Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Grand Canyon

The Colorado River winds its way through the Grand Canyon
What to do at the Grand Canyon? There are tours, easy or challenging mule rides and great shopping for Native American crafts and jewelry at reasonable prices. This is Travel on the Level so I assume you aren't interested in hikes. If you are, the Park Service can recommend several within your skill level.

First, though, you need to look into and at the canyon. Geologists can take hours explaining how it occurred, park rangers do it in less time, but the most succinct version is my favorite: "The land came up, the river went down and the walls fell in."

And boy, what a sight they created. You can go from the East to the West rims by way of the South rim in the National Park Service's free, hop on, hop off shuttle buses. Your time will be well spent taking the shuttles around and hopping off at each overlook because each one gives you a different perspective on the canyon.

Photographers love the sunrise and sunset tours and almost anyone will gain a better appreciation of what they are seeing because the people behind the wheels are combination geologists, historians, story tellers and drivers.

Tip for those who go on a sunrise or sunset tour: 95 percent of amateur photographers aim for that rising or setting ball of fire and wind up with blown out backgrounds. Far better are photographs taken shooting away from the sun. You'll not only see the effects of that orb's action, the canyon will be captured at its most dramatic.

Here are my recommendations for what to see and do.

South Rim
It's everyone's first stop because there's more here.

1. Stroll through El Tovar's lobby. Buy a beverage at the bar, take it out on a porch, grab a rocking chair and watch the panoply of spectacular landscape and a world's worth of people.

Geological fireplace designed by Mary Colter in the History Room.
2. History Room in Bright Angel Lodge gives a fascinating look at how everything around you came to be. Of particular interest is the story of Mary Colter, the Santa Fe Railroad's architect whose study of Native American tribes indigenous to the area and creative handling of local materials created such wonderful buildings. Her fireplaces are works of art too, each different and each special.

View from a Lookout Studio,"patio".

3. Lookout Studio is another Mary Colter gem with multi-level patios from which you can look for riders and hikers along Bright Angel Trail or try to spot condors riding thermals overhead. On the way you'll pass the Buckey O'Neil cabin, longest-standing structure at the canyon built by a stalwart character if ever there was one.

Ranger program in Kolb Studio.

4. Kolb Studio, multi-storied home of multi-talented brothers Ellsworth and Emery who became famous for their photographs and explorations of the canyon and the Colorado River.

Fans of Southwest Native American skills will love Hopi House.
5. Hopi House, Colter's first major project in the canyon, houses a fine collection of genuine Native American handiwork, particularly on the second floor. In the early days it was home to working Hopi craftsmen and women.

Mules await their passengers.
6. Mule rides. Sure-footed, strong and patient, mules have been carrying visitors into and around the canyon since the early 20th century.
The Abyss
The ride through a ponderosa pine forest to the Abyss overlook is the best for beginners, the trip down the canyon along Bright Angel Trail is best for the more daring.

Southwest Rim

Colter fireplace at Hermits Rest.
1. Hermits Rest was designed as a way station by Mary Colter and built in response to tolls being charged by Ralph Cameron to visitors wanting to reach the canyon's bottom via his Bright Angel Trail. This and the trail below became an alternative; now it's a great overlook with another of Colter's wonderful fireplaces.

2. Hermit Road goes from Powell Point to Hermits Rest past some pretty spectacular overlooks, namely Hopi, Mohave and Pima Points.

Southeast Rim
The Watchtower at Desert View.
Spiral staircase and Pueblan symbols enliven the inside of the tower.
1. Whatever you do, do not miss Desert View and the Watchtower, one of Colter's most amazing works. Developed as the Eastern gateway to the canyon, the 70-foot high, steel-framed Watchtower is modeled after prehistoric towers erected by much earlier residents. The interior, fashioned by Colter, Fred Geary and Hopi artist Fred Kabotie, spirals up several levels and is adorned with depictions of prehistoric Pueblan symbols and legends.

Warning: The 85 steps are narrow and difficult. I made it up to the second level - 21 steps - and called it quits.

Levita and Elan were visiting from Taipei, Taiwan.
2. It's easy to see why Mather Point is so popular. It's a photographer's dream. There is a two-rock formation that everyone has pictures on - standing, sitting, jumping. It's irresistible to posers and lookers alike.

Excavation began at the Tusayan ruins in 1930.
3. Tusayan Ruin is an archaeological work in progress with a small, interesting museum of what's been found, leftover from the tribes who lived here 1185-1210. Most visitors overlook it, but I found it worth a stop.

 Desert View Drive is full of wonderful overlooks.
4. Other points along this end of the rim worth stopping at include Yaki, Grandview, Moran and Lipan Points. You're here; stop and look.

5. Grand Canyon Visitor Center is a ho-hum after you've seen the canyon. There is a good film but other than a pick-up point for all three shuttle bus routes and lots of parking, that's about all. Again, you're here so go ahead and stop if you have time.

Cute but its teeth are sharp.
Warning: Wherever you go in the canyon, don't feed or try to touch the wildlife, especially the squirrels, those cute, bold beggars. Rodent bites are the injuries most treated at the clinic.


Katie said...

Hiking the Grand Canyon is one of the best ways to see the canyon. By hiking the Grand Canyon you are able to see many views from different areas and a chance to camp in the canyon and see the stars, I recommend doing a guided hike with a group for day hikes or multiple day/camping trips. Just Roughin' It is a great group that does hiking trips in the Grand Canyon. My first Grand Canyon hiking trip was with them and it's an experience you'll never forget. Having a professional guide who knows the trails really makes the experience.

November 18, 2011 at 5:20 PM

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