Jon and I got up relatively early and got breakfast at our hotel before we headed up to the park. We made good time and got to the park in around an hour. The drive from Williams, AZ is beautiful, a long, straight road though desert views and the pine trees of the Kaibab National Forest. Our Annual National Parks Pass got us in for free; the admission fee is $25. We have gotten so much value out of our annual pass, but really $25 for a carload is really a great price for everything you can see and do at the Grand Canyon.
We started out with a brief stop at the main visitor center. There were several long lines, and it seemed to be mostly geared towards people who were going to be doing guided tours; either the river rafting, the ranger led tours, etc. We weren’t really interested in that on this trip (but we would like to return and do some of the tours!), so we checked out a few of the exhibits on its history (there wasn’t much there), and headed on our way.
One day, we would like to hike down to the bottom of the canyon and stay at the hostel at Phantom Ranch; there wasn’t enough time on this trip and you have to book the hostel and meals way in advance, but one day… It is almost a nine mile hike each way, with about a mile of elevation change, so the National Park Service recommends that you hike down one day and hike back up the next. It is possible to do in one day, but a very strenuous hike, and it is recommended that you avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day. Rangers do over 200 heat related rescues each year, and they do have the occasional heat related death, so it is nothing to take lightly.
We stopped next at the bookstore near the main visitor center so I could get my National Parks Passport stamp and check out the postcards. That’s when I learned that the Grand Canyon is a Parks Passport holder’s dream come true – the park has a total of seven cancellation stations (I think) throughout the park, each with a different picture stamp! You can collect them all! I was like a kid who has just been told there are seven different Happy Meal toys I can get in the series!
After the bookstore and the first stamp, our first order of business was to begin hiking the Rim Trail. True to its name, the Rim Trail is a flat, paved trail that takes you along the rim of the Canyon. We started right behind the visitor center at Mather Point and it was swarming with tourists. Too many people! There were people young and old, and lots of school groups with harried teachers and chaperones… But it was really interesting to hear all of the different languages being spoken by people from all over the world!
And the view… Everybody says that pictures don’t do it justice. The Grand Canyon is phenomenal! You stand on the rim and look down into the canyon and are absolutely awestruck by the depth and width of it. It is beautiful!
Jon and I walked along to the west, and the other tourists started to melt away shortly after we got away from the visitor center. That is one thing about the National Parks; the majority of people will go to the viewpoint, or drive along the park road, and will never just spent some time walking or hiking further away from the crowds. On the Rim Trail, we were never alone, but the packs of people became a dozen other tourists or so. And just so you know, there are no bikes or motorized vehicles allowed on the Rim Trail, but you can walk your dog along the trail here.
We did a quick visit to the Yavapai Observation Station, which is a historic structure built in 1928 along the Rim Trail, and functions as a museum and interpretive center. The exhibits provide information on the canyon’s geologic history, and there are expansive views of the canyon from the terrace. Rangers also give interpretive talks from the Observation Station. We didn’t spend much time here though, because Jon and I both wanted to get back outside and see more of the canyon!
Back on the Rim Trail, there is an interpretive series of signs and plaques as you hike along, called the Trail of Time, showing you a slice of the history of the Canyon. It condenses two billion years of history into a relatively short stretch of trail. There are polished stones placed along the trail showing what type of stone was present during the different periods of the canyon’s history. It is interesting to see all of the different types of stone that exist, creating the colorful layers of the canyon. All in all, we hiked about two miles along the Rim Trail, from the main Visitor’s Center to the Grand Canyon Village.
And that was just the beginning of our visit!