The Grand Canyon of the Colorado River is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and one of our planet's most astounding accomplishments. The sheer majesty and beauty of the scenery found here is beyond belief. I have never seen a picture that has ever done it justice. I keep taking them and I manage to capture little pieces of beauty here and some majesty there but to really understand the Grand Canyon, to really appreciate it, you have to see it with your own eyes.
The Canyon, as measured from Lee's Ferry just below Glen Canyon Dam at the southern end of Lake Powell to the Grand Wash Cliffs at Lake Mead, is 277 miles (443 km) long. It averages 10 miles (16 km) in width from rim to rim, with the greatest distance being about 18 miles (29 km) and the least being about 5 miles (8 km). Its depth as measured from the north rim is slightly more than a mile or about 5,700 feet (1,737 meters). The south rim is approximately 1,200 feet (365 meters) lower than the north rim. The area of the park includes over a million acres of land or 1,218,375.54 acres (493,077 hectares 1,904 square miles, 4,931 km2) to be exact.
The elevation of the Colorado River, at the bottom of the Canyon, averages out to around 2,200 feet (670 meters). The average elevation of the south rim is around 6,800 feet (2,072 meters) with the highest spot, Grandview Point, being 7,400 feet (2,255 meters). The average elevation of the north rim is about 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) with the highest point, Point Imperial, being 8,800 feet (2,682 meters). The depth of the Canyon at the South Rim, near Grand Canyon Village, measures almost a vertical mile, about 5,000 feet (1,524 meters).
To hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, JUST to the bottom - NOT back to the top, requires at least one full day. Some people manage to do the trip to the river AND BACK in one day but this is extremely hazardous, the person attempting it risking dehydration and hypothermia, and the Park Service attempts to discourage the activity. It is possible to take a one-day mule trip to Plateau Point almost to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. This is still 1,200 feet (366 meters) above the Colorado River but provides some excellant views of the river, the inner gorge and the south rim. Even the mules take 2 days to go all the way to the river and back.
A river trip along the full length of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon can be done in as little as a week in a motor powered raft or may take as long as 2 or 3 weeks in an oar powered raft or dory. Shorter half-Canyon trips are also possible but these require you to either hike in and join the trip or leave the trip and hike out at Phantom Ranch.
NOTE: River trips and mule trips fill up quickly and it is not uncommon for them to be booked up to six months or a full year in advance depending on the time of year. DO NOT wait until you get to the Canyon to book these trips.
The rocks that make up the walls of the Canyon range from 250 million years old (Kaibab Limestone) at the top to over 2 billion years old (Vishnu Schist) at the bottom. Each layer of rock represents a distinct geologic period of the Earth's past, and no where else on the planet is such a large section of geologic time displayed so well. The rocks that are found in the Grand Canyon represent a full 1/3 of our planet's age and are composed of, for the most part sediments in the upper sections, and to a lesser extent metamorphic and volcanic rock in the lower reaches.
Click here or on the image of the trilobite to the right for more info on Grand Canyon geology.
The south rim of the Grand Canyon is for the most part a desert. There is no surface water to be found anywhere in the area and there are few springs. The plants and animals that live on the south rim have, over millions of years, adapted to these conditions to present the flora and fauna that you see today. Trees like the Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper that require very little water and are very good at storing the little that happens to find their roots, do very well here. There are some groves of Douglas Fir scattered here and there along the south rim, most of these being in the area of the visitor center and along the Desert View Drive. Along with the conifers there is also a healthy population of cacti, agave and yucca plants on the south rim.
Some of the animals to be seen on the south rim include Mule Deer, Rock Squirrels, Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrels, Ravens, Pinon Jays and a few Grand Canyon Bighorn Sheep.
All of the water that is used on the south rim comes from Roaring Springs, at the junction of Bright Angel and Roaring Springs Canyons on the north rim. The water flows through a pipeline from the pumping station at Roaring Springs, down Bright Angel Canyon, across the Colorado River, and up to Indian Gardens, from where it is pumped up to the south rim. Breaks in the pipeline are not uncommon and can raise havoc with the water supply on the south rim.
The first European to view the Grand Canyon was Captain Garcia Lopez de Cardenas in 1540. Cardenas was sent north from Mexico by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola (Gold). Cardenas and his party spent three days at the Canyon, trying to get down to the river, until depleted supplies forced them to give up. It was some three centuries before the Europeans would return to the Grand Canyon, when in 1869 Major John Wesley Powell became the first person to explore the entire length of the Canyon.
The north rim of the Canyon is sometimes referred to as the "other" Grand Canyon. It's a different world up there on the north side. The scenery is different, the climate is different, the plants and animals are different and even the people are different. This is the part of the Grand Canyon that the wild west never left. It is still very wild up there on the north side and the reason for that is probably because the place is so isolated. From the south rim, as the crow flies, the north rim is only 12 miles away, but by automobile it's a long drive of 215 miles, and 5 hours to the other side. This discourages a lot of visitation and keeps the north rim wild, secluded and peaceful. The normal hustle and bustle that the peak tourist season sees on the south side never really happens on the north side. To visit the north rim is to understand the meaning of the term 'laid back'. Who knows, maybe it was invented there.
The plant life on the north rim is adapted to a much wetter climate. It rains much more frequently on the north rim than the south and the winters on the north rim are much more intense with snowfalls of up to 25 feet (7.7 m) not being uncommon. Because of this damp climate the large conifers such as the Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine are the dominant trees. Deciduous trees, such as the Birch and Aspen are also to be found in scattered groves. There are also many large fields of grass located on the north rim which makes it an ideal location for grazing.
Some animals that can be found on the north rim are Mule Deer, Rock Squirrels, Kaibab Squirrels, Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrels, Ravens, Pinon Jays, Steller's Jay, Wild Turkeys, Coyote, Lynx, Mountain Lion and Bear.
The north rim was not visited by Europeans until 236 years after the South Rim, when in 1776 Father Escalante became the first European to visit the north rim. Another reason for the north rim being so isolated is because it's ownership remained questionable well into the 20th century. Both Arizona and Utah claimed the territory and it wasn't until Arizona was granted statehood in 1912 that the issue was finally decided. Even after that the "Arizona Strip" remained a no-mans land for sometime and all that was to be found there were a few scattered Mormon settlements, and some sizeable herds of cattle, horses and sheep. Hunting on the north rim was also very popular and one of the most notable hunters who frequented the area was president Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt eventually declared the area a Game Preserve and in 1919 persuaded Congress to protect the area by declaring it a national park.
The south rim is open all year. The north rim roads are closed after the first major snow of the season which normally occurs around mid-October. The road does not typically reopen until some time in early to mid-May depending on snowfall. The north rim is, however, open even when the roads are closed. Cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing are popular winter activities on the north rim. The park is closed to snow mobiles. For current weather info and road conditions call 520-638-7888 (or find the appropriate web page).
The park offers a wide variety of visitor programs and activities, some of these being ranger talks, and ranger led hikes, campfire programs and special programs for children. Anyone planning to camp below the rim must first obtain a Backcountry Permit from the Backcountry Office. If you intend on doing any hiking in the Canyon you should not do this without first consulting a ranger at either the Main Visitor Center or the Backcountry Office.
Backcountry permits are not required for camping on the rim. You must, however, camp in designated campsites only. The number of sites is limited and they fill up quickly during the prime tourist season (June through August). Some of the campgrounds require reservations in advance and others operate on a first-come, first-served basis.
|The entrance fee for the park (south rim or north) is $20 per private vehicle (any number of people) or $10 for individual pedestrians or cyclists. Fees for passengers on commercial bus tours vary. The admission fee is good for 7 days and permits access to both the north and south rims.|
|A Golden Eagle Passport, which may be purchased at any National Park or Monument, entitles the bearer and his or her companions (one vehicle) free admitance to the park. Golden Eagle Passports are $65 and are good for one calendar year from the date of purchase.|
|A National Parks Pass, which is good only at National Parks, not National Monuments or other sites, is available for $50 and is also good for one calendar year from the date of purchase.|
|United States residents aged 62 years or older may purchase a Golden Age Passport for $10 which grants them free admission for life to all National Parks and Monuments.|
|A Golden Access Passport may be obtained by any United States resident who posseses a permanent physical, mental or sensory impairment. A Golden Access Passport provides the same benefits as the Golden Age Passport.|
One of the biggest mistakes that I have seen people make when coming to the Grand Canyon is to not have made a reservation for lodging accomodations in advance. These people typically become quite irrate when they are told that all of the rooms in and around the park are booked and that if they want a room they will have to drive 50 miles to Williams or 70 miles to Flagstaff. The situation can be even worse on the north rim as typically if the park is full, so are Kaibab Lodge and the Jacob Lake Lodge, and at that point your only choices are Fredonia, Arizona or Kanab, Utah.
For reservations on the south rim in Grand Canyon Village or the Moqui Lodge in Tusayan you may also call the direct reservations number for the Fred Harvey Company in Colorado at 303-297-2757. You may also FAX them at 303-297-3175. For reservation on the north rim at Grand Canyon Lodge you should call 801-586-7686.
A complete list of lodging accomodations in and around the park (both north and south rims) can be found here.
To get a package of trip planning information you may write to:
or you may call the park at 520-638-7888 for more information.
For information on other publications to help plan your trip you may write to the Grand Canyon Association:
You may also call them at 520-638-2481 or send a FAX to 520-638-2484.