Seventy-miles north of Flagstaff, Arizona is one of the most iconic National Parks in the United States: the Grand Canyon. A drive along Highway 64 will travel between many iconic stops along the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. Even as a day trip from Flagstaff, it is absolutely worth the trip.
A Marvel of Geology
Through the course of the last 17 million years, the Colorado River has carved through two-billion years of geological history along the 277 river miles of the Grand Canyon. At it’s deepest, the canyon is a mile deep and it stretches up to 18 miles wide. While it is not the deepest canyon in the world, the Grand Canyon is notable for its visual expansiveness and brilliant red rocks.
About 65 million years ago, uplift along the Colorado Plateau caused the Colorado river to run along a steep and, therefor, fast path. The new speed of the river increased it’s ability to cut through stone. The end result has been the Colorado Basin and its greatest jewel: The Grand Canyon.
Visiting the Grand Canyon
As winter roamers, there is little question as to which rim to visit. The South Rim is open all year while the North Rim—which is much higher elevation—is closed for the winter. We only have half a day to see the sites, but at the urging of a friend, we add the loop: driving from Interstate 40, up highway 89 to highway 64, along the Grand Canyon and back to 40. The loop takes us the better part of the day but allows us plenty time to stop and gape over many a vista.
South Rim Highlights
There are many pullouts along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Every vista is worthwhile, but for the visitor with a time budget, some stops stand out as unique.
Mary Colter’s Desert View Watchtower
Be sure to stop by Mary Colter’s Desert View Watchtower. Along with being a dramatic example of architecture and one of the best vista points, it is also the furthest east location with the Desert View Visitors Center and food vendors.
Mather Point offers awesome, panoramic views of the Grand Canyon. For visitors approaching from the west, this is the logical first stop, hosting the Grand Canyon Park Headquarters, most of the park’s lodging, a general store, and most of the vendors along the South Rim. There are campsites, multiple lodges, and an RV park all located in this complex. It is also the starting point for the Angel Bright trail to the base of the Grand Canyon.
A Few Distractions Along The Way
When approaching the Grand Canyon from the east, you will be traveling through reservation land. While there are scenic overlooks promoted throughout this section, that would be jaw dropping in any other circumstance, they don’t hold a candle to what you will see when you cross into the formal National Park.
We did stop at several vista points outside of the park, which I considered a waste of time that could have been spent exploring more of the park. The only circumstances under which I would recommend stopping at any of these would be to people interested in picking up a few arts and crafts from the reservation vendors that line the vista point.
To the West of the Grand Canyon is your classic commercial crush of Grand Canyon themed vendors. Tour guides, trinket shops, and barely related attractions line highway 64, begging for your attention. More than anything else, I would be curious for someone to do a comparison on food prices in this relatively remote tourist town compared to the prices of vendors inside the park. If you have some idea, give me a heads up in the commends below!
Over all, I’m not quite sure what there is to write to convince you to visit the Grand Canyon. After all, you probably are here out of some interest. But incase you are on the fence, let me conclude with my best argument: pictures.
1 This date remains a point of controversy among geologists. Earlier estimates place the age of the Grand Canyon between 5 and 6 million years old. However, recent discoveries in nearby caves indicate that the canyon is at least 17 years old. Though, this too is a matter of dispute. Of course, all science is provisional, so this number may change as new discoveries are made.
2 That claim is reserved for the Kali Gandaki Gorge in Nepal.