If “a picture is worth a thousand words”, then actually being there must be worth a million. Grand Canyon National Park, with the Colorado River’s wildwater rapids, is astounding beyond the imagination so it’s quite understandable for this scenic masterpiece to be listed as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
Located in the Northwestern corner of Arizona, this massive canyon has been carved over millions upon millions of years. Once this was home to ancient civilizations and in more recent time home to Native American Indian tribes. Still today it is home to five of those tribes: Havasupai, Hopi, Hualapai, Navajo, and Paiute.
Hopi legend says that ancestors once lived in caves and tunnels in the Grand Canyon. This could actually be true! Not far near Peach Springs, Arizona on Route 66 are the Grand Canyon Caverns, 800 acres of caves and tunnels underground, forming the largest dry caverns in the United States. Entrance today is through an elevator, which descends approximately twenty stories into the earth. Perhaps the Hopi had a secret entrance.
The air here is pure and dry coming through about ten miles of limestone crevices from the Grand Canyon itself. When taking a tour there, the guide mentioned that these caverns were designated as a nuclear fallout shelter during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Some supplies still remained at that time…just in case. Sometimes my mind wonders if the whole inner earth looks like Swiss cheese.
Although larger than the mind can comprehend, this is a tranquil place filled with rare plant and animal life. Some of the elk here weigh as much as a thousand pounds so there is frequent warning: Never Approach Wild Animals.
There are many ways to see the canyon for the adventurous. One is to descend the narrow ledges of the canyon on mule back. Since the mule is considered to be the most surefooted of animals, many feel this is a safe way for exploration. Others prefer wild water rafting down the beautiful Colorado River, which is partially responsible for the appearance of the Grand Canyon today.
Geologist John Wesley Powell led the first recorded expedition down the Colorado River the full length of the canyon starting at Green River, Wyoming. This Civil War hero, who lost his right arm at the Battle of Shiloh, filled diaries recapturing his astounding experiences on that 1869 three month expedition. Here is an excerpt from Powell’s Canyons of the Colorado, a book written after his river trip:
“The walls now are more than a mile in height … A thousand feet of this is up through granite crags; then steep slopes … rise one above the other to the summit. The gorge is black and narrow below, red and gray and flaring above, with crags … on the walls, which, cut in many places by side canyons, seem to be a vast wilderness of rocks.
That is quite a trip as the canyon is 277 miles in length. Variations in width make it even more unusual as it is only 600 yards wide at Marble Canyon, while at its widest, it is eighteen miles. The river moves quickly and has lots of rocks along the way so a trip down these rapids is a challenge. The average depth of the Colorado River is about forty feet so a good idea to wear a lifejacket.
A great place to get an overlook of the canyon is from the Yavapai Observation Station, first located here in 1928. The view of the buttes and spires from this point is picture postcard perfect. What a great place to study the history and changes of the Grand Canyon. Designed to blend in with the environment, the station was originally built of Ponderosa pine and Kaibab limestone. Here inquiring minds are told the complicated geological story of the formation of the Grand Canyon.
Every view is different at each time of the day. Sunlight as well as moonlight bring various sections to life. During the busiest season, April – September, private vehicles are not now permitted along the popular West Rim section. Beautiful Maricopa Point on the West Rim is another favorite picture stop. Also seen in the distance is the Orphan Lode Mine where copper and uranium were extracted during the 1950’s and 60’s. October seems to be the perfect time to view the canyon at your leisure in your own vehicle. Then it is a tranquil place where you forget about the cares of the world and just relax in the arms of Mother Nature. While driving some friends through the canyon on my last visit, the tranquility even captured a busy businessman, who never stops all day long. The only sound from the back seat of my car was zzz-zzz-zzz.
Grand Canyon National Park can be easily reached from I-40 exiting at either Williams – Route 64 or Flagstaff – Route 180. Both routes take over an hour to arrive at the South Rim. Pack a picnic lunch and plenty of bottled water to enjoy a relaxing day.