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First, some dry facts about the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona. The canyon is over 275 miles long and a mile deep. In parts, it is 18 miles wide, four miles at the narrowest point. Elevations range from 2,400 feet above sea level to over 7,000 feet. The canyon extends from Lees Ferry at the Arizona-Utah border to Grand Wash Cliffs near Las Vegas, Nevada.
There's a lesson in those facts, though, one that goes beyond geology. Calling even part of the Grand Canyon a national park is a little misleading. It's not a park so much as a natural wonder that inspires awe in all who see it. From its golden cliffs to the magnificent California Condors that hover over the rim, it offers sights like no other in the world.
The park itself covers over 1,900 square miles (4927 km≤). The overwhelming majority of the 4 million tourists that visit every year see only parts along the South Rim. That section stretches several miles along highway AZ 64 and provides excellent views of a portion of the canyon and the Colorado River below.
There are dozens of hiking trails for anyone who wants to get out of the train of cars and walk around. Among the more accessible are the Bright Angel and the South Kaibab. From them, visitors can get a better feel for the fascinating details.
Over 200 miles away by car is the north rim, which is much less heavily traveled.
The solitude near what has been called the Eighth Wonder of the World is unbroken. The immense gash in the Earth below invites long, leisurely hikes.
There is one other section that visitors can explore and it too is much less crowded than the south rim. Inside the Havasupai Indian Reservation there are paved roads through Havasu Canyon. But a day's hike is necessary to get to the Grand Canyon from this point.
One way to get down to the river is to take the Lava Falls Trail near Tuweep. Along the way, sharp-eyed hikers will discover some of the dozens of species of wildlife that make this desert landscape home. Besides the condors there are Stellar Jays, Canyon Wrens and a dozen species of hummingbird. Coyote are common and there are lots of chipmunks.
Beware the occasional Western Spotted Skunk, though, or the more common Striped Skunk. Take even more care to watch out for the Grand Canyon Rattlesnake. Shy, they nonetheless will strike if stepped on and they blend so well they're easy to miss.
On the trek you'll pass over two billion years of geological history. It's impossible to miss the change as you walk past layers of rock exposed from eons of natural carving. For those who prefer guidance, there are lots of guided tours covering many different areas of the park.
Whitewater rafting trips are a favorite of many. Trips range anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks along sections from 100 miles to 300 miles of the Colorado River.
But from any vantage point - whether by bus or car, hiking or paddling along the river - visitors to Grand Canyon National Park will experience the same majesty that has awed tourists for generations.