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The Grand Canyon - Arizona
by Carl Burnham

A glimpse into the Canyon, with a rainbow overhead. Upon visiting the Grand Canyon area for the first time, it's sheer magnitude can be overwhelming. As I photographed here after a late afternoon thunderstorm, a rainbow appears as the sun reveals a portion of the Canyon. For this feature, we traveled via our RV, staying along Route 66 in Williams. (see our previous feature on this area of Route 66). When planning your trip, multiply your time by two. You will want to stay longer to see all the hidden attractions and area towns that make the Grand Canyon a treasure to experience again and again. We plan to visit the area again to feature more of the surrounding towns in a future segment.

The Grand Canyon was first explored in 1853 and reported as "valueless". Today, this national park now attracts well over 5 million visitors a year to experience its' stark wonders and beauty. The park contains several layers of the oldest exposed rock on earth, and is part of the "Grand Staircase" formation which reaches into Utah and Arizona. Formed several million years by the deep flowing waters of the Colorado River, the canyon is a mile deep and over 190 miles wide covering over 1.2 million acres.

Tourists here are overlooking the Canyon at the South Rim.Most tourists go to the South Rim, which is more accessible than the North Rim. The physical distance is ten miles between the two rims, with the North Rim being 1,000 feet higher. By road, the two rims are 215 miles apart. The roads to the North Rim are closed from mid-October to mid-May due to the eleven feet snows typically for that area.

Within the Kaibab Forest near the entrance are tall stands of white-barked Aspen trees. The young Aspen tree shoots are a favorite food of the elk to munch on. The highest point in the Grand Canyon is Point Imperial.
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Along the Cape Royal area, be sure to glimpse Angel's Windows which has a natural limestone arch. At Grand Canyon Lodge, which is directly on the edge of the North Rim, you can see out large viewing windows at the panoramic landscape. Mule rides are popular on both rims for a half day or all day rides. Be sure to register well in advance. When going to overlooks, be sure to time your visit either early or late in the day to capture the best photographs.

At Williams, where we stayed at the RV Railside Ranch Campground, are numerous old motels, businesses and an historic downtown area. Read our other feature on Route 66.

Rod's Steak House, a restaurant with class along Route 66In earlier days, Williams was referred to as the "Little Las Vegas" due to the many motel neon signs in town, and is the entranceway to the Grand Canyon (about 60 miles north) from Interstate 40. We visited the Route 66 Magazine headquarters here. The Jeff Gordon National Fan Club is located in town. Several good restaurants along the "strip" include Cruisers (full of memorabilia) and Rod's Steak House (tasty and affordable, as it has been for over 50 years). The Grand Canyon Railroad operates here and provides rides to the Grand Canyon.

To the west of the Grand Canyon is the Havasu Canyon, with extraordinary waterfalls and side canyons. Arrangements to visit here have to be made through the Havasupai Indian Reservation, many months in advance. Further north above the North Rim is Lake Powell where you can explore side canyons by boat. We decided to go to the South Rim to explore the scenic views along the rim.

At the South Rim, we drove the full extent of the East Rim Drive. Be sure to stop first at the Visitor Center and then the Grand Canyon Village store. If you plan to visit several national parks like us, save money and get a Golden Eagle Passport. It is only fifty dollars for a full year's entry to any national park or monument. Compare that to twenty dollars per visit per park.

In venturing east on East Rim Drive, we stopped at Grandview Point and Moran Point (named after the painter Thomas Moran). From these points you can see into the Horseshoe Mesa area and distant peaks such as Solomon Temple and Vishnu Temple. At the Tusayan Ruins, you can see remnants of Pueblo Indians who villaged here in the late AD 1100s. A museum here explains more of their culture, which thrived here for 1,300 years. At Lipan Point, you can see a good view into the Colorado River gorge. At Desert View, we could see more of the Colorado River's rapids and views of Cedar Mountain to the east. It is also the location of the Watchtower, which is a castle-like stone structure built on the cliff in the 1930s and an area campground and store. You can camp overnight below the Rim with an approved backcountry permit from the Backcountry Office. It is usually recommended to spend the night when hiking into the canyon all the way to the Colorado River. There are designated campsites below the rim and also Phantom Ranch which houses a lodge and dormitory rooms (reservations are required well in advance of your scheduled stay). The two maintained hiking routes from the South Rim are the South Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel Trail. The South Kaibab Trail provides more scenic views and is shorter, but does not provide any water source or campsites along the way as the Bright Angel Trail does. We didn't have time to do an overnight hike this time, maybe the next trip... There are also RV and tent campgrounds and lodging available above the rim.

The next day, we went on a ranger hike along the Rim Trail (we highly recommend it). She talked about all the wildlife and plants that you typically find along the trail, and how inter-connected nature is. We learned about pine (or Pinon nuts) and Juniper seeds and how animals rely on them. The pine nuts (quite tasty) are expensive in the local stores due to the difficulty of getting a large amount without getting sticky pine sap on you. We saw several mule deer meandering around the Grand Canyon train station and a grey fox near the exit of the park. If visiting along the North Rim, you may see the long-eared Kaibab squirrel, which is the only place in the world to find it. We spent some time touring the West Rim Road. This is done by free shuttle buses that the park service provides. Vehicles are not allowed in this section. We stopped at several points including Hopi Point to view the sunset. Due to the problem of pollution (which drifts from surrounding metropolitan cities) and a scheduled forest fire taking place, it was a bit hazy. Be sure to visit The Grand Canyon web site for detailed information.

We spent an afternoon exploring Meteor Crater where the force of a meteor about 49,000 years ago created a hole 570 feet deep and over 4,000 feet wide. The bottom of the crater is big enough to hold 20 football fields. The crater is deep enough to engulf a 60-story building. The museum contains numerous facts on meteors, with fragments from all over the world, along with memorabilia from various space missions. Astronauts used to train here at the bottom of the crater to simulate conditions on the moon. You can also view the remnants of old mine shafts here from the early 1900s. An RV park is nearby for campers and remnants of old Route 66 (mostly a rancher road here) can be seen. The area is about 25 minutes from Winslow.

We next drove the next day to nearby Walnut Canyon National Monument (close to Flagstaff) which contains numerous cliff dwellings left by an ancient Indian tribe (the Sinagua Indians). The trail takes about an hour to hike through. Be sure to visit before the late afternoon. The trail closes at 4 p.m. Remains of buildings are also located here next to a museum (and another ruin is one mile north of the Flagstaff Mall on Highway 89). About 15 minutes north from this Monument on Highway 89 is the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. You can see the result of dramatic lava flows here from a volcano that erupted around 1100 A.D. and some ancient Indian ruins. Further north, see the Wupatki National Monument, with Indian masonry pueblo ruins.

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