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How to enjoy the Grand Canyon

Postcards just don’t do justice to this classic American panorama—this majestic 277-mile-long canyon of the Colorado River, a primeval gash in the earth’s crust of titanic proportions. Gaze down into its depth from the rim and you’ll see striated bands of multi-colored rock, a living history of geologic periods unfolding at your feet. Descend into it and you’ll pass through no less than four distinct climate zones, as if you began your day in Mexico and ended it in Alaska. Grand Canyon attracts a staggering number of tourists every year—4.5 to 5 million visitors—many of whom simply view the panorama from the North or South Rim viewpoints and then drive on. While it’s awesome indeed to gaze around from the rim, something about that monumental chasm makes me long to just dive in. There are any number of hiking trails, from 7 to 9 miles long; if taking on the river is more your style, check the park website for a list of approved commercial outfitters that run 3- to 18-day rafting trips, which include everything from placid floats to heart-stopping whitewater thrill rides. Perhaps the most memorable way to explore the Grand Canyon is to pick your way down the steep, narrow trails on the back of an ornery mule. The best options for kids depart from the North Rim and are offered by Canyon Trail Rides.

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