The Grand Canyon is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is entirely in northern Arizona and is one of the great tourist attractions in the United States. The massive canyon encompasses several distinct areas, most famous of which is Grand Canyon National Park, a United States National Park.
Visitors to the national park have many options, including: the remote North Rim; the more accessible (and therefore more crowded) South Rim; parts of the canyon, such as Phantom Ranch or the Colorado River, upon which many boating trips are made. In addition, parts of the southwestern end of the canyon are within the borders of two Indian reservations: the Havasupai Indian Reservation and the Hualapai Indian Reservation (which includes the development known as Grand Canyon West).
Lastly, part of the southeastern end of the canyon is within the borders of the Navajo Nation. Except for the Navajo Nation portion, all sections of the canyon offer amenities for visitors. However, the national park, and in particular the South Rim, is by far the most popular destination and the best equipped to handle the millions of yearly visitors.
Throughout the past century, hundreds of authors have attempted to depict the enormous landscape that is Grand Canyon. Not surprisingly, words most often fail to invoke the sense of awe and wonder that many visitors experience. Edward Abbey, a noted Southwest author, once penned: “Those who love it call it the canyon. The canyon. As if there were no other topographic feature on the face of the Earth”.
There are, of course, other canyons on the planet. Some are longer, others wider, and there are even some that are deeper. Canyon visitors are often surprised to learn that Grand Canyon sets no records for sheer size. It is, however, simply regarded by most as the “grandest” canyon of them all.
Geologically, the canyon extends from Lee’s Ferry near the Arizona/Utah border to the Grand Wash Cliffs near Las Vegas, a distance of 277 mi (445 km). It ranges in width from about a quarter mile to over 18 mi (29 km) wide. In places the canyon is over a mile deep.
However, it is not the statistics that define this landscape as “grand”, but rather a combination of factors. The desert environment and a lack of herbaceous ground cover reveal a geologic story that is unparalleled. Surprisingly, the rock layers displayed at Grand Canyon show little sign of wear. The layers have been preserved almost perfectly, as though they were layers in a cake. Nowhere else on Earth displays so many volumes of the planet’s history in such pristine condition.
The resulting landscape provides visitors with some of the most magnificent and unsurpassed vistas on the planet.
Temperatures and weather within the canyon vary greatly by location. Temperatures on the North Rim are often 20-30°F (11-16°C) cooler than at the river. This is a land of extremes. It can be snowing at the rim, while others are comfortable sunbathing at the river. Conversely, it can be cool and comfortable at the rim in the summer, while temperatures at the river exceed 120°F (49°C). It is not unusual for local canyon guides to encounter neophyte hikers in desperate shape. Some die. An unusual number of fatalities occur among young people who overestimate their abilities. Due to the high altitude, snowfall is a regular occurrence on the rims during the winter months.
July and August are monsoon season in Arizona and strong thunderstorms can sweep in quickly with lightning strikes every few minutes and sudden downpours. Due to the elevation of the Grand Canyon rims, people are struck by lightning fairly regularly so take shelter indoors during storms.