Sharleen first visited the Grand Canyon during a summer in the 1990s. We drove there from Las Vegas on a day trip and did the Bright Angel trail hike from the south rim. It was an easy six mile hike down to the plateau and a very long hot, dry, and difficult hike up to the rim. 3,000 feet down, and then 3,000 feet back up. It was steep and hot (although not as steep as our Half Dome hike which was a 4800 elevation gain in 7 miles).
In the winter of 2014 we decided to visit the Grand Canyon again with the whole family. We stayed at the Maswik Lodge. The accommodations were fine and the cafeteria food was adequate. It was cold. It was so cold that we were treated to snow on Christmas eve. On our morning excursions, Sharleen’s wet hair froze. At night when I went out for a starry night experience, the temperature dropped to single digits. I lasted ten minutes and ran back inside.
The biggest advantage of a winter visit was the lack of crowds. There were no lines, no traffic, and we walked most of the trails in relative peace, only bumping into a few other winter visitors. The crisp clear air made from some great shots:
The South Rim is set up well for a variety of activities. People use it for a launch point for hiking both along the rim and down to the plateau or even all the way down to Phantom Ranch along the river. People can ride mules. There are shops, museums, and numerous visitor centers where one can learn about the canyon’s indigenous people or the geology of the canyon. There are dozens of vistas and mini trails for small walks as well.
A few of our highlights
The Desert View Watchtower
This offers not only some amazing vistas up and down the canyon due to its location, but inside are fantastic art reliefs and rock art of indigenous people of the area. Each painting tells an intricate story and it’s easy to get lost there.
In this location there was a short interpretive walk around archaeological ruins. A small museum showcased some of the native cultural artifacts and information about their life (informational brochure) and the challenges they faced. As water is life, especially in the desert, they had developed interesting systems of capturing and storing rain water. The average American uses 80-100 gallons a day. By comparison the Tusayan People used less than 1 gallon a day. It really is food for thought. How much of our current complexity is need versus want driven?
Early human activity in the Grand Canyon area goes back 11,000-12,000 years. There are archaeological sites up and down south rim and north rim. You can find ruins, rock art, petroglyphs, and even current communities of native Americans. (Informational Page from the National Park Service).
Perhaps the most amazing part of the Grand Canyon is it’s geology. Like reading the rings of a tree to understand that tree’s life, we can read the layers of rock to understand Earth’s history. Stratigraphy is the study of Earth’s layers and no place on Earth shows more layers than the Grand Canyon. The Vishnu Group at the base of the river is over two billion years old. Just by looking, one can see the history of Earth unfold before their eyes. Along the Rim trail there is an interpretive section where examples of each type rock found in the canyon are placed. The distance between each rock corresponds to how far back in geologic time the deepest rocks are. Although the Grand Canyon is just one small part of a very big world, it is most amazing that prior to 600 million years ago the fossil record showed very little life. Then came the Cambrian explosion and an eruption of life appeared in the fossil record. 4.5 billion years ago Earth was born, two billion or so of that history is gone. In the Grand Canyon, evidence of life can be seen, but the questions remain: Did life really take 2-3 billion years to evolve on this planet? What was magical about that 541 million year ago mark, where there was an explosion of life? What will the fossil record say about our current generation? What will be around to see it?