The Grand Canyon, one of the most impressive sights in the U.S., stretches northeast to west in northern Arizona, not far from Las Vegas in Nevada. The total length is 450 kilometers, the maximum depth is 1.8 kilometers. “North Rim” and “South Rim”, that is, the two sides of the gorge, are between six and thirty kilometers apart. However, since there are no bridges over the canyon, this short distance as the crow flies means several hours of driving.
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Majority of the gorge belongs to the area of the Grand Canyon National Park. It was named for the Colorado River, formerly called the Grand River, which formed the gorge. The South Rim is particularly popular with tourists. The North Rim averages 300 meters higher in elevation and is also cooler.From Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon is about 200 kilometers away. It can be reached by (rental) car, organized tours, Greyhound buses, charter flight or train.
History of the Grand Canyon
The canyon is a geographic fingerprint of the U.S., as its rock layers reveal two billion years of geologic evolution. The Colorado River and its branches have cut deeply into the rock formations over the past five to six million years, at the same time that the Colorado Plateau has risen. Although not the deepest canyon in the world, it is clearly visible from the International Space Station and is world famous for its overwhelming expanse and stunningly colored landscape.
It was settled about three thousand years ago by Indians who built their mud huts into the walls of the canyon and immortalized themselves there with petroglyphs. Indians still live in the Grand Canyon today; several Indian tribes are also involved in the management of the national park. In addition, the canyon has a rich plant and animal life.
Theodore Roosevelt, himself a frequent visitor to the canyon, declared it a “National Monument” in 1908. In 1919 it was placed under protection as a national park and in 1979 it was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. About five million people visit it every year.
Grand Canyon Attractions and Tours
The most popular are the lookouts on the south rim of the canyon, where you can get the best panoramic view. Various shuttle services operate within the park and are allowed to reach places that are closed to private cars. The Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim is the central contact point and starting point for many activities. This is also where most of the hotels are located.
If you want to be active, you can take a boat tour on the Colorado River or go hiking. If you plan longer hiking trips with an overnight stay in the canyon (camping or, for example, the Phantom Ranch Lodge, which, however, must be reserved a year in advance), you will need a permit. Due to the intense heat inside the gorge, it is not recommended to hike down and immediately back up in a single day. At least a short hike a bit into the gorge is definitely worth it, as the perspective changes completely. Highly recommended, for example, is the Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge (about five kilometers). The Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point is much more ambitious at nearly twenty kilometers, but rewards with a wonderful view of the Colorado. For those who are less good on foot, traditionally popular donkey tours are offered.
A relatively new attraction offers special thrills: the Skywalk. At a lofty height of about two hundred meters directly above the rocks you have a breathtaking view through the special glass. The view in the distance even goes more than a kilometer deep, to the Colorado River. The skywalk, which rises above the abyss in a horseshoe shape about 22 meters long and seats 120 people, can only be booked as part of a tour; photography there is prohibited. The Skywalk was inaugurated in 2007 by the second man on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, who is expected to have a head for heights.
A unique opportunity to capture the immense dimensions of the Grand Canyon is offered by helicopter tours, which come in a variety of versions: from a short scenic flight to a VIP tour including limousine service, skywalk viewing and champagne picnic.
Very romantic are the sunsets in the Grand Canyon, which really bring out the color shades of the canyon.
Best time to visit the Grand Canyon
The best time to visit is early in the morning, when it is quieter and cooler. It is most crowded between Memorial Day and Labor Day, which is May through September. January and February are calm but cool. Experience shows that October is the best season with still mild weather but fewer visitors. Those who want to enjoy the tranquility should prefer the northern edge. But often it is enough to walk a few steps from the viewpoints to find a quiet spot. The North Rim is accessible until mid-October, the South Rim year-round.
It’s a few degrees cooler in the Grand Canyon than in Las Vegas. The temperature fluctuations are enormous. In the summer, it can get up to 40 degrees down in the canyon, while the north and south rims know sub-zero temperatures and snowfall in the winter. You can’t go wrong with layering, so you can take off your jacket and sweater when you need to. Sturdy shoes are a must; sunscreen, water and headgear also belong in your luggage.
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