For a lot of years I sort of "saved" the Grand Canyon for when I had a lot of time to spend there, choosing not to make a quick run up when I was in Phoenix a couple of times. After about twenty years of "saving" it, I realized how stupid this was. One can only hang onto one's virginity (of any kind) for so long. So, finally, on a business trip to Phoenix I brought a tent and a minimal amount of camping equipment, rented a Blazer, and dashed up for a 4-day weekend with my late wife Bev. Everything I ever heard about the park made me want to go to the remote and less-visited North Rim rather than the heavily commercialized area around the more popular South Rim. This meant a longer drive, but it still took only a little more than half a day from Phoenix. Since that first trip I've visited many times, including three raft trips through the canyon.
I've heard quite a few people describe their Grand Canyon experience as "you get out of your car, take a look, and what else is there? That's the Grand Canyon." I guess that's just a mindset I never acquired. I could probably sit on the rim and look out at the canyon for many evenings on end and not tire of it. No amount of looking at pictures could prepare you for the vastness and complexity of the canyon. So just go and look and keep looking. Since that first visit we've returned many times, and expect to return many more.
The North Rim is higher in elevation and more forested than the South Rim. The climate is different, too. The North Rim is much cooler at night, even in summer. My rent-a-car had a gadget that registered the outside temperature. It was interesting to watch the temperature rise from 28 degrees to 107 on the morning we left the North Rim to drive to Phoenix. Days, though, are sunny and pleasant- very nice is you want to hike into the canyon, which I highly recommend. Hiking down is no problem, of course, no matter how fat and out of shape you are. You just have to allow about 2-2 1/2 times as long to walk back up than it took to hike down, with requisite longer breaks for huffing and puffing. The only real negative to hiking the canyon is the fact that many commercial mule trips use the trails. At times the stench of mule urine and manure is downright overpowering.
The very, very best way to see the canyon though, is by boat. It's not cheap, but no one who loves the outdoors should depart this life without at least once taking a raft through the canyon. Commercial trips are almost the only way to go, since the wait list for private trips is twenty years. There are places at the bottom of the canyon that defy description, and it is nearly impossible to visit mos of them except by boat. The mouth of the Little Colorado, Elve's Chasm, Deer Creek Canyon, Kanab Creek- the list never ends. I just (in 2003) took my first trip but it won't be the last.
Visit the official site.
Favorite place to stay: The North Rim has pleasant little log cabins near the rim and a campground perched near the rim also. Both are wonderful.
Favorite place to sit for hours: Anywhere overlooking the rim.
While in the area visit: Zion and Bryce Canyon, just over the border in Utah.
Best Hikes: A great (and strenous) experience is a rim-to-rim hike. The logistics can be hard to arrange, but worth it. From the more commonly visited South Rim, a hike down to Indian Garden and back is a tough day hike but gives you a feel for what hiking the canyon is like- straight up and straight down. Within the canyon, a hike up Tapeats Creek to Thunder River, across Surprise Valley, and out Deer Creek is one of the most spectacular hikes anywhere- best done from a raft trip.
Read: Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons, by John Wesley Powell. If you can find a copy of the edition illustrated with Eliot Porter's photographs, so much the better. Another favorite read of mine is Over the Edge by Michael Ghiglieri and Thomas Myers, a chronicle of the many way visitors have found to die in the canyon.
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