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Planning Retirement Online

Travels With Alice

May 2016


By Jeanne DavisJeanne Davis

We have enjoyed our contributing writer Jeanne Davis’ regular Beyond the Headlines for some time.

Look out each month for the latest story in our exciting new series Travels with Alice. Written in her usual thought provoking and entertaining style, we know you will enjoy her fascinating insights into human behaviour and great locations .

This is going to be a great addition to Laterlife that will become addictive…

To view all of Jeanne's articles visit the Interest Index.

The Grand Canyon
A Visit to the Beginning of Time

“How about coming my way this year,” Alice says.  “You’ve never been to The Grand Canyon, have you.”

What a treat! Not only is this geological wonder ranked first in a recent poll of British travellers as the place they most wanted to visit, but I will have Alice as my guide.

Alice has been living in Phoenix, Arizona since her marriage some 40 years ago. Trips to the Canyon, a day’s drive away, were favourite family outings. She knows the trails, the best place to stay, most spectacular views, and the history.

A short hike leads to a spectacular view

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 earth’s crust in northeastern 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.


“The South Rim of the canyon is the most readily accessed and therefore the most crowded,” says Alice. “The North Rim is not, but it is a longer trip. However, it has the feeling of the old west with its rustic log cabins and the magnificent lodge that sits at the edge of the rim with overwhelming views. “

“The trails are numerous and park personnel provide informative talks and walks. In my view, it is well worth the extra driving to experience the beauty and solitude of the North Rim.”

We drive from Phoenix. There’s nothing quite like travelling by car in the Southwest’s open spaces. Your- state- of- the- art rental seems almost to drive itself, while you sit back behind the wheel, no traffic to stress you, listening to  the music of your choice or a tale of the wild west.

On your way to the Canyon, you become intoxicated by the changing landscape.  Searing desert dotted with cactus gives way to grasslands of the higher desert and onwards to the ponderosa pines and ice-covered lakes surrounded by craggy mountains as the road veers upward to the North Rim.

Alice and Jeanne picnic on the North Rim


And at the end of the day, our first view of the fabled Grand Canyon. We see it from the terraces of the North Rim Lodge, where we’ll stay, at sunset when glowing light and shadow paint the most dramatic pictures of the buttes and chasms and towering rock pinnacles rising from the bottom of the mile-deep canyon.

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.

The Colorado River slices through many layers of rock

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, and the wildlife to spot.   


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

Mount Hayden rises out of the canyon below


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, and the longest is a full-day round trip of 9.4 miles.  But just a short hike into the canyon will be worth it, even if the trudge back 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 with a sure seat and a liking for a precipitous ride. Alice and I debated a long time about this mule excursion, both eager for the experience. But with the thought of our aching knees and thighs after such a downward lurching ride we had to decline.  

Early park visitors rode mules down Bright Angel Trail, and you can too!

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.

Stray 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.


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