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The Grand Canyon under the clouds of a winter storm

The Grand Canyon's South Rim in all its magnificence

The endangered sentry milk-vetch grows only in Grand Canyon National Park

The Spiny Lizard is one of the Grand Canyon's resident reptiles

The vivid red flowers of the Claret Cup Cactus

The California Condor is the largest land bird in North America

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The Grand Canyon is one of the most impressive sights in the world

 

The Grand Canyon is one of the greatest natural wonders in the world. It has been carved over a period of two billion years by a combination of the Colorado River and the forces of nature carving the canyon ever deeper and wider. It is such a spectacular and breathtaking sight that words cannot do justice to it. It is something that has to be seen to be believed, and is easily the most important tourist sight in the United States.

 

The Canyon's steep sides are about 6,000ft (1,800m) high in places, and when you're on one side you can be looking about 18 miles (29kms) across to the far side. In total the canyon is about 277 miles (446kms) long, so it is really hard to take in the full immensity of it from one viewpoint. One of the best ways to get an impression of the sheer size of the Grand Canyon is to take a helicopter tour, but you have to do this from Las Vegas and not at the Grand Canyon itself.

 

There are two sides to the Grand Canyon, of course - the North Rim and the South Rim. The South Rim is the most visited as it is open all year. Access to the North Rim is only available from about mid-May to mid-October. During the winter the weather makes the main access road impassable, and there are no services open. If visiting from Arizona, the South Rim is where you will go, although this can also be closed in the winter months when the weather is bad. Always check local weather conditions before setting off during the winter.

 

To drive from Phoenix to Grand Canyon Village, where the accommodation and other services are, will take about four hours, depending on traffic and weather. The drive takes you through Sedona and Flagstaff. It's possible to visit the Grand Canyon from either of these places, and some visitors stay in Williams or Tusayan, where there is also accommodation. There is limited accommodation in Grand Canyon Village, and it is wise to book well ahead of your visit. It is much better to stay right at the Grand Canyon if you can, as being able to see the Canyon in the early morning or as the sun goes down is something quite special.

 

At the Grand Canyon Village you will find several hotels at different price ranges, campsites, eating places, shops, and the Visitor Center. Staying here gives easy access to the start of several walking trails, and to the shuttle bus which takes you to various viewpoints along the rim to the west of Grand Canyon Village where cars are not allowed to go. You can also drive to viewpoints yourself by going east from Grand Canyon Village.

 

Hiking into the canyon is the best way to start to appreciate its vast size. It also gives you a better chance of seeing some of the wildlife that lives in the canyon, and of seeing the wild flowers and cactus that grow there. Just remember that it will take you twice as long to hike back up again, so don't wait until you are tired before turning around.

 

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