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Grand Canyon

The first thing your going to notice is its size.  There is a feeling you get when you step from the South Rim into the Grand Canyon. It’s sort of like falling. You sense a certain airiness in your gait and a drop in your stomach. And the plummeting sensation continues all the way down, 5,000 feet past a billion years of geology, to the roaring Colorado River. The Grand Canyon has been compared to the likes of thousands of Niagaras and a thousand Yosemites put together. That’s shorthand for awe-inspiring. You will catch this drift as soon as you see it. Immediately.  The oldest and deepest rock layer, the Vishnu Formation, began forming 2 billion years ago before aerobic life forms even existed.  Layers of sedimentary rock have piled atop the Vishnu holding fossils within the layers that illustrate the evolution of life.  More than 1500 plant and 400 animal species survive at the canyon today. 

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INFORMATION: Contact Grand Canyon National Park, P.O. Box 129, Grand Canyon, AZ. 86023 (p: 800638 7888; www.nps.gov/grca).  Admission to the park is $25 per vehicle and a receipt will ensure entry at both rims within a 7 day period.  Park is open year-round, but North Rim closed in winter. Backcountry permits, $10, plus $5 per person per night.  If you’re short on time, skip the heavily trafficked South Rim Entrance for one of the Grand’s most colorful side canyons, Havasu (accessible via a combination of Old Route 66 and Route 18).  The canyon’s famed blue-green waterfalls are a ten-mile-and 3,500-vertical-foot-hike from the parking lot at Hualapai Hilltop. Camp within earshot of Havasu Falls and hoof back to your VW at sunup. 

CAMPING: Reservations may be made by (p: 800 365 2267; reservations.nps.gov).  There are sights at both the south and north rim.  At the Mather Campground on the south rim, you will be nestled in pinyon and juniper trees.  The Maple and Aspen loops are the roomiest and to allow more privacy, camp away from the showers.  We love the North Rim Campground that is 44 miles south of Jacob Lake on Ariz. 67.  Make sure to spend the extra $5 and reserve a canyon rim site.  Coin operated showers are also available within walking distance.  Campsites are $18.  Other sites: Havasu Canyon: $35 entrance fee; campsites, $17 per person per night.  Space fills quickly-book early. National Geographic Expeditions Grand Canyon Excursions, from $90. O.A.R.S.
 
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Off the beaten path:

GAME PLAN: For most visitors, hiking is the most straightforward way to see the park. The challenge, however, is to do it without the company of most visitors.  One way is to tackle a 28-mile route starting from the South Rim’s Grandview Point. Day one descends three miles to Horseshoe Mesa, a plateau rife with old copper-mining ruins. An early start will net you a campsite there or allow you to push on to Cottonwood Creek. (Check with backcountry rangers about water availability, and carry plenty with you.) A west turn at Cottonwood puts you on the East Tonto Trail, which traverses the Tonto Plateau, a microcosm of the immense Grand. But don’t be misled by that plateau business: The next three or four days entail skirting impassable side canyons, rounding sandstone buttes, and tracing the precipice of Granite Gorge, below which flows the Colorado. Along the way are a number of intermittent creeks and campsites. Finally, after Cremation Creek, pick up the South Kaibab Trail for the 4.4-mile, 3,000-foot trek back to the rim and a return to the great known.

Photo of the road to the Grand Canyon

Photo of the road to the Grand Canyon