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Grand Canyon
the Grand Canyon viewed from the South Rim
The Grand Canyon is dappled with ever-changing light and shadows.

Grand Canyon's Timeless Gift
By Richard Carroll
Photography: Halina Kubalski

xpectations are high upon boarding the history-laden Grand Canyon train in Williams, Arizona in the heart of the Kaibab National Forest. Recognized as the "Gateway to the Grand Canyon," the town has the character of Route 66, the Old West, and a 1940s movie set where a straight shot of whiskey, scuffed boots, and a battered guitar set the mood. The Williams depot, hosting Grand Canyon travelers since 1908, is the classic launch point for the 65-mile, two-hour journey to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon via a 1923 steam engine with restored coaches and a polished Observation Dome Car.

Grand Canyon Train that runs from Williams, Arizona to the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon Train that runs from Williams, Arizona to the Grand Canyon.

First glimpse of the Grand Canyon, the eyes are met by implausible layers of textures and colors on steep-sided pinnacles and ancient buttes carved by the wind and rain, a compelling sun, and the mighty Colorado River. The canyon's vastness and the ever changing light, a mystical player of luminosity, effortlessly bewilder the human eye. Deep in the canyon, rock and sediment formed under long forgotten seas more than two billion years ago are now layers of time as revealed across the walls and plateaus in ever-shifting vistas that hint at the infinite in a hypnotizing tug of splendor.

night scene at Williams, Arizona
Williams, Arizona, the homebase of the Grand Canyon Train. Williams, is an earthy, Route 66 town where cow punchers reign.

The distance from rim to rim across the canyon's length of 277-river miles varies from four to 18 miles, and plummeting downward a lengthy mile, the canyon walls support five of the seven life zones of the North American Continent (missing only the Subalpine and Alpine Tundra). If only one could be a bird for a day and drift across this grand expanse of glory, lifted by the thermals like a condor on the hunt. However, in flight or not, taking in the ageless scene from any viewpoint can quickly place life in perspective.

the Grand Canyon Railroad Station
The historic Grand Canyon Railroad Station.

Far below the rim, the momentous Colorado River, the indifferent waterway with a defiant agenda, winds tirelessly through the Canyon, a wonder of history, intrigue, and fascinating deception. For a split second a gleam of light reflects off the water like a wandering beacon, a skittering cloud casts patchy hues on stratums of soaring stonewalls, then the light shifts again and the river flattens out into a dark mysterious ribbon.

mules used for rides to the Grand Canyon floor
The Grand Canyon trails used today were built by and for the mules.

The untamed river with its try-me-if-you-dare stance, was first tested by the unshakeable and fearless 35-year-old Major John Wesley Powell, a one-armed veteran of the Union Army, who in May of 1869 with 10 courageous men, four bulky boats, and a load of supplies, accepted the challenge. His grueling 98-day, 1,000-mile exploration of the unknown from the Green and Colorado Rivers to the mouth of the Virgin River, through the last significant uncharted expanse of the West is now an essential element of our country's legacy.

the Grand Canyon viewed from the South Rim
The Grand Canyon from the South Rim.

Train visitors quickly realize that once inside the Park, the family car is entirely unnecessary; there is little traffic, and the sensation of being encumbered vanishes into the Canyon's vastness. It's easy to find your own little world riding a rented bicycle to an overlook where demanding squirrels scamper about, or hopping aboard the free shuttle bus where one can begin or end a rim walk at any shuttle stop.

late afternoon view of the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon late in the afternoon.

A four-hour narrated East Rim tour clarifies the history of Native Americans who have continuously lived in and around the Grand Canyon for thousands of years. The Hualapai Tribal Nation, the Havasupai Tribe, the Navajo Nation, and the Pueblo People who consider the Grand Canyon a holy site, were among the first humans to set foot in the Canyon, and remain a presence.

another view of the mile-deep Grand Canyon from the South Rim
The Grand Canyon, a mile deep, seen from the South Rim.

Later the sure-footed mules arrived and are the heart and soul of the Canyon's modern heritage and a celebrated legacy. The trails used today were built by and for the mules. Mule rides to and from the Phantom Ranch located on the floor of the Canyon is a huge attraction, and for many is the only way to experience the Canyon.

The wranglers believe mules, with eyesight capable of seeing all four of their hooves, are smarter than horses who can see only their front two hooves. This is encouraging news for visitors scanning the steep switchback mule trails that the Canyon seems to swallow in one big gulp. For those not enamored with switchbacks, the three-hour South Rim mule ride along the top of the Canyon running through a forest of towering ponderosa trees and scrub pines, past an occasional coyote, lead to more awe-inspiring views.

the expanse of the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon's distance from rim to rim varies from four to 18 miles.

Native Americans were among the first humans to set foot in the Canyon and remain a presence as seen in
the Grand Canyon museums.

The Canyon vistas are like a huge magnet luring one to hop on the trail and hike back in time, though hikers do so at their peril. For properly prepared hikers, the two day trek to the river and back can be a marvel of visual splendor as the scenery changes with every 100 feet drop or rise and with every passing hour. For the ill prepared or reckless, the trip can be fatal. The Park Rangers explain that every hot summer day up to 60 hikers are treated for heat-related problems, and all summer long they rescue a huge number of hikers who become sick from heat and exhaustion along the various trails. Many don't carry sufficient water, are wearing pitiable shoes, or are simply not in strong enough physical condition for a trek down and back up on the Canyon trails.

Apart from the various trail activities, a charismatic bonus for visitors is the 78-room El Tovar hotel, a National Historic Landmark built in 1905 directly on the South Rim. Considered the royalty of Historic National Park Lodges, the property with no two rooms or suites alike sets a fine table, and offers full bell service, a knowledgeable lobby concierge, and for those whose energy is sapped, in-room dining. The entire property is designated Non-Smoking. If driving, it may help to know there are no hotel parking fees. Life can be sweet when discovering the natural world.

the 78-room El Tovar hotel
The 78-room El Tovar, a National Historic Landmark, is owned and operated by Xanterra Parks & Resorts Company.

When You Go

The Grand Canyon National Park Lodges, which include El Tovar, Bright Angel Lodge, Kachina, Thunderbird and Maswik Lodges, and Phantom Ranch, are owned and operated by the prestigious Xanterra Parks & Resorts Company.

Related Articles:
Historic Route 66; Arizona Cowboy College; Elko's 31st Celebration Of The Old West; Utah's National Parks; Northern New Mexico Cilinary Tour; Images of New Mexico


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Let Richard know what you think about his traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Paris

In Paris would love a tour of Hemingway’s haunts.

--- Roy Curnow, New Jersey

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A very well written and empathetic article about literary Paris. I am visiting again with my husband in early November and having re-read 'Moveable Feast' in my 60's following reading all Hemingway during my 20's and subsequently again ever since, and – honeymooned for a weekend in Paris in 2004 – cannot wait to retrace Hemingway's steps from the book (as we walk) this time. Also heard great Radio 4 cover of Shakespeareand Company so will be making a visit there without fail.

--- Caroline Timmis, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, UK

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Enjoy getting your Traveling Boy newsletter. Just read the article about Paris. Brought back many fond memories of my year there. I frequented all the haunts mentioned esp. on the Left Bank.

--- P. Sammer, Hawai'i

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We loved your story...we love Woody's new movie and we love all the spots in Paris you outlined. Next time I go there I'm taking your story with us so we can prowl around Hemingway's hot spots. Thanks for letting us know about the story. Merci beaucoup! mon ami...

--- Joseph Rosendo, Topanga, CA

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I just finished reading your piece. Traveling with you must be like enjoying the past, present, and sometimes the future. You bring a place to life. Thanks for sharing. The photos were also excellent.

--- Maxine, Salt Lake City, UT

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A fantastic story, Richard. It's so evocative and seductive that after reading it, one could easily be tempted to buy that one-way ticket to Paris. I read Paris Wife, but after reading your story, Paris and the Paris Walks are definitely in our future.

--- Maris Somerville, Los Angeles, CA

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Richard, thanks for sharing the link to this wonderful article. Helina's pictures are a great complement to your writing. Best regards,

--- Mitchell Lane, Shadow Hills, Los Angeles, CA

Feedback for Las Alamandas

Dear Amigo Richard,

What a beautiful and well written article ...as well your photos and illustrations are amazing!!! Thanks for been such a good friend and promoter of Mexico.

--- Jorge Gamboa, Los Angeles, CA

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Richard's beautifully written and illustrated story brought back many magic memories of my visits to lovely Las Alamandas! I can't wait to return.

--- Marian Gerlich, Los Angeles, CA

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I thank you, it looks like a great place to relax. Maybe... someday who knows?

--- Mel Carroll, Bountiful City, UT

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Nice piece. I missed the rates.

--- Harry Basch, Los Angeles, CA

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This is my favorite of all your pieces I've read. The pictures are lovely. Halina looks like she's in heaven. I would love to visit there.

--- Maxine, Salt Lake City, UT

Feedback for Playa del Carmen

Great photos!! Can't wait to see these sites myself - these pics alone got me even more excited! Any other places you'd recommend in the Yucatan!?

--- Kyle Goes Global

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Man, you draw the tough assignments. You must have been a good boy when you were young (perhaps an earlier incarnation?)!

--- Mel Caroll, Bountiful



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