Grand Canyon National Park - South Rim northern Arizona
Visited: September 30, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 105 of 353 NPS Website; Local Website
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WHAT IS IT?
Uh, it is the Grand Canyon. 277 miles long and ten miles wide of Colorado River carved amazement. The South Rim is the most visited area of the Park, the most accessible and by far the most tourist-friendly. Oh, yeah, the views from the South are pretty spectacular.
Absolutely overwhelming. Your mind cannot comprehend what it is looking at. The Canyon is so big and so deep that it feels like an abstract. ďI cannot be looking at what I think I am looking at.Ē And even after you have stared for hours from different overlooks and myriad angles it still does not make sense. The Grand Canyon cannot be captured on camera, it must be seen and experienced.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (6/10)
We did not get the historical feel up top that we get down below. The Colorado River seems distant, like you are not even in the place where John Wesley Powell rafted through.
On the other hand, from here it is easy to empathize with Coronado, the first European to see the Grand Canyon. Legend has it that while looking for the seven cities of gold he got to the Canyon and turned around dejectedly, believing it to be impassable.
The most visited archeological site in the National Park System, the Tusayan Ruin, stands along the South Rim, about 20 miles east of Grand Canyon Village. A walking loop wraps around the stone ruins while panels explain what once stood on top of the remaining base.
It is crowded here. Regardless of the season, you are going to run into swarms of tourists. Fair enough, itís the Grand Canyon. The shuttle buses do their best to alleviate the traffic problem that is created by the streetís confusing layout.
The people at the South Rim are not nearly as friendly as their counterparts along the Canyon switchbacks and even those at the North Rim. Our hellos were often met with rude looks. Tourists cut in front of us and some nearly ran us over even though we had just hiked out of the Canyon and still toted 40-pound backpacks. Maybe they forgot that they were no longer in Las Vegas.
People do crazy things at the South Rim. For a photo opportunity, a family of Japanese tourists posed their seven and ten year old girls next to a squirrel and had them pet the nasty little rodent. Who knows what happened. We put our heads down, kept walking and tried to forget what we just saw. The precipitous ledges and their 3000-foot sheer drops also do not deter people from hanging over the edges, risking life and limb. No wonder the newly reintroduced California condor has chosen to make its nest just below the South Rim. Those wily scavengers are not stupid.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
The South Rim Visitor Center is a straight 60-mile shot from Interstate 40 up Arizona Route 64. The Park is only 80 miles from Flagstaff, Arizona. If you canít find lodging at the Grand Canyon, there are plenty of options along Old Route 66 in delightful downtown Flagstaff.
The Park Service operates three shuttle bus routes along the South Rim. The Red Line that travels from Grand Canyon Village to Hermits Rest is the only mandatory shuttle. Automobiles are allowed in all other portions of the North Rim. Parking should not be much of a problem.
The Rim Trail is paved for five miles from Pipe Creek Vista to Maricopa Point. Much of the remainder of the Rim Trail is a easy flat hike along a dirt pathway. You could spend all day walking along the South Rim. Trouble is that you are sure to have an urge to go down into the Canyon. Then things get tricky so see our Grand Canyon (Canyon Floor) review.
If you want anything Grand Canyon-related, books (T-shirts, hats, jigsaw puzzles, you name it) and donít find it at the South Rim, you havenít looked hard enough. There are fifteen bookstores/gift shops along the Rim, many of which are found in Grand Canyon Village. It is not only knickknacks. The Hopi House, Verkampís Curio, the Desert View Trading Post and maybe a few others specialize in southwest Indian art: woodcarvings, pottery, kachina dolls and jewelry.
The South Rim may as well be a small bustling town. The services are plenty and in general centrally located. There are 10 places to eat including the expensive El Tovar Dining Room. We preferred the menu selection, prices and views of the Grand Canyon North Rim lodge to any of its counterparts in the South.
Most welcome at the South Rim is the General Store, an affordable priced, well-stocked supermarket. If you have forgotten anything for you hike or want to have a picnic alongside the Canyon Rim everything you need is here. And they have a great selection of powdered Gatorade mix so you donít have to drink the Grand Canyonís piped in potable water straight.
Other services at the South Rim include a kennel, a National Parks library, a bank, a dentist, an auto repair shop, a judge (for marriages we presume) and a post office.
Entry is $20 per vehicle, or free with the National Parks Pass.
There are an astounding number of lodging options along the South Rim. 363 campsites ($10-$15), an 80-site RV village ($25) and six Hotels ($49-$286). Of course, plan ahead, especially in the summer. Only the 50-site Desert View Campground operates on a first-come, first served basis. We had no trouble getting a campsite at the 313-site, more centrally located Mather Campground.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5)
Grand Canyon NP keeps the South Rim stocked with Rangers. There are many Ranger-led talks and plenty of people to answer your questions. We asked a Ranger, ďwhere should we leave our car while we hike to the bottom?Ē She told us Parking Lot E, then take the Hikerís Express shuttle to South Kaibab Point.Not only is the ride there much quicker, but when you emerge from the Canyon, your car is only a few hundred yards away.
After telling us what a nice route we had planned, she and another Ranger started talking about different routes down and their experiences in the Canyon. They both spoke so passionately about where they work. We excused ourselves from the conversation and they kept sharing interior Canyon stories. We left even more excited about the hike to come.
In the off-peak month of October, there are 18 Ranger talks a day, an incredible number. We are sure that the number swells come summer. The degree of walking difficulty ranges from a strenuous Ranger-led 3-mile hike down the South Kaibab Trail to a leisurely nature walk along the paved Rim Trail. Topics include Grand Canyon geology, the invasion of non-native plants, the early photography of the Canyon, a Rangerís choice lecture, Shakespeare and the Park (we donít know either) and the successful reintroduction of the California condor.
We attended the terrific condor talk. After it was over, we walked along the Rim with the Ranger, as did half of the tour group, and spotted birds. The Ranger had an extensive knowledge of the Parkís birds. When we asked what raptors we might see on our hike, she rolled off a list of fifteen explaining their migratory patterns and habitat. Much to our delight, we did spot a California condor high above us while we hiked in the Bright Angel Canyon.
The Ranger also told us that throughout fall, members of HawkWatch International spend all day at both Lipan and Yaki Points. They count migrating raptors and are more than eager to help the amateur birder.
The South Rim has two (maybe three) museums. The Tusayan Museum showcases southwest Indian artifacts in an incredibly cramped and dark room. Spend a few minutes, but donít expect to learn much. The Canyon View Information Plaza is more of an outdoor, exhibit-aided trip planner. In that sense, it serves its purpose well. The Kolb Studio we guess is a museum. Inside are paintings done of the Canyon as well as a traveling exhibit: photographs of the Navajo Nation.
If you want to learn anything about the Canyon, you need to take a Ranger tour; the museums are not going to help. We much prefer the human interaction to a static museum. We like the educational route that the South Rim has taken.
Donít expect quiet solitude at the South Rim. Excited people are everywhere. It is still possible to lose yourself in the power of the Canyon views.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (10/10)
Uh, it is the Grand Canyon and the South Rim boasts the classic panoramas. A must-see American destination.
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