Grand Canyon – The Peak of Nature’s Force, Fury and CalmNovember 24, 2010 No Comments
Few landscapes on the planet have the capacity to take your breath away like the Grand Canyon. Once you have visited this truly grand natural wonder, most everything else you’ve witnessed up to that point in your life will probably pale in comparison. At least, that has been my experience. Any tourist could reel off the physical dimensions of the Canyon, its vast expanse, its history and geology. As for me, I always have to go back and check my facts and numbers which I find hard to remember accurately, but one thing that has stuck in my mind from my two trips to the Grand Canyon is the silent and powerful way in which it communicates the sheer force of nature. It’s impossible to imagine how one seemingly gentle, faraway force has managed to sculpt and alter the face of earth, until you witness it first hand. Until you see how a gushing river can carve out a path through layers of solid rock, at least millions of years old.
A 4 hour drive from Phoenix along long, straight stretches of Interstates 17, 40 and highway 64 brings you to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim – the most popular and tourist friendly part of the Canyon. Driving alongside never ending desert landscapes and larger than life cacti is a unique experience, novel to East Coasters more used to meandering mountain roads and lush greenery.
What to see:
The Grand Canyon offers several view points and spots all vying with each other to provide more spectacular views of the canyon below. A shuttle service helps you get to the various points and enjoy the vistas along the way. Depending on how much time you have, pick out a few of the many viewpoints to stop at. Some of the more prominent ones include Hopi, Maricopa, Mojave and Hermit’s Rest – the last stop on the shuttle’s route which also houses a gift shop and cafe. No matter what you do, ensure that your trip to the Canyon includes at the very least either a sunrise or a sunset view. You’ve got to experience the golden hour at the canyon – watching the rocks turn from a dry brown to a warm gold before being engulfed in shades of crimson, orange, red, pink and black is an experience you won’t forget. If you only have a day or a little more to spend here, plan your itinerary so you arrive at the Grand Canyon a little before sunset and wake up to view the sunrise, or at least one of them.
Which brings us to the next point.
Where to stay:
Staying on the Grand Canyon National Park premises is a great option if you want to spend long hours exploring the canyon’s viewpoints, wake up early to catch the sun rise or just to explore the park by walk. Yavapai Lodge and other lodges offer comfortable rooms – the only drawback being the lack of modern amenities like a microwave oven, laundry or a breakfast room. This could be a huge consideration for families with children or people for whom these factors weigh high in priority. If you’re mainly here for the Grand experience though, these are minor issues you can get around quite easily with a little more planning and smarter packing. If you do want the works however (or at least a breakfast bar), you could stay at Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Grand Canyon just down the road. Catching the sunrise is going to take a little extra effort – a small price to pay for the modern lifestyle you can’t do without.
What to do:
Trek, River raft, Glass bridge, IMax theatre
Besides catching glimpses of the Canyon from the prominent points and snapping hundreds of pictures, which is what a vast majority of the 3 million+ annual visitors do, you can and should consider taking your experience of the Grand Canyon a few notches higher…by treading lower. Hiking to the bottom of the canyon is touted to be the ultimate adventure – it’s hard work and not recommended for those not in excellent shape. You’re likely to come face to face with soaring desert temperatures, dehydration, rattle snakes and oncoming mules, but at the end of it all, you will see what not many do – a stunning bottom-up view of the canyon’s ridges and rocks. With the bonus of staying overnight at the base – making the round trip on the same day is not advisable and probably not the most sensible option to consider. Besides, you probably wouldn’t have the energy or will even if you wanted to – we’re talking about 10 hours+ of grueling hiking here. And unlike most other treks – you’ll be climbing uphill on your return. You require a Backcountry Pass to stay overnight at the base and are also recommended against hiking alone. I haven’t done this yet and it remains one of the top things on my ‘To do’ list.
The other amazing experience Grand Canyon has to offer takes you to its creator – whitewater rafting on the Colorado is said to be among the most challenging on the planet. It takes a seasoned rafter to face some of its Class 5 rapids head on and emerge unscathed…maybe. But, there are some easy to moderate rafting trips more appropriate for families with young kids.
Since 2007, you can experience the Grand Canyon from an unprecedented viewpoint – directly above it. The Horseshoe Glass Bridge owned by the Hualapai Indian tribe offers visitors a uniquely thrilling perspective and is not for the faint-hearted, I am told. Standing 4000 feet above the canyon and 70 feet in, you will get to see the ridges and rocks and the nothingness directly under your feet through the glass – the only thing separating your from what’s underneath. To get here however, you will have to travel away from the South Rim towards the North Rim and the Horseshoe Bridge is located on Grand Canyon West. It’s at least an additional 2 hours on the road – so, if that’s something you want to see, then factor in the round trip time into your itinerary.
Before you drive away, stop by for a show at the Grand Canyon IMAX theatre for a last glimpse of the Canyon and a peek into the secrets and stories it has to reveal.
A trip to the Grand Canyon offers plenty of photo ops, a backbreaking trek, an extraordinary camping experience and much more. But what the place really has to offer won’t be found in any brochure or tourism website – and that’s the elusive spiritual component – call it soul searching, self-inquiry or just finding the silent place within yourself. To me, the true essence of a Grand Canyon tour, lies in experiencing that beautiful silence within and without that somehow emerges more easily when you’re standing at its rim, looking at one of the many manifestations of nature’s glory.