Introducing Grand Canyon Region
No matter how much you read about the Grand Canyon or how many photographs you've seen, nothing really prepares you for the sight of it. One of the world's seven natural wonders, it's so startlingly familiar and iconic you can't take your eyes off it. The canyon's immensity, the sheer intensity of light and shadow at sunrise or sunset, even its very age, scream for superlatives.
At about two billion years old – half of Earth's total life span – the layer of Vishnu Schist at the bottom of the canyon is some of the oldest exposed rock on the planet. And the means by which it was exposed is of course the living, mighty Colorado River, which continues to carve its way 277 miles through the canyon as it has for the past six million years.
The three rims of the Grand Canyon offer quite different experiences and, as they lie hundreds of miles and hours of driving apart, they're rarely visited on the same trip. Summer is when most of the visitors arrive (4.38 million in 2010), and 90% of them only visit the South Rim, which offers easy-access viewpoints, historic buildings, Native American ruins and excellent infrastructure.
If it's solitude you seek, make a beeline for the remote North Rim. Though it has fewer and less-dramatic viewpoints, its charms are no less abundant: at 8200ft elevation (1000ft higher than the South Rim), its cooler temperatures support wildflower meadows and tall, thick stands of aspen and spruce.
Run by the Hualapai Nation and not part of Grand Canyon National Park, Grand Canyon West is famous for its Skywalk, the controversial glass bridge jutting out over the rim that debuted in 2007. Critics consider the Skywalk sacrilege and a harbinger of unwise development on the fragile West Rim, but most agree that its construction will be a much needed financial shot in the arm for the casino-less Hualapai Nation to keep their tribe afloat.