A February 2002 trip
to Grand Canyon by Gwilym Owen
Quote: It is my heartfelt belief that mere words cannot adequately describe this monument to the passage of countless millennia, but as a mere mortal shall endeavour to try my utmost to do it justice…
The result of erosion that has taken five to six million years to occur, the canyon runs one vertical mile from top to bottom and is up to 18 miles wide. Its bottom contains rocks that are at least two billion years old.
The force of nature that was responsible for carving this huge gash into the landscape is the great Colorado River - rising in the Rockies it runs through the canyon past Lake Mead, the largest artificial lake in the US, and the Hoover Dam, once the largest dam in the World, before flowing into the Gulf of California.
The south rim is the main tourist attraction with 90% of the five million annual visitors arriving here at Grand Canyon Village. The north rim is far more remote, being 215 miles by car from the south, although only ten miles as the crow flies.
Sunset across the canyon is magical to behold, as the rich reds of the canyon walls gradually change their hues as the sun sets.
Book ahead if staying in or near the canyon, especially in summer. Outside of Grand Canyon Village, the nearest town with plenty of accommodation is Williams, 60 miles south on part of the original Route 66. Williams is also one end of the Grand Canyon Railway.
Another great place to stay nearby is Flagstaff, an attraction in its own right being an attractive and laid back university town. It has a real frontier town feel, and a vibrant coffee culture. 'Flag' is also where the planet Pluto was discovered at the Lowell Observatory.
Fill the petrol tank before setting out as stations are expensive nearby. Also remember the usual precautions such as plenty of spare water, etc - the usual common sense stuff…
The best way to truly experience the canyon is either to hike, such as the 12.2 mile roundtrip Bright Angel Trail, or take a mule or rafting trip – there are plenty of companies operating these excursions, however they are extremely expensive and require at least three days for a ‘total immersion experience’. A quick way is to take a plane flight over the canyon - lasting for about an hour you can get these for under US.
You can see the vast sweep of this stunning valley from the comfort of your vehicle as you drive by the towering formations, this is a perfectly good way to view Monument Valley if time is pressing, especially if shortly before a sunset which here is truly a wonder to behold.
There are lots of activities open to you so that you can better appreciate this incredible place. For $3, the easiest way is to simply drive into the park along the self-guided marked valley road which runs unpaved for 17 miles and allows you to drive amongst some of the most celebrated formations such as the Totem Pole, an amazingly thin spire which rises 470 feet high. Please note that no off-road hiking is allowed unless you have a tour guide with you.
Some of the remote areas are only accessible with a Navajo guide, who can be booked in the Tribal Park visitor centre. Jeep and horseback riding tours start at around $30 and can last from 1 ½ hours to all day--though not necessarily during the winter. These can take you past specific rock formations, petroglyphs and to traditional Navajo hogans (houses). Options include sunrise and sunset tours, overnight camping, photography tours, and cookouts.
Nearest accommodation and services include the Mitten View Campground in the Tribal Park and Goulding’s Lodge just inside the Utah border which is the only hotel nearby. Goulding’s also has a Museum documenting the films that have been made at Monument Valley, and a Trading Post in ‘20s style with a store, petrol station, and tour booking. Kayenta to the south also has several motel chain outlets such as a Holiday Inn and Best Western, etc., as well as petrol stations and stores.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 6, 2002
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
Indian Route 42 Oljato
Monument Valley, AZ 84536
Perched precipitously on the edge of the canyon, the Watchtower looks like it’s been there standing sentinel for hundreds of years, with it’s weathered rough hewn appearance and liberal adornments of Native Hopi Indian pictoglyphs on its inside walls. Indeed, it has only been in place for a little over 75 years when it was designed and built by Mary E. J. Colter for the Fred Harvey Company to cater to early 20th century tourists to the canyon. Mary is also responsible for the Hermit’s Rest building at the end of the West Rim scenic drive, and the Hopi House in Grand Canyon Village.
Although the tower itself adds little overall elevation in relation to the canyon floor, it is worth climbing to the top to extend your vision that much farther by looking through one of the coin-op telescopes there. As well as close up canyon views, you can get good views of the Painted Desert to the East, the Marble Canyon to the North and South to see the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff – better still you actually get a good long view for your money!
A gift shop is on the ground floor, where you can also see a demonstration of traditional Hopi weaving using a loom. On the first floor is a gallery whose walls are covered in pictoglyphs, as well as the exit to a large balcony. A spiral staircase takes you to an circular balcony floor, before finishing at the roof.
Adjacent to the Watchtower is the Desert View Trading Post, with visitor information, a restaurant, general store and, importantly, a service station.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 5, 2002
Desert View and Watchtower
Grand Canyon, Arizona