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Published: March 5th 2012
On Thursday at noon, I arrived at Flagstaff airport. The airport is very small, and within no time I had picked up my suitcase and my rental car. It was a beautiful, but cold and windy day. My first visit took me up to the Lowell Observatory up on Mars Hill, just above Flagstaff. I will write more on this little trip soon, but now I will start with one of the most spectacular places I have ever been to: the Grand Canyon. It is located about 1.5 hours north of Flagstaff. You drive through the San Francisco Mountains, then a plain opens up, and suddenly, almost out of nothing, the ground drops 1,500 metres in front of you. I had arrived at the Grand Canyon. The canyon is enormous. It is over 400 km long, between 10 and 16 km wide, and 1,500 metres deep. The Colorado River is so deep down in a narrow gorge that at most points you can’t even see its waters. Where it is visible, it shows its impressive rapids. However, from so far above they look very tiny, even if they are a mile or longer.
I stayed at the Bright Angel Lodge,
right at the rim of the canyon, in the Grand Canyon Village. After checking in, I had just enough time to walk up and down the trail along the rim a bit, towards the old El Tovar Hotel and back, and then watched a most beautiful sunset. The Grand Canyon consists of rocks of many different colours – red, yellow, white, black – that are in sharp contrast with the green trees and the white snow on its rims, and with the absolutely blue sky. When the night fell on the village, I hurried inside because it was getting very cold and windy.
On Friday morning, I went to see a wonderful sunrise, then I went for an early morning run along the rim and up to Yavapai Point, from where I had a wonderful view of the Grand Canyon Village and beyond. It was beautiful because there was hardly anybody around. After a good breakfast, I hiked along the rim towards the west. There is a trail that goes all the way until Hermits Rest (about 12 km east of the village), from where a trail to the bottom of the canyon starts. Parallel to the trail along
Sunset at Grand Canyon Village III
... and keep on changing during the whole day, but especially during sunset.
the rim runs a road, but you are not allowed to drive on it in your own car. Instead, there are free shuttle busses that stop at many beautiful lookouts and run every 15 minutes. I decided to hike as much as possible. It was beautiful. I was almost the only person walking, and I enjoyed the silence. The trail is mostly flat, with only a few slopes that are easy to take. However, it was sometimes challenging because there were some very icy parts. I stopped at the various signs that are put up and learned a lot of things.
The Grand Canyon is not only the result of erosion caused by the Colorado River. There are also many faults that run perpendicular to the canyon and result from geological activity. The San Francisco Mountains south of the Grand Canyon are of volcanic origin and quite young, less than six million years old, with the last eruption having taken place only 1,000 years ago. The Grand Canyon has its shape because of several reasons. The land was lifted up due to plate tectonics. Then the river found its way through the rocks and deepened its bed because it
Sunrise at Grand Canyon Village
View from the Grand Canyon Village towards Maricopa Point west of the village.
flows fast and carries big rocks and a lot of sand with it. The canyon was widened by erosion – the area is dry, and thus, there are not many plants that could prevent the rock and soil from eroding.
There used to be a copper mine east of the Grand Canyon Village, but it was given up when transporting the ore became too expensive. In the mid 20th
century, uranium was discovered west of the village. The Orphan Mine was closed in the end of the 20th
century, but there is a fence around the area because it is still contaminated. The first tourists arrived in the area no later than in the early 20th
century (when the journey from Flagstaff to the canyon took around twelve hours, these were true adventure tourists).
Even though there are many tourists throughout the year, you can see lots of wild animals. I saw deer and elks, all of them not shy at all. I could approach them to about two metres, and I was wondering who was observing whom. I also saw many ravens soaring the wind that blows up the face of the canyon, and I even saw
View into the canyon.
a condor with his white feathers underneath his wings. What I did not know is that the Californian Condor was almost extinct by the end of the 20th
century. The last specimen were caught by humans so that they could reproduce as efficiently as possible. They only lay one egg and then spend almost two years bringing up their single baby. This would have taken too long. So after the caught couples had laid their first egg, humans took it away so that they would lay a second and eventually a third egg. The little birds were brought up by humans and then taken to the Grand Canyon National Park and set free.
After having walked about half of the distance to the Hermits Rest, I caught the bus because otherwise it would have taken me too long to get there. At the entrance to the Hermits Trail that leads down into the canyon, there was a sign warning tourists from hiking without being prepared. Again and again, hikers die or have to be rescued because they underestimate the challenge of hiking into the canyon and back, they don’t take into account the altitude difference (1,500 metres) and the
... towards the north, from the east entrance of the National Park.
I had not considered hiking into the canyon by myself. I felt in good shape, but I was by myself, and there were no organised tours into the canyon. Going on such a tour by oneself is dangerous because if you get injured, there is nobody to help you. And walking down the trails at the moment is a challenge at the moment because of all the ice and snow that is still there. So I caught the bus back to the village and then drove to the east in my rental car. On the way to the east entrance of the park, about 40 km from the village, there are a number of absolutely spectacular viewpoints. The canyon widens as you approach its east end. There are many rock towers in it. They have interesting names like Vishnu temple or Cheops Pyramid.
On the way towards Desert View at the east entrance of the park, there are some ruins of a pueblo, and ancient Indian village, and a museum that explains the local Indians’ history and lifestyle. There were different tribes, all of them had originally been hunters and gatherers, but most of them eventually became
Katha on the Desert View Drive
... with the Grand Canyon in the background. Yes, I was here ;-)
farmers. They built villages, grew corn and other plants, and started creating rugs, pottery, jewellery, and other pieces of art.
Eventually, I arrived at Desert View, where a watchtower built in the 1930s offers a spectacular view not only of the Grand Canyon, but also of the Painted Desert, the desert that lies south and east of the Grand Canyon. I enjoyed another wonderful sunset at Lipan Point and later at Moran Point, from where I could see the beautiful colours of the rocks in the light of the setting sun.
On Saturday morning, I walked all the way up to Yavapai Geology Center and took a very interesting tour on the canyon’s geology. Our tour guide was a ranger, and she really did a good job explaining how the canyon was created. Afterwards, I walked east all the way to Yaki Point, altogether about 10 km. It was an easy walk because the trails are mainly paved and not steep.
In the afternoon, I joined another talk given by a park ranger on the Californian Condors here in the park. After that, I decided to hike westwards again and do the parts of the Hermit Road
Desert View Drive
View into the Grand Canyon without Katha in the foreground ;-)
I had not walked along the day before. It was another 6 km and a challenge again, this time not so much because of the snow, but rather because of the earth that had been frozen and was not getting soft as the ice had melted in the sun. I arrived at Pima Point just in time for another wonderful sunset. I caught the shuttle bus back to the Grand Canyon Village and had dinner. This morning, I left the Grand Canyon and drove back to Flagstaff, truly impressed with this wonderful place.
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