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Experiencing the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

The south rim of the Grand Canyon is one of the great wonders of the nature and a top tourist destination. The canyon, carved by the Colorado River, is over 275 miles long, 18 miles wide at its widest point, and over a mile deep. To say it is big is an understatement.

In 1979, the canyon was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its outstanding geological importance. Within the canyon walls, over 2 billion years of history covering each of the four geological eras (Precambrian to the Cenozoic) can be observed. Important geological discoveries are still taking place here every year.

About five million people visit the Grand Canyon National Park every year and we recently headed to see the site for ourselves. My parents brought me here a couple of times when I was a child, but Laura had never been. 

As it happened, a work trip to Las Vegas left us with a long, free weekend. Since we didn’t have enough time to get up to Utah to visit the national parks, or to Kanab and the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, this massive canyon in Arizona turned out to be both an easy and the perfect weekend getaway for us.

Since we didn’t have much time here, we wanted to stay right in the national park, instead of at one of the cheaper places outside the main entrance. We figured this saved us about an hour each day heading into and out of the park. We selected the El Tovar Lodge because of its location in the park and its touch of rustic luxury and we could not have been happier with the decision. Located right on the rim, El Tovar has amazing views.

Our visit brought us here during the winter. Most people don’t realize it, but the south rim has an elevation of about 6,800 feet above sea level. That’s over a mile high. In winter, snow is common and it can be quite cold. And we experienced both snow and cold on our visit.

A fun part of our visit was sitting in the El Tovar Lodge, taking in the views, and enjoying the best hot chocolate we’ve ever had, created right in their bar. We never would have thought of combining Bailey’s with Buttershots in hot chocolate, but it’s pretty fantastic.

Yellow Mule crossing sign
Mule crossing sign

Predictably, most of our time here was spent gawking at the view. I don’t know how to put the indescribable into words, so we’ll let our photos speak for us.

We tried to plan our trip to pick up the light at the right times in the canyon. That meant going to the east on the Desert View Drive first. Hermit Road had the best views. Then, later in the day as the sun moved west, we took the Hermit Road all the way out to the end.

There are numerous turnouts on the road to stop and take pictures. We found the best photos to be from the Powell Memorial area, but the Mather Point area is particularly good for sunsets. It’s worth noting that we were here in the off-season when Hermit Road is open to private vehicles. During the peak season, the national park service closes the road and everyone needs to pack into buses.

The Grand Canyon was a perfect romantic getaway for us, and we were thankful we could easily add it on to a work trip.

Red and brown cliffs of the Grand Canyon
The red cliffs
The Colorado River flowing between the yellow and orange cliffs
Colorado River flowing through the canyon
Circular Indian Watchtower
Indian Watchtower
Hopi artwork painting showing people doing different activities.
Hopi art inside the Indian Watchtower
Paintings achtowers seen when looking up the Indian Wat
Hopi art inside the Indian Watchtower
Colorful cliffs of the Grand Canyon
Red cliffs as far as the eye can see
People seated in chairs in front of large stone wall
Hermit’s Rest
Snow in a canyon
Snow in the canyon
Lance photographing the view from viewing platform
Photographing the sun and shadows
People looking out over the Grand Canyon from a viewing platform
Busy, even in the off-season

Some people come to the south rim of the Grand Canyon and are inspired.  Others come here and leave feeling a bit underwhelmed – feeling like it didn’t live up to the hype.  If you’ve been here, which was it for you?

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Randy Mauger

Tuesday 25th of May 2021

Worked there in 1979. It's not uncommon to see two feet of snow in the winter. It's a must see!!!

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