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GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK — The average visitor to the Grand Canyon spent an average of 17 minutes looking at the canyon before leaving in the 1990s.
That's according to survey data from the National Park Service reported by the Chicago Tribune in 1996. It's unknown if that's still the case but it's a puzzling phenomenon considering they've come to see one of the greatest natural wonders on the planet.
Comparatively speaking, this video requires only a fraction of that time and shares so much more than most park visitors will ever see in stunning HDR.
Less than 1% of Grand Canyon visitors get to experience what you are watching, according to the National Park Foundation. It adds that while more than 5 million people visit the Grand Canyon each year (at least, before the pandemic), only a tiny fraction wander beneath the rim. Fewer still undertake the arduous journey across the canyon — a trek known as rim-to-rim.
The reason for this is simple; it's no "walk in the park." While many consider crossing rim-to-rim in one day a "bucket list" accomplishment, the National Park Service actively — and at times, bluntly — discourages park visitors from attempting such a strenuous hike. Even if broken into a multi-day journey, this trip is not for the inexperienced or ill-prepared.
The park service cautions, "there are no easy trails into or out of the Grand Canyon." It adds, "even people in excellent shape emerge sore and fatigued."
The trek between the north and south rims is approximately 24 miles long and includes a vertical 1-mile descent to the canyon floor, accompanied by a corresponding ascent to the opposing rim.
The temperature disparity between a cool morning on the rim and midday at the bottom of the canyon routinely spans as much as 60 degrees — meaning it's quite possible to strike out in freezing temperatures early in the morning only to swelter in near 100-degree weather later in the day.
You may even have to contend with temperatures in excess of 110 degrees in the canyon during the summer months. As you can imagine, visitors often underestimate what it takes to safely complete this hike.
According to the Idaho Statesman, citing a now-removed Grand Canyon National Park Facebook post, there were nearly 200 emergency calls at Grand Canyon National Park during the 2021 Memorial Day weekend, with dozens of visitors in need of rescue.
There were 411 search and rescue incidents at Grand Canyon National Park in the 2021 calendar year, according to Grand Canyon public affairs. Day-hikers accounted for 154 of those rescues and backpackers accounted for another 112. There's a clear message: hiking in the canyon, much less across the canyon, is not for the ill-prepared or foolhardy.
Due to its rugged and often hazardous character, there's little wonder the Grand Canyon was the last area mapped in the contiguous United States, according to the National Park Service. While maps of the American West grew increasingly detailed throughout the 19th century, "The Great Unknown," as it was called in the early days of Euro-American expansion, remained a blank hole.
If you get an itch to travel beneath the rim at Grand Canyon, there is a whole world of beauty and adventure awaiting you — but don't undertake the journey lightly. Plan ahead, train well and carry the appropriate gear. The canyon can be quite dangerous. For the prepared and humble there's nothing quite like it.
Please remember, this is quite literally a sacred place and that distinction is not limited to the Grand Canyon alone. The American Southwest is brimming with sacred sites, legends and histories for native peoples. It can be for you, too, although you'll probably need to invest more than 17 minutes to make that connection. And remember, when something is sacred, it is treated as such.
Learn to see the canyon as more than beautiful scenery, heart-pounding recreation or natural curiosity. Show the canyon and the people who cherish it the respect they deserve. Go out of your way to limit your impact and be courteous to the land and your fellow visitors.
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