Grand Canyon, AZ
By Ron Goulet
At the western boundary of the Navajo Nation lies Grand Canyon National Park. Grand Canyon is well known as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and visitors come to Arizona to see it from around the globe. Grand Canyon is a mile deep to the Colorado River that carved it over the millennia; it’s 277 river miles long and nine to 11 miles wide from north to south.
Over six million people visited Grand Canyon National Park in 2016. Most arrive by automobile or tour bus through the South Rim entrance station and the town of Tusayan, Arizona, or from the east entrance near the Navajo Reservation town of Cameron, Arizona. Far fewer visitors see Grand Canyon from the North Rim due to the extra driving distance of about four hours, but it is a place of spectacular views without the crowds and traffic congestion.
A growing trend in recent decades, visitors arrive by air at Grand Canyon Airport, south of the park, on day tours from Las Vegas.
Most visitors actually spend very little time at scenic overlooks along the roads on the South Rim, trying to comprehend the vast landscape, taking pictures, and visiting shops and interpretive centers. Other ways to see the Canyon include hiking into the Canyon’s depths, by mule (reservation booked a long time in advance), by helicopter or airplane, or on Colorado River whitewater river rafting trips lasting up to 21 days.
A great way to experience an overview of the natural and human history of Grand Canyon is to see the film The Hidden Secrets at the Grand Canyon IMAX Theater/National Geographic Visitor Center in the town of Tusayan. The 34-minute film is repeated every hour and viewers can virtually fly through the canyon, ride the river’s rapids and view the human history on a giant screen.
Traffic congestion and parking is often difficult during the more popular seasons at Grand Canyon — Spring, Summer and Autumn. Approaching from the south to the south entrance, you might park at the Grand Canyon National Park Visitor Center and use the park’s excellent shuttle bus system that takes visitors anywhere they want to go in Grand Canyon Village and along the East and West Rim Drives to all of the scenic overlooks.
Viewing a sunrise or a sunset over the rim of Grand Canyon is a popular and moving experience. Find your spot early and watch as the light and shadows change on the mesas and in the side canyons below.
Winter snows provide for different views and photographs, but the snow is often fleeting and can melt in the heat of the mid-day sun. Get out early and get your pictures on snowy mornings! Then, it’s great to get in from the cold on a winter morning and have breakfast by one of the natural stone fireplaces in the elegant dining room of the 110-year-old El Tovar Hotel on the South Rim. It’s built of logs – one of the beautiful examples of the rustic “parkitecture” lodges in some of the country’s oldest national parks.
It’s $25 per carload for admission to Grand Canyon National Park, $15 per person if entering by shuttle bus. Annual passes are available to the national parks with senior citizen and active military discounts.
If you’re looking for the well-advertised Grand Canyon Skywalk, it’s a 235-mile drive west of Grand Canyon’s South Rim on the Hualapai Indian Reservation (not in the national park), near Peach Springs, Arizona. Experience a 4,000-foot look straight down into the Canyon on a U-shaped glass walkway. A visit to the Skywalk is pricey. Be sure to check your driving route and ticket prices before heading to “Grand Canyon West” and the Skywalk. Air and river tours are also available.
Travel to Grand Canyon National Park and the South Rim village by historic tour train from Williams, Arizona aboard the Grand Canyon Railway. Ticket prices vary with six different classes of service. The train ride is two hours and 15 minutes long through beautiful national forest scenery, arriving at the historic Grand Canyon depot just in time for lunch at the park. The park visit lasts three hours and 45 minutes. Musicians entertain on the train ride and there might even be a Great Train Robbery re-enactment for the kids on the return trip to Williams.