When you drive through the pine forests leading up to the Grand Canyon’s rim, no one would fault you for thinking that what you are about to see couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. But when you get to the rim, when you have your first chance to look over and out … the view is simply mind-boggling.
How big is the Grand Canyon? The park covers 1,218,375.54 acres, which is about 1,904 square miles. If you measure it in river miles, following the course of the Colorado River at the canyon’s bottom, you’d call it 277 miles long. The Grand Canyon “begins at Lees Ferry (mile 0) and ends at the Grand Wash Cliffs (mile 277).”
One of the first questions I had, when standing on the rim, was how deep it was from where we were standing to the very bottom — where I could just barely see a river snaking by. It turns out that it’s a vertical mile there, and it is about 7 miles if you decide to hike your way down to the river via the trail.
At its deepest, it is 6000 vertical feet / 1829 m from rim to river. The width of the canyon at Grand Canyon Village is 10 miles / 16 km (rim to rim), though in places it is as much as 18 miles / 29 km wide.
Here’s another way to look at size: a trip to the bottom of the Canyon and back (on foot or by mule) is a two-day journey. Rim-to-rim hikers generally take three days one way to get from the North Rim to the South Rim. A trip through Grand Canyon by raft can take two weeks or longer, and experienced backpackers have spent weeks in the more remote areas of the Canyon.
The Grand Canyon has long been a shelter for humans and wild animals …
The oldest human artifacts found are nearly 12,000 years old and date to the Paleo-Indian period. There has been continuous use and occupation of the park since that time.
The first day we were at the park, clouds started to roll in, and we were treated to some magnificent views from across the canyon. It wasn’t long before fat rain drops began to fall, and lightning was filling the sky.
I was (more than a little) surprised that there were a number of tourists who didn’t seek the safety of their vehicles or other proper shelters. I guess being the highest point on a canyon’s rim didn’t strike them as being particularly unwise.
Kev picked up a book on deaths in the Grand Canyon (it was current through 2011), and death by lightning had its own chapter. Yikes.
Lightning isn’t the only danger, of course; Google “death in the Grand Canyon“, and watch how many results are returned. The main things to remember when seeing the Grand Canyon are that if you dress appropriately, act appropriately, and carry the appropriate food and water for whatever you are doing, you will probably be okay. In other words, deciding to back all the way up to the edge of a rock in the middle of a thunderstorm (complete with crazy lightning) is not appropriate. =P
Here’s a tip for you: If you don’t want to feel like you have been let off in the middle of tour bus hell, take a left as you approach the Grand Canyon rim, and head to the Grand Canyon Village rather than the visitor center.
The Grand Canyon Village is where you’ll see the early ranger buildings, the park hotels, the mules, the Kolb studio, and other notable places … and you will not feel like you are in a Disneyland theme park, complete with the insane crowds.
You’ll want to eventually go to the East and follow the rim road. There are various places that you can pull over to take photos, but whatever you do — make sure you stop and check out the Watchtower.
This is a most amazing building; if there were a way to pick it up and move it to the ranch (ha!), I would love to live in it.
The Watchtower dominates the near view. This structure was designed by Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter who is often referred to as the architect of the southwest. She traveled throughout the southwest to find inspiration and authenticity for her buildings. The architecture of the ancestral Puebloan people of the Colorado Plateau served as her model. This particular tower was patterned after those found at Hovenweep and the Round Tower of Mesa Verde. Ms. Colter indicated that it was not a copy of any that she had seen, but rather modeled from several.
We really messed up; we didn’t allow ourselves more than a day and a half for the Grand Canyon, and it rained for most of the first day. We are already making plans for the next time we go, and how we will allow ourselves enough time then to hike to the bottom and back.
I can’t wait! =)