When President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Grand Canyon in 1903, he asked our ancestors to keep it for their children, their children’s children — which would be us — and all who come after us as “the one great sight which every American should see.”
More than a century later, my knees jellied as I looked at the “great sight” and quickly decided that “grand” is not a big enough word to describe what Roosevelt was taking about.
The Grand Canyon is immense. It sprawls, yawns and stretches between 10 and 18 miles from one side to another. I had read that visitors could see 100 miles away and I believe it.
The millennia of rock, shale and sandstone separated by the twisting power of the Colorado River gleam in colors of cream and yellow, rose and red, gray and all spectrums of ochre. On this day, the layers of the high plateau formed over 150 million years ago morph from purple to blue, green to bronze under a piercing blue sky.
The sight draws you in to appreciate what Roosevelt was talking about. And what President Woodrow Wilson was able to do about it — establishing the National Park Service in 1916 and signing the National Park Act in 1919.
The South Rim is the more visited of the two more accessible viewing places — the North Rim has fewer roads but it where the mule rides descend several thousand feet into the canyon.
The Grand Canyon Visitor Center is at the South Rim and is the place to start a visit. Especially with the 100th anniversary of the National Park System kicking into high gear in 2015 and throughout 2016.
By the time the anniversary rolls around, there will be more interpretive exhibits including information about the rock layers and the fossils they contain. A new theater addition is also planned. Rental bikes for cyclists and more “way finding” information for those wishing to make their own way around the national park are also teed up.
One of the most popular ways to see the canyon is from the Colorado River. Rafting trips can range from 5 to 19 days, on and along its 277 miles. The literature says it can be a life changing experience, and from the view from above, I am prone to agree. Looking into the ancient rock is thrilling but looking up would be as well.
For those that cannot spend that amount of time at the bottom of the canyon, the park’s shuttle bus service is an efficient way to get to see it from different points. If you never get off the bus, the ride is 75 minutes, round-trip to and from the Village Route Transfer Station. Throughout the year, bus service starts at 4:30 a.m., so sunrise options are available; the routes end one hour after sunset.
Outbound the bus route stops at nine canyon overlooks. On the return, there are four: Hermits Rest was built circa 1914 as a rest area at the end of the Rim Trail. Pima Point, is considered the westernmost point along the West Rim Drive. Mohave Point provides a spectacular view of the Colorado River and the buttes beyond. There is a stop at Powell Point, which is more of a peninsula. Powell Point was named for Major John Wesley Powell, a late 19th-century explorer who is credited with the first known passage on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Lake Powell is also named in his honor. The views from these points are the ones that postcards are made of.
It isn’t easy to step away from any of the viewing platforms—like most visitors, we were spellbound.
IF YOU GO
Grand Canyon National Park: Grand Canyon National Park is located in the high plateau of northern Arizona. One of the Seven National Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the canyon measures between 10 and 18 miles wide and one mile deep. (928) 638-7888, www.nps.gov/grca/contacts.htm
National Park Service: www.nps.gov
National Park Service’s Centennial: www.nationalparks.org/centennial
You should know: Admission is per vehicle or by foot or bicycle for a visit of up to seven consecutive days.
When to go: Grand Canyon National Park is open 365 days a year. April to October has the best weather in this part of Arizona. The South Rim is pleasant during the summer, when crowds are at their peak; at the base of the canyon, the temperature can rise to 100+ degrees. Spring and fall are unpredictable with storms. Winter is beautiful, but can be difficult. The National Park Lodges system offers 2-day round trip mule excursions. Other excursions include rafting the canyon on the Colorado River, overnight hikes and hot air balloon tours. Maps are available for those wishing to explore on their own.
Getting around: Between March and December, shuttle buses provide transportation between the Village Route Transfer Station and Hermits Rest, with stops at nine canyon overlooks. The return trip stops at four points.
Staying where: Grand Canyon National Park Lodges, (888) 297-2757, www.grandcanyonlodges.com, is operated by Xanterra Parks and Resorts. Other lodging is available adjacent to the park or in nearby Flagstaff, Arizona. Within the park, camping is first-come, first served as well as with reservations.