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Posts Tagged ‘Canyons’

Montrose and Gunnison, Colo.
Visited: August 20, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 231 and 232 of 353
NPS Black Canyon NP Website; NPS Curecanti NRA Website

StriationsWHAT IS IT?
The Black Canyon is deep, narrow canyon formed by the Gunnison River whose schist and gneiss walls give it its dark appearance. The nearby Curecanti NRA consists of three reservoirs created by the downstream damming of the Gunnison.

BEAUTY (9/10)
The Black Canyon is unreal. At most, of the overlooks, the opposite rim stands less than a quarter-mile away. Then you look down. The head gets dizzy, the stomach rises, the knees wobble and fear sets in. The drop never stops, falling 2,750 feet at the deepest point. The white water down below roars with same decibels as a jet airplane.

The canyon walls really are black. Streaks and striations of grey and white give the walls and unbending character. The Canyon’s narrow demeanor causes constant optical illusions. The walls blend, the sides become one, the gorge disappears. The Canyon wishes to be unseen. It never beckons, never asks you to hike down. It cherishes its mystery and wants to be left alone.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (3/10)
Humans have lived in the area for 10,000 years but no one traversed through the Black Canyon until 1901; it had been too steep and too menacing. A train display at Curecanti NRA’s Cimmaron Visitor Center showcases the area’s role in the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad’s Scenic Line of the World.

CROWDS (6/10)
The moderate-sized crowd did not affect our stay at the Black Canyon, an auto-tour style park.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5)
These Parks are located in the central portion of western Colorado. They both sit along U.S. Route 50 between the towns of Montrose to the west and Gunnison to the east. The Black Canyon VC is 90 miles to the southeast of Interstate 70 at Grand Junction via Route 50. Route 50 continues eastward meeting up with I-25 at Pueblo, 200 miles east of the Black Canyon.

The circuitous 250 miles northwest from the Black Canyon to Denver travel up, in, through and around the Rocky Mountains. Have fun.

The Black CanyonCONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5)
We had a great time browsing through Black Canyon NP’s huge book selection. Did you know that there are at least 50 books published about Rocky Mountain wild flowers? We did not. Michael’s mother owns most of the children’s books for sale there, including a few classics: Ten Little Rabbits, Owl Moon and The Lorax. Her kindergarten classroom does not include Sunshine on My Shoulder, a children’s book based on John Denver’s touching song. We really should have bought it for her. Darn.

The store sells the actual United States Geological Service maps and surveys of the Gunnison Canyon and gorge. How cool is that. If you are having trouble understanding what is on those maps, the store sells more than a dozen books that explain the Canyon’s geology.

COSTS (2/5)
Black Canyon NP entry is $8 per vehicle, free with the National Parks Pass. Curecanti NRA is always free. If you want to launch a boat, its $4 for two days.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5)
One Ranger and one Electronic Ranger.

TOURS/CLASSES (5/10)
The nearly 30-minute Park introductory film dives head first into the Park’s history. Problem is the pool is awful shallow. The Park’s history could be recounted in much less time. Sometimes the 18-minute pretty picture films are preferable. Nonetheless, the film’s pictures of the canyon are beautiful and done with the help of a brave helicopter. But who needs pictures when the natural wonder is just outside?

We enjoyed meandering through Curecanti NRA’s Cimarron rail yard. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day the Park Service offers two daily $12 guided Boat tours at Curecanti NRA. The boat ride begins at the Pine Creek boat dock, travel through the upper Black Canyon and allows for lake-level views of the Curecanti Needle. Sounds like fun to us.

Scenic Rail FUN (7/10)
road leads down to the Canyon’s East Portal. Make sure your brakes are in order before you make the 2,000-foot descent with 16 per cent grades and hairpin turns. From the East Portal, you are on your own. Only experienced kayakers should proceed; the River is classified as Class V to unnavigable.

The Black Canyon’s floor remains a mystery to all but the most skilled. There are no hiking trails down, no helicopter flights in and no super elevator rides. You must use your imagination from your distant rim perch. The Curecanti NRA allows for more accessible water-related fun.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (7/10)
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is every bit as awesome as Arizona’s Grand Canyon. Michael had traveled to both canyons prior to our journey. In fact, one of the trip’s motivations was to climb down to the bottom of both. He did not realize that you cannot hike down the Black Canyon. He does now.

The Auto Tour allows for terrific views of this magnificent geological wonder but ultimately your brain cannot comprehend the depth and colors of the canyon. You want to be overwhelmed but the scenery looks more like a painting than an actual object of nature. The Black Canyon is stunning but after both visits Michael left wanting more.

TOTAL 49/80

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near Springdale, Utah
Visited: September 25, 2004
Second Visit: April 21, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 102 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Kolob ArchWHAT IS IT?
229 square miles of beautiful scenery centered around the profound steep gorges shaped by the Virgin River and its tributaries with a little help from geological uplift.

BEAUTY (10/10)
Zion NP shares the same breathtaking landscape as its Colorado Plateau brethren: red rock arches, hoodoos, deep canyons, multicolored cliffs and striking buttes. What sets the Park apart is the Virgin River. The River fosters life as well as lush greens and blues, colors oft forgotten in these harsh environs.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (2/10)
Not much. In fact, it was one of the last areas in the continental United States to be fully surveyed. Piute Indians lived in the oasis for over 10,000 years but their lives and place names have been literally removed from the Site. When the Park was named a National Monument in 1909, it was known by the Piute name, Mukuntuweap. Ten years later, the area became a National Park and was renamed, Zion.

Mormons began settling in the area in the late 19th century. They named the place Zion, what the Park brochure refers to as a biblical reference to a place of refuge but we believe has a much stronger connotation. The Mormons also designated most of the landforms with religious names: Cathedral Mountain, Mount Moroni, the Great White Throne, the Court of the Patriarchs and Angel’s Landing. However, the Virgin River’s naming actually predates the Mormon settlers.

The place names are of little historic interest but they did affect our visit. An air of piety, especially that of the Mormon faith, hangs over the natural cliffs and wonders of the Park. We did not see sparkling white cathedrals, Old Testament judges or Latter Day Saints and the subtle imposition of a theology was not what we were looking for at a National Park.

The Zion ValleyCROWDS (8/10)
Near the end of the Virgin River Narrows Hike, a recent Brown alum spotted Gab’s hat and shook her hand. This is the first time on the trip anyone has recognized and accurately placed the “B” on Gab’s head. Most mistake her for a Boston Red Sox fan. She was overjoyed by her scholastic compatriot. Evident by her jumping up and down while standing knee deep in 50-degree water and by her rapid-fire recital of Brown University fight songs, cheers and mottos. Who knew she had such school spirit?

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (5/5)
Zion NP is one of the easier wilderness National Parks to get to. It is 30 miles east of Interstate 15 in southwestern Utah and 150 miles east of Las Vegas, Nev.

The Park’s main attraction is the Canyon of the Virgin River with both its mesmerizing narrow walls and acrophobia-inducing rim ledges. The Park allows the visitor inside its canyon’s walls. The views are not from above, like at the Grand Canyon, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison or Bighorn Canyon. You do not have to hike thousands of feet downhill to see greater wonders; you just have to jump on a free shuttle bus.

Easy access brings more people and the shuttle buses do a terrific job of dealing with the crowds. From April through October, cars are not allowed on the Zion Canyon Road. Insufficient parking and the slender two-lane road combined with millions of visitors created the shuttles’ necessity.

There are two shuttle loops, one leaves the Visitor Center every ten minutes and travels northward to the Temple of Sinawava. If you want to follow the River any further, you need to walk through the water. Along the way, the shuttle stops at a number of overlooks/trailheads. It is a great way to travel.

The second shuttle loop runs from the Visitor Center southward into the town of Springdale and stops wherever you might be lodging or dining. In the summer, both shuttles run from 5:45 a.m. to 11:15 p.m.; in the spring and fall from 6:45 a.m. to 10:15 p.m. More than enough time for spectacular sunrises, early morning hikes and late nights out in Utah.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5)
The Bookstore at Zion spans the entire width of the Visitor Center. In addition to the rows and rows of books arranged by subject, there is an entire wall of framed prints of Zion’s most famous landmarks photographed at sunrise, sunset and various points in the day. Zion offers a small selection of the retro-WPA National Parks posters that we adore as well as the usual selection of shirts, totes, and souvenirs. Volume and selection earn Zion a high mark.

The Only Way UpCOSTS (2/5)
Entrance is $20 per car or $10 per person if you walk in. There is a $20 maximum per family. The Park is free with the National Parks Pass.

Camping is not cheap. Most of the 160-site Watchman Campground costs $16 per night; a riverside site goes for $20. Reservations are taken from April to November. The 126-site South Campground costs $16 per night and operates on a first-come first-served basis.

We preferred the look of the Watchman Campground, because it had tent-only sections and because of its proximity to the Visitor Center and the Shuttle Bus Stations, and decided to stay there. We did not have a reservation and were lucky to get a site even though it was a late September Sunday. The Campground was full during our entire stay. If you are going in summer, good luck.

The excellent Zion Canyon shuttle bus is always free.

Xanterra operates the historic Zion Lodge inside the Park. It had no vacancy, as did nearly all of nearby Springdale’s motels.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (2/5)
God bless any Ranger working at the Kolob Canyon Visitor Center. That VC is in the Park’s northwestern most corner, a few hundred yards from Interstate 15, Exit 40. Hundreds, if not thousands of visitors, every day, must see the brown NPS sign reading “Zion National Park, This Exit”. Technically true, but over an hour from the more famous Zion Canyon parts of the Park.

We wanted a Kolob Canyon backcountry permit so we could hike to the Kolob Arch, the largest free-standing arch in the world. We had to get it at that Visitor Center. During our request, tourist after tourist bogged down our poor Ranger with the same questions: “Where is the real part of the Park?”, “How do I get there?”, “Can I do it all in a few hours” and “Can I pay here?” Of course, they had to pay there and without a fee station the Ranger had his hands full. Between answering questions and printing receipts, he spent at least a half hour typing in our backcountry request form.

The situation at Zion Canyon Visitor Center is not much better. An outdoor museum filters most people away from the Rangers, but there still are not nearly enough people to answer questions. We waited in line to inquire about the Virgin River Narrows Hike. When the Ranger directed us to the Backcountry Station, we found no one on duty. We ended up getting our hiking information not from a Ranger or from an NPS publication but from a helpful Hiking Zion brochure we picked up at a local outfitter.

The campgrounds are full and the area motels are full. Why is there not enough funding for a full Ranger staff? Late-September enjoys only six Ranger-led programs and the 9am “Ride With a Ranger Shuttle Tour” is so popular that tickets are very hard to come by. Our shuttle bus driver did his best to explain the area topography and history but his explanations were dubious, a pale comparison to what a Ranger could tell. It is sad that the Shuttle Bus Drivers’ words and experiences with Zion constitute the average learning visit to the Park and that little can be done to counter the lack of Ranger encounters.

Golden EagleTOURS/CLASSES (6/10)
Unlike most parks we have visited, the Visitor Center is not the hub of learning at Zion. Ranger talks and walks leave from a variety of points like the Campgrounds and Zion Lodge. There is no Welcome to Zion film – unless you want to shell out $10 for the privately owned IMAX just outside of the park’s entrance. The Visitor Center serves as pick-up and drop off point for the park shuttle, registration for backcountry camping (allegedly. There were no Rangers available when we went), space for the impressive bookstore and neighbor to large bathrooms with the only accessible electrical outlets in the park.

If you are searching information about Zion’s history, free standing displays outside of the Visitor Center will give you a good introduction. We hadn’t actually seen this set up before – with so much information available 24/7, not dependent upon the hours of the VC. We kinda like it. Of course, there are some drawbacks: you have to stand to read the vertical panels. Even though the panels are printed on both sides, crowds will impede your ability to view them, If you do have any questions, the closest Rangers are presumably inside the VC, if it’s open.

The new Zion Museum, opened in 2002, houses artifacts and displays specific to human history in the Zion area. This is where you’ll find the NPS slide program about Zion – the kind that makes you envious of the filmmaker’s high-quality camera and ability to take those shots that you see in your mind, but can’t quite seem to capture on your trusty digital cam. Oh, maybe that’s just us.

The Museum is a short drive from the VC. It can also be reached via a leisurely stroll on the paved Pa’rus Trail. Michael was drawn to the contrasting quotes of Brigham Young, Mormon leader who was eager to draw from the land’s resources, and Paiute Indian Chiefs, who were seeing their lands and ways of life destroyed through the rapid removal of timber and native plants. Gab spent her time in front of a temporary exhibit in the other room which consisted simply of pictures and oral histories collected from present day members of the Paiute and other Indian tribes. The museum is small, but nicely done. Try not to miss it.

FUN (10/10)
We jumped into Zion’s backcountry headfirst. We drove to Zion from the north and feared that if we didn’t see the Kolob region first, we would never get to it. Even though we hadn’t been planning to camp that night, a permit was available and the afternoon sun was beginning to fade. There was no excuse not to make the 7.5 mile hike into the Kolob Canyon. When the Ranger told us that the best time of day to see the Kolob Arch – possibly the largest natural freestanding arch in the world – was at sunrise, our decision was made.

That night, we enjoyed one of the nicest campsites of the trip. Nestled in a shaded area just steps away from a fresh spring, canyon wall high and blazing red on either side. We saw no one. We left camp early morning in search of the Arch and were soon glad that we left our packs behind. The hike is a scramble through streams and over rocks – it was refreshing and fun. This is the Zion we tried to remember as we entered the much more populated southern section.

Just as crowds and the smoke from the scheduled forest burn (which began the day we arrived) was getting us down, we discovered the shuttle and the Narrows. For days we debated which hikes to take here. We were discouraged from the Narrows – the water temp was a chilly 50 degrees and photos at the VC showed people with full packs (and wet suits!) slogging through muddy water. No thanks. We’ll have a stroll on the Riverwalk up to the entrance of the Narrows and see what pictures we can gather from there.

It didn’t work out that way. The end of the Riverwalk and entrance of the Narrows was filled with people having the same discussion as us – should we? The morning sun was streaming in, making the water look more inviting than it should have. Some brave souls grabbed walking sticks and splashed in. That’s all it took. Gab was ankle-deep before Michael could even protest. The next five hours were spent in this wonderful, wet playground.

If you come to Zion NP, take the Narrows hike. Did we mention that there is no path along the riverbanks? The trail is the Virgin River itself. The rocks can be slippery and the current swift but it is so worth it. Outfitters in Springdale rent boots and socks made to handle the hike up the Canyon. We tackled the hike in our trusty waterproof Keen sandals. Our shoe selection is not recommended, Michael was paranoid about twisted ankles the whole time, but doable.

Zion’s ViewWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (10/10)
When people talk about America’s National Parks, Zion is often mentioned by name. It is part of the Southwest’s “Grand Circle” of parks, historical sites and recreational areas – easy to get to with a lot to offer its visitors.

Avid hikers and armchair enthusiasts can all get a glimpse of Zion – the shuttle service and gateway town of Springdale makes the park accessible to those with physical restrictions and to those who would rather not do without creature comforts. Gab’s a great fireside cook, but we snuck away for more than one snack in town. Restaurants are plentiful and not as expensive as they could be considering their location.

Those who want to escape the crowds can try for backcountry permits or just spend the day tackling some of the more strenuous hikes – there are more than a few to choose. Angels Landing and Observation Point are two of the most popular, and most steep trails, each boasting significant switchbacks and promising spectacular views. But don’t worry, if you prefer your walk to be more horizontal, trails alongside Emerald Pools and Weeping Rocks will keep you entertained.

TOTAL 60/80

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northern Arizona
Visited: October 1, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 105 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Want More?

Click Here to Begin Our Six-Day Grand Canyon Adventure

The Mighty Colorado WHAT IS IT?
The guts of the Grand Canyon. The 277-mile long Colorado River, beginning in Lees Ferry, Arizona and ending at Lake Mead. Whether you whitewater raft in or hike or ride a mule down from the North Rim or South Rim, your experience is going to be much different than if you chose to stay on the Rims. The views, the Canyon’s colors and the River itself become a part of you. You are inside the Grand Canyon!

BEAUTY (10/10)
The rocks at the rim are 260 million years old. By the time you have reached the bottom, you have passed ten different exposed layers of geological history and have traveled back to rocks formed 1.7 billion years ago. You see the change; the multiple hues, the physical composition and the dramatic horizontal lines. Heady stuff. The ruggedness is strikingly beautiful.

The bottom is both a peaceful oasis and a still-furious river. Trees bloom, streams rush, temperatures soar and emerald nooks like Ribbon Falls enchant. It is a different world along the Canyon floor.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10)

When we crossed the narrow swinging bridge across the Colorado the water was that famous brownish-red stew of swift moving trouble. The same color that John Wesley Powell saw when he raced down the River, the last mysterious and unmapped place in the continental United States. Dams have changed the River’s flow and demeanor and most of the time they have changed the color as well. Nowadays the Colorado is a more mundane clearish blue. We were lucky. Rainstorms had stirred up the murky bottom. We were transported into the past. Once we left the bridge we passed a 10,000 year-old ruin of an Indian habitation. Powell saw the same ruin in 1869, next to the same red raging River.

CROWDS (8/10)
There is a special feeling of camaraderie amongst those going to the bottom. Conversation starts much easier, everyone is polite and smiles abound. You are all in this together. You are going up the same Canyon. We spoke to a couple the eve of our Canyon exit. We sat together at Plateau Point and watched the beginning of the sunset. They were both 75 years old, married to each other for 50 years and could not wait to get started on the hike out.

Ribbon Falls Oasis EASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5)
The most difficult access hurdle may not even be the Canyon, it could be getting your hands on a Grand Canyon Backcountry Permit. We never thought we would be able to get a permit. We were not willing to set a specific date and hope for a winning lottery ticket. 30,000 requests are made each year for permits, 13,000 are issued.

Little did we know that the Park Service holds out a few first-come, first-served permits every day. If you are flexible with your schedule, quickly get yourself on the waiting list and arrive at the backcountry office before 8 am your chances are good (at least in October). Everyone we talked to that got a permit ahead of time did not get the itinerary they requested. Getting a permit is a hit or miss prospect but it is not as hard as you might think.

From the North Rim, the only marked and maintained path is down the North Kaibab Trail. It is 14 miles to the Colorado River and a descent of nearly 6,000 feet. And you have to go back up. Not too accessible.

There are two maintained paths and two other trails that lead from the South Rim down. The distances of the four trails vary but the descent to the River is going to be 5,000 feet. We hiked on both maintained paths, the South Kaibab Trail (down) and the Bright Angel Trail (up). We much preferred the Bright Angel Trail. Better views, more shade and not nearly as steep. Again, not too accessible.

The maintained paths going from the North Rim to the South Rim are collectively called the Grand Canyon Corridor. There are three campgrounds on the Corridor: Cottonwood, Bright Angel and Indian Garden. All three have toilets, emergency phones, potable water and Ranger Stations. Most of the hiking permit requests are for the Corridor. First-come, first-served trips are limited to three nights on the Corridor, ahead of time requests have no bounds. If you are willing to hike in the Threshold, Primitive or Wild Zones (Canyon hiking experience highly recommended in all three) securing a permit might be easier.

Getting to the North and South Rims is another story. See their separate reviews for more information.

Mule Train’s Coming The boat option may not be as taxing to your legs, but the Colorado may well be the most treacherous white water in the world. We say take your chances with the mules. Most of the people we saw going down looked petrified. Spots on the both the boats and the mules book months even years in advance.

Regardless of your choice, it is going to be fun.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (2/5)
The mere fact that there is something at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is reason to celebrate. The Phantom Ranch canteen serves affordable meals, an array of candy bars and cans of beer. They also sell Phantom Ranch logo hats, shirts, patches, pins and more. Buy ‘em while you can, because as an added bonus they’re only for sale at the bottom. You will have proof for all your friends that you made it.

The Phantom Ranch, as well as a host of rest stations along the way down the maintained Grand Canyon Corridor, has water pumps dispensing potable H2O. You don’t have to carry days worth of heavy fluids on your back and a water purifier is unnecessary. Incredible stuff if you think about it. Check with a Ranger Station before your descent to make sure the water pipes are working.

COSTS (3/5)
Entry is $20 per vehicle, or free with the National Parks Pass.

Backcountry permits cost $10 per permit plus $5 per person per night camped below the rim. Our three-night stay cost a total of $40. Not bad for a four-day, three-night stay at the bottom of one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Nights at the rustic Phantom Ranch, located nearby the Colorado are not expensive. Cabins cost up to $92 per night and a dorm room bed goes for $26. Not such a bad price when you consider you do not have to lug your tent and sleeping bag back up the Canyon.

On the other hand, mule rides down and up the Canyon can get pricey; they start at $130 per person. The full 277-mile, two-and-a-half week trip down the Colorado can get exorbitant, ranging anywhere from $2,800 to $4,500 per person. Both need to be booked well in advance.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (4/5)
Rangers are posted in the backcountry. This is a first for us. Two plus one volunteer at Bright Angel (Phantom Ranch), two at Indian Garden and er none at Cottonwood. It may be a foolhardy thought, but along the Corridor you always feel that official help is nearby. At Bright Angel, the Rangers that come around and check your backcountry pass are extremely talkative, average about 10 minutes of conversation per campsite.

Plateau Point TOURS/CLASSES (7/10)
We were too tired to attend either, but there are two Ranger-led talks a day at Phantom Ranch. We repeat, two Ranger-led talks per day at the BOTTOM OF THE GRAND CANYON! Maybe they are really good, who knows. This rating is pure speculation.

The Grand Canyon Institute offers numerous fee-based backpacking trips/classes into the Canyon. If this sounds like your sort of thing, click on the link above for more info.

FUN (10/10)
Hiking the Grand Canyon has become Gab’s official answer to, “What is the best thing you’ve done on the trip?”

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (10/10)

If you have the ability to hike out, do it. If you can afford the white water, do it. If you have nerves of steel, go down on a mule. The experience is out of this world. The October weather was perfect, the hike was spectacular and we easily got a permit. We had the time of our lives.

Try not to go in the summer. The temperature at the bottom rises above 110 degrees. There is no way we would like to carry a pack in that weather.

TOTAL 63/80

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northern Arizona
Visited: September 30, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 105 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Want More?

Click Here to Begin Our Six-Day Grand Canyon Adventure

South Rim View WHAT IS IT?
Uh, it is the Grand Canyon. 277 miles long and ten miles wide of Colorado River carved amazement. The South Rim is the most visited area of the Park, the most accessible and by far the most tourist-friendly. Oh, yeah, the views from the South are pretty spectacular.

BEAUTY (10/10)
Absolutely overwhelming. Your mind cannot comprehend what it is looking at. The Canyon is so big and so deep that it feels like an abstract. “I cannot be looking at what I think I am looking at.” And even after you have stared for hours from different overlooks and myriad angles it still does not make sense. The Grand Canyon cannot be captured on camera, it must be seen and experienced.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (6/10)
We did not get the historical feel up top that we get down below. The Colorado River seems distant, like you are not even in the place where John Wesley Powell rafted through.

On the other hand, from here it is easy to empathize with Coronado, the first European to see the Grand Canyon. Legend has it that while looking for the seven cities of gold he got to the Canyon and turned around dejectedly, believing it to be impassable.

The most visited archaeological site in the National Park System, the Tusayan Ruin, stands along the South Rim, about 20 miles east of Grand Canyon Village. A walking loop wraps around the stone ruins while panels explain what once stood on top of the remaining base.

CROWDS (4/10)
It is crowded here. Regardless of the season, you are going to run into swarms of tourists. Fair enough, it’s the Grand Canyon. The shuttle buses do their best to alleviate the traffic problem that is created by the street’s confusing layout.

The people at the South Rim are not nearly as friendly as their counterparts along the Canyon switchbacks and even those at the North Rim. Our hellos were often met with rude looks. Tourists cut in front of us and some nearly ran us over even though we had just hiked out of the Canyon and still toted 40-pound backpacks. Maybe they forgot that they were no longer in Las Vegas.

People do crazy things at the South Rim. For a photo opportunity, a family of Japanese tourists posed their seven and ten year old girls next to a squirrel and had them pet the nasty little rodent. Who knows what happened. We put our heads down, kept walking and tried to forget what we just saw. The precipitous ledges and their 3000-foot sheer drops also do not deter people from hanging over the edges, risking life and limb. No wonder the newly reintroduced California condor has chosen to make its nest just below the South Rim. Those wily scavengers are not stupid.

Desert View Overlook EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
The South Rim Visitor Center is a straight 60-mile shot from Interstate 40 up Arizona Route 64. The Park is only 80 miles from Flagstaff, Arizona. If you can’t find lodging at the Grand Canyon, there are plenty of options along Old Route 66 in delightful downtown Flagstaff.

The Park Service operates three shuttle bus routes along the South Rim. The Red Line that travels from Grand Canyon Village to Hermits Rest is the only mandatory shuttle. Automobiles are allowed in all other portions of the North Rim. Parking should not be much of a problem.

The Rim Trail is paved for five miles from Pipe Creek Vista to Maricopa Point. Much of the remainder of the Rim Trail is a easy flat hike along a dirt pathway. You could spend all day walking along the South Rim. Trouble is that you are sure to have an urge to go down into the Canyon. Then things get tricky so see our Grand Canyon (Canyon Floor) review.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5)
If you want anything Grand Canyon-related, books (T-shirts, hats, jigsaw puzzles, you name it) and don’t find it at the South Rim, you haven’t looked hard enough. There are fifteen bookstores/gift shops along the Rim, many of which are found in Grand Canyon Village. It is not only knickknacks. The Hopi House, Verkamp’s Curio, the Desert View Trading Post and maybe a few others specialize in southwest Indian art: woodcarvings, pottery, kachina dolls and jewelry.

The South Rim may as well be a small bustling town. The services are plenty and in general centrally located. There are 10 places to eat including the expensive El Tovar Dining Room. We preferred the menu selection, prices and views of the Grand Canyon North Rim lodge to any of its counterparts in the South.

Most welcome at the South Rim is the General Store, an affordable priced, well-stocked supermarket. If you have forgotten anything for you hike or want to have a picnic alongside the Canyon Rim everything you need is here. And they have a great selection of powdered Gatorade mix so you don’t have to drink the Grand Canyon’s piped in potable water straight.
Other services at the South Rim include a kennel, a National Parks library, a bank, a dentist, an auto repair shop, a judge (for marriages we presume) and a post office.

COSTS (2/5)
Entry is $20 per vehicle, or free with the National Parks Pass.

There are an astounding number of lodging options along the South Rim. 363 campsites ($10-$15), an 80-site RV village ($25) and six Hotels ($49-$286). Of course, plan ahead, especially in the summer. Only the 50-site Desert View Campground operates on a first-come, first served basis. We had no trouble getting a campsite at the 313-site, more centrally located Mather Campground.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5)
Grand Canyon NP keeps the South Rim stocked with Rangers. There are many Ranger-led talks and plenty of people to answer your questions. We asked a Ranger, “where should we leave our car while we hike to the bottom?” She told us Parking Lot E, then take the Hiker’s Express shuttle to South Kaibab Point.Not only is the ride there much quicker, but when you emerge from the Canyon, your car is only a few hundred yards away.

After telling us what a nice route we had planned, she and another Ranger started talking about different routes down and their experiences in the Canyon. They both spoke so passionately about where they work. We excused ourselves from the conversation and they kept sharing interior Canyon stories. We left even more excited about the hike to come.

TOURS/CLASSES (8/10)
In the off-peak month of October, there are 18 Ranger talks a day, an incredible number. We are sure that the number swells come summer. The degree of walking difficulty ranges from a strenuous Ranger-led 3-mile hike down the South Kaibab Trail to a leisurely nature walk along the paved Rim Trail. Topics include Grand Canyon geology, the invasion of non-native plants, the early photography of the Canyon, a Ranger’s choice lecture, Shakespeare and the Park (we don’t know either) and the successful reintroduction of the California condor.

We attended the terrific condor talk. After it was over, we walked along the Rim with the Ranger, as did half of the tour group, and spotted birds. The Ranger had an extensive knowledge of the Park’s birds. When we asked what raptors we might see on our hike, she rolled off a list of fifteen explaining their migratory patterns and habitat. Much to our delight, we did spot a California condor high above us while we hiked in the Bright Angel Canyon.

The Ranger also told us that throughout fall, members of HawkWatch International spend all day at both Lipan and Yaki Points. They count migrating raptors and are more than eager to help the amateur birder.

Future PathThe South Rim has two (maybe three) museums. The Tusayan Museum showcases southwest Indian artifacts in an incredibly cramped and dark room. Spend a few minutes, but don’t expect to learn much. The Canyon View Information Plaza is more of an outdoor, exhibit-aided trip planner. In that sense, it serves its purpose well. The Kolb Studio we guess is a museum. Inside are paintings done of the Canyon as well as a traveling exhibit: photographs of the Navajo Nation.

If you want to learn anything about the Canyon, you need to take a Ranger tour; the museums are not going to help. We much prefer the human interaction to a static museum. We like the educational route that the South Rim has taken.

FUN (9/10)
Don’t expect quiet solitude at the South Rim. Excited people are everywhere. It is still possible to lose yourself in the power of the Canyon views.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (10/10)
Uh, it is the Grand Canyon and the South Rim boasts the classic panoramas. A must-see American destination.

TOTAL 62/80

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south-central Montana and north-central Wyoming
Visited: August 21, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 83 of 353

NPS Website

Yellowtail DamWe spent so little time at Bighorn NRA that we cannot fairly offer you a full review.

The best things about Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area were the Indian tacos we ate in Crow Agency, Mont. before our stop and our night in Billings, Mont. after it. Between detours and dead end roads we spent more time trying to reach the Site than we did at the Site. Tours of the Yellowtail Dam had been suspended because of a high security alert. And the only thing at the end of another long dead end drive down to Bighorn Lake were high-powered motorboats and sport fishermen. So we left.

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in southern West Virginia from Fayetteville to Hinton
Visited: July 27, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 67 of 353
NPS Website

New River GorgeWHAT IS IT?
53 miles of protected river that cuts a profound gorge into the mountainous countryside. The New River boasts both excellent fishing and challenging whitewater. Alongside the river’s borders lie the remains of once great railroad towns and abandoned coal mines.

BEAUTY (10/10)
The most beautiful place we have ever seen in the eastern United States. The trees are lush; the water is a warm 75°, the gorge dramatic, the river intense. Mist hovers above the water, exposed sandstone rock juts out from sheer cliffs, every bend in the river brings a stunning view. The New River Gorge Bridge, America’s second highest bridge crosses the canyon just south of Park’s northern River border. The man-made structure spans the River with a regal presence.

The New River Gorge feels like the tropics. Our entire boat vocally wondered if we were in a jungle. Maybe it was the three inches of rain the previous night or perhaps it was the inch that fell during our trip’s first two hours. It could have even been the hundreds of vultures sunning themselves in trees alongside the riverbank or even the intense greens of the flora. For us it was the smell, a smell of sticky growth and untold excitement. We all felt like we were in an adventure movie and a treasure was just around the corner.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (5/10)
Reminders of King Coal emanate everywhere along the River. You see abandoned mine shafts and black veins on the exposed gorge rocks. Still-working coal-carrying trains roar through the valley on the river’s edge. A once-thriving resort town and coal center, Thurmond, lies within Park boundaries. The town’s grand brick structures stand in ruin along the banks lending an eerie historical charm to the adventure.

The New River also enjoys a significant natural significance: it is the world’s second oldest river, junior only to the Nile.

CROWDS (9/10)
On the ride to the departure spot, a river guide stressed to a busload of eager rafters, “Get to know the person next to you. Make friends. They could be the one pulling you out of the water.” Once we launched into the New River, our guide, Wriston, introduced our boat of nine whitewater neophytes to the basic rafting techniques and to each other. Both introductions were equally important.

Over the course of our six-hour trip we would get to know each other real well. We paddled together, worked through difficult technical rapids together, ate together, swam together, pulled each other out of the boat together and after the trip was over, drank soda and beer together.

Our nine ranged from ages 13 to 60 with wide ranging geographical and life experiences. We quickly bonded as a team, faced difficult challenges and had a rip-roaring time.

Can You Sense the Fear?EASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5)
The Park, while close by Interstates 64 and 77, is demonstrably prohibitive. To fully experience the River, you need to be on it. Unless you are an experienced kayaker, the difficult Class III through Class V Rapids (VI being the most difficult) must be tackled with an outfitter and on a whitewater raft. If you are just fishing, road access to the New River’s banks is challenging. Once you leave U.S. Route 19, the roads pare down to a narrow tortuous unmarked one lane. Be very careful if you are driving at night.

Scenic views from above do exist at and around three of the Site’s four Visitor Centers.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (1/5)
The NPS bookstore was not too unique.

COSTS (1/5)
20 different whitewater outfitters operate nearby the New River. Full-day trip prices range anywhere from $75 to $95 per adult. We stumbled upon a $62 Tuesday-only rate from Appalachian Whitewater and left ecstatic with the product we received. If we were to return, we would use the same company. Half-day trips are available from some outfitters.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (1/5)
The National Park Service takes a backseat to the many outfitters at the New River Gorge. It is probably for the best. There is no way that the federal government could offer a whitewater rafting excursion. This is not to say that the Park Service exists sight unseen at the New.

There are four Visitor Centers which provide information and give cursory explanations of the New. Our biggest complaint about the NPS Visitor Centers is their hours. They are all open from 9-5. Sounds fine, right? Sure, if you are just driving through the area and only want to look down into the Gorge. However, the full day rafting trips take place roughly from 9-5, making a VC visit impossible.

The NPS offers free camping at four separate campsites. We stayed at the Stone Cliff Campsite, a few miles from any VC. We arrived at 5:30 and were dismayed at the lack of any Ranger presence, especially since we were along the New’s riverbanks, it rained over three inches, there was no cell-phone service, the roads to and fro were extremely narrow and we were in the middle of Appalachia.

If the Visitor Centers stayed open a few more hours, they would greatly increase the numbers of people who need to use their services.

TOURS/CLASSES (10/10)
We could not have asked for more from our Tour Guide, Wriston. He gave us a great trip, a comprehensive West Virginia and New River Gorge history, plenty of corny jokes and an intensive lesson on how to whitewater. Our safety and well-being lay in his hands and on his commands. We never felt in danger.

We have gained a burning desire to whitewater again as well as the confidence to attempt more difficult waters. Like the nearby (and much more difficult) Gauley River in September. It is a National Recreation Area and consistently rates among the Top 5 whitewater trips in the world.

New River Gorge BridgeFUN (10/10)
Non-stop, roller-coaster, keep coming back for more-fun. And not just the rafting. We jumped off 15 foot high rocks, swam through a Class III rapid and relaxed in the 75° water underneath the New River Gorge Bridge. Here’s another example:

Wriston asked for a volunteer. Of course Gab blindly offered her services. Her mission: Sit on the front of the boat through a Class IV Rapid, hold on with one hand while waving with the other. Pretend you are riding a bull. She succeeded, screaming and yelling through the entire thing while the entire boat wished they had volunteered first.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (10/10)
Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes.

TOTAL 58/80

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