Explore the fascinating highlights, history, geology & nature of Grand Canyon National Park with this entertaining, educational, point-by-point Waypoint Tour - your personal tour guide for Grand Canyon travel adventure.
Grand Canyon South Rim National Park Tour
Welcome to Grand Canyon National Park! As you approach the Grand Canyon, you are crossing the Colorado Plateau, a 130,000 square mile bulge in the earth's surface spanning half of Utah and a good portion of Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. Around its edges are the upthrust Rocky Mountains, the stretched-apart Great Basin, the contorted rocks of Arizona's Transition Zone, and ancient volcanoes. Despite all the geologic activity around it, the Plateau has managed to stay relatively flat and unfolded, but as a whole, it has been uplifted more than a mile.
It is the uplift, and the down-cutting, that have created the Canyon. About 5-10 million years ago the Colorado River began to carve its way down through the domed region on its way to the sea. Like a knife slicing through a layer cake, the mile-deep river canyon exposed multi-hued layers of time, - a geologist's dream come true. But, you don't have to be a geologist to appreciate the Canyon's grandeur. Erosion by wind, water and gravity not only widened the Canyon, it created an amazing variety of towers and spires, ridges and side canyons, shadows and highlights. The rainbow of rock colors is most intense in early morning or late afternoon light. If you are lucky, you will see a storm chase through the canyon, casting shadows and mist as it goes.
Sightseers have been coming to view the wonders of the Canyon since 1883. Prospectors soon found tourism more profitable than mining and built accommodations for them. One of the earliest visitors was President Theodore Roosevelt, a lover of the West's wide-open spaces. He pushed for federal protection and in 1893 the area became a Forest Reserve. In 1908, it received a promotion to National Monument and in 1919 the National Park was formed. The most recent upgrade was in 1975, when its boundaries were expanded, doubling its size.
As you enter the park, you'll receive a Visitor's Guide from the National Park Service, which is a great source of information on restaurants, lodging, parking, ranger talks, activities and other guest services within or near the park. It includes maps, hours, prices and other timely and helpful information.
The Canyon opens up at this point to reveal distant views of the Vermilion Cliffs, San Francisco Peaks, the Painted Desert and the Colorado River. The views are even better from the 70-foot round stone tower.
Its designer, was Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, was a schoolteacher from St. Paul, Minnesota, until she was offered a job by Fred Harvey in 1902. He "needed a decorator who knew Indian things and had imagination." During her 40-year association with the Harvey Company and the Santa Fe Railroad she acted as architect, designer and decorator. She embraced a new style of architecture with structures that seemed to grow out of the land and reflected the cultural heritage of the region rather than imitating European styles.
The distinctive Watchtower was designed as a re-creation of ancestral Anasazi (Puebloan) structures. Scholars debate if the original towers were built as lookouts or for ceremonial purposes, such as those preserved at Toroweep National Monument. This tower has elements of both. Adorning the walls are images from the myths of the Hopi, who are believed to be descendants of the Anasazi.
Windows allow views in all directions from many vantage points. At the top of the first flight of steps, a door leads to a rooftop viewing platform. The top floor has large windows with views of the Colorado as it makes it a grand turn and enters into the Inner Gorge.
The mighty Colorado River flows in via Utah, from sources in Colorado's Rocky Mountains and Wyoming's Wind River Range. Just east of here it joins with the Little Colorado River which has its origins in the White Mountains of Arizona. Some geologists believe the waters of this area once flowed in the opposite direction into Lake Bidahochi, in Northeast Arizona. But with the uplift of the Colorado RiverPlateau, the water began to flow to the west. One momentous day, as the last remaining rocks between the two drainage systems wore away, the waters of Lake Bidahochi broke through and rushed to the west, beginning the formation of the Grand Canyon. Others believe the Little Colorado has always flowed west, but that eventually the Green and Colorado Rivers were diverted into the San Juan and added enough force to the Little Colorado to cut through the Colorado Plateau. It's something to think about as you look back into the Grand Canyon and out over the beautiful vistas to the east.
From the ancient Anasazi to modern day men and women, the Canyon has an irresistible pull to come, to see, to explore, and ... to wonder ...; to be in awe of the Power that created it.