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A Visit to the Grand Canyon

A thousand feet taller than the South Rim, the North Rim is also colder, more rugged, and quieter—it gets a tenth as many visitors. Its air revitalizes you, until you settle into a quaint cabin at the Grand Canyon Lodge, where the lack of dusting makes you feel you're living in a Legoland that's been left under the bed for a couple of months.

What's amazing about these cabins (of the 161, only four actually face the canyon) is their proximity to a spectacular sunset view—one that's doubly impressive because from this vantage point on the North Rim, you get to see the canyon in the foreground. A paved trail extends for a quarter mile behind the lodge out to Bright Angel Point, a sliver of boulder- and juniper-covered rock that sticks out into the canyon like a bowsprit. If you start on the trail about 20 minutes before sunset, then you, the sun, and the canyon and sky colors will all be in motion at once. What you're not expecting is the strong wind that springs up just at the moment of sunset.

Since one of us was eight, we didn't do much into-the-canyon hiking, settling for a North Rim dip along the shady and not-too-steep North Kaibab Trail; and a brief South Rim descent on Bright Angel Trail, the canyon's first path, completed in 1891, and its most popular. This second hike was a way of saying hello again to the Havasupai, because a short distance down the trail, if you turn around and look back up, you can spot some of their pictographs of human figures on the rock face.

Jake wasn't tall enough for a ride into the canyon on the famous South Rim mules—you have to be more than four-foot-seven. This didn't disappoint Lois, who has a fear of heights. Instead we went on a twilight campfire ride at Moqui Lodge, just outside Grand Canyon National Park on the way to Tusayan, a town near the South Rim. The trail passes through the same pine forest we'd flown across on the way to Supai, so you don't see the canyon. But the path is packed with families; the cow ponies amble at a gentle pace; and you're enveloped by an ever-changing sky. Just before sunset, you arrive to a huge, blazing campfire. It's BYO marshmallows and hot dogs, but everyone shares. As darkness sets in, you clamber onto a horse-drawn wagon covered with hay bales for a ride back to the corral—totally charming.

The South Rim has one spectacular hotel, El Tovar, a turn-of-the-century pile of dark and soaring wooden beams. We spent a comfortable night in a porch suite with a sunroom and a Frederic Remington reproduction. Here on the South Rim, the sunrise is the spectacle, but since our rooms faced away from the canyon, Lois and Jake slept right through it. We did find a sunrise view nobody could sleep through at the Bright Angel Lodge, a few hundred yards west of El Tovar. We nabbed Room 6101, actually a two-room log cabin, built by Buckey O'Neill, a prospec-tor, sheriff, judge, and reporter who died fighting alongside Teddy Roosevelt at San Juan Hill. Now surrounded by a warren of hotel rooms, the cabin is normally entered through a hotel corridor. Fortunately, no one has ever sealed off its front door, only 40 feet from the canyon edge.

Which means you get your own snug VIP skybox onto the canyon. We took in the morning spectacle for well over an hour—an extraordinary grand finale that left us with a new appreciation of the planet, an ancient place by our reckoning, but in the prime of its life.


Four cool things to check out as you circle the abyss:

• A true ghost town in Grafton, Utah (435/673-2454) founded in 1859 and abandoned in 1921 by Mormon pioneers.

• A powerboat ride on Lake Powell (520/608-6404), in Page, Arizona. To arrange a cruise or a houseboat rental, contact a private marina, such as Wahweap Marina, through the central Lake Powell boat reservation office (800/528-6154)

• A direct—and safe—look at the sun, through a specially filtered telescope (rigged up on clear days at 12:30) at the Lowell Observatory, in Flagstaff, Arizona (1400 West Mars Hill Rd.; 520/774-2096). What you see is smoldering, seething, and unexpectedly smoky.

• The gigantic meteor crater southeast of Flagstaff (520/289-2362)—almost 600 feet deep, practically a mile across, and almost as awesome as the Grand Canyon, though you can't climb in it. And whereas the canyon is the result of a 5-million-year carving process, the crater was formed in about 10 seconds.


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