Scientists estimate the 277 miles of twisting canyon took between 3 and 6 million years to form. The oldest rocks are said to be 400 million years old, although the Grand Canyon has been known to mankind for thousands of years and was one of the last areas of the United States to be thoroughly explored.
The First Exploration
The Spaniards were the first white men to view the Grand Canyon in 1540, 80 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Francisco Coronado was searching for gold and the Seven Cities of Cibola when Indians told him of a great river to the north. Coronado then sent Garcia Lopez de Cardenas and a party of 12 men to investigate this mysterious river. Cardenas and his men were guided by Hopi Indians and 20 days later found themselves at the edge of a great chasm – the Grand Canyon. The depth and vastness of the canyon were not immediately obvious to Cardenas. After three frustrating days searching for a way down to the river, the Spaniards realized that what appeared as easy from above, was instead, very difficult. The party managed to descend only one-third of the way.
Had the Hopis wished to guide the Spaniards over the many obstacles of the canyon to the river, they could easily have done so. The Indians simply did not trust the explorers. Coronado and his men moved on, in search of other legends.
The Grand Canyon and all of its splendor was then left to its original inhabitants, the Indians, and remained so for over two more centuries. The Grand Canyon attracted little attention until 1869, when a one-armed Civil War veteran, Major John Wesley Powell set out with four boats to explore the Colorado River. The journey was long and arduous and Powell lost two of his boats and three of his men. Powell eventually navigated the Colorado and finally reached the point where Lake Mead is today, 72 days later Major Powell’s published account of this journey encouraged scientific study of the canyon, and thus, tourism slowly evolved.
By 1870, the Santa Fe Railroad arrived at the Grand Canyon, offering transportation to those intrigued by the canyon. Through an Act of Congress, the Grand Canyon was made a United States national park in 1919.
The Grand Canyon’s Many Climates
The Grand Canyon has many climates due to the elevation. The temperatures at the South Rim, with an elevation of 7,000 feet (2,134 meters), range from highs in the teens during the winter months to in the 90s in the summer The weather can change abruptly throughout the year and the afternoons in the summer months are prone to afternoon thundershowers. It is not uncommon to see storms in the canyon and clear weather on the rim. During the winter, the South Rim receives several feet of snow. It is always advisable to dress warmly during the winter months when visiting the Grand Canyon even during the summer months.
Hiking the Grand Canyon
Day hikes in the Grand Canyon do not require permits. Self-guided hikes, both short and long, are available on nature trails and paths between the Yavapai Museum and Hermit’s Rest, a distance of approximately 9 miles (14.5 km). The South Rim Nature Trail extends along the rim of the canyon between Maricopa Point and the Yavapai Museum. The entire length of the trail is paved and is level in most sections. Visitors may walk the entire 3-1/4 mile (5 km) length or only a portion.
However, permits are required for overnight hiking in the Grand Canyon National Park. All reservation requests must he sent to: Back Country Reservation Office, Post Office Box 129, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023. There is a waiting list for last minute cancellations. Contact the Back Country Reservation Office upon arrival at the park to be placed on this list.
Camping in the Spectacular Canyon
Within the national park area, it is necessary to camp within a designated campsite. Camping in a forest or overlook area could result in a fine. Mather Campground, located in Grand Canyon Village, is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. (No hookups available.) For hikers who wish to overnight in the Grand Canyon, Indian Gardens and Bright Angel Campgrounds are available. Reservations and permits are required. Contact the Back Country Reservation Office. Camper Village which is located seven miles (11 kilometers) south of the national park in Tusayan, Arizona with 250 sites for tents and campers. Full hookups, restrooms, and showers are available. A miniature golf course for family fun is also available. Contact: Camper Village, P.O. Box 490, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023.
Fun Canyon Activities
The Hermit’s Rest Tour: A two-hour motor coach tour travels eight miles along the West Rim Drive of the Grand Canyon to historic Hermit’s Rest. There are stops at several spectacular viewpoints to see the tortuous Bright Angel hiking and mule trail, thundering rapids of the Colorado River, and Hermits Rest, a unique building of native stone created by Mary Jane Colter in 1914. This tour departs two times daily on a year-round basis.
Mule Riding Excursions: These rigorous sightseeing excursions are almost as famous as the Grand Canyon itself. Mule trips operate year-round and two different tours are available. Reservations for these trips should be made far in advance and directed to: Grand Canyon Nat’l Park Lodges, Reservations Department, Post Office Box 699, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023. The mule trips are usually booked six to 12 months in advance. However, all interested visitors without reservations may place their name on a waiting list upon arrival at the Bright Angel Lodge transportation desk.
Railroad Express: For a half-day tour, step hack in history and, ride the rails in a turn-of-the-century steam train operating between Williams, Arizona, and the Grand Canyon. Tour departs daily based on railway schedule.