Exploring the Grand Canyon by Car, Mule, Foot, Helicopter and Boat

The Grand Canyon provides a vast panorama of ever changing color and seemingly endless space.

“Golly, what a gully,” President William Howard Taft was heard to mutter when he first saw the Grand Canyon.

Teddy Roosevelt was more profound: “Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”

Each point along the Grand Canyon rim provides a unique and rewarding view.

Both of these thoughts are rumbling through my brain as I think about the 18 days Peggy and I are about to spend rafting 280 miles down the Colorado River.

Few people come away from the Grand Canyon untouched and we are no exception.Its vastness, beauty, and geology have pulled us back time and again, as have its natural and cultural history.

There are many ways to explore the Canyon. For the vast majority of people, some 5 million a year, this involves a drive up to the South Rim and a quick tour of the most popular overlooks.

Sitting on the edge for an hour or two enhances the experience several times over. Hanging out on the rim for a few days while roughing it at a campground or luxuriating in one of the lodges, is even better.

For those wanting for a bird’s eye view, a helicopter trip is a tempting option. (National Park rules limit the obtrusiveness that helicopters and airplanes flying in the Canyon would otherwise create. Specific routes and altitudes are mandated.)

Beyond these more sedentary approaches to the Canyon lies adventure. Even a half hour hike down one of the more popular trails provides a trip through millions of years of history, incredible views and the heart-pounding thought that only a few feet separate you from a thousand foot tumble.

Longer hikes and especially backpacking trips provide a perspective that only a small percentage of Canyon visitors ever have.

"Don't even think about climbing on my back," this Grand Canyon mule seems to say.

If you want to visit the inner canyon but fear you’re lifetime warranty will expire hiking out, check out the sure-footed mules that carry tourists in and out of the Canyon. It’s an outing your rear will remember for years.

At some point or the other in my life, starting with a Rim drive in 1968, I have experienced all of these approaches to visiting the Grand Canyon including trips by mule and helicopter. (Our son Tony provided the latter while he was working for Papillon.)

My most challenging journeys have been six backpack trips into the Canyon, including a week alone. Read about the latter misadventure in “The Tale of a Tail” under Stories on the sidebar.

I view our 18 day raft trip down the river as an exclamation point to my explorations of the inner canyon.  Even here there are options. For example, commercial companies offer trips on large, motorized pontoon boats. These tours are quicker and definitely less work… but my sense is they lack the same level of intimacy and adventure as a private trip.

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