Arizona

Grand Canyon

It was the quietness of the Grand Canyon which really impressed me. You leave the bustle of the crowds walking along the path along the edge of the canyon, descend a couple of hundred feet and the chances are you will hear absolutely nothing.

In the Grand Canyon

In the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon gets about 5 million visitors a year, but comparatively few of them ever go below the rim. And the National Park authorities would like to keep it that way! Regularly over-ambitious hikers have to be carried out of the canyon suffering from dehydration and/or heat exhaustion.

The trouble is that, unlike a mountain, the hardest bit comes at the end. Going into the gorge is bad enough – long distances, bad underfoot conditions, lack of water, heat exhaustion – to name a few, but as you come out you add steep ascending paths, and oxygen deprivation. And, for much of the year, increasing ice and snow dangers. The south rim is over 7,000 feet and the north rim is over 8,000.

We went into the gorge but did not go very far down. The deepest we went was about 1,400 feet and this is only a short way in and we found it quite enough!

Chris at our lowest point in the Grand Canyon

Chris at our lowest point in the Grand Canyon

There are several trails into the canyon, but the two main ones are the Kaibab and the Bright Angel. These have been made as tourist friendly as the park authorities can make them with water points and toilets, (if you are not helicoptered out your excretory products will be!) but even so they are a hard slog. A lot of work has gone into improving them.

A man made tunnel on the Bright Angel Trail

A man made tunnel on the Bright Angel Trail

These improvements make the trails safer.

Tunnel on the Bright Angel Trail

Tunnel on the Bright Angel Trail. The old trail went round this buttress!

Hairpin bends are characteristic of the trails.

Looking down the Kaibab Trail

Looking down the Kaibab Trail

The trails enable the slightly adventurous to get into the canyon and we certainly enjoyed them.

On the Kaibab Trail

On the Kaibab Trail

But, being a geologist of sorts, one does not go to the Grand Canyon to enjoy oneself, one goes to look at the rocks!

There has been talk about a creationist version of the the geology of the Grand Canyon being on sale in the shops in the park but I could not find it. The park authorities make a great deal of the geology of the canyon. Perhaps the best is seen in this photo.

The geology of the Grand Canyon summarised using real rocks

The geology of the Grand Canyon summarised using real rocks

There is also a walk along the rim, ending at the Geology Museum. The museum is the present day and the walk represents the history of the earth, as seen at the Grand Canyon. So the walk starts 4½ km from the museum with the origin of the earth  and each metre representing a million years. So there is not much to see for the first 2½ km (except, of course, the Grand Canyon!) At just less than 2km from the museum you find the earliest rocks and a representative rock specimen is planted by the side of the path. Lots of the rocks in the Grand Canyon have been dated and so, like milestones of time, specimens line the side of the path. But there are long gaps showing where rocks were not being laid down or when erosion and tectonics were the order of the day.

Ask your friendly neighbourhood geologist to interpret the above photo! The next photo may help him.

Grand Canyon Geological Section

Grand Canyon Geological Section

But the scenery of the canyon is why one really comes and so here are some photos I took.

The Grand Canyon at the eastern end of the park

The Grand Canyon at the eastern end of the park

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon towards the west of the National Park

The Grand Canyon towards the west of the National Park, in the evening light.

A lot more could be said about the canyon but we have to move on and talk about the parks of South East Utah. Which will be the subject of the next post

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