver navigates the park by bus or by train.
Many trips are already neatly planned online into one- to four-day itineraries, so you can quickly and easily map out your visit. It’s rich in history and color, and a must-visit destination for every American. ■