Explore the Grand Canyon of the Old West

Hikers begin to descend into the canyon via South Kaibab Trailhead. Photo credit: M. Quinn, Grand Canyon National Park).

Over the next year of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, our new virtual intern, Ryan, will be publishing blog posts on various U.S. National Parks. The first was on the great Yellowstone National Park. Today he talks to us about the Grand Canyon.

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Explore the Grand Canyon of the Old West, by Ryan Valencia.

At the heart of the American Southwest stands the Grand Canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a recognized World Heritage Site. With burning oranges and reds contrasting against glowing white rock, the Grand Canyon is a mesmerizing monument of erosion and time. Standing at its jagged cliffs and staring down into the mile-deep canyon has been one of the most breathtaking experiences of my life. Established in 1919, this 277 mile-long and 18 mile-wide canyon is truly a marvel of Earth’s creation. It is no surprise the park is one of the most visited in the country. Its grandeur and prehistoric appearance are hard to rival and can only be found in this Arizonan park. The park is sure to inspire a spirit of exploration and adventure under the Colorado Plateau’s sun.

Yellowstone National Park, Part 1: West Yellowstone to Old Faithful from Montana Office of Tourism on Vimeo. Check out the complete video series here.

The canyon’s geological significance lies in the layers of rock that date back as far at 2 billion years ago. And for the explorers in all of us, the Grand Canyon provides hundreds of miles of hiking trails with opportunities to discover its natural history. Hikes range from easy to strenuous, depending largely on how far visitors wish to descend into the canyon’s depths. The Rim-to-Rim hike is one of the park’s most famous but most difficult, as it takes you on a strenuous 24-mile journey across the heart of the park. Along your way, you’ll cross the Colorado River, see ancient rocks, and come across magnificent waterfalls. The hike should be on every backpacker’s bucket list. Those interested should consult the National Park Foundation. Along your travels, visitors should not be surprised to come across deer and elk, with the possibility of spotting bighorn sheep, bobcats, and coyotes.

The rustic rocks of the Grand Canyon. Photo credit: Grand Canyon National Park.
The rustic rocks of the Grand Canyon. Photo credit: Grand Canyon National Park.

Camping within the park will ensure visitors a special experience of watching a beautiful desert sunset and living like the cowboys of the Old West. A variety of camping locations are available in the park, including sites at the rims and within the canyon. If looking to camp at the rims of the canyon, Mather Campground on the South Rim and the North Rim Campground do take reservations up to 6 months in advance. However, Desert View Campground, also located on the South Rim, is reserved on a first-come, first-served basis. For explorers looking to camp within the canyon, backpacking is a must and backcountry permits are required.

The park is an adventurer’s paradise, with opportunities to ride horseback, journey with mules, or bike along the rim. Along with the miles of hiking trails, biking is permitted in designated areas, giving visitors a unique opportunity to tour the park. For those wishing for a more extreme adventure, the Grand Canyon is home to one of America’s best whitewater rafting locations, the roaring rapids of the Colorado River. These river trips can range from a single day to multiple weeks, varying from calm waters to difficult rapids. The varying rafting difficulties mean children are welcome on some trips, making for an experience they’ll never forget.

Colorado River Boating Photo credit: Mark Lellouch, Grand Canyon National Park.
Colorado River Boating Photo credit: Mark Lellouch, Grand Canyon National Park.

For those wishing to learn more about the park’s history or natural features, the park has three visitor centers and a number of museums to visit. Here, you can find a variety of free park ranger programs to give you an insight to everything the park has to offer from geology to astronomy to wildlife. One of the most interesting sites of the park is the Tusayan Museum, where visitors can learn about the Pueblo people who lived in the canyon for several thousand years. Today, an 800 year old ruin still remains along a trail of the museum.

A glowing display of a redwall limestone cliff. Photo credit: Kristen Caldon, Grand Canyon National park.
A glowing display of a redwall limestone cliff. Photo credit: Kristen Caldon, Grand Canyon National park.

The Grand Canyon’s wonder lies in its awe-inspiring vistas and dramatic Old West backdrop. The magnitude of the canyon is a testament to how small we are and how powerful Mother Earth can be.

To plan your adventure visit the official Grand Canyon National Park site for more information and be sure to download their handy trip planner.