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Planning Retirement Online

The Grand Canyon - July 2004

You have to see it to believe it… 

by Jeanne Davis

Lists. We all like lists. What’s up, what’s down. The best-dressed, the worst dressed. The hundred wealthiest people in the UK. The list that is beginning to appeal to me most now that I am well beyond middle age is “Twenty things to do before I die.” High on my to do list is to see the Grand Canyon. Apparently I am in good company. In a recent poll of British travellers, this spectacular geological wonder ranked first as the place they most wanted to visit.

No matter how many gorgeous photographs of the Canyon you‘ve seen, you can’t encompass in your mind the immensity of this monumental canyon carved out of the earth’s crust in north-eastern Arizona. The statistics of the Grand   


Canyon are grand indeed. The great chasm extends 277 miles across the state, with an average width of 10 miles. At the bottom, about a mile below the rim, the Colorado River roars through 70 major rapids as it twists and turns through the canyon. Incredible figures –yet they scarcely hint at the magnificence of the spectacle itself. 

No wonder that  five million visitors a year fly or drive to the Canyon, most to stay at the South Rim. To avoid the crowds, I suggest you drive further to the North Rim. Only about one in ten canyon visitors makes it to the North Rim.  

A friend and I drove from Phoenix, Arizona’s capital, a day’s journey.  There is nothing quite like travelling by car in the Southwest’s open spaces.  Your state-of-the-art rental car seems almost to drive itself, while you sit back behind the wheel, no traffic to stress you. On your way to the Canyon, you become intoxicated by the changing landscape. Searing desert dotted with cactus gives way to the grasslands of the higher desert and onwards to the ponderosa pines and ice-covered lakes surrounded by craggy mountains.   

And there at the end of the day, our first view of the fabled Grand Canyon.  We see it at sunset from the terraces of the North Rim’s Grand Canyon Lodge, where we’ll stay.  

To best understand how geological  forces created this natural wonder join the other guests on the terrace of the Lodge for a ranger talk. He’ll explain that slicing through layers of  limestone, sandstone, granite and basalt the Colorado River carved the canyon in the course of the past five or six million years. But the work of the river was preceded by the formation of the various rock layers themselves, formed like a many layered cake from deserts and mountains and seas over the past two billion years.  

Make sure to pick up a free copy of The Guide and a map at the North Rim entrance that lists the hiking trails, the ranger programmes, the wildlife to spot. 

In the morning, walk to the tip of the Bright Angel Point Trail.  Here you can see the many colourful layers. At the top, the youthful Kaibab limestone, containing shells of animals that lived in an ancient sea approximately 260 million years ago. At the bottom  of the canyon, the oldest rocks exposed date to two billion years. 

Pueblo Indians lived in the canyon until nine centuries ago. Stop off at the Walhalla Glades on the Cape Royal Scenic Drive to get a glimpse of their way of life. Here are the remnants of one of their summer villages at the top of the canyon rim where they hunted and grew crops. When the winter snows came, the families trekked  back down to farm  such sites as the fertile Unkar Delta at the bottom of the canyon. 

There are numerous hiking trails both along the rim and into the canyon. Your North Rim Guide lists many of these according to length and hiking time.  The shortest is 0.5 miles, 30 minutes round trip. The longest into the canyon takes a full day, 9.4 miles. But even a short hike into the canyon will be worth it, though the trudge back up does literally take your breath away. 

If you are feeling less than sure-footed, you can ride a trail-wise mule down Bright Angel Trail. This is a four-hour round trip for those of you with a sure seat and a liking for a precipitous ride.  

Follow the trails to spot the diversity of life on the North Rim. Deer, mountain lions, coyotes, turkeys, and hummingbirds live in the forests and travel through meadows thick with wildflowers during the summer season.  

You can only visit the North Rim in the summer season. Snow blocks the access road in winter and early spring. The very comfortable Grand Canyon Lodge is open from mid-May until late October and provides the only accommodation within the Park on the North Rim. It is the wise traveller who books well in advance.  

Stay for two or three days. Don’t rush your visit. Walk, look, pause, breathe in the beauty. Get up at sunrise, walk again when the moon has risen. It is not difficult to imagine that you are the only person in a primeval wilderness and you have witnessed nature at work since the beginning of time. 

To get the best of both worlds and enjoy equally sybaritic pleasures, though more contemporary, drive back to Phoenix to visit some of the world’s best museums and stay in a spectacular resort hotel.  In nearby Scottsdale, consider The Boulders, which features your own casita/villa, two 18-hole golf courses, a driving range, as well as three pools, tennis courts, trails and a spa.  The Phoenician offers similar amenities but boasts nine pools, and a 165-foot waterslide. 

In Phoenix, don’t miss the Heard Museum with its outstanding exhibits on the Native American Tribes and lands of the Southwest. Courtyards with fountains and sculptures add to your enjoyment of wandering through the museum.  The museum shop, an attraction in itself, has top-quality jewellery, art, crafts, dolls and books.  Here you’ll shop until you drop, buying perfect Christmas gifts and presents for friends. And to take home, too, your own reminders of a trip that is America at its best. 

Travel Brief 

  • British Airways flies non-stop from Heathrow to Phoenix. Through Trailfinders approximately 491 return. 

  • For information on the Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, including accommodation  at the Grand Canyon Lodge (double room $80-$120): . Also P.O.Box 129, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023, USA  Tel:. 928/638-7888

  • Rental car agencies compete for your business. Check for lowest rates. ; .

  • For further information about Arizona: Arizona Office of Tourism:  e-mail:



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