In short, it is a world wonder. While it is undoubtedly America’s most famous protected space (it has been ring-fenced as Grand Canyon National Park since 1919), it is so huge, and so significant, that its heritage feels global; a key part of all our yesterdays. True, it is not unique (for one thing, the Kali Gandaki Gorge in Nepal is deeper), but if you have a love of exploring, the Grand Canyon should be an essential element of your life’s travels.
Where is Grand Canyon National Park?
Few things are trickier to pinpoint exactly than a geographical showpiece that is roughly the same length as the drive between London and Newcastle. But, to answer the question succinctly, the Grand Canyon burrows across the north-west of Arizona – a state which also deals in heavy numbers (114,000 square miles; the sixth biggest of the 50 US states).
To be more specific, Grand Canyon National Park lurks 215 miles to the north of the Arizona capital Phoenix – but closer, in a straight line, to another, more fabled US city. If you fly across to it, the canyon is just 130 miles to the east of Las Vegas (although around 275 miles away if you conduct the pilgrimage in a car). Either way, for a thing of wild contours, it is hugely accessible; an easy addition to any western road-trip.
In spite of having 277 miles to choose from, the vast majority of the Grand Canyon’s visitors (just over six million people per year) head for one main location – Grand Canyon Village, on the South Rim. Those craving a quieter experience can aim instead for the less-seen North Rim – although this requires a more complex journey (see below).
What is Grand Canyon National Park known for?
More than anything, perhaps, it is its range of colours. However long the gradual process, all those many millions of years of erosion – by both wind and water – have exposed a high-piled banquet of geological layers; not just sandstone and limestone, but shale, granite and gneiss. The result is a rainbow in a variety of different shades; a subtle canvas in pink, orange, red and brown which seems to alter its appearance according to the time of day and the angle of the sun upon it. Sunset, it is perhaps fair to say, offers the whole spectacle at its most photogenic; the landscape seeming to shape-shift as the light departs.