GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, South Rim The grandest views in the one and only Grand Canyon, many will attest, are best discovered from the rim.
From the clifftops you can better absorb the vastness of the Colorado River-carved abyss, the seemingly endless mesas, buttes and formations, from the most panoramic of locations.
That doesn't mean under-the-rim trails should be ignored, but really they are another experience entirely, offering close-ups of slices of the immense canyon. The paths also often require endurance, planning and effort, and the elevation gains and losses can be daunting.
Not so with the rim walks, especially on the canyon's South Rim, on either side of Grand Canyon Village.
In most spots, rim walks are relatively easy. Treks spontaneous or long can be crowded at times (especially sunset at specific points) but still offer ample opportunities for solitude and reflection.
"It's awesome. I know that's not quite the right word, maybe 'speechless,"' Joe Farrey of Dayton, Ohio, said during a walk along the South Rim.
"It was gorgeous. I hoped to see as many colors as possible," said John Schoten of Holland, Mich.
If you are planning a visit to the South Rim in summer or fall of 2008, however, be aware that the Hermit Road with seven popular viewpoints west of Grand Canyon Village will be closed or partially closed to all visitation, making an extended rim hike more of a challenge. (See related sidebar story.)
Perhaps the most popular rim viewpoint in the Grand Canyon Village area is Mather Point, according to Maureen Oltrogge, park spokeswoman.
"It's the first viewpoint most visitors come to," she said.
It is named for the first director of the National Park System Stephen T. Mather. An early visitor at the overlook, the French Gen. Ferdinand Foch, of the Allied forces in World War I, was reputed to have said, "What a wonderful place to drop one's mother-in-law!"
What's the most overlooked / underrated rim viewpoint?
Oltrogge said it is definitely Yaki Point, named for the Yaki tribe. The most eastern viewpoint in the village area and directly east of Mather Point, it is usually only appreciated by the hikers who use it access the South Kaibab Trail. Since the park went to a shuttle bus system, Yaki receives relatively few visitors, but it offers great views of the upper Kaibab Trail below and Cedar Mesa.
For the winter season, visitors here can enjoy a less-crowded park. The North Rim is closed for the season, but the South Rim is open year-round.
"We clear some of the rim trails (of snow)," she said. But they can get slick, and visitors should dress for the cold.
"There's nothing more beautiful than after a fresh snowfall."
It all depends on the day, if winter visitors will be treated to fresh snowfall or not. January and February are the park's snowiest months.
Otherwise, "It's a dry cold here," Oltrogge said.
Accommodations are easier to book in the winter, as well, and last-minute lodging is much more likely. Those coming in spring, summer or fall are best advised to book months ahead.
Those seeking Phantom Ranch lodging at the canyon's bottom may need to book a year ahead.
Bird watching also has become a popular park activity, especially for the park's California condors, which float on thermals rising from the canyon depths and occasionally can be seen feeding on carrion below the rim.
"People are in awe over them," Oltrogge said. "They perch on ledges by Lookout Studio."
Sunset also remains a popular time of the day for even grander views at the Grand Canyon. People line the overlooks early and watch the sinking sun highlight sections of the park as if a massive spotlight is shining in select locations. Shadows build, deepen and lengthen as the sun descends, giving any viewpoint a new look every few minutes.
The Hermit Road, which connects Grand Canyon Village to the viewpoint Hermits Rest, is an extremely popular spot for sunset watchers. Busloads of tourists head out there in late afternoon, hoping to secure just the right spot to enjoy the setting of the sun. A rim trail parallels the entire length of Hermit Road and its seven named viewpoints.
Farther west, the Trailview overlook provides the best views of the upper portions of the Bright Angel trail without actually hiking the Bright Angel.
Maricopa Point is most famous for the Orphan copper/uranium mine that operated there until 1978.
Powell Point has a memorial to John Wesley Powell, who explored the waters of the inner canyon in 1869, while Hopi Point has the most extended overlook into the canyon of any along the Hermit Road.
Mohave Point boasts an expanded view of the canyon downriver. It also offers views of distinctive Grand Canyon formations, often bearing names from ancient Egyptian mythology, such as the Tower of Set and the Horus and Osiris temples.
Pima Point offers the chance to hear the faint roar of Granite Rapids, some 5,000 feet below, on a quiet day. Hermits Rest, at road's end, was named for Louis Boucher nicknamed "The Hermit" for preferring the elements to human company. He was a tourist guide/prospector in the area in the early 20th century. The spot contains the remains of an old camp, abandoned in the 1930s
The Grand Canyon has its dangers, too. Many areas along the rim lack safety barriers. Children especially need to be supervised, and even adults especially in winter need to watch their footing. The Hermit Road area runs particularly close to the canyon rim.
The South Rim's high altitude, at 6,860 feet above sea level, also can present breathing problems for visitors not used to it.
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is about 532 driving miles from Salt Lake City. It is open year-round and receives about 4 million visitors a year. Visitation was up almost 4 percent in 2007. Grand Canyon admission is $25 per vehicle.
Lodging: Advance reservations for staying at one of the six lodges inside Grand Canyon Village are strongly advised. Accommodations are also available in nearby Tusayan, in Williams, 59 miles away; or Flagstaff, 79 miles distant.
Sources: Personal visits on Sept. 16 and 20, 2007; park rangers, park brochures. Also, "Along the Rim," by Michael F. Anderson; and "Grand Canyon Place Names," by Gregory McNamee.For more information: Call 1-928-638-7888 or go to: www.nps.gov/grca.